The Singer in the Band

By Sue Mayfield-Geiger

I used to be a singer. I wore long, slinky dresses and rhinestone earrings. I sang blues and jazz to a smoky room full of patrons who drank Cutty Sark and Jack Daniels. The club was called the Backstage, and it was on the corner of Main and Holcombe, tucked away in the inside pocket of a shopping center.

I shared the bill with the Bobby Doyle Trio, three guys who sang vocals and also played piano, bass and drums. The bass player with the trio was Kenny Rogers (yes, the Kenny Rogers) who finally got smart, left Houston and became a household name.

A few years later, a performer by the name of Willie Nelson was booked into the Tidelands on Main Street because he wasn’t big enough to draw a crowd at the Houston Rodeo. Marty Robbins got booked there instead. Of course, Willie went on to become an even bigger household name. I didn’t, however.

My singing career lasted about two years. After the Backstage, I moved to Florida and sang with a three-piece band known as The Statesmen. After eight months, I returned to Texas and sang at a few more spots before deciding that the nightlife really wasn’t for me. I eventually married, had children and lived happily ever after.

But, every now and then, I wonder, what would have happened had I had the perseverance of Kenny and Willie? They certainly gave their careers a lot more than two years. They spent decades climbing the ladder, falling down, getting back up again, and it finally paid off. Subsequently, both of them became super stars and made a tremendous impact on the music industry. I didn’t, however.

I used to ask myself, did I quit too soon? Should I have been more brazen? Should I have moved to L.A.? I met a lot of influential people – record execs, promotional types, etc. I even made my very own demo tape and sent it out to several recording studios. Some wrote back; most didn’t. “Nice voice, but not what we’re looking for,” they’d say.

I remember my sons’ reaction when they discovered that tape years later and played it for the first time. “Ghastly! What kind of beat is that? Great voice, mom, but those tunes are from the dark ages.” What did they know? They grew up listening to heavy metal groups who were a cross between a vampire and Bozo the Clown (think “Kiss”). When they were babies, the only thing that stopped their crying was my crooning “Embraceable You,” “Blue Moon,” “Star Dust” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.”

I still sing once in a while. Of course, now with Karaoke everywhere, anyone can sing. You’ve got an entire recorded orchestra backing you, with lyric sheets or a television screen in front of you; a crowd cheering you on. Anybody can be a star. Recently, I did perform during Karaoke night at a local club. You take a number, write down the songs you’re going to sing, wait your turn, then get up on stage and knock ’em dead. There’s an overseer of sorts who adjusts the volume, and gets the crowd stirred up. Not to mention the TV screen displaying the lyrics like the New York Stock Exchange.

It was okay, but way too mechanical. I’d much rather be standing next to a live piano player, with a warm spotlight on my face, while my gloved hand picks up a boxy microphone, and sing every tune – not from a television screen or lyric sheet, but from my heart, where all my songs live. After all, if you don’t know the words, why sing the song?

I may not have made the bigtime, but I do know how to appreciate good music. Karaoke may be around for a while, but give me a shiny, black baby grand with a keyboardist who can work magic on the ivories, and I’m famous!

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