I avoided The Crazy Horse for a while although toyed with the idea of going over to see Pierre in our dinner break one evening. But I never went. I mean, what would I say to him? Sorry about Moose but it’s got nothing to do with me, I just happened to be with him? Besides, I didn't really know the maitre'd that well – his French accent was probably fake, perhaps his real name was Jannie van der Merve and for all I knew and he may even want to further vent his frustrations on me. Then, of course, there was always that big, ugly bugger of a bouncer at the door who definitely had a score to settle and could easily have seen me as a convenient target! I could just imagine me walking up to him and saying:
‘Hi, I've just dropped by to pick up Moose’s clothes... Jeez, nasty eye there, china!’
But, of course, there were plenty of other problems to occupy my time. We were now a band minus a guitarist with the holiday season only a few weeks away. And after a few poor-quality nights as a four piece, Dieter had once again summoned us to his office to make it clear that a new man was needed:
‘We’ve got a guy coming up from Cape Town,’ Brian informed him. ‘I've worked with Craig before and he’s a quality player.’
‘So when does he arrive?’ asked Dieter tapping his pencil on the mahogany desk.
‘Well he still has to tell his band that he’s leaving and should be here in a few days.’
‘A few days to get from Cape Town to Durban? Is he coming by rickshaw?’ Dieter chuckled at his own joke and we all forced a laugh, well aware that we were probably hanging onto our Laguna contract by a shoestring. (Or would that be a guitar string?) This was not the time to mock his German sense of humour.
‘I think he’s stopping in Port Elizabeth on the way,’ said Brian. ‘But let me phone this agent up in Cape Town and get to the bottom of it. I’m sure we can have him here in a few days.’
Dieter studied each of us across the desk.
‘Not good enough. We need five guys up on that stage right now. I’m phoning a few Durban agents I know. Even if it’s just to get someone in before you get a full-time replacement.’
So, two days later we all trooped into The Ship Inn to find three guys sitting next to the stage, guitar cases lined up on the dance floor and nervous looks on their faces. It was mid-afternoon and although Mother's Kitchen next door was still open, there were only a handful of people in it. Consequently three of the waiters had decided to wander through to our club to watch the auditions. Two of them were having an animated discussion as I walked past them:
‘No I'm not kidding you Vinnay. He smacked the bouncer on the nose and decked both the cops before the dog eventually nailed him.’ The guy speaking was Indian and wore a name tag identifying him as ‘Manny’.
The other guy was shorter, but was also Asian and wore a turban:
‘I heard that he also got hold of a cop’s piece and blasted a few holes into the counter at reception.’
I smiled to myself. Even though the Moose was no longer with us, he was still a folk-hero around The Laguna. It was the third waiter, however, who stood out for me. I noticed that he wasn’t Asian or black African which was quite unusual for the non-white staff of a Durban hotel. His skin was quite pale and he had tight curly hair leading me to think that he may have been of mixed race or what we then referred to as a Cape Coloured. He was also quite short although well built without being stocky. But what was more interesting about him, was his manner. He seemed quiet and reserved and hardly joined in with the conversation, occasionally nodding his head to absently agree with one of his fellow waiters. And then I realised that I’d seen this guy a few times before. He often stood near the entrance to the staff bar, an empty tray in his hand, seemingly in a world of his own. I remembered watching him one night when he appeared to be purposefully ignoring the impatient waves of a table of customers a few feet away. Instead his eyes were focused elsewhere. They were watching the stage with a concentration and intensity which I, for one, had found quite unnerving.
The waiters eventually fell silent as Brian faded up a few stage lights and turned on the P.A. System. I made my way over to my keyboards and watched as the first guitarist dragged a very beaten-up guitar out of its case. Dave had a microphone in his hand and was staring over the guitarist’s shoulder. He turned and gave me an incredulous look before tapping the guy on the arm:
‘You've only got five strings on that guitar, man,’ he announced.
‘Ja boet,’ says this guitarist, ‘I only play with five strings.’
We were all silent for a good five seconds.
‘But what notes do you tune them to,’ I eventually asked, scratching my head.
‘No... um... this guitar doesn't need any tuning, boet. The strings are just fine as they are.’
Harvey’s fish-like eyes were starting to crinkle upwards and we were all doing our best not to look at each other.
‘Okay then,’ said Brian. ‘What do you know? Any chart songs or rock songs?’
‘I try a song by Deep Poupol’
There was an almighty crash as Harvey fell off his drums and Dave ran for one of the little change rooms on the side of the stage. Only Brian managed to keep a straight face.
‘You mean Deep Purple, don’t you? Poupol is an Afrikaans slang word for asshole!’
‘Ya that’s the one,’ said the guy. ‘Deep Poupol.’
Dave’s voice echoed from the change room:
‘Which song are you doing then?’
The guy thought for a second before replying:
‘I'll do... Smoke Under Water.’
And that was it. All hell broke out. Harvey ran for the toilet, Dave sounded as though is choking and crying at the same time in the change room and even Brian looked like he was trying not to swallow a large plum. The guitarist flung his five-string into its case and headed for the exit, turning to yell over his shoulder:
‘You moffies wouldn’t know talent if it spat you in the eye... go and fuck yourselves,’ before crashing into the locked rotating doors.
‘Um... we’re really sorry about that,’ I shouted back. ‘Go through the service bar entrance and then out through Mother's Kitchen next door.’
‘Well that went well,’ said a voice from the change room.
The next guy seemed a nice enough and could play a bit and he had a nice looking Gibson Les Paul axe as well. But in all fairness, he was not really up to standard. And there was another problem with him. He must have been at least seventy years old. We were polite about it, but simply informed him that we were still looking and would contact him if we needed him. As Brian told him this I watched Harvey carefully hoping that he didn’t come out with one of his favourite lines:
‘Don’t phone us; just leave us your telephone.’
But Harvey was already eyeing the third and last ‘auditionee’. He was busy bending forward towards his guitar case. And I realised what was going through Harvey’s mind. The case looked extremely small for a guitar. The guy, who looked to be in his mid-thirties, clicked open a few locks and out came a banjo. Brian stepped forward:
‘Um... It’s a banjo,’ he informed the guy who merely nodded and replied:
‘Ya that’s right. But I can play anything on it.’
And before we could stop him he was strumming away at the opening riff of ‘Smoke on the Water’. He played it all right, not a note or chord out of place. But it sounded completely weird. After all... it was a banjo!
‘But it will never be loud enough,’ said Dave, re-emerged from the change room and fully recovered from his fit of hysterics.
‘I can hold it up to the microphone like this,’ replied the guy and proceeded to pluck out the opening chords of ‘I'm leaning on a Lamppost’, while Dave made another run for the change room.
Harvey's fish-eyes were beginning to crease again and the missing tooth smile has appeared as well:
‘Don’t you have a guitar then?’ he asked. ‘We need something a bit more rock 'n roll.’
‘Nah, can’t play one,’ says the guy. ‘I've got a five string banjo at home but I’m not a six string man.’
So that was it. About fifteen minutes after the audition began, it was over. Brian looked at the rest of us and shrugged.
‘We’ll just have to hope that Craig gets here quite soon,’ he said.
‘Who gets to tell Dieter?’ I asked. No-one replied. We were all well aware that our problems had just got a little worse.
Then suddenly, a voice from the back of the room broke the silence:
‘Why don’t you give Chester a go?’
I looked up startled. It was Manny, the taller of the two Indian waiters. The one in the turban turned and looked at him for a second before nodding his head, saying:
‘Manny is right. You should listen to Chester play. He can make a guitar talk!’
We all stared at the waiters and said nothing. I suppose we were all quite shocked. After all, we hardly ever spoke with the non-white staff. The unwritten rule seemed to be that they got on with their jobs and left us to do ours. Now and again we’d exchange the odd greeting in passing or wave to a familiar face. But we didn’t even order our own drinks from the Ship Inn waiters, preferring to order directly from the staff bar which was shared by our club and Mother’s Kitchen next door. So this sudden outburst was certainly unusual, and something about it felt a bit annoying to me:
‘So who’s Chester then?’ My tone was sarcastic. ‘Is he a waiter, a cleaner, does he carry suitcases or mop out the toilets?’
All three waiters stared back and said nothing for a while. I could feel their resentment and immediately felt a bit bad about my words. Eventually, Vinnay stepped forward and laid a hand on the coloured guy’s shoulder:
‘This is Chester. But it’s up to you I suppose... listen to him if you want.’
‘Do you have a guitar then?’ asked Brian
Chester took a step forward and nervously rubbed his hands together. He mouth moved silently for a few seconds, almost as if he was rehearing what he was about to say. When he did speak, his words came slowly and carefully:
‘Um... I have an acoustic with me. I bring it to work and sometimes I play for the staff in the car park during our breaks.’
Harvey laughed and tapped a drum stick on his snare drum.
‘Why not?’ he said. ‘Go and get it and play us something. What harm can it do?’
Brian raised his eyes for a second and his hand went up to his mouth. Knowing him as I did, I knew he was looking for potential problems with this situation. I’m sure that he could probably think of a few. But, perhaps curiosity got the better of him and eventually he lifted his hand and pointed at Chester.
‘Ya okay, I don’t have an issue with that. After all we’re not doing anything useful here anyway.’
Which, of course, meant: There’s no-one here to complain and seen as you’re probably going to be pretty useless anyway, why not be nice about it and let you have a bit of a jam on stage.
So Chester disappeared for a few minutes and reappeared with an acoustic guitar in a plastic carry case. He hesitated when he climbed onto the stage and looked nervously at Brian.
‘Um... My guitar doesn't have any pickups on it or anything fancy like that. Do you want to mic it up or anything.’
Dave stepped forward and lowered his microphone stand so that it was level with the guitar’s sound hole and then reached over to move Brian’s microphone and stand to the middle of the stage.
‘Here you go,’ he announced. Sing in this one and this one’s for the guitar. Off you go then.
Chester looked up and I could see the panic in his eyes.
‘But what do you want me to play? Are you going to back me then?’
‘No, just play something that you know. We’ll listen to start with.’
Chester nodded and looked nervously up at the spotlight shining in his eyes.
‘Would something by James Taylor be okay?’
‘That would do for me,’ I said. I’d always been a James Taylor fanatic.
We waited for a few more seconds while Chester picked at a few strings. I noticed that he was quick to correct the one string that was slightly out of tune. And then he launched into the introduction of ‘Fire and Rain’.
I've always thought that there are many different types of musicians in the world. Some play with extreme accuracy, hardly ever hitting wrong notes or straying out of time. These musicians will often take a song and copy it so well that you’d think that it was being performed by the original artist. Others inject their own feelings, ideas and ‘soul’ into songs, changing them to suit themselves, and they present them in a whole new light. Chester’s version of ‘Fire and Rain’ somehow managed to do both.
All James Taylor’s finger picks and chord strums were there. But Chester had added a few of his own which made the song sound even better – if that was possible. His voice also came as a surprise: a deep baritone, clear and pure but hinting at a restrained power and control. And there was something else too. It was the look on his face as he performed. At the time I remember that I could only think of one word to describe it: ecstasy.
When the song ended there was a stunned silence. Then after a few seconds, Manny and Vinnay started pounding their hands together before Manny raised his fingers to his mouth and delivered a loud and piercing whistle of appreciation. By then we had joined in as well, clapping and nodding our heads in admiration and Harvey helped to relieve Chester’s obvious embarrassment by giving a drum roll and crash before banging his sticks together.
‘Jeez,’ said Brian, and I realised that for once he seemed lost for words. He thought for a few seconds and eventually turned to Chester. ‘What we really need is to hear you on an electric.’ He sighed. ‘It's a pity the old guy with the Gibson has gone.’
‘My Fender Strat’s still in the change room. Will that do?’
We all turned to stare at the voice which came from the back of the room. No-one had seen Moose come in and we were shocked at what we saw. He leant painfully on a crutch, his right leg bandaged up well above his knee. There was also a bandage on his left wrist and his face looked as though he'd done a few rounds with Mohammed Ali. He leant on the nearest table and pointed the crutch at us.
‘So do you arseholes expect me to get it for you – it’s in the change room for fuck’s sake!’
‘What are you doing here, Moose? We don't want any trouble,’ said Brian looking nervously towards Dave. I glanced up at Chester whose expression had now progressed from nervous to terrified and even the Indian waiters appeared to have moved a few steps away from Moose. Only Harvey seemed his normal silly self, performing a few quiet taps on his ride cymbals which sounded like something from ‘The Exorcist’ soundtrack.
‘Are you guy’s complete morons, or something,’ yelled Moose once again waving the crutch in the air. ‘Dave... go and get my guitar out of the change room and give it to this oke. If that’s how he plays James Taylor then let’s see how he plays ‘Hotel California’.’
‘Right okay,’ said Dave disappearing once again into the change room, although this time without the laughter. He came out with Moose’s red Stratocaster and placed it almost reverently in Chester’s hands. There was a hush on stage as Brian turned on the amplifier and ran a lead to the instrument. Chester strummed nervously, tested the volume switch and then turned to us and nodded his head. Then he picked out the opening notes of the famous Eagles song.
One of the problems we had always had with this song was that we were a couple of guitarists short. For example, ‘Hotel California’ begins with a 12 string guitar and has a nice acoustic strum going right through it. With our line-up of lead and bass guitar, singer, keyboards and drums we were never quite able to capture the folk-rock sound and feel. But Chester somehow managed to overcome these drawbacks with some expert picking, powerful strumming and the use of perfectly controlled dynamics. In fact, his playing drove the song as though it had been written for him. The real fireworks, however, came towards the end of the song when the guitar explodes into a prolonged and beautifully arranged solo. Here, he expertly captured every note of the original and even had time to look up to me and smile as I added a second guitar sound on my synthesiser for the famous duel-guitar ending. Looking around me I could see that the stage had come alive and everyone seemed to have forgotten Moose’s presence at the back. Dave was strutting up and down the stage pumping his fist in time with the beat; Brian’s bass and Harvey’s drums seemed to have joined together as one unit and my eyes were firmly focused on Chester’s fingers and my mind was racing ahead as I did my absolute best to match the perfection that his playing demanded.
I suppose that these were the moments that we all lived for. There were the girls, there was the beer, the parties, the pranks and yes, even a bit of marijuana now and again. But it was moments like these when we really came alive. And for those seven minutes, Chester had done something really special. He had taken us to another level; a place beyond the politics, arguments and prejudices we often surrounded ourselves with. And he’d taken us to another world; a world where he was in control and we were simply honoured to be a part of it. He’d taken us to the world of his genius.
The song ended and once again The Ship Inn fell into silence. Everyone turned to face the back of the club. After a few seconds Moose began clapping his hands together, slowly at first but gradually speeding up. When he spoke, his voice was so soft that I for struggled at first to make sense of his words:
‘I came to get my stuff. But I’ve changed my mind. The Strat and the Vox amp can stay here. I’ll clear out my Sealands room and leave the keys at reception.’
We looked at each other dumbfounded. I only said what everyone else was thinking.
‘I don’t understand, Moose. It’s your stuff, you need to take it.’
Moose threw his head back and laughed before banging the crutch a few times on the nearest table.
‘No I don’t Mikey, no I don’t,’ he shouted. ‘The King is dead. Long live the King.’
And with that he hobbled out of the service exit and out of our musical lives. He never came back for his stuff and we later found room 1203 at Sealands cleared out and the keys at reception.
* * * * * * * * * *
[A bit of a blurred picture which from the fashions looks as though it may be a 70s shot. The Malibu Hotel is the big white one on the left, the Beach Hotel is the one to the right. So not far to walk if you wanted to stagger from the Malibu to the Beach for a late-night cabaret. :) (Don't forget the tie)
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish