Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.
 

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz, too.
 

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)
 

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.
 

Stratton has written op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post.


 
 

Category — Toby

HE MADE A LIVING AT MUSIC

 

music-store

Barry Weinberg, the owner of Mayfield Music in Cleveland Heights, rented PA systems and sold amps, guitars and drums. He died at 55. He was a rocker who lived hard. The sign at the back of his store read Give Me the Dough and You Can Go.

He carried a quality line of blues harps.

Before Barry, Mayfield Music was Chick Chaikin’s store. Chick lived pretty hard too, but in a middle-class way: Chick golfed, raised a family and played thousands of cocktail-piano gigs.

Chick Chaiken

Chick Chaikin

Chick was a big-band leader and solo pianist for decades. He played six nights a week at the Colony Restaurant, and knew just about every pop song written, according to trumpeter Bob Dreifort, who I talked to recently.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8/23/74

Cleveland Plain Dealer, 8/23/74

Chick’s brother Bill went out to Hollywood and eventually ran a movie studio, Avco Embassy. Bill was involved in The Graduate and more.

“I could have gone to the Coast too,” Chick said. “But my life is here, and I have my work, although every winter I say this is it. But I’m still here.” (Plain Dealer interview, 1977)

Chick’s store was Currier-Chaikin Music. Chick’s business partner, John Currier, was even older than Chick. John Currier had played piano at Euclid Beach Park in the 1920s.

Cleveland Plain Dealer 1/23/53

Cleveland Plain Dealer 1/23/53

Chick called me “Toby’s son.” Chick didn’t know my name. Chick and my father, Toby, were Kinsman Road boys.

Most of my father’s friends and acquaintances were businessmen: shoe store owners, insurance men, pawn shop owners.

How did my dad know a full-time musician? I guess Toby had no choice. Toby and Chick grew up almost next door to each other.

How did Chick wind up a full-time musician? I didn’t ask old people questions like that when I was in my twenties.

Chick’s life was all about family and music, his daughter, Jeri, told me this year. For a while Chick had a side job giving private music lessons through Cleveland public schools.I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask Jeri if there was more to Chick’s headstone than Leonard ‘Chick’ Chaikin 1915-2000.

Here are three fitting epitaphs:

a)  “Here lies a man who made a living at music.”

b)  “Chick a la King.”

c)  “I’m here 7 nights a week.”

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July 6, 2011   10 Comments

SEARCHING FOR GALICIA

My father, Toby, was a lot like his mother.  One of Toby’s mother’s favorite expressions was “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”  (Don’t you be a chump.)  Toby’s mother owned a candy store, raised four kids almost singlehandedly, buried a three-year-old daughter, and during her retirement years, owned a four-suite apartment building.  She was nobody’s sucker.

Anna Soltzberg (née Seiger) occasionally called her grandchildren — like me — foyl (lazy).  She lived at our house for a while. I called her Bub — short for bubbe (grandmother).   I wasn’t going to call her Bubby. Too effeminate.

Bub was not into baseball; she was into casino (a card game), the television show Queen for a Day; borscht, boiled chicken and cows’ feet.  She could eat. She had sugar diabetes.   Bub wore bubbe shoes.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964).  Circa 1951.

Anna Soltzberg (1884-1964). Circa 1951.

I couldn’t figure out where Bub was from.  I couldn’t even find her hometown on a map.

Bub said she was from Galicia, a province in Austria-Hungary. She was from the shtetl (village) of Grodzisko.  She came to America at 20.

In junior high I told my friends, “My grandmother is from Austria.”  That was dead wrong, but it made sense.

In her old age, Bub lived at my aunt’s house before she moved in with us.  At my aunt’s, Bub complained about the level of kashrut (kosher observance).  Bub wanted my aunt to not keep kosher.  Keeping kosher was too expensive.  Bub was an apikoros (non-believer), socialist and cheap.

Bub, circa 1904.

Bub, circa 1904.

At Bub’s funeral — at the shiva (mourning) meal — the question of kashrut came up again.  My two aunt Lils (Lil from Delaware and Lil from Washington), plus my Uncle Itchy, were at our dining room table.

Uncle Itchy, sitting next to Delaware Lil, asked, “You keep a kosher house?”

“Yes,” said Delaware Lil.

Itchy, slapping his hand down on the table, said, “Then why are you eating this meat?  It’s not kosher!”

Washington Lil, also slapping her hand down, said, “Ain’t that a hypocrite!”

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil.  1964

Washington Lil (left), Julia Stratton, Delaware Lil. 1964

“In other words, it’s either everything or nothing?”  said Delaware Lil.

“Yes,” said Washington Lil.

“That’s a very simple philosophy,” said Delaware Lil.

“Yes, it is,” said Washington Lil.

My mother, Julia, interrupted with: “Pass the treyf meat.” (Non-kosher meat.)   Mild laughter.  My mom was the peace-maker.

And the Lils didn’t talk to each other for a long time.  Years.

. . . Grodzisko, Galicia, Austria-Hungary.  I found it about 20 years later, in the mid-1980s, on the Shtetl Finder map. The village’s Yiddish name was Grodzisk (pronounced GRUD-zhisk), about 60 miles west of Przemysl.  The various shtetls (villages) had so many different names.  That was the trick.  And there were several Grodziskos.

Mili Seiger 1939

Mili Seiger 1939

During my research, I came across a family postcard, postmarked “May 1, 1939, Grodzisko.”  It was from cousin Rachela Seiger.  It was in Polish and said, in brief, “How are you?”  On the flip side was a photo of  Rachela’s  sister Mili.

The Germans invaded Poland four months after the postcard was mailed.

I looked up “Mili Seiger” and “Rachela Seiger” on the Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum) online archives.  There were so many Seigers, Siegers, Zygers, Zaygers and Zeigers, I couldn’t find Mili or Rachela.

There are three types of Jews.  Not Reform, Conservative and Orthodox.  Try American, Israeli and victims of the Holocaust.  Each about a third.  These are my people.

—-

This story was cross-posted on  The Forward, online, last month.

Thanks to Yiddishist Lori Cahan-Simon for help on the expression “Geven-zhe nit a yold.”

Footnote . . .  Plotting Grodzisko by Teddy Stratton, 1998:

map-2-grodisko-by-teddy-1998

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March 23, 2011   10 Comments

THE JEWISH PING-PONG LEAGUE

1. EAST DIVISION

The ping-pong season started several months ago, when violinist Steve Greenman called and said “I want to play ping-pong tonight.” He got tilapia out of it.  Not a bad night for a single guy (soon to be married).  My wife, Alice, cooked.

Ping-pong is predominately a winter sport in Cleveland. The Jewish ping-pong dean here is Valeriy Elnatanov.  He’s a Russian pro who used to teach ping-pong and pilpul at Green Road Synagogue, an Orthodox shul.  [Not sure about pilpul (a Talmudic study method) but he did teach Hebrew to Russians.]

jewish-ping-pong

Valeriy moved on to other training facilities.  I saw him at the Shaker Heights community building playing top-notch Asians.

Valeriy said the best way to develop a top-spin forehand is to turn a bicycle upside-down and swat repeatedly at the spinning tire with your paddle.  I never did that, but I thought about it.practicing-spin

When Valeriy practiced, he used dozens of balls.  That’s the way to go.  You bend down less.

My wife, Alice, has a good forehand slam.  Steve Greenman has a steady backhand.  Neither cheats.  Many ping-pong players don’t toss the ball up high enough on the serve.

2. WEST DIVISION

How come documentaries about California musicians — Hal Blaine, the Sherman brothers — have poolside shots, but no outdoor ping-pong shots?

I played ping-pong on a patio in Los Angeles. You don’t forget that if you’re from the Midwest.

In the Cal movies, the musicians are sunbathing poolside.  Are they embarrassed to show their ping-pong moves?  (The Kids Are All Right, set in California, had an outdoor ping-pong table.  No musicians playing, though.)

My father, Toby, had a childhood friend in Los Angeles, Irv Drooyan, who taught school, wrote math textbooks and played outdoor ping-pong.  Toby kept in touch with Irv and one other Clevelander in California, Sol of San Diego.  In the 1950s, California was just an extension of Cleveland.

These friends of my dad occasionally switched their first names — maybe to dodge anti-Semitism.  Irv was Red.  Sol was Al.  Toby was Ted.

My introduction to outdoor ping-pong was on Red Drooyan’s patio in Woodland Hills, California, in 1962.  Unforgettable because a) it was outdoors, and b) I didn’t know my dad had any friends.  In Cleveland, my father had hung around exclusively with my mom’s friends and their husbands.

California was about a) stippled paddles — with a woody sound, and b) my dad with friends.

Good vibrations. Got to get back there.

To 1962 or California?

To the ping-pong table.

Your serve.

—-

[For goys only.  In Ralph Solonitz‘s ping-pong table illustration,  “milchidike” refers to dairy and “fleishidike” means meat.  The two major divisions in the Kosher League.]

—-

Please see the post below too.  It’s raunchy and new.
—-

Yiddishe Cup celebrates Purim this Sat. (March 19), 7:45- 9 p.m., Park Synagogue, Cleveland Heights.  Open to all.  Free.

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March 16, 2011   9 Comments

FIVE UNEASY PIECES

1. My father had a game idea Let’s Blow Up the World.  I apportioned the megaton bomb ratings to various countries.  What kind of bomb did Paraguay deserve?  An M-80 firecracker?  Let’s Blow Up the World never made it past “high concept.”

blow-up1

2. Alan Douglass, Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, was a klezmer-revival pioneer.  He could have called klezmer “anchovy pear music” in Cleveland in the 1980s and people would have believed him.pioneer Alan let other musicians start the klez bands.  These others musicians got the extra money for being bandleaders.  What can a gentile do?  It wouldn’t have looked right for a goy — Alan — to lead a klez band.

creeak3. Len Gold, a Cleveland ad man, wanted to make a Yiddishe Cup exercise video, Stretch ‘n’ Kvetch, to sell at temple gift shops.  Never happened.

4. Don Friedman, Yiddishe Cup’s drummer, was on What’s My Line in 1966. Don’s line (job) was testing drums for the Rogers Drum Co. in Cleveland.  (He was a drum tester, not a rum tester.)  Don probably could have had several more minutes of fame if he had asked Bennett Cerf to explain his name.

Don Friedman (L) with host John Daly

Don Friedman (L) with host John Daly


5. Yiddishe Cup had a gig lined up for Fuerth, Germany, but the klezmer festival organizers there changed directors, or something, and we got canned.  I heard years later, through the klez grapevine, that Yiddishe Cup will never play Fuerth.  “They don’t like you!”  That’s the word on K Street.

Why don’t they like us? Maybe because I wrote the festival committee: “For three years we think — with good reason — we will be playing a concert in Germany.  Then, boom, it all goes kaput!”  I ended with a string of rage: “unscrupulous,” “shameful” and “dirty.”  I did not play the race card.  I did not call the klez-festival organizers anti-Semites.

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March 4, 2011   6 Comments

FISHING FUN

My mother went deep-sea fishing off the coast of Miami Beach and caught a sailfish in 1965.  She had the fish mounted, and over the years, the trophy fish moved around like Waldo.  It’s in a garage now at my nephew’s in Arizona.

Cleveland Press

Cleveland Press

When I was young, my family went to Florida just that once.  I’m not saying we were deprived.  I’m saying I didn’t go to Florida regularly like my wife did!

My wife, Alice, went every single year.  Her family stayed at the Deauville. Even Alice’s mother (a small-town Jew from West Virginia) went to Florida annually in her childhood.   That was in the 1930s, to a kosher hotel in Miami Beach.

I married into money.  Or so I thought.    [See the post “Major Roofer.”]

fla-fishing-the-reel-world

In the mid-1980s, I took my parents’ car and drove from Boca Raton (where my parents had a condo) to Miami Beach, looking for extremely old Jews.  The Boca Raton Jews weren’t old enough for me; I wanted to see Isaac Bashevis Singer and similar alter kockers in Collins Avenue cafeterias.

Philip Roth’s father had stayed at the Hotel Singapore. So had Meyer Lansky.  Mickey Katz patronized the Delano.  (I didn’t see these men. That would have involved time-traveling.)

The Clevelander Hotel at 10th and Ocean Avenue featured a horrible restaurant, Harpoon Mickey’s.  I saw plenty old Jews on that trip.

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton.  Florida, 1983

A piece fish, plus Toby and Julia Stratton. Florida, 1983

Last winter I returned to Miami Beach and saw very few old Jews.  I saw a lot of jet-setters speaking foreign languages and wearing nearly nothing.

I noticed the Clevelander Hotel was spiffed up; the bedroom floors had a silicon seal to keep the guests’ puke from seeping to the rooms below. The Clevelander was now rocking.  I looked for T-shirts in the hotel gift shop and read about the silicon seal in a local newspaper article.

At the Fontainebleau Hotel, Max Weinberg’s swing band was playing in the lobby.  The horn players — studio musicians from California — were wailing.  What a treat, and it was free.

I phoned the cultural arts director at the Boca Raton JCC.  She was on vacation.  I wondered, Where does a Miamian go for winter vacation?  I left a voice mail: “Yiddishe Cup wants to play in Boca again!”

Success. We landed the Boca fish.   Yiddishe Cup plays the Boca Raton  JCC this Sun. (Jan 23), 3 p.m.

—-

Please see the post below too.  It’s fresh fish.

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January 19, 2011   4 Comments

TRAVELING VIOLATIONS

1. JERUSALEM

Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader, Daniel Ducoff, flies frequently for his day job as  university fundraiser.  He knows which security lines are fastest. Even if he’s flying Continental, he’ll often switch to the quicker Southwest line at Cleveland airport.

Man against the machine . . .

My Uncle Al griped about tour bus drivers in Israel who turned the air conditioning too high.

My parents had travel stories about drunken Russians on cruise ships. And I heard about haggling for a gold wine bottle in Italy. I saw the slides.

I threw out the slides.  I have one left:  my parents at The Wall in Jerusalem.  My dad had on Jack Purcells.  He was always in a hurry.

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

Julia and Toby Stratton, 1971

My dad kept a list of his purchases abroad. Here it is, abbreviated:

Rosewood carving of temple dog. Bangkok
Ceramic bells. Israel
Porcelain-in-pewter bowl. Hong Kong
Brass circular dish. Morocco
Wool flokati rug. Athens

My parents didn’t buy all that much.  No jewelry and not much clothes.  My dad left me plenty, but very little clothing. I’m not complaining.  I got  buildings.

***

2. KENTUCKY

Daniel Ducoff — Yiddishe Cup’s Sir Dance-a-lot — collects refrigerator magnets of states Yiddishe Cup has played.  Sometimes I give Daniel magnet investment advice.  For instance, 10 years ago I told him to buy “Kentucky.”

It was getting on my nerves — not playing Kentucky.  Kentucky is ridiculously, abuttingly close, to Ohio.

The conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra has played in 10 foreign countries and 29 states.  Who’s counting.

Next month Yiddishe Cup plays Connecticut — a state which isn’t even on our screen.  Is Connecticut a legitimate state?  Does it have a state bird? Connecticut seems more a township or shire than a state.

Yiddishe Cup has played Ohio, Indiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Florida, Canada and, shortly, Connecticut.

Connecticut but no Kentucky.  Why?

Yiddishe Cup plays in Lakeville, Conn., on 10/10/10 for a wedding. Klezmer bandleaders from the Northeast will not be happy to read this.

Or maybe they won’t care.  Maybe they’ll all be in Kentucky that day.

***

3. NORTH CAROLINA HAIKU

The Greensboro Furniture Mart
convention
is happening.

No beds except at the seedy hotel
across from the Executive Club
which in Cleveland is a catering hall
but in NC is a strip joint

Are we in Amsterdam?

Continental breakfast
The Corn Flakes in the Styrofoam bowl
need milk
for weight
fast
Too late
Where’s the broom?

Musicians with instruments
at the Delta counter
“Our gig was colder than an MF,” their drummer says
“You played outside?” our singer says
The Neville Brothers’ drummer
Even the big boys freeze their pupiks.  

—-

1 of 2 posts for 9/29/10.  Please see the post below too.

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September 29, 2010   4 Comments

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCA. . .

1. PITTSBURGH

Pittsburgh is where terrific walk-on musicians play with Yiddishe Cup.  We had a Duquesne University guitar teacher, Kenny Karsh, sit in at wedding.  How many jazz musicians know “Yossel, Yossel” and Chusen Kale Mazel Tov”?  He did.

At another Pittsburgh gig, the bride’s uncle sang.  He requested the key of Ab.  Nobody but a pro asks for Ab.  He sang “Unchained Melody,” a slow song, even though the bride had emailed “NO SLOW SONGS.”  But what could she do, the singer was her uncle.  He was a hit.  (Brides don’t know what they want.)  He was in a Chicago society band.

Pittsburgh’s JCC has an outdoor clock with Hebrew letters on it.  Pittsburghers rebuilt their JCC in Squirrel Hill, where it had previously been.  In Cleveland, no Jewish institution would rebuild in the same place.  Twenty-five years and out.  That’s the rule in Cleveland.  Move it.

Pittsburgh JCC

Pittsburgh JCC

When the Cleveland Heights JCC moved to Beachwood in 1985, my dad, Toby, bought a plaque for the new cloakroom. The plaque, which was no bigger than a business envelope, cost several thousand dollars.

Nobody noticed the plaque.

Several years later, the Beachwood JCC expanded, and Toby’s cloakroom was in the heart of the action, right next to the new auditorium.

My dad could always pick property.

Except in New Mexico.  That was out of Toby’s wheelhouse.  Toby foundered whenever he left Ohio. He bought a piece of land near Albuquerque that went nowhere.

Lot for sale.  Rio Rancho, New Mexico

Lot for sale. Rio Rancho, New Mexico

He also did a deal on a shopping strip center in Sunrise, Fla., and lost money because he wouldn’t — or didn’t know how to — play ball with the crooked city administrators.

A relative, Lefty, sold my father the New Mexico land in 1965.  Lefty was a Jew with a tattoo.  Lefty lost a lot of money for a lot of people.

Toby didn’t hold the deal against Lefty.  The land is still there. It’s not going anywhere.

I saw Lefty at gigs over the years.  He didn’t go by Lefty any more.  He got into basement waterproofing business and made a lot of money.

Forget the Land of Enchantment . . .

Pittsburgh.   Pittsburgh is Yiddishe Cup’s San Francisco — hilly, terrific neighborhoods, great museums and a lot of culture.  “I Left My Heart in Pittsburgh.”  Write it.

***

2. BOLLYWOOD

Something important happens at weddings, unlike at bar mitzvah parties, where you’re just attending a family reunion. Pass the family reunion T-shirts.

The ultimate low-stress gig: a 50th wedding anniversary party.  Play whatever you want. Everybody is glad to be there, period.

For weddings, the bandleader sometimes gets mounds of emails and communiqués beforehand.  The bride doesn’t want the band to play anything slow, nothing from Broadway, and she wants to hear her Bollywood MP3s at break.  Also, don’t announce the newlyweds’ names, but if you must, say “Jen and Zach.”

“I’m NOT taking his last name!!” the bride emails.

Not every bride is hands-on, though.  Some say, “We know Yiddishe Cup has done this many, many times.  You know what works.  We trust you.”  These are the best brides.

Here’s what works: skipping the Bollywood music, strolling table-to-table, varying the musical styles and inviting guests to sit in with the band.  Toasts work too — in chunks.  No more than three toasts in a row.

And having the wedding in Pittsburgh.  Preferably at the downtown Westin.  The staff there feeds Yiddishe Cup before the guests.  Maybe because we’re important out-of-town musicians.
—-
Yiddishe Cup plays 7 p.m. Wed., Sept 29,  Fairmount Temple, and  7:15 p.m. Thurs, Sept. 30, Park Synagogue, for Simchat Torah.  Cleveland.

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September 15, 2010   5 Comments

TED “SKI”

Ted Budzowski was my dad’s favorite building manager.  Maybe because they were both Teds.

My dad was “Ted” at work and “Toby” at home.  Ted Budzowski was “Ski” at his day job (crane operator at Republic Steel) and “Ted” around the building.

Ted Budzowski could have treated me like a silver-spoon son of a boss, but instead he invited me down to the mill on family day.  I didn’t make it to the mill for some reason.  Everything was air-conditioned at the mill now, Ted said, including his crane cab.

I eventually caught a tour of the mill with the Society for Industrial Archeology.  The slabs of molten steel coming from the furnace looked like creamsicles.  Big red melting blocks.

My dad and Ted talked in a clipped cadence, like telegrams.  Ted would say, “The kid [tenant] is hanging on by the grace of God.”  That meant pay up.

“That tenant is a troublemaker,” my dad answered.

“The kid better not raise a rumpus.”

“He’s thinks he’s cute.” Toby said.

“Yeah, tell it to the judge,” Ted said.

“Give him an eviction notice.”

Ted had two Stratoloungers in his living room, an Okinawan mongoose-and- cobra souvenir, and a tree-stump occasional table, which his son had made. The son lost $8,000 on tree stump tables, which never caught on big in Cleveland.  The good news was the son also was a retired career solider.

Ted Budzowski, 1978, age 63

Ted Budzowski, 1978, age 63

Toby and Ted were about the same age.   Toby was from Kinsman Road, and Ted had grown up in Youngstown, Ohio, near Cowshit Hill (a real place).  Ted’s kids had made it out, just like Toby’s.   Ted’s second son worked for the phone company.

When Ted retired to Texas to live near his military son, I hired Buck, a hard case who had grown up in a Tennessee orphanage.  Buck didn’t like certain people, particularly sons of bosses.  Buck thought many routine tasks — cleaning up after tradesmen, watering outdoor plants — were not part of the job.

Buck frequently got “porky” with me.  (That was West Side talk for “argumentative.”)  Ted, on the other hand, had always been helpful.  Ted would tell me when my tire pressure was low.  He could sense low tire pressure.  He thought about tire pressure.  

For his last 15 years, Ted’s HQ was probably his Stratolounger in San Antonio.  He didn’t check back with me, except for an annual holiday card.

Meanwhile, Buck was raising prices unilaterally on odd jobs.  He never asked what I thought the job was worth. Who was bossing whom?

I had a hard time bossing around people older than myself.

That changed. I got older.
—-
1 of 2 posts for 8/25/10.  Please see the post below too.

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August 25, 2010   3 Comments

STANDING IN THE SHADOW OF LeBRON

1. GOT A CARD?  NO!

I was a guest at a wedding where the band’s sign was bigger than LeBron James. The banner was eight-foot, like something you might see on a telephone pole announcing “125 years of excellence in education.”

The wedding reception was elegant, but the band’s sign was totally Bedford Auto Mile.  The sign read “More Acts, Better Music, Higher Standards.”

Higher Standards?  The bandleader was Italian.  I knew him.  Roman standard bearers?  The bandleader said to me, “It’s better to be a guest than to work, huh?”

What?  I always prefer playing over schmoozing.

When Yiddishe Cup does weddings, I hand out business cards.  Nothing gaudy.  And I don’t shovel them out.   These cards are almost collectors’ items.  I’m not going to pass them out willy-nilly.

Everybody already knows Yiddishe Cup.  If you say “klezmer band” in Ohio, it’s us.  Now, if we’re in Buffalo, N.Y., for example, I might go heavier on cards.  But I don’t put out a tray.  That’s too dental office.

Granted, we feature Yiddishe Cup’s logo on our bass drum.  Our logo is cool, whimsical and tasteful, and it gets us some gigs.  (Ralph Solonitz designed the logo.)

At the “Higher Standards” wedding, I met a businessman who did music production as a sideline.  I asked for his card.  He didn’t have one.  And he had 100 employees, he said.

He had achieved placid-plus status: no card.

My goal is to be him.

***

2. BALLISTIC / LOADING / CAVS

A Yiddishe Cup musician went ballistic when he saw a college football game, or so he thought, off in the distance.  He said, “I’m so through with this country’s obsessions with sports!”

Yiddishe Cup was loading-in at a student union by a college stadium.

The Yiddishe Cup musician had fouled.  Here’s why: (1.) The college kids were playing lacrosse, not football.  (2.) It was a Division III game.  The stadium was small, with no crowd to speak of.  (3.) The kids were getting some exercise; this was not a big money, faux-pro game.

Yiddishe Cup musicians, for the most part, are not up on today’s sports scene.  For instance, I just learned a basketball shot “from downtown” means a three-pointer.  And I’m wondering what “the post” is.  I watched several basketball games lately.

I have an agreement with my cousin George, a serious sports fan, to go to the Cavs victory parade. I want to be there.  Depends on my Depends though, because I’ll be very old.  Also, depends if it’s raining.  I’m fair weather.

Last Sunday Yiddishe Cup had a gig, a pre-Shavuot Torah dedication/celebration, which was almost postponed to accommodate LeBron James’ reading of the Book of Kells.  The Cavs were scheduled to play the Celtics then.  (Cleveland lost prior, on Thursday, so the playoff series ended, and everything worked out fine for the Torah dedication.)

About championships . . . My father, Toby, promised to take me to the World Series, but the Tribe never made it when I was growing up.  My dad, instead, took me to Ohio State homecoming games.

I took my kids to the 1992 OSU homecoming game.  The Ohio Stadium scoreboard lit up: This Sat. at the Wexner Center, Don Byron Salutes Mickey Katz.

What next, Bucks?  “Fight the Team Across the Field” in Yiddish?

Don Byron played OSU, I think, because Columbus resident Les Wexner, the billionaire owner of The Limited, paid Byron’s band to entertain Wexner’s elderly mother, who probably requested the Mickey Katz show because she didn’t want to fly to New York.  That’s the only logical explanation.  Don Byron never played any other Mickey Katz–tribute shows in Ohio.

Go Mickey.

Go Katz.

Go ‘Cats.

Go Cavs.

If you’re a Cubs fan, or whatever, be quiet about your sports-induced suffering.  You don’t know anything.

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May 19, 2010   3 Comments

MICE ARE GOOD PEOPLE

My father, Toby, owned a modern “apartment community.” The complex was “garden-style,” meaning three-story buildings grouped around a parking lot and pool.  The buildings had mansard roofs and looked like McDonald’s.  The place had an Anglo name.  Jamestown.  Should have been Jonestown.

The development looked genteel but wasn’t.  One guy peed in the heating ducts and poured aquarium gravel in the toilet on his way out.  Some tenants used the hollow-core doors for karate practice.

A high school wrestling coach, who was also a multi-millionaire, bought the complex and turned it into condos in 1977.  Worked out for everybody.  As the banker said to Toby, “You made your money, and he made his. Be happy.”

I used to repair the complex’s roofs, mostly replacing lids on vents.  The lids were called Jap caps because of their coolie-hat shape.

There is no more peaceful place than a roof top — at least a flat roof.  You can see everybody, and nobody can see you.  That’s why cops in The Wire go on roofs so often.

***

“I’m in real estate.”

I say that whenever I don’t feel like saying “I’m a landlord.”  If I say “I’m a landlord,” people often hear “I’m a slumlord.”

I don’t sell houses or flip properties.  I collect rent, evict people, charge late fees, and look for cats in apartment windows so I can charge pet fees. Does that sound like a slumlord?

When I vacationed at the Michigan alumni family camp, I introduced myself at the meet-and-greet as a landlord and klezmer musician.  People laughed at the “landlord” part, particularly the campers with advanced degrees.  “Landlord” was so bad it was good. “Klezmer” was cool — the arts.

I came across a Yiddish anti-landlord song in the klezmer business. “Dire Gelt” (Rent).  The lyrics, in brief, are: “Why should we pay rent when the stove is broken?”

I’ve heard that line before about the broken stove.  Not often.  It’s usually “My bathroom ceiling is falling in.”  It’s all about water damage in the landlord biz.

And it’s occasionally about animals.

What bugs me: tenants who ask for a hotel room because they saw a mouse.

Mice are good people. I’ve had mice in my house. I don’t run to a hotel every time I see a mouse, and my bank doesn’t give me a reduction on my mortgage payment.

1 of 2 posts for 4/21/10.  Please see the next post too.

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April 21, 2010   3 Comments

THE LIFE CYCLE DIARIES

1. CHEERS FOR “L’CHAIM”

I had a funeral gig, or thought I did.  The deceased, Sid Elsner, had booked me years prior.  Sid wanted a New Orleans-style, jazz-klezmer element at his funeral.  Not a kosher concept, but neither was Sid.  [Goys: Jews don’t often have music at funerals.]

When Sid died, none of his adult children mentioned music, so I didn’t play.

At the gravesite, I got a recipe for Sid’s brisket.  His oldest son was passing out the secret list of ingredients (chili sauce, onions).

Food works. That’s why there are shiva (mourning) meals.

A musician in Yiddishe Cup has attended only one funeral.  He has been to hundreds of weddings and one funeral. Lucky.

My mother’s favorite song was “Shenandoah,” which we sang it at her stone setting but not at her funeral.

My dad didn’t have a favorite tune.

Yiddishe Cup’s singer, Irwin Weinberger, wants Yiddishe Cup to play at his funeral.  I hope I can oblige.

After a 2000 Yiddishe Cup gig, I stopped at my father’s grave with my youngest son, who placed an old clarinet reed on my dad’s headstone.  My son had just played his first paying gig, on drums, with Yiddishe Cup.  I wanted to let my father know I was still around, still pushing the ball — cutting the grass, raising a family, starting a klezmer dynasty.  That last notion — the klezmer dynasty — would have flummoxed Toby, my father.  The last time Toby had heard me play I was a Cannonball Adderley wannabe.

. . . Here’s some advice for Jewish dads doing toasts at weddings: make your speech funereal. Pretend you’re updating your dead father, even if he’s alive.  Use flashbacks and talk about your kid’s personality quirks.  Stay on the high road; let the maid of honor do the weird stuff.  And end with “L’chaim,” even if you’ve never said it before.  “Cheers” from a Jew is a big turn off.

***

2. TOWER OF POWER

It’s unnerving when the bride ditches her own wedding.  She gets the flu for example, or a headache or swollen ankle, and has to lie down for a few hours.  Misses the whole party.  That marriage may not last.

Worse: the mom dies during the “Chicken Dance.”  That happened.  Not at my gig, but at one my video guy was at.

Did my video guy get it on tape?  I don’t know.  The video guy died on me.  Not at my gig, but slowly, over months.

He didn’t move around much; he had a stationary video rack.  He just stood by his rack, which I called the Tower of Power, and barely budged the whole night.  In his final days, he really bugged me.  For instance, when Yiddishe Cup would stroll table-to-table taking requests, like klezmer-achis, he would tell me which tables to go to.  “Can you do the head table next?” he would ask.

I didn’t know he was that sick.  “Why?” I said.

“Because I want to sit down,” he said.

I said no.  The head table was nowhere near us.  We had a traffic pattern to maintain.

He said, “I’ll remember this when you want a favor.”

Then he died.

Yiddishe  Cup plays Mon. April 19, 6:35 p.m., for the community-wide Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) celebration at B’nai Jeshurun Cong., Cleveland.

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April 14, 2010   6 Comments

CLUBBING

Nobody in my neighborhood knew about private tennis lessons.  Music lessons, yes. Tennis, no.

Exception: my father, Toby.  When I was in high school, Toby got me about 10 tennis lessons at a gentile country club, and suddenly I was one of the best players on my high school team.  Yes, we still got clobbered by Shaker Heights and University School, but in our division, the Lake Erie League, we were above average.

That goyish club now will accept anybody, and not just for drop-in tennis lessons.  Show them the money.

One of my mega-rich buddies says two Cleveland country clubs still don’t want Jews.  Yiddishe Cup plays those clubs.  Well, once.  We got treated fine there.  The upper crust treats help and dogs best.

We get hassled the most at a Jewish club: “Use the kitchen door,” says Kim the Kurva (Whore), the manager.  Kim (not her real name) doesn’t want musicians near her front door, messing up the view or her valet parking.

Kim’s view might disappear soon.  That Jewish club is considering closing and merging with a nearby gentile club.

“Hine Ma Tov” (How Good It is) at the Mistletoe Dance.  Yiddishe Cup on the bandstand.  We’re ready.
—-
2 of 2 posts for 11/11/09.

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November 11, 2009   No Comments

OLD GUYS

The phone number at AAA Window Shade Co. was 221-3700.  The proprietor, Joe Villoni, started there at 13, and was 87 when he pulled the last shade down.  Seventy-four years: same job, same location.

He quit in 2003 because nobody was buying window shades anymore.  Everybody was into $5 mini-blinds at Home Depot.  My father,Toby, and I had kept Joe’s rent low because Joe never asked for anything.

The store’s wood floor had a grooved path circumnavigating the huge window shade—making machine. That apparatus, and possibly the whole store, belonged in the Henry Ford Museum.

I always liked Joe — and the other old-guy tenants.  I was just a baby, a pisher (pisser/youngster), to these guys.  Another old tenant, Jim English, gave me a metal Phillies cigar box full of screws.  I appreciated the cigar box more than the screws. I was in my twenties and collected anything older than myself.

An old custodian, Jeanne Saunders, left me several novel manuscripts when she died. She had one lung, a great disposition, and a tough life; she should have written her life story and gone easier on the long, lanky cowboys and gladiators.

Another old custodian, Mary Kubichar, produced a concert for Yiddishe Cup.  It was at the Beck Center for the Performing Arts on the West Side.  That was the first — and last — West Side Yiddishe Cup concert.  (West Side means “not a lot of Jews.”)

Mary was from western P.A.  (You need to say each letter: P. A.)  She never married.  After retiring from Higbee’s department store, she became a super volunteer at her church and the Beck arts center.  So when she told the arts center to hire Yiddishe Cup, they owed her.  The concert turned into an appreciation party for Mary. (She died the next year.) Even the publisher of the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed up.  It was a very big deal.  We played a couple Slovak pieces for Mary.
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1 of 2 posts for 10/28/09.  Please see post below too.

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October 28, 2009   4 Comments

FISHY

1.   JEWISH FORK-LORE

Musician Mickey Katz called chocolate phosphates “Jew beers.”   He drank them at Solomon’s on E. 105th Street.

I drank mine at Solomon’s at the Cedar Center shopping strip, where Solomon’s moved to.

For some Semitic semantic reason, goys occasionally called Cedar Center the Gaza Strip. Now it kind of is.  The north side of Cedar Center is concrete chunks and gravel heaps. A real estate developer knocked down the 1950s-era plaza and plans to redevelop.  Who knows when.

Solomon’s was my family’s deli of choice. My father, Toby, was a “deli Jew.”  In the Jewish world, that’s usually a putdown, meaning the person knows more about corned beef than Rashi.  Toby’s favorite food was a “good piece of rye bread.”

Toby, a phosphate fan, probably didn’t drink more than a dozen real beers his whole life.  He should have.  In his retirement, when he drank booze he smiled a lot more.  A bit shiker at one party, Toby teed off on a watermelon fruit bowl with a golf club. That stuck with me.  [Shiker is drunk.]

Toby grew up in a deli. His mother had a candy store/ deli at E. 118 Street and Kinsman Road. She sold it to her half-brother when he came over from the Old Country.  Something fishy about that deal — something involving the half-brother’s wife.   My grandmother went from candy store/deli owner to simply candy store owner.  Not a lateral move.

At the Gaza Strip, there was also Corky & Lenny’s. (Still around — four miles east.)   A couple small Jews hung out in the rear booth at Corky’s.  One was Harvey, who did collections for a major landlord.  (Major, to me, means more than 1,000 units.)  I knew Harvey from junior high.

He sued my mother.  My mother, for health reasons, moved from her Beachwood apartment after 27 years into an assisted living facility.  She had a couple months left on her lease.  Harvey, who represented the major landlord, went after her.  Harvey’s boss, by the way, loved my band.   So what.  My mother was collectable.

Freelance journalist David Sax just wrotea book about the decline of delis.  Here’s something for the second edition, David: Delis went downhill when they added TVs.  Now you have to watch the Browns while you eat.

I was deli-famous.  At Jack’s Delion Green Road, I had a thank-you note up in the entrance.   My letter was about the terrific tray for my firstborn’s bris.  Fatherhood was about buying huge quantities of smoked fish.  What a blast.  (I ordered the exact same tray for my daughter’s naming.)

I complimented Jack’s Deli on its fish, which my Aunt Bernice, The Maven, also liked.   I mentioned “The Maven’s seal of approval” in my letter.  Bernice work for a food broker and knew food.

My letter was up for a couple years.

(Acknowledgment to Henry Sapoznik for “fork-lore” in this story’s title.)

***

2.  ’DINES

The trend at mass-feed kiddushes (post-service temple chows) is toward Israeli foods: hummus, baba ganoush, Israeli salad.

When you privatize — and don’t invite the whole congregation — you typically add some fish.

All Jews like a good piece of fish: lox, smoked fish, herring, the occasional sardine.

My youngest son recently called  from Trader Joe’s in Ann Arbor, Mich., and said, “Don’t get excited, Dad, but do I want the sardines in oil or water?”

“Oil.”

I did get excited.  My college kid was finally getting into ’dines.

My mother had given me about eight cans of ’dines when I went off to college.  I ate them on Sunday evenings, when the dorm cafeteria was closed.  (This was back when sardine cans opened with a key, and the ’dines were Portuguese — not Moroccan like now.)  Surprisingly – to me at least – the guys in the dorm wouldn’t share my ’dines. Pizza time.

I liked all kinds of ’dines.  Even the monster-size sardines in tomato sauce were OK.  Bones, no bones . . .  no matter.  Cajun sauce, soya oil, olive oil, mustard sauce . . .  all good. Four ’dines in a can, two in a can . . . either way.

Anchovies?  Also, an excellent choice. Make sure you buy your anchovies in a bottle; they last longer than in cans.

Herring in wine sauce.   Beware.  Last month Heinen’s supermarket substituted Vita brand for Golden Herring.  That was lamentable.  Vita is too sugary.

At luncheons, the other Yiddishe Cup musicians don’t seem to appreciate the fish (i.e., the “dairy spread” in kosher parlance) as much as I do.  Yes, they like the lox.  Lox is apple pie.  But the other items (smoked fish excluded) get little play from the band.  You should see the mountains of herring left over.

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October 21, 2009   17 Comments

KLEZ CZARS

Klezmer bands are often run like dictatorships because klezmer music originated in Eastern Europe — a part of the world notorious for autocrats.  Or so hypothesized Walt Mahovlich, the leader of the renowned gypsy-style band Harmonia.  Walt is an expert on Eastern Europe. His full name is Waltipedia.  Maybe.

Walt used to be in Yiddishe Cup. Technically he still is.  He is on a leave of absence, which he requested 13 years ago.  Walt likes to keep his options open.

If you run a band as a democracy, you’ll be in total disarray on the bandstand, Walt said.  I had a musician who liked to call tunes for me.  Drove me nuts.  Luckily he moved out of town 19 years ago.

Yiddishe Cup’s keyboard player, Alan Douglass, occasionally requests songs.  More often, he requests not to play a certain song.  For instance, he does not like playing “balls out” (hard-driving) music during guests’ meals.  Sometimes I agree with him, sometimes not.  These folks — at bar mitzvah luncheons — are comatose from a three-hour shabbat service followed by a 30-minute kiddush (post-service schmooze).  Sometimes they need a bracing shot of high-proof klez.

Some musicians have trouble with bandleaders’ czar-like behavior. My guys — not so much.  Yiddishe Cup’s musicians are the best in Cleveland; they get paid the most; and they generally cooperate.  If I have a problem with a guy, I’ll talk to him alone, not in front of the others.

Craig Woodson, a veteran drummer, taught me not to air private grievances in public.  Craig, too, believed in the benevolent monarch thing.  He had worked with a king — Elvis.  (Check Craig out in the movie Clambake.)

Craig was Yiddishe Cup’s second drummer. He was good — and in California too often on his own gigs.  Yiddishe Cup went through a ton of drummers.  Our current drummer, Don Friedman — who has been with us 13 years — knows how to keep time and add tasteful fills.  So does our alternate drummer, a yingl (boy) named Diddle.

Diddle, 21, started “playing out” (gigging) when he was 13.  I hate that — that start-out-as-young as-Mozart-or-you’re-toast mentality.  Diddle’s father hangs around our gigs, kind of like Venus and Serena’s dad.

Cleveland’s jazz king Ernie Krivda played in his dad’s polka band at 13.  Clarinetist Ken Peplowski played in a polka band at 13.  Joe Lovano started the sax at 5.  “At 16 the young Joe Lovano got his driver’s license and no longer needed his father, Big T, to drive
him . . .” blah, blah.

My father was a “Big T” too.  Toby.  Why didn’t he have a band?  Or at least a decent record player.
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1 of 2 posts for 9/2/09.  Please see post below too.
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Yiddishe Cup concert 7:15 p.m. Sun., Sept. 6, Orange Village (Ohio) gazebo.

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September 2, 2009   3 Comments

CALIFORNIA SCHEMING

My dad, Toby, was a big fan of California. He and every other Ohioan in the 1960s.

His cosmetics company, which he started in the basement, was Ovation of California.  It was a franchise.  The franchisor, based in California, was simply “Ovation.”  Toby added the “of California.”  Toby sold moisturizers, shampoos, eyebrow pencils, lipsticks and bases.

Bases were war paint for women.  My mother, who wore the stuff on sales pitches, looked like a Claymation figure.  My parents gave presentations at Cleveland hotels, trying to recruit women to do home sales parties.  Better yet, become sub-franchisees.  My parents had a carousel-tray slide show with an LP sound track that synched to the slides.  Beep.

Ovation went bust. Avon Products was the powerhouse back then.

Californian dreamin’ . . . it’s part of  the Midwestern mentality.  My family took the station wagon trip to California in the sixties.  Our “station wagon” was a 1961 Pontiac Catalina sedan with no A/C.  Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red (My Love)” was on the radio.

We wound up in San Francisco — the home of Daniel Ducoff, Yiddishe Cup’s dance leader.  I didn’t even know that!

Daniel’s father was a rabbi in Frisco. While I was growing up in standard-issue Ohio, Li’l Danny was being raised in the Haight, or more exactly, three miles from it.  To this day, Daniel wears a T-shirt that says “What if the Hokey Pokey really is what it’s all about?”  Daniel is Cali Man.  He has many different sun glasses.

Daniel — when he’s out in California for a high school reunion or something — will phone me: “They’d love Yiddishe Cup’s bizarre humor here!  Why aren’t we playing here?”

Daniel played several tracks from Yiddishe Cup’s Meshugeneh Mambo CD for Grateful Dead guys.  Not exactly Grateful Dead musicians.  It was for Mickey Hart’s ex-wife and the Dead’s ex-manager.  They danced to “K’nock Around the Clock.”  Nothing came of it.

Daniel does not have the Midwesterner’s sense of limited possibilities.

Get real, Daniel.  Get us a gig in Kentucky.  Get us a gig in Columbus, Ohio.
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1 of 2 posts for 8/26/09.  Please see post below too.
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Yiddishe Cup concert:  7:45 p.m. Sun., Sept. 6 at Orange Village (Ohio) gazebo.
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Watch a new YouTube video of Yiddishe Cup singing the Barry Sisters’  “Zug es mir nokhamol.”  Good harmonies.

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August 26, 2009   3 Comments

MY DAD WAS A NUMBERS GUY

This post is for everybody who read my recent Wall Street Journal article about my dad and wants more info on him. (The WSJ article is linked here.)

My father, Toby, got a letter from a Piney Woods Arkansas man, extolling my dad’s homemade foot powder: “Mr. Lesbert: Do NOT stop making the powdor! Do NOT stop!!” Toby used to make the foot powder in the basement. The company was Lesbert Drug Co., named after my sister, Leslie, and me. My dad stopped making the powder. The Arkansas man was about his only customer.

Then Toby started selling cosmetics. Then he starting buying buildings . . . on and on.  He was the Jewish Willy Loman. (Kind of like how klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras was the Jewish Benny Goodman.)

My dad schlepped me to banks. I remember a banker who called my dad “Teddy.” That was weird. My father’s given name was Theodore and his Jewish nickname was Toby. This banker liked to talk Tribe (baseball) and his wife’s spaghetti recipes. The banker was a “people’s person,” he said. (Maybe he was a dogs’ person too.)

My father was not a people’s person.  He was the Lone Ranger. He got the mortgage and we got out of there.

My dad owned one LP record, of the Ohio State marching band. My dad had stock records. Toby bought his first stock, Seaboard Air Line, when he was at Ohio State. Air line meant train line back then. Air line was the shortest distance between two points — the way the crow flies. My dad never made money on stocks. He was too busy buying and selling and not holding. Toby was even a stockbroker for about six months in the 1950s at Bache & Co.

He liked numbers. He was a numbers guy. Totally.

 

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August 19, 2009   6 Comments

HIS OWN BOSS

My father, Toby, was never shy about discussing money— who had it and who didn’t.  He never hid his salary.  On our street he topped all the Italian bricklayers.  Toby excluded polka star Frankie Yankovic from the calculations.  Yankovic was several streets over, where the big houses were.

Our neighborhood was Levittown-plus living: 3-bedroom/1½ bath colonials.  The paradox was our neighbor, right across the street. He had a freaking airplane (Piper Cub).  And six kids too.  This neighbor, Mr. Cermak, was a second- or third-generation drugstore owner.  (Odd: a Christian with a drugstore.  All the other pharmacists my family knew were Yidn.)

You could make big money before the Revcos came in, particularly if you were the storeowner and the pharmacist.  Mr. Cermak was both.  Mr. Cermak was his own boss.  My dad took note of that.

Where are they now? . . . Mr. Cermak lives in the same house.  He has been there 60 years.  The plane is gone.  So is Yankovic.   So is my father.

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June 9, 2009   No Comments

SOFT SEATS

Never take less than the equivalent of two months’ rent on move in. If a person can’t pay that, you’ll be chasing that person from the get-go.

I once had a custodian who took a ring instead of a security deposit. The renter was an elderly retired nurse from Houston. Also, a felon. But we didn’t know that. She conned her way into the apartment with a dime store ring.

I did a little “self-help” — legal-talk for evicting her without the court’s permission. I got a couple guys, and we moved her stuff into the basement. Her lawyer took several thousand from me. That was my last self-help.

I’m not “mom and pop” — I have a layer between me and the tenants: my on-site building managers/custodians.

How did I get to be bigger than “mom and pop.” First off, it helped my father was Toby Stratton. He bought a six-store, 21-suiter in 1965. He put down 8 percent and got two second mortgages. That’s heavy leverage. Gambling.

The band biz — we’re not “mom and pop” either. “Mom and pop” in the music biz would be a bar band — $100 per night per guy. Yiddishe Cup is above that. We’ve played the soft-seat auditoriums. That’s what the music biz calls the college auditoriums with cushy chairs.

For example, we played Loras College in Iowa and ate at the Ground Round afterward — the only place in Dubuque that was open after 10 p.m.

We’ve played Mt. Union College, Beloit College, Michigan State, UNC-Greensboro, Chautauqua Institution, City of El Paso (Tex.), Kenyon, Wabash, Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. That’s the gateway to the Ozarks. A lot of places.

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May 13, 2009   No Comments