George Worthmore on kissing-off Kiss
By Robert Laing
Lots of bands have been upstaged by their opening act, but few have been upstaged by their roadie. One of (now former) Blues Room proprietor George Worthmore's yarns is how he got fired as Kiss frontman Paul Stanley's guitar technician in 1980.
"I took Paul's guitar on stage and I saw the ten bazillion people in Wembley. I was like Mickey Mouse in the The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the scene where he grabs the hat and the wand. I just started finger picking some Blind Blake song on Paul's asymmetric pointy headstock guitar, and the crowd started screaming. The Kiss guys hustled me off stage, and the next day I was on a plane back to America."
Going further than simply check if Paul Stanley's guitar worked was Kiss's second strike against George.
"Before that, Paul Stanley had got crab lice in Dortmund, Germany. Part of my job as his guitar roadie was handling his towels. I made a comment at a meeting with the band's management, accountants and other roadies about whether it was fair that I still had to handle Paul's towels. That was the first strike against me."
George is the son of a New York City garbageman with the accent to prove it.
"My father was a garbageman and an actor and my mother was a nurse and an opera singer. My father did some part time acting work to help make ends meet, and so do I. I've got a part in a movie with William H. Macy which is going to be shot in Cape Town in April. That should be a lot of fun."
The Blues Room in Sandton's upmarket Village Walk shopping mall has been going 12 years under George's stewardship. Many Gauteng musos recall how George gave them their first gig. For instance, Josie Field told me when she had never performed before, she asked the girl at the Blues Room's door how to go about getting a booking. George popped his head out of his office, handed her a guitar, watched her play a song, and booked her.
"I can tell immediately if someone good," he claims.
A Blues Room tradition is Wednesday night is New Music Blast. This is for up and coming bands who might not have a full night's material yet to play with six or seven other bands.
"It gives newcomers a chance to see what other bands are doing, network with other musicians, and play in front of an audience. I let them have an unlimited guest list."
Disappointment with the door takings is a constant gripe of Joburg musicians. The more established bands can circumvent this by demanding a set fee and passing the problem of attracting a large enough crowd on to the venue. New bands rely on the cover charge, and the splitting the take and questioning why so many "friends of other bands" were let in for free invariably leads to bickering. George, controversially, takes a 40% cut of the door money.
"Rent in Sandton ain't cheap," he points out. Furthermore, the Blues Room supplies a top-end sound system, employs a full time engineer, and markets gigs aggressively via e-mail, in newspapers and magazines, and is one of the few to keep its website up to date.
Established bands tend to have their own equipment and sound guy anyway. Newer bands often get stung playing venues which don't have their own sound system. A typical gig for a new Joburg bands sees an investment of two grand — hiring a sound guy with equipment plus printing and distributing fliers — see a paltry return of R300 from ten people paying R30 each. While the Blues Room takes a cut of the door money, it doesn't force any overhead costs onto new bands.
George likes to come across as pretty gruff: "I don't take crap from musicians. In the 12 years I've been running the Blues Room, I've only had one no show. I make the bands sign contracts to make sure they pitch on the night they are booked. And I don't allow them to drink before they play."
This last rule is regarded as particularly onerous in a town where musicians conventionally get a few drinks on the house.
As a veteran of New York City's gig circuit, George's attitude is if musicians here think his rules are too tough, they should try play the clubs where he started out.
Behind the gruff demeanor is a guy who has gone the extra mile to help several talented newcomers get a start in the music business. One of George's recent proteges is blues singer Miriam King. She arrived from Zimbabwe without backing musicians and hugely impressed George at a Wednesday night New Music Blast. He recorded, produced and played guitar on a CD to help her market her talent properly. He has done the same for a band called Redhand, and is keen to record a Live at the Blues Room CD for Dan Patlansky who has played in his club since he was 16.
During a radio interview, George picked a song he wrote called Look me in the eye. It's a catchy pop tune with lyrics chastising somebody about their infidelity and materialism — basically about a typical Sandtonite.
"It was written specifically for a friend of mine who made me angry. So it's best you stay on my best side."
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