Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In A Galaxy Far Away...

Sometimes I look at photos from my younger days and think I must be looking at someone else. From the age of 16 to 30 I worked in Emergency Medical Services, first as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and then as a ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) Paramedic.

My career began working for a Funeral Home that ran ambulance in my home town (Zephyrhills, Fl) while still in High School. After graduation, I continued my career in St.Petersburg FL, Phoenix, AZ, Charleston SC and finally Orlando,FL both in the private and public sector.
During that 14 year period, I ran well over 10,000 ambulance calls, many of which were bonafide emergencies. I had a number of great partners in the field, including Doug Lively and John Jordan.

I was fortunate enough to help build the EMS systems in several locations and was licensed in both Florida and South Carolina.

Of course, in 1984 I switched careers. I became a full time Banjo Cabaret Act. Now, I look at those early photos and it's hard to believe that used to be me!

The "dirty little secret" about being a Paramedic (or firefighter or Police Officer) is that there is an Adrenalin Rush associated with doing the job. You tend to secretly thrive on the "life & death" aspect of it ... and when you leave the job you have withdrawal symptoms.

Many former Paramedics simply can't walk away, they live with their Bearcat Scanner on 24/7 rushing to the scenes of emergencies to render aid in order to relive the rush. It's a sad, sad existance.

I was lucky. I too needed the adrenalin but I found that performing on a stage in front of 1000 people was more than an adequate replacement.

Now, 22 years later I look back and I'm thankful for having two extremely fullfilling careers. Thanks for the Memories ... and the Adrenalin!

Has Anybody Heard Dr. Ruth?

All my life, I've been a fan of comedy records records. I listened to everything I could find from Bob Newhart, the Smothers Brothers,Vaughn Meader, David Frye, Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones, Stan Freburg and even later "Weird Al" Yankovic.

In the early 1980's, while living in Orlando Florida, I participated in the "creation" of several novelty records by musicians from Disney World. We usually recorded them in the living room with a 4 track "porta-studio" and then had them pressed to 45's.

Our Orlando projects included a Disco Banjo record (no kidding!) and a novelty tune about a (true) sinkhole that had swallowed a car dealership in Winter Park Florida called "Sinkhole City USA"

The records never were hits, but they did get some sporadic airplay and were good fun to do.
In 1985, I was working on board a Riverboat in New Orleans called the "Creole Queen". I performed a solo banjo act on one deck while a trad jazz band called "Andrew Hall's Society Jazz Band" performed on another.

All summer long, I had been toying with the idea for a novelty tune about the "current media rage" - Dr. Ruth Westheimer! Dr. Ruth was everywhere - radio, TV ...even the cover of Time Magazine - and she seemed perfect fodder for a comedy record.

Putting pen to paper, I came up with a parody (to the tune of "Five foot Two") called "Dr. Ruth".

I started doing it nightly on the riverboat to the amused approval of the passengers. Andrew Hall suggested I record it, and even offered his band to play on the song - for free!

Their only requirement was that I allow them to record whatever they wanted on the "B" Side. Since I hadn't anything else written for the flipside, I eagerly agreed (they recorded a bawdy New Orleans blues song called "Stoop Down Baby").

We went into a local 16 track studio and recorded the entire project in one hour. The total studio cost (including the sound engineer) was $30.00.

Next step was to press the vinyl. A repro house called Ville Platte Records was able to press 300 copies for under $200.00. Two weeks from start to finish and I had my first "single" in hand.

Once you have boxes of records, the question arise "now what?" I started by mailing a few copies to the morning DJ's in New Orleans. Once I knew they were delivered, I'd call (disguising my voice) 3 - 4 times a day requesting my song! (I had read that Spike Jones used to do the same thing whenever he was in a new town on tour).

Luckily, a few OTHER people started calling up and asking to hear "that Dr. Ruth Thing" and before long, it was being played almost every day without my help.

The Riverboat Captain of the Creole Queen (Capt. Bill Hall) asked me for a box of records because he had "a connection" with Lucky Coin Co. - the supplier of Juke Boxes in Southeastern Louisiana. Within a few days, "Dr. Ruth" was on almost every Jukebox on Bourbon Street. And me with a pocket full of quarters!

Believe me, it's very surreal to walk down Bourbon Street and hear "your song" played in bars! Several Piano Bar players were now performing it Live and one bar (The Bourbon Pub) took the record and remixed it with video clips of Dr. Ruth herself and produced a music video.

One Radio show psychologist in Philadelphia played it regularly as well as a DJ in Springfield Mo. I sent a copy to Dr. Demento and I'm told he did play it (although I never heard it) on his syndicated show. It is my understanding that one bar (the China Rose in New Orleans) had kept the record on their jukebox for over 10 years (the owner loved to play it!).

Like most novelty records, it was all over with in a matter of weeks. Occasionally I'd get an email from someone asking me if I was that "Dr. Ruth" guy but I never made a dime off the project. It was a great experience anyway.

As an aside, a few years ago, I was performing in New Orleans and someone in the audience wanted to "stump the band". He had a song request he was sure I couldn't possibly know ..... it was "Sinkhole City USA".

To his astonishment, I sang & played it. I didn't have the heart to tell him I was involved in the original recording!

Click here to listen to Dr. Ruth (Mp3)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

On the "Road" with The Osmonds

They Way They Were in 1971

January 2001 I flew to Los Angeles to join the World Cruise of the Rotterdam. I was scheduled to be on board for two weeks, sailing to Callao (Lima), Peru.

While securing my luggage at the carousel, I spotted the Osmond Family (well...not all of them) doing the same thing. I went over and introduced myself to them (Merrill, Wayne & Jay) as I knew that they too were joining the same ship.

After introductions, they invited me to ride with them to the Port of Los Angeles. Once we were on board ship, we spent quite a bit of time together on our way down the Mexican Coast. Along with the brothers, they had their wives and children .. about 16 people in all.

During the 70's, the Osmonds were about as big as you can get in entertainment. Concerts, Gold Records and of course, the Osmonds TV show was one of the last true Musical Variety shows on American Television.

Featured on the Andy Williams Variety show in the early 60's singing "Lida Rose", the boys (and eventually Marie) went on to have a career that has spanned over 40 years - and they are still going strong today.

First let me say, there show was great! Today, they have more of a "Adult Contemporary/ Country Sound" When they went into their biggest hit (from 1971) "One Bad Apple", their vocals and their choreography took everyone back thirty years!

More importantly, the entire family were just so nice! I was a little nervous around them at first, with them being devout Mormons, I was worried about drinking coffee or alcohol around them. But they were absolutely cool with everything (I even invited them down to New Orleans, I told them I'd be their "Designated Drinker"!)

Merrill Osmond and I hit it off especially well because he too plays tenor banjo! Wayne and Jay were also very nice, funny and completely accessible.

If you've followed the Osmonds at all, you are aware that the family has had it's share of tragedy. Older Brothers Virl (who sailed with us) and Tom have been hearing impaired since birth, Alan (who no longer regularly performs) suffers from MS , Wayne is a survivor of a brain tumor and Marie has dealt with depression.

Today, they are all survivors in the very best sense. The Osmonds still perform in Branson Mo. as well in theaters and cruise ships around the world.

About Face

One of the hardest concepts westerners grapple with when staying in Thailand is that of "Saving Face". Thais believe strongly in it, it means avoiding confrontation and trying not to embarrass themselves..or others.

In order to save face, Thais usually won't bring up negative topics in day to day conversation. If a Thai senses anxiety or stress in another person, they won't say anything unless the that person asks for help.

Thy often laugh at minor accidents, as when someone trips and falls.They are not laughing "at" the person, they are trying to save face on behalf of the other person by making it seem "not serious".

Western ways of dealing with confrontation, such as shouting or demanding things are greatly frowned on here - and they will get you absolutely nowhere. Thais will just silently stand there as you vent and then do nothing.

A smile, a little patience and always remembering that you are a guest in their country, no matter how long you live here and you will accomplish far more than you can imagine.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Signs of the Times

If you travel around the world, you're bound see some funny things!

Unfortunately, I don't always have a a camera with me when I need one ..but sometimes I do...
As Rod Serling would say, submitted for your approval....

Yes, it's a real bookstore in Capetown South Africa. Imagine my disappointment when I walked in and discovered it's just a regular book store!
FOOK YEW Kuala Lumpur. I don't know what this store sells, I was afraid to ask.

You know, you just can't get good Pig's Organ Soup in the US these days...and this is Self Service ....yummmmmmm

My favorite sign I don't have a picture of, unfortunately. It's at the Port of Mumbai (Bombay). There is a sign there that says "In the Event of Fire/Emergency Dial 56565656 Ext 6261"
Of course there is no phone nearby. Honestly, do you think ANYONE could memorize that 12 digit number, run and find a phone and sucessfully dial it in an emgergency?

Me thinks not!

The Loneliest Man in Town

Every once in awhile, if you are lucky meet an American Icon. In 1984, I was fortunate to meet one of the greatest - the ORIGINAL Maytag Repairman - Jesse White.

I'm reminded of this story because Maytag is currently holding auditions for the "New Maytag Repairman" across the USA.

Jesse White's career began at the age of 15 on a local stage in his hometown of Akron OH. He reached Broadway in 1943 where he originated the role of Wilson, the dim witted Orderly in Mary Chase's wonderful play "Harvey".

When Hollywood decided to film the play (starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd) in 1950, Jesse reprised the role in his film debut.

(Inside Story: While having dinner with Ernie Borgnine several years ago, he told me his first role on Broadway was replacing Jesse White in Harvey .. just thought you'd like to know )

Following the sucess of Harvey, Jesse went on to appear in over 50 Movies including "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World", "Marjorie Morningstar" and "The Bad Seed" as well as countless TV shows.
But his most famous role was as the Loneliest Man in Town - the Maytag Repair Man. Many younger people think of Gordon Jump (from WKRP in Cinncinatti) in that role but Jesse was the first .. and the best (IMHO).

In 1984, I was working not only at the World's Fair, I was also performing on a Riverboat called the "Creole Queen". This 1000 passenger paddlewheeler did five cruises daily including a two hour Breakfast cruise and a three hour jazz dinner cruise.

One day while sitting on the top deck between cruises, I spotted a man and woman walking down the pier heading towards the gangway. It was Jesse White and his wife. Jesse would have been about 65 and looked great and was very outgoing and friendly.

He said he had always wanted to take a Mississipi River cruise and we of course invited them on board. I got word to the Riverboat Captain about our "VIP" and arranged a Wheelhouse visit. Jesse got the opportunity to steer the Riverboat down river and was like a kid with a new bike!

We had a number of celebrities sail with us on the Creole Queen that summer including Rod Stewart and Mutual of Omaha's Jim Fowler, but my favorite memory will always be that of Jesse White - the Maytag Repairman.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Alone on World News Tonight

In the four months that I appeared at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, I had a lot of great experiences - this is NOT one of them!

By early summer it was apparent the Fair was a financial and critical flop. There were a lot of reasons for that. Here are a few....

1.) The 1984 Summer Olympics were being held in Los Angeles at the same time.

2.) There had been a World's Fair only two years earlier in Knoxville TN.

3.) The Gulf Coast economy was on the rocks due to the suspension of Oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

4.) Most of the area within "a days drive" of New Orleans was either uninhabited swampy bayou's or the Gulf of Mexico

5.) Initial reviews were "not pretty" largely because construction of attractions were not completed by opening day.

6.) World's Fairs were not the novel event they once were due to the proliferation of Theme parks across the country.

And most importantly....

7.) New Orleans in the summer is miserably hot and humid both during the day and night!!!

The Fair was designed to accomodate 60,000 people at a time - during July and August there were times when less than 3,000 people were there throughout an entire day. In the mid day sun, it could look like a ghost town.

Undaunted (largely because I was broke), I took the job as "in house" entertainer performing five shows a day at the Fry Gazebo ( a telling name, I assure you). The Gazebo sat in the middle of the fairgrounds on a concrete walkway completely devoid of shade. During the day, you could almost see mirages through the heat rising off the cement.

The rule was, shows go up on time unless called off by the Stage Manager whether there were 1 or 100 people watching. I was onstage for the 12 noon show, not a cloud in the sky and not a soul in the audience - but on I went. As I was performing, a film from ABC World News Tonight suddenly approached and started taping while giving me the "thumbs up" signal.

Realizing I was playing for the camera I really got into it, flinging sweat, smiling broadly and adding extra flourishes as I moved my fingers up and down the banjo fretboard.

Then, without any warning, the film crew moved onto the stage behind me and started shooting over my shoulder revealing that absolutely NO ONE was in the audience!

When Peter Jennings aired that package on national TV that night, I really heard about it! I got calls from "friends" who saw it and wanted to tell me how "well my career was going". Even worse, the next morning, the Entertainment Director was livid - he felt it was my fault.

I explained I was only doing my job and that they had given ABC unfettered, unsupervised access. There wasn't much he could say, really.

And that was my first appearance on National TV. Ah, Show Biz!

The Day I Covered for O.J.

OK it’s NOT what you think…. However, it’s a fun remembrance anyway.

In 1984, I was performing at the World’s Fair in New Orleans. It was O.J. Simpson Day at the Fair – a Photo-Op for the celebrity athlete where he was supposed to take a bunch of under-privileged around the fair for the day.

I was sitting in the Green Room between shows when a frantic Entertainment Director called and said O.J. was not there and they needed me to stall the crowd until he arrived.

Being the trooper that I am, I of course said to him, “Are you out of your mind? “Think of the demographics of who is waiting to see O.J.?” I said. “They don’t want to see me!”

Undaunted, he insisted, “You gotta do it”

Therefore, in I went, flop sweat and all. As I expected, they were less than thrilled to see me. I made some lame joke about him having trouble getting a rental car at the airport (for those too young to remember, he did Hertz commercials). It went nowhere.

After 20 minutes or so of wishing I were ANYWHERE but there, I begin to hear some clapping & cheering. I thought I “Hey, I’m finally getting to them!


It was O.J. was parting the crowds in a golf cart as he made his way to the stage. He thanked me, shook my hand and I quickly departed. My brief brush with infamy was over.

Working at the World's Fair was a great experience for me. It was the reason I first moved to New Orleans and it led me to 21 great years of living in the Historic French Quarter. This, in turn allowed me the opportunity to perform on the Paddlewheelers on the Mississippi River as well as in jazz clubs throughout the Big Easy.

Through the years,it allowed me to meet and work with such great performers as Harry Connick, Pete Fountain,Al Hirt, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and many, many others.

The Jazz scene that once personified New Orleans is now largely gone - many of the greats have either passed on or moved away as the musical tastes on Bourbon Street changed. I was lucky to be there before they turned out the lights.

It was a great era.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Seeing Red

Since I’ve come late in life to the world of blogging, there are a lot of stories I’ve meant to document through my life. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll try and keep them short and to the point.

Back in 2000, I was performing on board the cruise ship “Sun Princess” sailing 14 day cruises between San Juan PR & Acapulco. I was playing the Vista Cabaret Lounge while the Production Shows (Singers & Dancers) and a few well-known Headliners were featured in the Princess Theater.

On this cruise, comedy legend Red Buttons was performing. As many of you know, we lost Red last year – he was 87.

My good friend, comedian Glenn Hirsch was also on board, he knew Red and brought me backstage to meet him. Red then proceeded to invite me join him after his show for drinks and a meal (unlike the people in his jokes I GOT a dinner!).

Red was amazing. He was probably 82 when I met him. He did two full shows and then proceeded to go to the Disco for an hour and then spend three hours entertaining a small group of us over dinner with great show business stories.

My favorite story he told was about when, back in 1952 he had a show on CBS TV (making a tidy $1200.00 a week!) when Desi Arnaz called him from California and said he was trying a new idea for doing TV and suggested Red move the show to LA and film it instead of just doing it live in NYC.

The show would cost about $3000.00 more to do but at the end of the day he would own the finished product. Red said he couldn’t see the value of the extra expense and decided to stay put in New York. He said it was the biggest mistake of his career.

Of course, the rest is show business history. Desi (and his wife Lucille Ball) went on to make “I Love Lucy” and formed Desilu Studios and because the show was committed to film, the 170+ episodes are still being watched around the world today.

A perfect cautionary tale. In 1952, very few people had the vision to see the value of television reruns & syndication just as in the 1970's, no one could envision the market for Video Tapes & DVD's and even in the 1990's, the thought of streaming video on the Internet was the still the stuff of science fiction.

With, video programming streamed to your cell phone and iPodcasts commonplace today, who knows what the next big thing in entertainment distribution will be. I can only hope another visionary like Desi Arnaz will call me ... and that I listen!

Don’t feel too sorry for Red. He won his Academy Award in 1957 for Sayonara and had a long career of TV & Movie roles. I only met Red Buttons once. He was gracious and very nice to me.

Thanks Red – you are missed.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Rock & Roll IS Here to Stay

Although I was a child of the 60's, I've always held a special reverence for the music of the 1950's. It was the beginning of the "Rock & Roll" era and, after 50 years (yes, fifty years!) it still has the power to motivate people of all ages to dance in the aisles.

The very first Rock & Roll legend I ever saw live in Concert was Chuck Berry at the Tampa Armory. I guess I was 16 and to watch him command the stage for almost two full hours, whipping the audience into frenzy was amazing!

Throughout the years, I've had the opportunity to meet Bill Pickney of the Drifters and work with Johnny Thunder, and "Diamond" Dave Sommerville.

Johnny was briefly a member of the Drifters but is better known forhis 1962 novelty single "Here We Go Loop De Loop" (#4 Billboard). From Leesburg Fl, Johnny at age 73 still rocks the house with his rock & roll show.

Dave Sommerville was the original lead singer of "The Diamonds". Among their hit's were "Little Darlin' " & "The Stroll" & "Silhouettes". Back in 1957, he did a bus tour with Buddy Holly, Frankie Lyman, Eddie Cochran, Paul Anka, Little Richard, Lavern Baker, The Everly Brothers & Clyde Mcphatter .. not a bad line up!

For great stories about what it was like to work with those wonderful performers, there’s nobody better than Dave Sommerville.

Little known fact. After he left The Diamonds, Dave also sang with the Four Preps. Also in the group was a young man named Glen Larson, Glen went on to write for Television and produced such shows as "Battlestar Galactica","Knight Rider" & "Buck Rogers". One of Glen's other hit shows was a vehicle for Lee Majors called "The Fall Guy" - Dave Sommerville wrote the theme song for the show.

Many years ago, I went to see The Coasters in Folly Beach, SC. To my disappointment, NOBODY in the group was old enough to have even been in the original group. Dozens of these "Faux Groups" crisscross the country making money on the backs of the original performers, it's a shame ... and a crime.

In his early 70's and sounds and looks great, Dave continues to work around the world. The attached picture was taken in Mombassa Kenya last year on the World Cruise on the Prinsendam.

Yes, Rock & Roll IS Here to Stay but please - Support the real thing!

In the Chips

You can always count on Thailand…when the Chips are down!

Junk food is not just an American phenomenon, it is everywhere. Oh sure, American’s think they are the king of caloric excess, but anyone who has entered a 7/11 store in Asia knows, we are just humble beginners.

In America, we have progressed from plain salted chips to those with ridges and, if we are really in an exotic mood – BBQ, Cheese Flavored, Salt & Vinegar or Sour Cream & Onion Chips may make it into our grocery basket.

Boy, do we have a lot to learn!

Here, hundreds of different brightly colored plastic bags filled with a myriad of fried potato, rice, corn and wheat products fill the aisles. Many do not have English wording on the packaging so you have to rely on pictures of various flavorings on the bag.

Stroll down any fast food aisle in Thailand and your world is your oyster – because oyster flavored chips are available here. So are squid, seaweed, cuttlefish, wasabi, teriyaki salmon, chicken,seafood and mayonaise,lobster,crab, and sausage flavors! Of course, all the usual suspects are here too.

A small bag will run less than 10 baht (30 cents) while a large bag will cost around 25 Baht (75 cents) – roughly a third of the cost of similar product in the USA.

Good Buy, Mr. Chips!

Moving away from the chips you’ll find bags of dried Taro fish, pork, squid, shrimp, eel and cuttlefish often flavored with BBQ or Chili Pepper.

In my Asian sojourn, I am determined to try something new at least once a week. I tried the dried BBQ Flavored Taro fish today. It looks like long strips of yellowish paper from a shredder and has a chewy consistency not unlike thinly sliced jerky. While it is not my favorite junk food, it certainly was not displeasing.

Browsing the endless array of unidentifiable foodstuffs, I ran across the following item - “Spicy Sweet Tentaclemmmmmmmmmm!

Monday, February 5, 2007


Some things about the Thailand Expat community really are astounding.

I was having breakfast this morning at Monty’s Enchanted Hut across the street from my Condo. Monty, who is quite a character comes from Australia and is very involved in local charities, operates this restaurant / supper club.

Since I was the only one there for breakfast, Monty joined me and shared the newspaper while we talked over the most recent news and gossip. As I was paying my check, I mentioned that I was going to check around and see if any place was going to be open tomorrow morning at 6am for the Super Bowl.

Since Monty is an Aussie, he really doesn’t follow American Sports but he immediately got up and checked the Satellite TV Program Guide to see if he could receive it. And yes, it was available. So on the spot, Monty decided to open up four hours early and show the game on his big screen TV (it’s a 6:30am start here in Bangkok)!

Even if I was the only one there.

As I left, he was writing on a chalkboard “SUPER BOWL Bears vs. Colts 6am Monday” to display outside the restaurant .

Monty, who lives in the back of the club then said, “I need you to rap on my bedroom window about 5:30am because I don’t always hear my alarm clock. Don’t mind the dog!”

A small price to pay for a large screen Super Bowl Party.

As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one there. We had two other expats show up and the party was on. Around halftime, Monty went into the kitchen fixed us what he called his “American Breakfast – it consisted of Scrambled Eggs, a Spanish Omelet, 2 Fried Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, cooked Tomato, baked beans, fried potatoes, pancakes, toast, croissant, marmalade, Coffee & Orange Juice! It arrived on three plates and was less than five dollars.

This is what makes Thailand so great. People extend themselves to others in ways most people in the west would never consider.

Oh, by the way, when spell checking this entry I had written Superbowl as one word – the grammar checker asked “Did I mean Superb Owl”? Hmmmm I kinda like it!

The Bristol Stomp

Down the street from my condo there is a little bar located on Soi 6 call the Bristol Music Bar. They host a Sunday Evening Jam session open to all musicians and vocalists with proceeds going to help the Camillion Society of Rayong, which manages six projects for HIV children & adults.

I went for the first time last night.

On nights like this, the tiny bar spills out into the street where tables, chairs and a performance stage expand to allow 60 - 80 patrons to drink beer, eat food, listen to a variety of musical styles and contribute to a worthy cause.

As it was my first visit, I left my banjo home in order to scope out the scene.

Musicians and vocalists from Britain, Australia, Sweden and the USA each took turns providing the non-stop entertainment. The music was generally excellent and very eclectic – everything from 70’s Guitar rock (Eagles, Eric Clapton etc.) to Trumpet and Trombone soloists to a “Dean Martin style” vocalist.

The audience, which consisted of both Ex-pats and Thais ranged in age from families with small children to very senior citizens. They were all supportive of the performers and really seemed to be having a great time.

Within minutes of my arrival, musicians were coming up to me and starting conversations as if I’d been a regular there for years. I didn’t stay late due to wanting to be up at 5am to watch the Super Bowl, but the evening was still going strong after three hours.

No doubt, I’ll be coming back next week with my banjo in hand.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Day To Day Life in LOS

As anyone who has traveled to Asia can attest, things are very different here. The sights, the smells, the totally unidentifiable food that abounds in street food stalls are just a few of the things that immediately tell the farang (westerner) that they are far from home indeed.

A stroll through the street market is a remarkable experience. The aromas that permeate the air are a jarring assault on the senses... especially as the day heats up! To the western nose, it can be quite off putting.

Hundreds of individual stalls selling fruits, vegetables, fish and meats (in various stages of preparation), are set up on the sidewalks where thousands of locals eat freshly prepared food or take home for later consumption. And make no mistake, every part of the animal is used!

And then there's the traffic.

Thousands of motorcycles (sometimes with entire families on board) weave in and out between cars that are bumper to bumper. Songtawes or Baht Buses parade up and down the street stopping to pick up and drop off passengers all along the way. For 10 baht (about a quarter), you can go from anywhere in Pattaya to Jomtien Beach while sitting on a bench in the back of a pickup truck.

If there is a rhyme or reason to traffic laws in Thailand, I've yet to discover them. It pretty much looks like a free for all and yet, it all seems to work! You rarely ever see "road rage" in Thailand, people just go with the flow (even when it isn't flowing!).

If you are on foot, nowhere is safe. Walking down the street daydreaming is definitely NOT an option! Sidewalks become secondary roadways for motorcyclists and the concept of ONE WAY Streets are completely foreign to most Thais. Yielding to pedestrians? You gotta be kidding!

People are everywhere. Walking down the street involves all sorts of bobbing and weaving between hundreds of individuals each trying to do the same thing.

If this sounds like a nightmare, for many people it probably is. Living here is definitely NOT for everyone but I embrace it and look forward to every day here in the Land of Smile.

Right now, the weather here is perfect. Morning lows are in the upper sixties (although it somehow feels even cooler) and reminds one of those first days of Fall when the air is not heavy with summer's humidity. The afternoon's are warm, sunny and dry with a moderate breeze coming in from the Gulf of Thailand. I know it will last just about another month and then summer will be here so I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

Thai Reality Check: Today I got my annual Condo Maintenance Fee. This is the charge that covers the pool cleaning, grounds maintenance, security, garbage pickup etc. It was a whopping 3600 Baht!...that’s less than $9.00 USD a month - God, I LOVE THAILAND!!!

3 out of 4....So Far

In 1977, I went to Las Vegas. It was truly the heyday of the strip. All the old hotels were still there - The Desert Inn, The Sands, the Aladdin, the Showboat, the Frontier ... the list goes on.

Walter Kane's "Hallelujah Hollywood" was the big show at the MGM Grand, Sinatra was across the street at Caesar's Palace and "The Mickey Finn Show" was the hottest afternoon ticket at the Union Plaza. To show you how different Vegas was then, I saw Shirley MacLaine and singer/impressionist Fred Travalena at the Riviera for $12.00 with TWO DRINKS INCLUDED!

As a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was "The Smothers Brothers". Tom & Dick Smothers emerged on the scene in the early sixties combining folk music, novelty songs, comedy and sibling rivalry. During the tumultuous late '60's their humor took a political turn that was so cutting, LBJ tried to get CBS TV to cancel their show.

It was my great fortune to be in town when they were scheduled to perform. I caught the late night show (again, $12.00) and opening for them was John Davidson. John had become a popular TV performer singing on the Kraft Music Hall about ten years earlier. His career would reach greater heights as host of "That's Incredible" & "Hollywood Squares" in the 1980's.

Both parts of the show were great. One thing I vividly remember was that John Davidson played Banjo in his show.

I had just recently started playing banjo. Well, that's charitable - I owned a banjo, but couldn't really say I played it yet. Watching a star like John Davidson (and Wayne Newton as well) feature a 4 string banjo in his show was a great motivator for me - I felt it validated the instrument as still being relevant. It made me want to pursue it even more.

Over the next 30 years, I developed my own career. I ended up working with Fred Travalena in 1999 on board the "Island Princess" World cruise. Fred is still one of the best singing impressionists in the business and is a very funny, entertaining performer.

On the World Cruise, we visited Israel. Security there is always tight and taken very seriously. Upon arrival in Haifa, everybody had to go through passport inspection. For some reason, Fred Travelena and I were both selected for "extra interrogation". I assume it was due to the number of foreign stamps in our passports that caused us to be flagged.

A no nonsense female soldier who couldn't have been 20 years old questioned us. We both tried to explain what we did for a living - Fred was doing impressions for her (none of which she recognized) and I was describing what a banjo is. She never smiled. It took almost an hour, but she finally let us go ashore - I guess she figured we couldn't be making it up!

A number of years ago, while switching between cruise ships in Alaska, I had overnighted at the Baronoff Hotel in Juneau. I was waiting in the lobby about 10am in the morning waiting for the Port Agent to transport me to the Rotterdam when I noticed a large number of musical instrument cases near the door.

It is not unusual for Port Agents to pick up more than one entertainer at a time so I assumed I was not alone. I was right. Tom & Dick Smothers walked out of the restaurant and headed right toward me.

Seeing I had a Banjo case in hand, they struck up a conversation with me. They said they were joining the Legend Of the Seas and I told them I was joining the Rotterdam. Upon hearing that, they told me that the "Rot" was the very first cruise ship they ever did and was still their favorite showroom afloat (mine too). I mentioned John Mckuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) to them as I had interviewed him for International Banjo Magazine in the 1980's as I knew he had appeared on their shows.

We spent a good twenty minutes sharing stories, exchanged business cards and then headed to our respective ships. Two gentlemen who I had admired for years turned out in real life to be very nice and accessible people.

A little over a month ago, I was working on the Amsterdam on the Mexican Riviera. I was sitting with Janine Gardner, a very funny comedienne when we noticed a man talking to the Stage Production Manager. We were across the room from them, but even from that distance I could tell it was John Davidson!

Janine had worked with John a few years before so we went over to say hello. John had just joined the ship mid-cruise and I had already performed the night before his arrival. The three of us went for dinner and drinks and must say John and I really hit it off.

He was a little hesitant to do his banjo bit after I had already done a full show but I convinced him to keep it in. Our cabins were right next to each other so John came over to my room the next day with banjo in hand and we played a few tunes together. We hung out together for most of the next week and still keep in touch via email a couple times a month.

John just turned 65 in December. He looks great, sings up a storm and does a great show. He plays guitar tuning on his Gibson banjo (and plays an Ovation guitar in his show as well). I told him about seeing him in Las Vegas 30 years ago and how it helped shape my banjo playing career.

John Davidson - one of the truly nice guys in show business. If you see him performing in your area, don't miss him.

I saw four acts in Vegas in 1977. I've met three of them since. Shirley, where are you?????

Charity Close to Home

You see a lot of poverty here, especially the handicapped lying on the sidewalk with a paper cup in front of them, begging for small change. I say begging, but not in the aggressive sense you see in many other countries - instead it is very passive.

I always keep some five-baht coins with me and drop a few in each cup as I walk by. Invariably, the person will smile, bow their head in a respectful "wai" and you really feel they appreciate what you've done for them. It touches your heart.

Like many ex-pat's, I have gotten involved in local charities. AIDS has been such a scourge here largely due to Thailand's long history of sex workers. Not only has the disease taken a disastrous toll of it's primary victims, it has also left a generation of orphaned children behind.

Every few weeks there will be a dinner event or fundraiser held at a local restaurant to support these causes. You realize how fortunate you are in your own life when you see those who have nothing. I'll write more about them in future blogs.

This week, one of our own needed help. An expat who, since 1999 has maintained a website and online newsletter for westerners who come to Thailand found himself in the hospital suffering from a chronic heart condition. He needed surgery but his health insurance had maxed out already and he did not have the funds to cover the difference. Without the guarantee of payment, the hospital would not proceed.

On Thursday night, the expat community banded together in Jomtien Beach and held a street party where they raised over 300,000 baht ($8500.00 USD) in less than four hours. Another benefit will be held next weekend in downtown Pattaya.

The Surgery was done on Friday and he is (thankfully) getting better without the burden of debt weighing on him.

Each and every one of us knew it could have been us lying in that hospital bed. Restaurant & Bar owners throughout the community stepped up as well as local entertainers who volunteered their talents.

Hundreds of people, many who didn't even know the Ex-Pat personally, dug deep into their pockets and helped make this event a success. I feel very proud to be a part of a community that takes care of each other like this.

Thailand is truly a remarkable place.