The man who asked me to kill my drums

His name is Luis Gasca. And this is my story.

I was the drummer for a Luis Gasca big band gig at Austin’s 6th Street Live stage in the early 1980s. As I remember, Luis hired everyone in town that owned a horn or some congas. I think there were 24 people on stage — six saxophones, every trombonist between San Antonio and Waco, trumpets galore, drums, bass, piano, and two percussionists. To say the gig was overstaffed would be like saying a Michael Bay movie is loud. At our afternoon rehearsal, Luis passed out the charts we would be performing. They were quite simple. Did he really need a sea of brass and reeds playing Girl from Ipanema in unison? I quickly came to see it didn’t matter. Luis expected me to make up for it all. I learned later that he was notorious for reducing grown men to sniffling basket cases with his explosive tirades. On this day I was the privileged target. Two bars into Ipanema he cut the band off with a flurry of his arms and very energetically exclaimed to me, More power from the drums! Elvin, Blakey, Max Roach! Kick ass! I took this to be Luis’s way of encouraging me to play the piece with more strength as he combined the names of famous jazz drummers with an invitation to commit violence on my instrument. So he counted us off again on this country club bossa nova favorite. We made it through two bars before the arm waving re-commenced, this time accompanied by a shaking face with loose cheeks flapping from side to side. Come on man! More power! Elvin! Blakey! Kick my ass! I jacked it up another level.

Do you know how hard it is to play drums wholly against your instincts regarding taste? It was like eating Velvetta cheese on purpose — big mouthfuls. But I still only made it two bars in. Oh man, can’t you play those drums!?! I want you to KICK MY ASS! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! AHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

At this point I was about ready to kick Luis’ ass, and maybe Elvin Jones’ and Art Blakey’s as well. But being a nonviolent person and having no idea of my chances against this man I had just met, I decided to see how far our amped up leader would take this. Ipanema was counted off for a fourth time and I gave my best impression of Girl from Ipanema by AC/DC. MORE POWER DAMNIT! I WANT MORE POWER! ELVIN!! BLAKEY!! KICK MY ASS!!! The band members’ heads were in their hands and I was in that tender space between hysterical laughter and going postal. Luis counted the tune off one last time, shouting and spitting, ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!!!, like Der Fuehrer rehearsing a chorus line of SS troopers. Realizing there was no place for me to go musically, I stood up from the drum stool, leapt into the air, and came crashing down with all my might into the cymbals. I repeated this circus-like move, rapidly, for a solid two bars creating a very loud, disturbing sound (imagine a dump truck driving through Bed, Bath, and Beyond.) I looked up and noticed the dramatic cut off sign coming from Luis, who appeared to be brushing away a swarm of African killer bees. YOU *$@?*#! CAN’T YOU PLAY THOSE DAMN DRUMS?!? I WANT POWER, YOU @!#&? !*%$!

I’ve never been involved in a band fight before, but I’ve heard about them. I stood up from the drums ready to rumble as my thoroughly disappointed conductor approached, screaming profanities at me and my mother, who was not present. One of the percussionists stepped in front of me like a secret service agent cutting off access to the President. Both Luis and I backed down and I began to pack up my drums. Clearly he was looking for a different kind of drummer — one with a chain saw and some logs. The band members implored me to stay on as no one else in town would be willing to step into Luis’ furnace. I looked at their pathetic faces and turned to mush, agreeing to finish the rehearsal and play that night’s gig. Luis had nothing more to say to me, and all was well. Looking back, I think he’d just had some bad oatmeal or something. When we played Ipanema that night, I played it the way I wanted to, with no complaint from Luis, who sounded quite nice as I remember. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers-rehearsal was behind us, and there was peace on 6th street for a moment or two.

To be honest, I still have this nightmare about getting arrested with Elvin Jones and Art Blakey after a dance-floor brawl with Luis in some place called Ipanema.

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