Friday, May 27, 2016

IN AND OUT OF THE SPOTLIGHT - PT 2

It was the end of Ted's sixth Saturday of practice with the band when Al and Jim approached him.  They stood there and watched Ted as he put his stuff away in a backpack and prepared to go home.  He did not realize Al and Jim were there and so when Al broke the silence it caught him off guard.

"How you feeling, Teddy?  Feel like you are keeping up with the band okay?"

"Sure do," Ted said confidently.  "I am really enjoying this"

"Well," Al hesitated a moment, looked sideways at Jim who nodded his head," Well, we been thinkin' it is about time for you to earn a little cash for your playing.  Can you be here at six tonight ready to play?"

"Sure can sir.  I'll be here anytime you say to."

"See you at six then." and Al and Jim walked away talking to each other.

When Ted got home he excitedly told his parents that tonight he was going to be an official part of the Hogey Opry. Excitement filled the room and his mother started figuring out what Ted should wear that night.

"I think I'll just dress normal mom, you know blue jeans and a button shirt.  Don't want to look new, you know."

Ted's mom agreed and then time stopped for Ted.  It was the longest afternoon of his life.  He kept imagining in his head how it would go.  How people would whisper about the piano and the kid playing it.  The Hogey Opry was about to change their sound a little for the first time in many years and Ted was going to be at the center of it.
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That night Ted showed up at six.  The group had a meeting going over the line up of songs and skits for the night.  Basically it was about two songs followed by a skit and then two more songs.  The show would last two hours.

After the meeting, Al pulled Ted aside by the arm.

"Teddy, we been thinkin' that, well you can't hear that old piano very well so I want you to practice a bit on this thing I bought you in town.  Jim bring that thing out here."

From behind the curtain Jim appeared pushing an electric piano.  Ted was stunned and excited.  He had never played one before and he wanted to practice on it as bad as Al wanted him to.

Al pointed at the piano as he began to talk.  "Now they tell me it plays just like a regular piano.  The harder you hit the keys the louder it is so you can still put some of that emotion in it the way you do in practice.  It will be hooked up to the sound system along with all the other instruments.  Go ahead now, play on it.  Get use to it, get the feel.  I want to be sure everyone hears this addition we are about to ad."

Ted didn't need to be told twice.  He spent the next hour or so playing what he was going to do in the show that night.  He found it to be a little awkward at first but slowly got use to it until he felt comfortable with it.  After he had worked through the numbers he went backstage with the rest of the troupe and sat down waiting for the show to begin.

As it got to be closer to eight, Ted began to hear the sounds of the crowd arriving for the show.  It got louder and louder and then at precisely eight, Al walked out onto the stage to the main microphone to welcome the crowd and to start the show.

"Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the show.  We think, and certainly hope, that you will enjoy yourselves tonight.  We are going to play some good ol' music and have some short skits that will keep you smiling and entertained.  So let's get it started.  Here they are, the Hogey Opry Band!!"

And with that all the members of the band came out from back stage and took their place at their various instruments.  Ted was the last one out and he felt sweat beading on his forehead as he sat behind the new piano.  He looked at Al intently as the old man picked up his fiddle and started an introduction to the first song.  Right on cue, Ted joined with the rest of the band in the song.  Two of the girl singers came out and started to sing.  Suddenly Ted was unaware that there was a crowd out there watching.  He was playing music just like in practice and he was having a great time.

The band stayed on the stage in their places during the skits between songs and Ted smiled and laughed with the rest of the band.  He had seen the skits several times but it was part of the band members job to laugh at them as if they were seeing them for the first time along with the crowd.

It was about halfway through the show and between songs when Al stepped to the microphone.

"I wanna introduce my band to y'all", he said in an almost fake southern drawl and one by one he named off the musicians.

As each name was called the performer would step forward and and wave to the crowd or tip his hat if he was wearing one.  Ted nervously waited for Al to call his name.  Suddenly Al stopped introducing band members and started to put his fiddle under his chin to start the next number.  He had not introduced Ted to the crowd and for a second Ted was just a little hurt.  Then Al lowered his fiddle and started to speak again.

"Oh you know folks, I almost forgot.  You see we aren't use to having a piano in the band but tonight for the first time, we have a piano as part of the permanent band.  The boy is sitting back there and this is his first night with the Hogey Opry.  Folks please welcome for the first time Teddy Senner to the stage!"

Ted stood up almost shyly as the crowd applauded the new arrival. After that first night Ted was introduced along with the rest of the band as a regular member and his shyness that would overcome him as he waved to the crowd slowly went away until he felt quite at home at the Hogey every night.
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During the next three years Ted began to experiment writing songs during off hours at the theater.  He would come in early and stay a little late to see if he had it in him.  At first the song writing was difficult.  He was good at writing the music but lyrics would not come easily.  Slowly he progressed to learning how to write a song and one day he felt like he had finally written one that he wouldn't be ashamed of playing in front of people.

One Saturday morning after practice for the show, Ted asked Al to come over to the piano and listen to his new song.  Al was skeptical but agreed to give it a listen.  The song was medium tempo and gave a message of a lost love like trains passing in the night.  The situation that each of the lovers were in never allowed them to be as one.  It was a very emotional and sad song and as Al listened to it he could see a picture appear in his mind of what the two were feeling.  Ted came to the conclusion of the song and looked up at Al who was standing still with his head lowered.

"Umm, that song there, you wrote it?" asked Al very seriously. "Have you written any others?"

Ted sighed as his reply came out softly.  "Yes sir, I have written a few but they aren't very good.  Matter of fact been thinking of just trashing them."

Al pointed at the piano, "Play me one of those other songs Teddy."

Ted began to play what he thought was the best of the other songs and when he finished he looked up at Al who was now sitting in a chair shaking his head.

"Play another of those songs you wrote," Al ordered and Ted began to do another song.  The two of them were there until almost showtime as Ted played all of the seventeen songs he had written.  After playing some of the songs, Al would offer a suggestion or two that would improve the song.  As the session between the two musicians came to an end because showtime was creeping up on them Al stood up and asked a question that Ted never expected.

"You think you could play one of those songs next week for the show?"  Al was staring at Ted with a cold stare that showed he meant business.

"I guess I could.  Would it be solo or with the band?"

"Whichever you prefer," Al said.  "Those are damn good songs kid.  You need to get them out there."

The next weeks show featured "Teddy Senner" playing a brand new song alone on the piano while the rest of the troupe stood on the stage facing him and his piano.  When he was finished everyone applauded, even his fellow band members.  Every week from then on there would be a Teddy Senner special song and each show Ted was applauded loudly by the crowd.  He began to write more songs and it seemed that each time he did, it was a little better than the one before.  Ted had become a star of the Hogey Opry.

Ted spent another two years with the Hogey.  He continued to write songs on a regular basis and was building up quite a library of them.  He had been called Teddy so often that after five years he responded to Teddy without thinking and even introduced himself as Teddy Senner.  There was no longer a Ted.  It was Teddy now and would be for the rest of his life.
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One Saturday morning as the troupe was gathering for practice, Teddy noticed a lone figure sitting in the theater.  Teddy know that Al sis not like visitors during rehearsals so he found it odd that Al didn't pay no mind to the man watching.  As Al walked by Teddy decided to ask Al about the figure sitting out there.

"Hey Al, who's the visitor?"

Al looked Teddy straight in the eye and lifted his hand up and placed it on Teddy's shoulder.

"Son, that man sitting out there is here to listen to you.  He is here to watch you and, well, quite frankly, if you impress him enough, he could be your ticket out of the Hogey.  He'll probably want to talk to you after we are through.  Just do me a favor okay?  When he talks to you, remember who gave you your first gig, okay?  Just remember that when you are thinking about things that he might talk to you about."

Teddy looked back out at the figure and suddenly he felt his stomach start to roll.  He decided to do his best to forget the man sitting out there and just act as if it were another Saturday morning.  The troupe went through the paces of the show for that night and Teddy played a new song that touched every heart in the place.  It was a slow, emotional song with a great melody and lyrics that everyone could relate to.  When he had finished the song, it was quiet for a few seconds before Al began to clap and the rest of the band joined in.  It was by far the best thing Teddy had written and he happened to have it ready on this particular Saturday with the stranger sitting in his seat watching and listening intently.

When the run through of the show was finished, Teddy along with the rest of the band prepared to go home to rest for that nights show.  As Teddy was getting his things together Al walked up and cleared his throat before speaking.

"Um, Teddy, this is Mr. Chapman.  He would like a word with you if you don't mind.  Mr. Chapman, Teddy Senner."

Mr. Chapman reached out to shake Teddy's hand and suggested that they go out and sit in the theater to talk a bit.  Teddy followed the well dressed man down into the third row and sat waiting to hear what this was about.

"What can I do for you Mr. Chapman?" Teddy asked seriously.

"Well, the first thing you can do is call me Brian.  The second thing you can do is listen to an offer I have decided to give you.  It's the chance of a lifetime Teddy.  Lots of people wait their whole lives to hear what I am about to say to you."

Brian Chapman leaned forward to explain. " Teddy, you may not realize it but word of your talent has gotten outside these four walls here.  People are starting to ask about who this Teddy Senner is.  I decided to come up here and hear for myself if you were as good as the talk is about you and I got to tell you kid, you are better than they think."

Brian turned and reached into his briefcase and came out with some papers that were stapled together.  He looked them over page by page and sighed as he shook his head.
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"Teddy, this is what I came up here for, to offer you this.  Not sure I want to now though.  These papers are a contract that I was hoping you would sign to come down to West Plains and be a studio musician for a couple of years.  You ever here of the label TMR?"

"Can't say I have," Teddy said gazing at the papers that Brian was still holding with the question of what Brian was going to do.

"Not surprised that you haven't.  I started the label about five years ago.  My vision was to give artists, young artist, well new artists a chance to record because the big labels are too busy to mess with too many new singers.  A company like, well RCA for example might, just might sign one or two new artists a year.  The odds are pretty well stacked against you.  You know, I have been coming up here for the last eight shows listening to you and frankly, I am surprised that one of the big labels haven't approached you yet.  That being the case, I find myself in a position to make you an offer before they do.  From what I have seen and heard, you could be the one that puts TMR on the map.  Here's the deal.  I have only got six artists recording for me under contract.  They have done okay regionally but have not spread outside southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.  Not going to give you these papers.  What I am going to do though is write up a new contract that would bind you to record at least three singles, that is six songs, with an option for me to get four albums from you on my label."

Brian stared at Teddy to see if he could read a reaction from the young man.  Teddy just sat there looking at the floor between his feet while thoughts and questions flooded his mind.

Brian spoke again to finish his pitch. "I'll get a publisher to publish all the songs you record so you'll get a percentage if someone wants to record one of your songs.  You'll get a percentage of any record sales on the TMR label.  Son, I think you got what it takes, I really do.  What I am offering to you is what could be your big break.  Personally, I think you would be damn foolish to turn it down.  Now I'll be back next week with a new contract.  Think about it between now and then.  Chance of a lifetime son, for both of us."

Brian stood up and looked down at Teddy.  "See you next week Teddy.  Give it serious thought, okay?"

Ted stood up and nodded his head, "yeah, sure, I'll think about it.  Thank you Mr. Chapman."

"That's Brian." and with that Brian Chapman turned and walked up the aisle and out of the theater.

Al had been sitting on the stage watching the conversation and picking up bits and pieces of it.  He jump down to the floor and walked over to Teddy.

"Well?  What did he say?"

"He offered me a record deal at TMR in West Plains, Al.  I am kind of stunned, you know?"

"Take it Teddy.  You don't need to think about it.  If it works, then great, you are on your way.  If it doesn't work out, at least you'll know you gave it a shot and you always have a home here.  You can't turn this down."

Teddy knew Al was right.  He had to take the deal.  He left the theater quietly in deep thought and headed home to talk to the folks about it.  He was sure their reaction would be the same as Al's.  Can't afford not to give it a shot.
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