I had just talked my way out of my record contract with RCA Canada. Searching for loftier peaks to scale, I decided New York was the place to be. But at eighteen, I was hardly primed for the streets of Manhattan. In 1970 New York was a rough and unforgiving place, especially for a tenderfoot like me. For the longest while I was under the misapprehension that the babes on Broadway, in pink, plastic hot pants and pumps, were simply enamored by my very presence. Three whole self-deluded days would pass before reality hit. One evening I suddenly felt the crook of a petite arm locked in mine as I strolled down 7th Avenue. She was young and pretty and had a deep southern drawl. After a little flirting, she stated her price. Stunned, I can’t quite remember what came out of my mouth, but I do recall her walking away saying,” Stupid boy!”
The next day, on my way to my first audition, I found myself chasing after a thief who pilfered my nylon-string guitar right before my eyes, the moment I had set it down to buy a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Whatever the cost I had to get it back. It took three city blocks before he dropped the guitar case to the ground and vanished from sight. I missed my audition.
As days turned into months, out of money, I managed to forge a few alliances and ended up at a house in Yonkers, owned by the parents of a staff producer at RCA. I lived in their unfinished basement. It was the dead of winter so I felt well-off to have a cot, even if it was right next to the oil furnace. The nightly thunderclap and tremors made life a bit creepy, but no matter, the broken down upright beside it made enough sound to compete with the twilight ruckus. Then I found a room in Harlem to stay in for a while. In those days Harlem was a bargain for starving musicians, providing gunshots ringing in the night didn’t bother you too much. On the nights when I’d hear pistols pop I would try and meditate on how blessed I was to find a room for ten bucks a day.
Later, my cousins in Queens, Corona, took me in for a while. I slept in their collie’s bed. It was an old discarded mattress. I showed up to many auditions with fur in my hair.
Soon I had met a young man who saw potential in me. He was heir and son of a major whiskey baron. He put me up in a decent hotel for a couple of months or so. The room even had a baby grand. Things were looking up. The auditions were comin’ in.
After six months of peddling my wares and living like a drifter, Capitol Records offered me a contract. Amazingly, I refused. I had deduced that the budget was too low to produce the record I had in mind. I still scratch my head over that one—dumb.
After a year, out of ideas and no place to go, I was ditched by most of my New York pals, a little malnourished and penniless once more. Begrudgingly, I accepted my lot and took the Greyhound back to Montreal. I showed up late one night at my parents’ house like a prodigal son, a bit thin and pale—not so cock-sure as I was when I left.
I immediately fell pretty ill and was bed-ridden for weeks. After allowing hell to have its way with me, I finally got back on my feet and decided LA would be my next destination. The plan was to save up between four and five thousand dollars, build a home studio with enough left over to carry me through for a few months on the West Coast, until some record mogul saw the light and threw roses at my feet. How to save up such a sum would be a trick.
Joe had decided to drop out of college and accompany me on my mission. We called the group, Gino Vannelli and Good Friends. Of course, nobody would book us in the beginning, until one local club owner said he’d risk one night—the proviso being, for free.
The club was called, Chez Dominique, the chicest in town. One night turned into four months. George paid our entire 5-piece band $800 a week. Joe and I together managed to put away $300 a week, as per our master plan. (We both took a small allowance of $20 per week each, thanks to my parents supplying food and shelter)
The group got so popular in the local haunts that we were asked to go play Las Vegas for an amazing $5,000 per week.
I remember asking Joe, ”bro, how much we got in the till?” Joe replied, “Close to five G’s.”
“Forget Vegas, “ I said. “That was never part of the plan.” That’s not who we wanna be. . . .right?
“Damn right,” Joe said.
To be continued.