Saturday, November 5, 2005

Live from Willie's Lounge...Ladies & Gentlemen.........Keith!

Yesterday afternoon, I was on my way home from picking up clothing and doing some window shopping...I was in my own world (as I usually am) so it wasn't until I reached the corner of 127th street & Convent Avenue that I actually looked up. And too my surprise I saw a face I hadn't seen since the early 90's......the face of a young man (now much older) named Keith. Now this means absolutely NOTHING to the masses....but just the sight of his face brought back so many wonderful memories for me.

Back in 1991 I believe, I started hosting an "open mic" Talent Competition with a $50 cash prize (okay...we all know that fifty bucks is like McDonald's money now...lol) at a small club on 125th st called "Willie's Lounge". Okay.....so it was a BAR!!!! lol....anyway, I put together a band with musical director James Durant (aka Mr. Diamond) on Keyboards, Al Ferrar on guitar, Tommy Gooding (Cuba & Omar's Brother) on Bass and Donald Mayes on Drums. I also formed a trio of singers consisting of Cheryl Gadsden & my homegirl Beverly Howard....we called ourselves "Probable Cause"....some name we got from the newspaper of course....(lol...we USED to call ourselves "Main Course"....but needless to say the Jokes were rampant about THIS particular name....that we obviously came up with while we were eating somewhere.....my goodness....I am smiling even as I write this stuff!!!

I remember, we used to have the open mics on Wednesday evenings...after "Showtime at the Apollo" because we would get all of the stragglers leaving the show from the theater...which was on the next block. I would stand outside....literally half naked most of the time....handing out flyers and tempting folks to come inside and check us out....there was no cover and most of the time....people did come in...and we got a lot of repeat business! After about a month, the word of mouth spread like crazy and for a while EVERYONE who was anyone was stopping through. I was hosting AND we (Probable Cause) would also sing a few numbers before the shows started. After awhile, I realized that I didn't really like hosting and couldn't really host and promote, So I brought in Carlton Smith and he took over the hosting duties....his er....sense of humor really kept the folks coming back for more.

We would get some really great singers in the mix with some not so great ones....folks like Yvette Nieves, who always managed to sing the "b" side of some singer's record...lol...she struck gold with "I Wonder if I Take You Home" by Lisa-Lisa & Cult Jam. Back then you KNEW you killed it if you got the audience to sing along with you! Unfortunately for Yvette, she started singing the same song every week and it didn't help her case any that she always looked like a "Schlub" is that a word???? on stage.

Then there was rapper EZ-LA who as God is my witness sang the same damn song for the show's entire run....it was an acapella tune called "I'm Never Gonna Let You Go!"...he sang this song so many times that the band actually created some music for him and the audience started adlibbing background parts! Did I say that that the only lyrics to the song was "I'm Never Gonna Let You Go???" I swear it went just like this:
"I'm never gonna let you go, I'm never gonna let you go ....girl, I'm never gonna let you go (let you go...let you go), I'm never gonna let you go girl"....I swear that was it and this damn song would go on FOREVER!!!!
There was Diva Extraordinare....Bernita Ewing....now this sister was really ahead of her time...full figured of course...with enough attitude and presence for the masses...always DONE...hair/makeup/drag....I learned SO MUCH by just hanging out with this sister and watching how it's done. But that VOICE....was just....AMAZING....truly a gift from God...she could take any song and just NAIL IT!!!! All the time....she was (is) an amazing actress as well.

There was Ron Grant (The swiss miss instant cocoa man!) who was a professional but obviously broke like everyone else....He would come in and sing and make the hairs stand up on your neck...he would do Oleta Adams "Get Here" and yodel all through the damn song!!!! But there was no denying the boy could sing....he really could blow. And there was no doubt that he would win if he showed up.

There was Barry Hammonds, who would sing the 12 inch REMIXED version of "Ain't No Stopping Us Now"....Decent voice...but had the stage presence of a piece of melba toast. He used to get booed all the time on "Amateur Night at the Apollo".

Folks like Hakeem, who was another "B-side" singing brother....who's breath smelled like doo-doo most of the time and he was good for singing some shyt that ONLY HE AND THE PERSON WHO WROTE THE SONG KNEW!!!!

Shoobie Taylor, the geriatric scatting er...rapper...who used to ...I kid you not....MOO in his raps! and did some of the worst scatting I have ever heard..but the Mooing just would lay me out every week. And how could I forget Rapper K. Superior (who was a dead ringer for DJ Clark Kent) he was like 6'6" but his flow was nasty....he was really good and he was funny as hell too...he used to come in and tell "Your Mother" jokes...he was hysterical.

Then there was the brother who came off the street, Sir KC Brown...clearly crazy wearing a fake silver UNICORN medallion around his neck talking about how he was gonna be performing his new single "Remember The Time" at the Garden (as in Madison Square Garden) next week. Right....YOUR new single (I could have sworn MJ recorded that one)...huh????

The Singing Dragon who would show up in full Bruce Lee "Enter The Dragon" chinese garb complete with those Karate sandals that every loser on the planet wore when Bruce was hot. He would smell like he hadn't used deodorant since the turn of the century and he would do Johnnie Taylor songs.

And how about, amazing singers like the late Teddy B., who had a penchant for long weaves and cowboy hats but would always stop through and bless us with a song or two.....

and then there was John Brown, the er....250+ lbs flamboyant singer / Scripture quoting Drag Queen who (as lovely as he was) would come in black as night with a blonde high top fade, gold teeth and blonde eyebrows with cuts in them...and scare the hell out of the customers...screaming through songs like "Fire"...he fascinated me....one night he showed me pictures of him in drag (What the f....?????) he made the ugliest woman I had ever seen! But I still love him!

People would have their birthday parties at my open mic and Carlton....well Carlton....let's just say he had a WEALTH of material to draw from...with all of these crazy ass characters coming through every week! I would leave Willie's in pain from laughing all night long. We were really like one big family...We had a show on July 3rd or 4th I can't remember which day but I do remember that it was so packed you couldn't get inside. EVERYONE was there...we got a great write up in the Village Voice....it was a wonderful time to be a performer...it really was. There was also:

Mr. "Professional", Lee Green who had the nerve to walk his Juke Joint Singing/Jheri Curl Wearing Ass into the club and announce to the audience...."We are not amateurs....we are professionals" to the crowd...which was FULL of professional singers at the time...AND he was talking about him and his back up singer Theresa who was wearing a Zebra patterned dress that was so loud that it made Carlton do a double take, look at her and say...."Safari Huh?". I have the moment captured on tape and she HAD NO CLUE of what he was talking about!!!!

Bernard....The twin with the big razor scar on his face, would sing Keith Washington's "Kissing You" every week but each week act like he had never done the song with the band before and they were "working through it" each time he performed it.....

There was a group a Quintet (Five???) who called themselves "Asante" who came through and sang a few songs acapella and just ripped it to shreds....I fell in deep "like" with the lead singer and even dated him for a moment....as a matter of fact...I was on a date with him the night I met my hubby! They later signed on with Sony Records but unfortunately, their album didn't do that well.

Then there were my "Regulars", folks who came in every week just cause the environment was cool.

There was DJ Rockin Rob who would come in with his girl Lorez and sometimes sit in and play drums with the band...him and James were friends and bandmates from back in the day. Rob could sit there and play "Before I Let Go" over and over again, if allowed.

Bernard, Rob & Eric - My early hangout buddies who were just cool people to be around, they thought they were "fabulous" back then but ....lol...we knew better. We were all like the "Peanuts" crew back then!

Anthony Cooper would come in with his group "The Fellas" and charm all the ladies with their good looks and wonderful harmonies.


OOOHHHH...I remember when that "You Remind Me" song came out by Mary J. Blige....every chick in the hood thought they could sing this song and we had to listen to it being sung (very badly) every week for MONTHS!!!!!

And then there was......................................Keith!

Oh baby, Keith was a special one...clearly mentally er...impaired...Keith walked in one night and just won everyone over. He couldn't really sing a lick.....he had a severe speech impediment and was a little....okay A LOT slow....but he had the soul of a rocker....he came in and did "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes....okay my first thought was "what does this little retarded kid know about rock????" And with his speech impediment...the song sounded like "Na-Na Lonely Heart!" Michael Jackson's Billie Jean was one of his favorite songs too.....except that it sounded like "Billie Jean...President Carter" OMIGOD!!!! But when he would slow down the pace and do Guy's "Let's Chill" on one knee....I was laid out!!!.....It was hysterical....but the folks Loved him....he definitely got an "A" for effort. He became a regular and Carlton gave him his own personal intro:

"Ladies & Gentlemen! Welcome if You Will..(Drum Roll Please) ...................."Keef" (Whispered of course)

That intro was brilliant!!! and he (Keith) would really get into it and would have the nerve to tell the band if they were playing something wrong. But it was all love and when I saw Keith on that corner yesterday with his er.....son & his "Girl"...looking much older but still clearly retarded...(Who is giving this brother coochie????). I just had to write it down because the thoughts I got from seeing him put a smile on my face for the rest of my day!

These are wonderful memories from my past and I am glad I remembered enough of it to jot it down.... I don't know where most of my "Willie's Lounge" family is anymore but I do run into folks from time to time and some of the are actually okay:

Mr Diamond (James Durant) is currently in Japan, where he is performing and singing with his band as well as booking acts from the states to bring overseas. Mr. Diamond is also a new grandad!!!! Congrats!

Carlton J. Smith is doing his thing as always, he just returned from touring over in Switzerland and I am sure he's about to head back overseas by the end of this year. You GO Boy!

Bernita Ewing...I lost track of her a long time ago but I do know that she is back in the Ohio area where she's from and she is returning to her singing career...YAY!!!

Alas, like all good things....Willie's Lounge had to come to an end for me...it's very hard to stay up until 1-2am on a wednesday night and think you are gonna leap outta bed in the morning for work!!!! and the pay was really shitty too!. Well, Willie's Lounge is no longer in existence (I think it's a hair braiding spot now) But the memories will live on through me and my friends!

Thanks Keith!

3 comments:

Beverly Howard said...

Hey Sharon,

Our performances at "Willie's Lounge" were a part of some of the best years of my life! I'm amazed you remembered so much! As I read your"blog", I smiled too!

Thanks for the memories!

Anonymous said...

Good ole' Teddy B.
LOL

Anonymous said...

OMG, this piece was frickin' hilarious! You need to make these into your memoir.