In May of 1997, we performed our first gig in 9 months at Jubilee Cityfest in Montgomery. Our friend Ryan Gill came down and played keys for us on a few tunes to help fill out our sound. For some reason, I decided to open with "All Blues", a waltz by Miles Davis and Eric and Freddie went along. That would have been fine had my guitar not gone badly out of tune thanks to the summer heat and the humidity from the Alabama River at the bottom of the hill. This was followed by my worst vocal performance of anything anywhere, The Who's "Heaven & Hell". I simply was not in the mindset to sing. However, it does show the direction that Eric and I were headed in. This near-nightmare of a gig (and the kick-off of a summer of gigs) was our most extremely well documented show ever, too. Two video cameras and digital audio tape from the board mix were all running. It wasn't all a loss; our three main songs, "Birmingham Song, She Left Me and Drivin South" were all great. So was "Killing Floor", which we did Hendrix-style. We went out with a bang on that one. By the end of the show, about 80-100 people had finally shown up. Thank goodness only about 30 people were there for the beginning.
By means of a friend of a friend, we found a booking agent. Figuring that any agent would do (and this was any agent), we submitted a "promo pack" to him via mail and waited. The fellow's name was Kevin Bush, a stocky guy who breathed heavily as he spoke and drank heavily as well. He seemed pushy and overconfident, and from those characteristics I judged him to be a perfect booking agent. What I didn't know was that he was just starting his business, and knew nothing about booking. He probably formulated his plans during drunken rants with friends at Perks Coffeehouse, a newly opened "business" and new place for bands to play.
The man who managed Perks was a short, Greek looking guy with an obvious New York accent. He claimed to have grown up in Montgomery. He and Kevin Bush were friends, and he booked exclusively through Kevin's new company, Black Belt Management and Booking. Several other clubs were being pushed to follow suit. The manager of Perks (whose name escapes me) was a crafty little bastard, and he never really honored any agreement with me that I can remember. However, if i wanted to play in montgomery at that point, I'd have to deal with one, the other, and both.
Kevin called one day to tell me that we had a gig at the Montgomery Motorspeedway. We argued about how good or bad of an idea that was, but i decided to take it under the condition that he find us something worthwhile to play through for that gig. A string of dates at the motorspeedway popped up, and the four of us in the band began to practice. Dad bought us a P.A. system for just such occaisions, for there were sure to be many gigs that summer where they had no PA and I would eventually need one anyway. So there we were, finally rehearsing with a PA (and I could hear myself sing for once) and preparing for these gigs. He finally got us a gig or two at Perks as well, with Kevin taking 15% of whatever the club was going to pay us. We were commanding between $200 and $300 a show by that point, and we lowered our fee to $175 for shows at the 1048 Club.
As each show neared, it would be cancelled. Sometimes within 24 hours of us to play. I think we played one show at 1048 before the manager there decided he didn't want to be involved with Kevin Bush and his management. He informed us that we could call him back, were we to part ways with Kevin. Black Belt was starting to look like a bad, bad idea.
On July 4th, 1997 we were opening for another local band, Once Over Twice. They were older than us and my good friend Greg Bozeman was their guitarist. Our fee was $200 for that gig, let there be no question that Kevin, Freddie, Eric, Brian and myself had all agreed upon that. After all, we could have been partying at Lake Martin or over at a friend's house or ANYTHING. We did not want to do that gig because of the ill temperment between ourselves and the management. Back then, we had no qualms about slamming other bands in light conversation. That one came back to bite me on the ass, and though I regret doing such a thing I still stand behind my statements. The management just happened to love the band that I felt was very "overrated" and "unprofessional" (i'm not talking about Once over Twice, by the way) and they held it against me.
Just before we went on, Kevin changed his mind about how much we were getting paid. Perks wanted to pay us $50. We decided to start packing up. Freddie became furious and demanded (i think that Eric and Brian were doing the talking as well) that Perks pay us $200 to play or $100 to leave. Kevin blamed the confusion on the fact that he couldn't remember what was agreed upon and told Perks that we wanted $50. He blamed his forgetfulness on his alcoholism. We all did. We openly each gave Kevin an insult and walked inside to perform after getting our $200 check.
Overall, it was a good show! Nobody was there except for a couple of friends. We furiously performed an hour of our best stuff, the exception to which was our 1st time playing "Girlfriend" by Matthew Sweet. Good God it was awful. We finished it out and played one more song. When Once Over Twice arrived, we warned them about what had just happened and advised them to leave Black Belt Booking with us. For us it was easy to leave; we'd never signed a contract. Thank goodness.
After another gig or two at 1048 for less pay but supposedly more fun, we did a "Battle Of The Bands". We were the 2nd band to go on. While we waited and waited for the first band to show up, Kevin Bush showed up and started telling us that since he'd gotten us this gig, we still owed him 15% of the winnings (if we won) and that we'd better go on on time. Blues Old Stand was to go on first, and they didn't show up until we were already doing our soundcheck. I thought that was very unprofessional of them. As we set up, Kevin leered from the side of the stage in a drunken, belligerent manner. I'd have had no qualms about whacking him upside the head with a guitar if he threatened me. He kept pointing to his watch and telling us to hurry up, that we were making everyone else late. But the problem wasn't with us, it was that the engineers couldn't get their borrowed PA system to work. Greg Bozeman was there to help us and he finally sorted things out by the 2nd song. We played 4 songs, and we played the best set we'd ever done. It was fast, loud, aggressive and I sang better than ever before. I was all over the stage. It was perfect. A lot of the bands that were to go on after us had showed up and we finally had a crowd. As we hit the final bash of "Drivin South", the musicians were shaking their heads, clapping and yelling "Fuck!" as their approval. Outside, we ran into a few guys who i'd met a long time before. They said that they didn't realize that WE were the Drivin South that they listened to on the radio every Sunday night... they were actual fans and we were happy to meet them. Very happy. It had been a great day. Of course, we didn't win. I believe that 41 Down, a metal band won.
Within a week of the July 4th gig, almost every single band on Black Belt's ever-growing roster of bands had left. Kevin was left with almost nothing when the dust settled. The bands would rather have fought it out on their own than deal through Kevin Bush. I think he moved back to Selma. We were able to get one more gig that summer, a show at local college AUM. Eric and I played very well that show. Brian and Freddie barely played at all, forgetting chord changes and generally being disinterested in the whole thing. It turned out that they didn't know we were being paid for that gig... we got $400! Maybe Eric and I should have split the money 50/50, but that would have been too much like Far South Movement. I never cared what managers, booking agents or anybody thought of me, just as long as the musicians I played with could say that I was always very fair to them. And I was. Often they made more than I did if it was an uneven split. I didn't really need the money back then anyway. After that, I was glad I could leave and go back to school. back to history Next