My chance encounter with Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius

Don Cornelius

Soul Train - Don Cornelius

Soul Train – Don Cornelius

I have been very fortunate to have traveled, met with, and hung out with people from Janis Joplin to Hugh Hefner to Frank Valli.The list is long.

One evening in 1975, I met Don after my gig at the Chicago Playboy Club. This tall man, with a big afro was in the building!   I was with the band members at a club after hours.  I was single and the guys were nice to let me hang out with them.   Everyone knew who Don was, and then there he was. He was coming my way and started a conversation.

Not a typical pick up line… I’ve heard a few. Since I was with some of the guys from my band Commonwealth,  it was more of a “Are you with anyone?” I explained that we were a house band at Playboy and I knew who he was.

chicago-pizzaWe didn’t dance, I am not a drinker. I seem to remember he wasn’t a drinker, either. We sat and listened to the music, and we clicked a little.

Don and I stayed for hours. In those days, one stayed out all night, slept all day, and then went to work in the evening. We were hungry and he said, “I know the best deep-dish pizza place and it’s open all night.” I felt safe with Don and told my band mates where I was going.

We went to this crazy crowded pizza place, and ate until we were in pain! Don and I talked about Soul Train moving to Los Angeles, but he considered Chicago home so kept a penthouse apartment. He asked if I would like to see it before I went to my hotel. I said “Yes, of course I would love too.”

We had a lovely time, and I wasn’t sure where it was going?   We just visited the penthouse apartment, and enjoyed the spectacular view. I remember the furniture like it was yesterday. It  was white and beige, and immaculate. I stayed awhile and we talked about the history of music.  He wanted to know about my record contract as a kid, and about the Show ;Hair’ that I was in.  He was fascinated by that.

chicago-at-nightAs I started to tire, he said, “You are welcome to stay or I will take you home.” I said I should go home, as the band had a whole night ahead of shows at the club. He drove me back, kissed me on the cheek, very sweetly, and I asked him to try to come and see us.  He did not, and that was ok.

I have never forgotten my one night of intelligent, lovely, conversation with this entertainment icon. To hear of his suicide, was both sad and shocking.

I am one of the lucky ones. I spent a lovely night in Chicago with this fabulous, interesting, and soft-spoken man.

Rest In Peace Sweet Don. I will never forget your kindness, your manners, and your role in American musical history. Bringing Soul Train, its guest performers, the Soul Train Dancers and the Scramble Board had a tremendous impact on a generation… and then some.

Love, Peace & Soul!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

When good is good enough

I always thought you had to be a great singer to make it in this crazy business.  Perhaps that is because when I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, there were few bad singers. Most of the singers were Great! Amazing! Then the 60’s came along, and they put special effects on Lesley Gore, who is a great songwriter, not singer, and  special effects on Carole King, who I love, but not considered a great singer.

The rock groups just had to look hot. Mick jagger, Herman’s Hermits… They couldn’t sing.  Loved Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick. Lot’s of others were not singers but stylists or just screaming.

So, have we lowered our standards? Or is the average public who are swooning over Aaron on American Idol, are they just tone deaf?  It is sad that you can be spotted by a producer because you have an exposed belly button {Shakira}  and they make you a big star. She has vibrato you can surf on, yes she is in tune, and I’m being picky.

I just miss the old days when you could go any where and hear real talent. Singers such as  Jerry Tiffe, Bob Anderson, Denise Clemente, Jeaneane Marie, Jerry Lopez, Tony Davich, Lenny Lopez, Jamie Hosmer, of Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns. These guys can sing. The hotels don’t seem to care enough to give us quality entertainment.

The Chef Michael at Tommasino’s where I work now, said “Jazz never brings money in, they sit and order water or coffee” So, I said, “Charge a cover?” There is a demand or there would be no coffee and water orders. maybe they are twelve steppers?   People, Charge a Cover, I will pay to hear good jazz, funk, R&B or really good anything. At Tommasino’s when I work with  Mike Shane we make great tips, because we talk to the audience, we do their songs, we are funny.

When working with the “Jazz” pianists, brilliant pianists, we make minimal tips, perhaps $5-15.  People want personality, and they want variety.  Driving out to Pahrump to this dream job is heaven, they appreciate me, and I feel like I am pleasing them.

In Vegas lounges, the tourists are getting off their feet, have not slept, and could care less about what you do. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago, we did lounge SHOWS  we entertained, we connected, now they are dance bands.  When did good become good enough?

I miss the old days, when after work at 2am you could catch a dozen or so great acts still playing til 6am. Then you could drive up to Mt. Charleston, watch the sun come up, grab breakfast and sleep til 2pm.  I have to say, I am glad that I am the age I am so i was there in those days.

When I met Cary Grant at valet parking with Walter Kane.  My car was kept out front waiting for me: Star Treatment.

What a memory. I’ll cherish those days forever.  Yes, you needed juice to get a gig, but you better be GREAT not GOOD to keep it.

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

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