Posted By Norm van Maastricht on December 6, 2008
Another segment of a project The Rise and Fall of a Saloon In The Latter Part off The Twentieth Century. These excerpts are not chronological. In fact very little logic prevails…
A saloon is a man’s domain by virtue of attendance. Men go to a saloon for the ‘good ol’ boy’ camaraderie…the sport talk… the loud dice play
There are always more men than women in a saloon but the men that are there keep hoping it will change. Although they seldom admit it, the men like the idea of having women around.
If you cannot find a way to attract women, a lot of women, to your saloon what you end up with is a neighborhood bar. Neighborhood bars are fine, don’t get me wrong but the difference between a neighborhood bar and a saloon that is a nightclub is the difference between a mom and pop grocery and a Supermarket.
Most women who go to saloons go there because they want to be entertained. They want to go out with their friends, male or female to see and be seen, to laugh and have a good time. Maybe even go home with someone for some joyful carnality. But, first and foremost, women go to a saloon for one thing…
Most go because they want to dance!
Yonder comes the invading hordes…
‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music…’___ old country song
The customer comes into the parking lot, parks the car, gets out and goes to the line that has already formed. Inside the foyer they see a picture on the wall near the doorman. It is James Butler Hickok, “Wild Bill” himself, in a small 4X8 frame in the famous photo posed in his buckskins. Ivory handled Colt pistols thrust, butts forward, one on each side as was his habit and a long, unsheathed, butcher knife carelessly stuck under his belt.
His hair had been oiled and hung in ringlets his mustache trimmed… he looked Elegant.
…was the admonition scripted beneath the picture…
Wild Bill in his finest hour reduced to a Xeroxed clipping in a dime store frame…posted at the front door of the kind of business he knew and loved…
The doorman is collecting a cover charge tonight and some patrons groan and challenge the need for this. They claim they feel insulted that they should have to pay. They have no real reason to put forth why they should be exempted.
There is not a mortal living who does not think they deserve special treatment, particularly in places like this. Special treatment is, after all, status! Getting special treatment, like getting past the doorman without paying cover or having the bartenders call you by name, gave some people a sense of importance.
The truth is “They learn you by what you drink before they learn you by your name.”
There are some very creative lines used to try to get past the doorman without paying but none of them work because he’s heard them all. Besides, it’s a good band tonight. If they’re not on the Guest List they’re out of luck.
They pay their money and go in. By eight o’clock the band has started and if the patron is lucky they get a seat.
The waitresses are busy tonight so it might take a while for the drink to arrive at the table but they know it will eventually get served up.
Or the customer might try their luck at the bar. One way or another they find their spot and take it all in…
Much as the men may like music that’s really not why they’re there. They’re either on a date or they’re looking to meet someone.
Oh, some may say they are there ‘just to have fun’ but it is largely to see and be seen.
But deep down we all know why they’re there… they wanna get laid!
Entering a saloon is almost like being thrust back into your high school years in that you want to be accepted and be deemed popular by joining a group of insecure, self centered creatures that are largely strangers.
It’s worse, actually.
In a Saloon the insecure, self centered creatures that are largely strangers have been Drinking…
____The Write Down Book
It is always interesting to see how individuals scan a room.
Guys look around to see if they’re noticed. They ‘check out the stock’ as one guy put it. ‘Check out the babes.’
The boys do the Turkey Strut and try to catch a Hen…
Bird Dogging is rampant…
It is The Mating Dance in full force.
Women check out the competition. Then, if they’re On The Hunt, they will do their own version of ‘checking out the stock.’
Girls don’t worry about being noticed.
They are women.
Everyone notices them.
They watch the men doing the Turkey Strut with some amusement because the women know that no matter what a guy does or says it is ultimately a ladies choice. (Please refer to the Mighty Hunter Speech elsewhere in this series).
The difference between a neighborhood bar and a night club is that at a live music Saloon will be having said live music.
Bands, if they’re hot, a DeeJay if they cannot afford bands or Karaoke if there are severe space limitations.
And if you do it right, women will flock to your saloon, all pretty and bright eyed and the men will follow in at LEAST a three to one ratio if not more.
Get that right and your saloon will make money!
Get it wrong and you just have a neighborhood bar.
The best band years for The Bar were when it first opened up. One of the bartenders, a lovely lass, tall, with waist length hair, was the Music Director and she did the whole thing, audition the bands live, book them, handle the publicity including print media.
She even ran the sound board but most of all, she would drive to the different clubs in the area and see who was playing where and what kind of draw they pulled in. Her “era”, if it could be called that was roughly two and a half to three years.
The Bar was brand new then, lean and sassy and, outside of a few bars that featured hardcore country, they were the only club for a twenty mile radius.
Those days had some really great bands. Most are gone now. Some are considered absolute legends. The musical lineup in the first days, actually the first couple of years, was varied indeed…
There were excellent rock and roll groups… Uncle Rainbow…Stu Blank and his Nasty Habits…50’s retro groups like Daddy-O… marvelous country western flavors like Back In The Saddle…Chuck Wagon and The Wheels… There was Flip Nunez, among others, for Jazz which was on Tuesdays…Country flavors on Wednesday, new bands on Thursday and full on rock and roll on Friday and Saturday featuring variations of covers of the music of the day…
All of those bands made people get out on the dance floor. Made ‘em Dance!
Those bands are, for the most part, gone, now, of course. Saloon bands seldom got out of the ‘club circuit’ in those days and either burned out or graduated to a better paying circiut in their never ending quest for “The Big Time” of Fabulous Fame and Fortune.
Consequently, most of those bands are just names written in the dust. If you had never seen and heard them (and most of you have not) they are just that…names.
Over time The Bar had to cut Wednesday and Thursday night music. There was no money in it after you staffed the crew, waitresses, bartenders and doorman. There was also the problem of attendance. The Bar was, after all, located in a small town. Not many local folks were in a position to ‘party hearty’ and go to work the next day and there was no reason for tourists to look The Bar up. The local people preferred to let it all out on the weekends. So the live music eventually got reduced to Friday and Saturday nights plus Jazz on Tuesday night.
The lovely who did the booking during those heady days eventually left (some say ‘escaped’) the bar business and went on to other things. Her position was taken by yet another young woman. It became clear that an era of sorts had passed. The new bartender/booker was not as successful in her bookings so she too packed up her tent and left.
Was her lack of success simply bad taste in music? Probably not.
The Bar had one built in flaw. It had a posted capacity of 180 people. Of course, on a good night this might get exceeded but not by a whole lot. Some people love crowds, some do not. It is hard to enjoy yourself in a saloon if you cannot sit and be comfortable at least part of the time. When you limit how many people can get into your place of business you limit your potential income. But still, it could be a struggle to keep your 180 patrons coming in steadily.
Some of the better bands knew they could get more money if they played a larger venue for obvious reasons. A larger venue meant more money at the door and in most places this money had a direct effect on what the band got paid. Some bands that played The Bar demanded and got a higher cover charge and just worked for the gate and did very well indeed but these bands were rare and you could count them on one hand.
In any case, T.O. had a budget, a limit to what he would pay bands and that often hinged on a cash plus part of the gate. Or nothing from the bar and the band takes the gate.
Some bands…and it eventually became most of the really heavy drawing bands…would no longer play there. It just didn’t pay them what they thought they were worth.
The bands The Bar could get still had some good music and excellent musicians but between the expense of the bands and especially the increasing local competition, the crowds could no longer be taken for granted.
Eventually the band booking duty fell to me.
I’ll start right off and admit to a weak spot when it came to booking bands. Looking back on it all it may have been something of a liability.
Or maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
I did not drive at the time. The problem this caused was that I could not go to other clubs and see bands in action. Audition them live. And more importantly, check out the crowd draw. See what they brought in.
I’m a musician. For a few years I played with the great and the near great as they say, along with a goodly portion of talented amateurs and local saloon bands. A few years of working in a music store gave me some diversity of exposure and I knew hundreds of musicians on a first name basis but that’s not good enough.
We will come back to my band booking chores in another chapter…
In the meantime, rememeber this…
The paying public wants one of three things from any live music they’re faced with.
They want it unobtrusive if it’s background music. Maybe that’s’ why they call it background music.
They want it perfectly played if in symphony.
In a live concert it must be spontaneous and exciting.
But in a saloon…
It must be entertaining at all times.
….but more importantly… if you want ladies in your saloon…
You must make ‘em DANCE.