Liam’s Big Adventure

Liam HoggSay you’re working as a roadie for a well-known band of musical virtuosos and their drummer suddenly becomes unavailable and you get promoted to drummer twenty minutes before they play an outdoor show for 8000 people at the Kentucky Derby; would you be unfazed?

Brewster’s Liam Hogg, who plays with the local trio, Earth Junior, wasn’t -but he still managed a performance good enough to keep him on the NRBQ drum throne for the rest of the week. A few days later, Liam joked that the whole experience had been hard on his underwear: “I couldn’t even look out into the crowd -it just freaked me out!”

The band had been out for a couple of weeks, starting on the west coast and then heading east for some midwest gigs, when disaster struck: drummer Tom Ardolino’s wife had been admitted to a hospital for heart palpitations, and he needed to stay near, both to care for her and to look after the kids (fortunately, Mrs. Ardolino has since recovered.) This left the band with no drummer, only hours away from a big outdoor show as part of the Kentucky Derby Festival.

Late on the morning of the show, ‘Q guitarist Johnny Spampinato put Liam on alert, saying that they weren’t sure, but they might need him to take over for Tommy on drums that night. Immediately, Liam began cramming “Like for the hardest test in the world”, listening to tapes and CDs, trying to predict which songs (the band has a legendarily large songlist) they might be playing that night.

In the afternoon, Liam heard that the band had managed to track down a guy who had played drums with them decades ago, and knew some of the songs, so it sounded like he would probably do it; but Liam didn’t really know if he was off the hook or not. As showtime approached, the weather was complicating matters too, with heavy rain and tornado warnings that eventually forced the first couple of acts to cancel. Maybe between the bad weather and the other drummer …he kept studying the tapes, just in case.

Then, the sky started to clear, and when the rest of the band finally showed up, twenty minutes before showtime, keyboardist Terry Adams told Liam he’d be the guy for the first part, and then they’d have the other drummer for a few of the older songs. He ended up playing for the first hour -and then coming back for the encore, obviously having passed this trial by fire -and then playing the next three nights. For Liam, it was the thrill of a lifetime.

The first night, he said, “I was rushing all the songs, and Terry was throwing some curve balls, calling songs I’d only heard once or twice. At one point, he called ‘North of Alaska’, and when I told him I’d never heard it, he just said ‘play a march.’ Johnny was my lifeline, trying to give me cues and hints on the spot about the songs I was unsure of.”

He wasn’t really sure how he had done until after the show, when bassist Joey Spampinato (Johnny’s brother) took him aside and said, “Just so you know, I was very worried about this weekend, and now I’m not worried anymore.” Liam figured he’d passed the audition, the next morning he called his Earth Junior colleague Colin Stevenson, who asked him not to play too good (not relishing a talent search himself.)

The rest of the week was played in smaller clubs, provoking a bit less anxiety (though Liam said the most nerve-wracking part was eventually – on the third night! -finally having a real rehearsal.) In Chicago, he was signing autographs; in Lafayette, Indiana, Terry joked that the band was paying Liam 25 cents per song, whereupon someone in the audience started taking up a collection for him, eventually presenting him with a large cup full of quarters; when he told Terry about it, Terry said “yeah, they’re all over the stage, too!” Ah, success!

In other news, closer to home: remember that Scotty Moore/Lee Rocker show at Christine’s I told you all that you absolutely had to go to last weekend? Well, I forgot to go to it. And I was psyched about that show, too! I mean, Elvis’s actual guitar player! -how major is that?!?

I can’t believe I forgot about it! I’ll bet it was amazing! I’ve got to find out… I’ll ask my editor, I’ll bet he went. Actually, seeing as I forgot to go, I kind of hope it stank, and then I could eventually get credit for having the foresight to avoid a stinky situation. That would be good. I’ll try to find out. If I find out something good, I’ll tell you guys, so if you don’t hear anything in the next couple weeks, you’ll know it wasn’t that big of a deal after all.

Man, I’m slipping, big time… there goes the Pulitzer again (eighth year in a row I haven’t won the stupid thing -phooey!)

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