Lost on the New Jersey Turnpike

Commonwealth

When the band Commonwealth was touring the Playboy Clubs, I enjoyed some of the best times of my life. I was proud of the band, and our 5-part harmony. We were a 70’s pop band channeling the Hi-Lo’s and Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross.  Before we hired horns, we sang the horn parts ourselves, and I loved it!

Many times a year , Commonwealth was the dinner/dance band in the swank supper club at the Great Gorge Playboy Club in New Jersey.  You had to fly into Newark and drive into the hills. The club away from most everything. It was just country and golf courses.

We didn’t fly anywhere, but traveled constantly, driving caravan with a car and a U-Haul.  The Great Gorge Playboy Club was in the valley of a huge, bright green golf course. You could smell the freshly cut grass as you drove the long winding driveway to the hotel.

Jorge Casas

Jorge Casas

This hotel was always a favorite of mine, because of its out-of-the-way location; and it is where I first started having more than friendship feelings for our Cuban bass player, Jorge Casas.

He was dating a pretty, blonde bunny waitress, and for the first time, I was jealous!  We hadn’t even been friends really, he was always bad mouthing the American Woman. I felt, being a singer and working with musicians, I was an exception to the typical greedy, materialistic American woman.   I did not disagree with him, I only felt he generalized everyone, that way.  It’s funny how close hate and love are!

While we were in the New Jersey club, I did not let my feelings be known to anyone, But on-stage, we did ‘look’  at each other more and more. The vibe was changing. We did talk about our feelings at the end of this engagement, and chose to talk to Maurice, the bandleader.

Maurice had strict rules against dating within the band. We didn’t think it was ethical or possible to skirt the rules, so we felt compelled to discuss it with Maurice, suggesting we might have to quit, to be together.  We waited until our next Playboy job in Detroit, when Jorge took Maurice out for a drink, and told him.  But that is another post!!

Peter Cook - Dudley More

Peter Cook – Dudley More

On our night off, Maurice (British pianist and leader) and Jorge suggested the three of us drive to New York, have tea at The Plaza, see the British comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in their Broadway show, Good Evening.  We planned on going to Chinatown, and jazz clubs, after the show, to really make a night of it!.

And so we headed out… Maurice drove, and Jorge and I were passengers.  It was so exciting. I was in my early-mid twenties, and the only time I had been to New York was to see relatives. Didn’t really get to see much of The City, during those visits.

We went to the Plaza Hotel, and spent time in the Tea Room. So many elegant woman, draped in their furs. and the fragrances of  Joy and Chanel. I was still wearing Shalimar perfume, I wore in high school!    Up to that moment, I had only seen The Plaza in movies.

Maurice, being from England, had such culture, and loved fine cognac, and pipes.  I hate cigarettes and cigars, but the sweet cherry tobacco that Jorge and Maurice smoked was nice. I always loved when they lit up.

I felt very sophisticated and was glad I always had beautiful dresses to wear on our nights, out. One thing I did spend money on was nice clothes. I had some beautiful costumes for our shows and always great silk and linen dresses for our nights out.

CourvoisierWhen we arrived at the theater, I hadn’t heard of these very famous comedians. This was long before Dudley Moore did the movie, 10, and long before he was known in America.  The show was brilliant, and I laughed so hard.  We left filled with laughter and joy, and our next stop was a jazz club in Manhattan. The guys drank their Courvoisier and I club soda. I never have been a drinker, and always went mad when friends said, “Oh Come on, have something”  I just hate that, but the guys never did that to me. They respected my non-drinking and did not try to push anything on me.

Next stop was Chinatown, and had the best food I had ever tasted! By now, it was now about 2 am. The guys were drinking heavily; I mean A LOT.  When we were going to the car, I noticed Maurice was slurring and stumbling, I said,  “Jorge. I don’t think he can drive.”  Jorge said, “I don’t think he can walk!”  

Jorge said, “I’ve had too much, too.” and he asked me if I would drive.  OK, let me tell you about my driving skills at that age. I didn’t even got my license until I was 18.  Then at 21, I was in a terrible car accident that left me terrified to drive again.   But now, I was our only option.   I told Jorge I had no idea where we were, and how to get to Great Gorge. It’s easy he said, follow this road to the turnpike and pay the toll and we are almost there.

toll-booth-nj-turnpikeThey were both in the backseat passed out by the time I got to the turnpike.  I paid the toll, and kept driving.

I was listening to the cassette tape deck and was driving along, when I came to another toll booth. Uh OH,  it was the same toll booth?  Had I gone in a circle?  I guess I had.  I asked the toll man how I get to Lake Geneva, and he couldn’t help me; too many cars behind me. Well, I will try this again.  Off I went with two alcohol soaked guys in the back seat, and I kept driving. La de da, driving along. It was nearly 4 am now, and a little frightening.

When suddenly, there is a toll booth. Yes, you guessed it, the same toll booth, for the third time. Now I pulled over on this ultra-busy Highway, and tried to wake Jorge. Help, we are lost, I need help.  Maurice heard me, and said , “Don’t worry Dahling, with his accent, I will take the wheel.”

“The HELL you will.”  I said, “I will walk before I  let you drive.”

Playboy Club Lake GenevaI stood in the cold freezing road of the Jersey Turnpike watching Maurice and Jorge drive off without me!.  I started to walk as far to the side of the road as I could to not get hit by a car. The greasy smelly street under my beautiful shoes. they were getting ruined in the morning dew of the New Jersey humidity.

Thank goodness, when they drove off I could hear Jorge yelling at Maurice, ‘You can’t leave her there!!”  I was hoping they would somehow come back for me, but knew it would take a while because you just can’t make a u-turn on the highway!

They did come back, and I got in the car, Maurice was angry that I had gotten out of the car. Jorge was now driving, and we made it back to the Hotel in time for breakfast. This was just one episode of our life on the road with the Commonwealth.

There are many more stories to tell. It certainly was never boring!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

The most important man in my solo career

In the 70’s I was in groups, traveling all over the country. Living out of a trunk. I was in Commonwealth with my then boyfriend, Jorge Casas, and friend  Maurice Moore.

Our Playboy Club contracts were over and we had been at the Lions Den at the original MGM and the Blue Room at the Tropicana. But things slowed down, Maurice, Jorge and I were doing a trio at a little place by the Sahara Hotel, when lenn Cooper heard me.  He booked a showroom at the Marina Hotel. He wanted me to open for a then-unknown comic, Gallagher. Jorge wrote my music and was excited for me. At the time, he was thinking of moving back to Miami, to finish his degree.

When our show kept getting extended, for sold out shows, 4 weeks became, 8, and 8 became 10 etc.. Jorge said, “I’m going to Miami, are you coming?” I was torn. I was doing well, and a group at the Tropicana was waiting for my show to close so I could work for them!

I left Jorge, or he left me, A big decision, we were having problems anyway with his Cuban ways. His culture is so different, and at that time, he had little respect for an American woman. Although I believe he loved me and felt I was not typicaly American. But the strain on his hot temper made it easier for us to spiit. We stayed in touch. He joined Gloria Estefan in the 80’s and still is her Musical Director, today

My show at the Marina gave me the confidence that I, and I alone, could hold a room, be funny, sing my arse off, excuse me but, no  other way to put it.  Dad brought his celebrity friends in and Variety Magazine’s Bill Williard reviewed me nicely.

Now, I the had the confidence to be a solo act. I was Jessica and Fantasy at the Summa Corporation Hotels, The Sands, Frontier, Landmark, Castaways. I was working, had a press agent, the late Judy Gold. She was great. I miss her dearly.  My decade of solo performing, with and without, a lot of help.

So, lenn Cooper, Thank you so much for getting me out of my shell. I am eternally grateful for your belief in me. 20 years hence, Gallagher called out of the blue, and said, ” Let’s do it again!!’ We did the show twice in the 90’s, at the Sahara.

What a life!

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

Life on the Road: Female Chick Singers Life

commonwealth-BW-251x300

When you are the only girl in the band, all of your life, as I was, and am, there were some pretty lonely times. The first few years of the road, I read all of  books I could find,  the Thornbirds. and  started with Wuthering Heights and any classic or bio about George Sand, etc.,.

Trying to educate myself, since I never paid too much attention in school. I was already singing at 12 and knew  that’s what I was, and why did I need science, math, or physical education. I did love English and history though.

The first band story I will talk about is not the FIRST band, but it was the BEST band, and the funniest, in hind sight. I was performing at the Las Vegas Union Plaza lounge with a show group called “The Sunshine Company”. I wasn’t happy in this band, I had been taken advantage of by the costume designer and they would never rehearse new material. You should NEVER be alone in a room being measured for a costume, and you should never trust a man who touched you in places where the costume does Not need fitting!  Remember that and you will survive.

It was a “show” group because we had two go go dancers. This one night, an  international band  was cruising the lounges, looking for a girl singer. They were called The New Zealand Trading Co.

Union Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas

Union Plaza Hotel, Las Vegas

The band was comprised of an Englishman, a Cuban, and the rest Australians and New Zealanders. They said they almost walked past me, and wasn’t impressed until I started singing Stevie Wonder’s “Sunshine Of My Life”. That stopped them in their tracks, and they waited for my break.

It was just the Cuban, Jorge Casas, and the Englishman, Maurice Moore that were looking. The group was re-banding, and renaming themselves “Commonwealth”.    I was in a rush, we did 45 on and 15 minutes off.  it was either talk to these guys or go to the bathroom! I chose to hear them out.

I had a hunch about these guys. I liked them.  We met in my folks garage and they played me some, Manhattan Transfer-like music. This was before Manhattan Transfer came to prominence.

My dad had worked with the Hi Lo’s and I lovedLambert Hendricks and Ross So this 5 part harmony was a knockout for me. It was sealed. I gave notice, we rehearsed a lot, all harmonies were written out, and we had to nail every phrase.   Jorge, the cuban bass player did the voacl arrangements and Maurice did the arranging. Jorge also arranged, and it was the best music I had ever done. We sang the horn parts, and scatted . I was so excited to be part of this collaboration. We got Alan lee’s son Larry Lee, then a stage hand, to come to my garage and audition us. Later, he took over for his dad, of the Tropicana entertainment department. Larry flipped over us.

Tropicana, Las Vegas

Tropicana, Las Vegas

We opened in the Blue Room at the Tropicana, and worked there on and off for years, opposite, Mary Kaye Trio, Dick Contino, Buddy Greco, among many others. When not there, we were at the Lion’s Den showroom at the MGM for Henri Rose, Entertainment Director. There, we were opposite, Lou Rawls, Carmen McCrae, and many others. When not in Las Vegas, Commonwealth toured the Playboy Clubs for talent agent, Irving Arthur. Touring with the band was quite a wild ride and I have many posts about that!

We were living the life. But, on the road a lot, it was quite lonely. I had been considered an “American silly girl” by these worldly musicians. I really was on my own. I had a volatile relationship with Jorge, who thought I was a typical materialistic American.

This all changed when we were in Chicago, I had a friend, married to a Playboy bunny in Los Angeles. who was a musician in “The Mob”; a great band in the 70’s. He was in for a one nighter and I had a couch in my room at the hotel, he crashed with me, very innocent.

When I went to dinner downstairs, Jorge gave me such a hard time about having a married man with me in my room, I left the dining room in tears and didn’t eat. Crying upstairs, my friend said, “Man you guys are really in love.”

I said “WHAT? I can’t stand him.” He replied, “If this guy didn’t care about you, why would he care what you do. And, why do you care what he thinks?” I looked at Jorge very differently after that. In fact, shortly after when we were in the Great Gorge PLAYBOY CLUB, we actually started to talk about our feelings. It changed life on the road, being in love , and made it so much more calm and fun.

I was lonely no more. It was magical. We lasted a few years, and I just don’t know why, when Jorge went to Miami, I stayed in Vegas, I was working and doing well. I was frightened to leave, but we still had feelings for each other. We were young and it all worked out the way it was supposed too.  We are still great friends. He will be here soon in Vegas as he is touring with the Musical ‘Get On Your Feet’. 

Great Gorge Playboy Club

Great Gorge Playboy Club

We were working the Great Gorge Playboy Club, way out in the boonies in New Jersey.  Maurice had now picked up a Cinncinatti Bunny Jane,   This was one of the craziest times I remember. Jorge  said, Maurice is outside in the bushes naked, Jane through him out!  We had to get him a robe or towel, and keep him safe! I think she was going to kill him!.

When we worked the Club in Ohio, Jane was just 21 or so, her parents Freaked out that she was going on the road with a Much older man. Maurice also had a beautiful lady at home, Iris, Poor thing,, We came back to Vegas with Jane!!  Iris actually Put them UP! We are always friendly with our ex’s, a different breed I suppose.

This was there most incredible road life I ever had, of all the bands I was in.  Wonderful and horrible memories… Hearing Gino Vanneli on the car radio in Chicago,, racing to the store, getting the album and bringing it back to the pad, for Jorge to hear !

Writing about this, brings back a flood of great time, great food, Music I was proud of.

Jersey Turnpike

J

 


 

Where are they today?

 

Maurice Moore

Maurice Moore

Maurice is living in his hometown, London, and playing cruise ships and writing his second Broadway show.. He is quite a guy,,still going and living life to the fullest

 

Jorge Casas

Jorge Casas

Jorge has been with Gloria Estefan since 1985, and is her musical director, also has produced Jon Secada and many others, and is a Grammy award winning songwriter. He resides when not on tour in Illinois, where he is also a music professor.   Now , in 2017, Jorge is the Musical Director and bassist On Broadway Tour, of  Gloria Estefan, bio, ‘Get on your Feet  a Big Broadway Hit!  Good going Cak…

Jessica Marciel
Las Vegas Vocal Training

Save

Save

It’s all about the ‘juice’ – Wayne Newton and more

In the 60’s and 70’s, you had to know someone to work in Las Vegas. In the 60’s. I was too young for casinos  and didn’t care, because I was rocking the concert scene as an opening act, in big arenas.We were the “FREE CIRCUS” and quite good. Performed mostly originals, some covers. Opening for Santana, Three Dog Night, Cream, The Grateful Dead, Steppenwolf, Electric Prunes, Sweetwater, and every super-group that played Las Vegas.

Wayne Newton

Wayne Newton

Then I was in plenty of lounge groups as the “chick singer”, The Sunshine Company, Spiral Starecase, and Commonwealth, the best group that toured the Playboy clubs. I got plenty of life lessons from living on the road, touring all the clubs, and living out of a suitcase.

When my bass player boyfriend in Commonwealth, Jorge Casas wanted to go back to Miami to finish his college degree, I was opening for Gallagher at the Marina Hotel, and we kept getting held over week after week after week. I just didn’t want to leave. He went to Miami, got his degree, paid his dues and in the 80’s was discovered by Emiio and Gloria. Jorge has been with Gloria Estefan ever since!!!

After the Marina showroom engagement ended, it was time to really roll up my sleeves, and make a name for myself. Ha! I couldn’t get arrested. No One would even give me an audition.

The entertainment directors were not interested in me at all. At that time, my dad , Irv Kluger, was the vice president of the musicians union.  He suggested I call Wayne Newton for “juice.” That is what we call a connection, in the biz.

Wayne had wanted to import a musician from out of state, and dad gave him the OK, so he owed daddy one. And he liked daddy. I called Wayne using dad’s name. He told me to come see his show that night , visit his dressing room with a demo and he would see what he could do.

I was 26 or 27 and dressed up pretty hot, and played him my demos. He called in Walter Kane (Howard Hughes’ right-hand man), then in charge of all Summa hotels. Walter loved me, and told me he wanted to see my group on Monday at the Frontier Hotel. I put together a quartet, rehearsed a few tunes, and voila!, an open ended contract with Summa. We worked mostly at the Sands Hotel as “Jessica and Fantasy” I hired a public relations representative, Judy Gold. We worked non-stop for 2 years. My name in lights, and even on the Sands postcard!

Even with all that publicity, tv, radio, news print, when Summa started selling off the hotels, we were let go, and guess what, I couldnt get arrested!!!  AGAIN!!

I wound up auditioning for Donn Arden and driving to Reno for the big production show “Hello Hollywood Hello” at the MGM Grand Reno. After that, “Casino De Paris” at the Dunes.

Without juice, my name was never in lights again.

When you hear the term: show business, the business can be nasty. It is all business and don’t ever forget it. Learn from it and remember that who you know is often more important than what you know.

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