Tuesday, May 10, 2011
We were all sitting at a table in Mabel Jenkins's Soul Food Joint... Myself, Reed Nelson and my keyboard player, Kerry "88" Moore as well as the record producer, Meek Rollins, my young protoge', Downtown Rob Brown and his friend, Melvin Dunlap...at one time , a hell of a trombonist....Now, married with two kids, one on the way and a steady job at the DMV...
It was a packed house today! Mabel and her sisters/partners in her business, Victoria, Corabeth and Anita were all working...Along with her cute waitress, " Baby Phat" and a few others...Mabel's legendary Jambalaya and Gumbo was on the menu and folks were lined up to get a hot plate of that good hot food...
"So Reed...When is the next time you play at Josie's?" asked Downtown Rob Brown...
" A month from now....We got a gig in San- Francisco in a few weeks." I said.
"That must mean that Brooke Taylor is coming here to Philly." mused Meek Rollins.
"Nah..Actually, We are opening for her and her band...Ingrid Rhodes and her guys are already out there..She on her way back to Philly next week..They played the USO club in Hawaii and in Japan recently." I said.
"Man, I sure miss them days...When we all used to be on the road..." said Melvin Dunlap.
''Aint nobody tell you to get married and have all them kids." Joked Meek Rollins.
" Ahhh, leave him alone...Man got a right to settle down if he wants to...Besides...He has a standing offer to sit in with my guys whenever we play Josies or Mulberry Street...and if he work out...He can come on our next recording date." said Downtown Rob Brown.
88 was silent...He was waiting for the plates of food... They were forthcoming...Corabeth and Anita brought our table several hot steaming plates of Jambalaya with grilled chicken and shrimp and an assortment of other things mixed in...Mabel ,Victoria and Baby Phat were busy taking orders and helping to seat people...She could now afford a staff of cooks and kitchen help and had even opened a second restaraunt a few blocks away. I was happy for her and her sisters...They had come up here from Louisiana and made a living for themselves.
"Hey 88..Speaking of settlin down...When you gone stop playin house with Mabel and put a ring on that finger?" I asked.
"I'm thinkin on it." laughed my erstwhile Keyboardist as he gulped down the good food.
"Yeah...well don't think too long...Ralph Scallion might beat you to it." joked Rob Brown.
Just the mention of that name sent waves of anger through me...The thought of him and Debbie still made me want to kill him...
"Hey where are the girls?" asked Meek Rollins.
"Debbie and Delores? They're at Bernadette's place, getting their hair done." I answered...
Just then....a guy I hadn't seen in years came in the restaraunt....Upon seeing me, he smiled and walked over to our table...
"Reed Nelson...My man....How long has it been?" he said.
"Not long enough Cornell...Where's the $50.00 you owe me?" I asked.
"Awww Reed...that was seven years ago baby!" he said.
"Yeah,so it has probably accrued some interest by now...Where is my $500.00?" I said.
Meek, 88,Downtown Rob Brown and Melvin Dunlap all busted out laughing....The man , Cornell Hood, went in his pockets and pulled out four crisp twenties and placed them in my hand....
"There Meek...that's fiddy and thirty more for your trouble." he said.
"Wow, never thought I'd see the day that you'd pay me back without me having to turn you upside down..How you been Cornell? ,Oh and excuse my manners..Guys...This is Cornell Hood...an old acquaintence of mine." I said.
"Heyyy, I heard of you...You used to play Guitar." said Downtown Rob Brown...
"Used to? I still do..." said Cornell.
"Yeah ,I got a few of your CD's...Where ya been?" said Melvin Dunlap...
"I'll tell you where he's been...He's been a guest of the state." said Meek Rollins derisively...Meek had been quiet all this time....but he knew of Cornell too, just like I did..
"Yeah man...I had some uh, er uh substance abuse problems..Usin and sellin and it uh got in the way of my career....Cost me seven years of my life...but I'm out now and I'm clean and I played a gig man up in New York City...mann..I'm straight." said Cornell.
"So what brings you back to Philly?" I asked.
''Reed..I need a gig....I don't have a band...Since I been out of the joint, I been sittin in with people...but I need a steady gig...Now I hear you goin on the road an..."
"I already have a guitarist Cornell." I said.
"I got one too....and I'm about to let my man Melvin sit in on the Trombone in my band...I don't have no more room for another piece." said Rob Brown..
"You might want to talk to Symphony Sam...He always has room for an extra piece in his er orchestra as he call it." said Meek Rollins.
"You're all heart Meek...I'm a serious musician an you want me to play with that circus barker, Symphony Sam." said Cornell.
"Heyy, I like this guy already." laughed Downtown Rob Brown and Melvin Dunlap.
" A job is a job....and you know what they say...Beggars can't be choosey." I said.
"Alright...I'll talk to him...Where is he?" asked Cornell.
"His group is playing at Josie's tomorrow night." I said.
''Josie's eh? That place is still open.....Is Gus still runnin it?" asked Cornell.
"Sure is.." I said.
"Okay...I'll be there." He said as he hustled his way through the crowd to find a seat...
"He was a hell of a guitarist back in the day." I said.
''Yeah, I heard him play...Me and my room-mates used to go see him play in Tribeca ,up in New York." said Downtown Rob Brown.
"Yeah...He let the junk mess up his career....but he looks good...and he does have some money...Guess he's straight." said Meek Rollins.
The next night, Delores and I shared a booth with Downtown Rob Brown and her sister ,Delores..."88" and Mabel Jenkins sat in the booth behind us, Melvin Dunlap and his wife and Meek Rollins sat at the bar....We were waiting for Symphony Sam and his band to start their first set.
"Seems like I can't shake these guys...They were in Jamaica, when I was there." said Delores..Rob Brown just smiled ruefully when she said that..I looked around and didn't see any signs of Cornell.
Symphony Sam and his band came out....He had added all new players...He had a Guitarist, a Bass player, A drummer, two keyboardists, a percussionist, two trumpet players, two trombonist and a guy on the vibraphone and him on his sax...They looked sharp...
They tore into their first number and I had to admit...They were good!!! Midway into their set they had everybody rocking back and forth and clapping their hands...Even Gus..Suddenly, I saw Cornell Hood ,making his way into the bar..He sat down...He clapped his hands to the beat and smiled that toothy grin of his.
After the first set was over....I walked over to Cornell....
"Glad you could make it....Well? What did you think?" I asked.
"He got new guys...They're young and they're good...I'm impressed." said Cornell....
''Hey Sam....Remember this guy?" I said.
Symphony Sam looked him up and down and smiled-
"Oh My God....Cornell Hood rat! When did they let you out?" he said.
"I been out a year now, I been sittin in wit cats up in New York, AC, North Jersey...but I'm back here cause I want somethin permanent.. A steady gig.." he said.
"Mannn, I got 12 guys in my band already....but I tell ya what...You can sit in with us for a few gigs and I'll ask around and see if anybody else needs another player, how bout that? It aint much money, but some bread is better than none, right?" said Symphony Sam.
''Sure thing..thanks man." said Cornell.
"See? That worked pretty good didn't it?" I said.
"Thanks Reed." said Cornell.
Symphony Sam's group was doing good ......Then! You knew there was gonna be a then, right? They began their second set by introducing their singer!!! It was Serena...The sexy young woman I had spent a very torrid night with two years ago...She looked great....and she was hell in the bed...but her singing was the worst I'd ever heard...For some reason, Symphony Sam kept her around...I could take a guess as to why.
Serena had gotten a little better....not much...Her singing was still terrible...As a singer, she'd of made a great bricklayer...Because the music was so tight, the crowd was kinder than it had been two years ago when they had almost rioted...but Gus was visibly pissed...Finally after two numbers....The crowd clapped politely and Serena stepped down... Symphony Sam and the group played two upbeat numbers that got the crowd clapping and rocking again and put a half smile on Gus's face...
"Reed...Rob, I told you that girl couldn't sing." laughed Delores....Debbie was laughing so hard, tears were streaming down her face...Rob was just smiling and drumming his fingers on the table..
"She'd never sing for me." he said.
She was sitting at the bar alone....Then Cornell walked up beside her. I walked up to the bar to pay for our drinks and I overheard him talking to her.
"Baby you sounded great." he said.
"You think so?" she said.
"Yeah...you just need a little help with your pitch and your breathing.." he said.
"Really?" she said.
"I'm a musician...I play the guitar....My name is Cornell, Cornell Hood...What's your name baby?" he said.
"Serena." she said.
"Look...I don't stay too far from here...Let me give you my number.....and my address,you got a smartphone?" he asked.
"Yeah..." she said.
"You come over my place and I'll teach you how to breathe better and control that pitch." he said.
"Can I come over tonight?" she asked.
His smile was brighter than a kilowat light bulb....
"SHO!!!!" he said.
I shook my head, So did Gus...This didn't feel right!
(To Be Continued...)