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When Joe Tex was a no show, almost.

September 1, 2009

It was not a Rainy Night in Georgia, but a Foggy Day in Pittsburgh that landed the 1966 Majestics at the then Baltimore Civic Center to back up the likes of Little Stevie Wonder, Solomon Burke, The Marvelletes Percy Sledge, many others while filling in for “Joe Tex and the No Shows.” The Joe Tex Band was to back up the performers in this Motown extravaganza. Unfortunately, their flight was fogged in in Pittsburgh. A quick call from someone (some say DJ Kerby Scott) brought the Majestics in to quickly sub for the Joe Tex Band.


“It was snowing and cold in Baltimore,” recalls Majestics tenor sax player Ray DeMoss, remembering good news, bad news. “But we were paid scale!”

I suspect we were called because we could all read music. The show had to be rehearsed, of course, and without the performers, in the afternoon. So we crowded into the ice hockey Baltimore Clippers team dressing room (very bare with cinderblock walls) and rehearsed. Hard.

“We had an endless rehearsal in the locker room,” remembers Majestics trombone player Don Lehnhoff, who some forty years later would become the maestro behind the Baltimore Jams and this very blog. “Little Stevie Wonder’s ‘handler’ was standing in for him.”

Everyone knows that any band can sound good in an empty room with cinderblock walls. We sounded better then good. We sounded great. The promoters were happy. We were happy.

Show time.

“The sound system consisted of only a couple of speakers,” recalls bass player Duke Gore, a professional soundman even today. “The Civic Center people set up eight or 10 mics across the front of the stage and piped us through the scoreboard horn array. I don’t remember any monitors.”

We used our own amplifiers. Needless to say, in the expanse of the Civic Center we sounded about one inch tall. About as tall as we must have looked from the nose bleed section 313, row xx. And we looked very white.  We were the only white faces there.

We tried our best. But I recall at one point early in the show the MC said: “How about a hand for the band!” A polite but decided stream of booos issued from the dark.

Performers came and went. We did our best, but it was all sliding downhill. Then came some disasters.  Some repeats were missed. We had a ragged start and finish on some tune. We were dead tired.

Then came Stevie Wonder, still called “Little.”

Little Stevie Wonder in 1966

Little Stevie Wonder in 1966

“Little Stevie Wonder stumbled over my amp when he came to the piano to play ‘With A Child’s Heart’,” says Duke. “I had to stand behind him because my music was on the piano.”

As Duke stood reading his music on Little Stevie Wonder’s piano’s music stand, LSW rocked his head back and forth, as he and Ray Charles were wont to do, and in the breeze the music (which LSW didn’t need) floated off and sailed, sinking toward the stage floor, floating left, right, left, right. And Duke watched it all the way to the floor, looking left, right, left, right…never missing a note.

“Little Stevie Wonder was absolutely fabulous on ‘Fingertips’,” remembers Ray.

Then, my upper lip started to bleed. I had pushed a little too hard in rehearsal and now, in reaching for some of those screeching notes that were meant for Joe Tex’s lead trumpet player, a cut had opened.

I suspect there were other disasters and great successes, but they have faded into the recesses of my memory. But, what will always stand out was what happened on the last song.

We had made it through. A marathon. An ordeal. Don, Ray and I were playing the finale chorus on the last song…a driving horn lick that went dat dat daaa, dat dat daa tada ….dat dat daaa, dat dat daa tada.. daaa…. and we still sounded about ‘this big.” Until, suddenly, there was a ground swell of volume and a great lifting of energy. We sounded like 10 horns!  We sounded great!

“I’ll never forget when the Joe Tex band started playing behind us,” says Duke. “At first I didn’t know they were there, and I wondered why the horns suddenly sounded so much bigger.”

Joe Tex’s band had just finally arrived, just in time for the last chorus of the last tune, and had come on stage in their street clothes—playing, blasting, blaring that final chorus along with us.

It sounded great. We were jammin’ with Joe Tex. The audience cheered. We were great.