Singing the fantasy in public

December 26, 1996|By Kevin Cowherd

AS A BOY, I was taught to be humble and not bring undue attention to myself, and so it is with some hesitancy that I write about my recent singing gig with the great Jr. Cline and the Recliners.

If you were there at Bohager's, the new Valhalla of rock on Eden Street, you know it was a magical evening -- a terrific rhythm and blues band somehow overcoming the thin, nasally voice of a beefy, middle-aged newspaperman masquerading as their lead singer.

As to exactly how this gig came about, well, it's a story that's almost eerie in the unfolding.

Last month, I was walking through Macy's in White Marsh when a man stopped me.

He seemed pleasant enough, so I eschewed the normal security precautions I take upon meeting strangers, which involve diving to the floor, executing a quick shoulder roll and screaming "Don't shoot!"

The man introduced himself as Chris Hurrow, a faithful reader of this column.

He added that he also bought my book, making him one of maybe 12 people nationwide who can make that claim. By now, of course, it was all I could do not to kiss the guy smack on his forehead.

Anyway, we chatted for a minute or two, I praised his sensible choice of reading material, and we went our separate ways.

A few days later, I was doing my weekly guest spot on the Allan Prell talk show on WBAL-Radio. Prell and I had just recorded a gag version of the Stevie Wonder-Paul McCartney song "Ebony and Ivory." Except our version was -- there is no other way to put this -- the single most horrible version you will ever hear.

Anyway, we played the tape for our listening audience. You could almost hear radio dials all over Greater Baltimore clicking off in disgust when, out of the blue, Prell asked me: "What's your fantasy?"

For an instant, I thought the man had flipped out and now imagined himself the host of one of those 900 sex lines.

"Well," I said finally, "you know what I always wanted to do? Sing with a rock and roll band."

Prell laughed, as would any sane person who'd heard us butcher "Ebony and Ivory" down to its entrails.

Then we took a call on the air.

"Kevin," the caller said, "remember the guy that stopped you the other day in Macy's? It's me, Chris. I'm the trumpet player for Jr. Cline and the Recliners. You can play with us anytime."

Well. To say I was stunned is putting it mildly. Jr. Cline and the Recliners are only one of the finest bands around. And here was one of their horn guys saying, in effect: You got a fantasy, pal? We can make it happen.

A minute later, we took another call.

"Hey, Kevin," a friendly voice said, "this is Maggie Lears. I'm married to Damian Bohager. Jr. Cline and the Recliners play our place all the time. You could do the gig right here."

Clearly, unseen forces were at work here. Events were no longer under my control. In the background, you could almost here the theme from "The Twilight Zone." "OK," I said to Prell, who by now was cackling maniacally. "I'll do it under two conditions: You gotta be on stage with me. And you gotta sing."

"I'll do it," said Prell, who, in the span of 10 minutes, had apparently driven all memory of our screeching through "Ebony and Ivory" out of his mind.

Two weeks later, I met with the great Jr. Cline himself in Daytona's, a cavernous, smoky joint in Anne Arundel County where the band was playing. He couldn't have been more charming and accommodating.

"What song do you want to sing?" he asked.

"Well, singing in this case is a relative term. But how about 'Domino?' I said, referring to the Van Morrison classic.

I'd heard that Junior, like me, was a big Van Morrison fan. Besides, what was I going to sing, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?" I didn't want anything where you could actually hear the lyrics.

" 'Domino' is a good one," Junior said. An hour later, the band went on stage and did its own killer version of the song. Junior had his sound man make me a tape, so I could practice singing it at home.

"Man, this is gonna be fun!" Junior said that night, walking me to the door. "Don't worry about it at all. I'll be with you every step of the way."

In the days leading up to the gig, I was alternately terrified and exhilarated. I listened over and over to the tape Junior gave me, rocking out late into the night, to the point where my wife took to whispering to the kids: "It's a mid-life crisis. The red sports car will be in the driveway any day now."

The day before the gig, Prell and I met the band at Bohager's. We rehearsed "Domino" twice. The session went smoothly enough and Junior pronounced himself satisfied, although my voice had all the rugged timbre of a 16-year-old who's just been pulled over by a traffic cop.

Prell, whose singing brings to mind a cat caught in a screen door, was attempting another Van Morrison song, "Gloria." So we rehearsed that twice, too.

The night of the gig itself, Steve Cochran, co-owner of Bohager's, sent a Jaguar limo the size of an aircraft carrier to collect us, furthering the rock-star delusion that Prell and I were apparently laboring under.

We waited until the crowd was pretty well oiled and took the stage at a few minutes before 10.

I was nervous before we went on. But as soon as my feet hit the stage, the butterflies disappeared and a wonderful thing happened: I really, really got into it.

God, we had ourselves a time! I sang the lead on "Domino" about four octaves too high, this time sounding like a man taking a shower when the hot water runs out. But the band was so good and the joint was rocking so much, it really didn't matter.

Prell had a ball, too. His rendition of "Gloria," complete with (for some reason) a cape and a turban, suggested Karnac the Magnificent on a glue-sniffing binge. But I guess we weren't too bad, because the Recliners looked like they were having fun and Junior invited us to sing with the band again next year.

All I know is, it was about the best Christmas present a 45-year-old guy weaned on rock and roll could get.

It beat the hell out of navy blue socks.

Thanks, Junior.

Pub Date: 12/26/96

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