The Last Days of the Black Rock Rhythm Aces

I was tired, the kind of tired that makes you feel good right through. The muscles in my shoulders and arms ached and I could feel the sweat down my neck and on my brow. I guess we’d been playing three maybe four hours. Staashu was a demanding son-of-a-bitch of a bandleader I can tell you that.

He kept saying one more time, one more time, I’m not feelin’ it yet, one more time.

Finally I just said fuck it I need a break. Don’t forget I’m an old man. I grabbed a can of 50 from the cooler and sat back on the old sofa Boomboom had hauled into our practice space. Maggie rolled up a couple joints and sparked one up.

Hey Lazy, you’ve played like 10 million gigs, what’s the worst gig you ever played?

Geez Maggie, the worst gig I ever played? The worst gig I ever played was in Buffalo New York, back maybe 15 years or more. I guess it was the mid-60s. I was subbing on accordion, just a short term thing with this polka band, the Black Rock Rhythm Aces. The regular accordion player was out with a broken arm and I was between bands so I took the work. The job was ok you know, the usual repertoire of polkas, waltzes and obereks, and the players were all pretty hot so it was a lot of fun playing with them. We were gigging regularly, church dances, weddings and like that, and we had a weekly Saturday night thing in this beautiful old dance hall. There was me, a concertina, electric bass, sax, clarinet, and a drummer. Man, we could make a lot of noise.

Well on this particular night we were playing a dance in this big old hall in a church basement. They put out this really nice spread first. They had those big round tables set up and they had all that good old Polish food you know, and this was Buffalo but they liked their Canadian whiskey and each table had a twenty-sixer of Canada Club. The dinner, well it was fantastic, and everybody was getting pretty lubricated, including the band, and after a while they cleared the tables away to make room for dancing and we were on. It was a big-ass hall like I said but it was in the basement and so the ceilings were pretty low and the ventilation was shitty and the room was filling up with cigarette smoke. Everyone was having a great time if you know what I mean.

So we did a set and everybody was dancing and it was getting a bit crowded in there but you know it was alright and we had just started into the second set when the trouble started. Some guy was flirting with some other guy’s gal and a bit of pushing and shoving started and that instigated some more pushing and shoving, you know how it goes. Somebody threw a punch and man that kind of thing is contageous. I looked around that basement and as near as I could tell there was only one way out and it seemed mighty far away.

Well our bandleader was named Killer, I mean that wasn’t his real name but that’s what everybody called him, but Killer was this little guy see, skinny as a rake, and very quiet, hardly said nothing, but once you got him on stage he came alive. Anyways Killer he looks at us and he shouts let’s get the fuck out of here, and we scrambled to grab some of our instruments and headed for the stairs.

At this point everything had gone to hell. I mean everyone was liquored up and it seemed like all these people who were just having a dance, having a good time, had morphed into god-damned zombies.

We didn’t have no beef with no-one, we just wanted out of there. I was carrying my big accordion and I was hunched over some like a football player just trying to push through the crowd, and then this big guy with a brush cut grabbed my accordion, but it was strapped on, you know, and he pulled and pulled and he swung me right around and I crashed into some guy who was busy pounding out some other guy and then my accordion strap broke and Brush Cut Boy, he just about pulled my arm off see, and I went flying and took down three or four people like bowling pins.

Next thing you know, my accordion was flying through the air. That thing weighed like 35 pounds and I don’t even know where it landed. I found myself on the ground and there were people on top of me and it smelled like beer and ashtrays and blood and puke and I could hear some guy, I guess it was a cop, shouting through a bullhorn.

I stopped to light a cigarette, and took long drink of beer.

Go on Lazy, what happened next?

Ah Geez you know, it’s amazing nobody got killed. I mean nobody even got seriously hurt. The cops locked everybody up. I think they understood we were the band, just the hired help, and they gave us our own cell and they didn’t charge us with nothng. Next morning they let us go, and we were almost out the door when this cop called out, hey you. He handed me a big black garbage bag and says I think this is yours. Inside was the remains of my accordion in several chunks. Heart-breaking, that’s what it was. Even back then that accordion was worth a couple thousand bucks, and it was my baby. The body was in pieces and the bellows were all ripped up. Some of the keys were still OK and at least the reed blocks were intact. I used the reeds from that accordion for repairs for years.

So what happened with the polka band after the fight?

It was all over. Killer was about ready to retire anyway and he just packed it in. The other guys went on to play in different bands around Buffalo.

There’s a sad epilogue to the whole business, though. A couple years after the fight, Killer and his wife moved to Florida to enjoy their retirement without all that shitty Western New York weather. Well there was a bunch of muggings down there, and Killer he marched out and bought himself a Smith & Wesson for protection.

Don’t you know it, he only had that gun a couple weeks and hadn’t even fired the damned thing and some guy comes up to him and says, you know, stick ‘em up, gimme all your money. And Killer he just snapped. You want it you got it buster, and he pulled this gun out of his coat and he fired 6 shots into the guy. They said it was self-defense, that he was just protecting himself, but the thing is Killer snapped. When this guy said stick ‘em up, Killer just lost it. He couldn’t even function hardly after that, kept landing up in one hospital after another and finally he was committed to some mental facility down there until he just couldn’t live with himself anymore.

Jesus, Lazy that’s terrible.

Depressing is what it is. Anyone want another beer?

Come on you guys, let’s get back to work.

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