Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Stayin' Alive!

If you ever wondered whether a famous person is still alive or not, check out the website:

And yes, Abe Vigoda is STILL ALIVE

Here is a fascinating list of famous people who are over the age of 90 and are thankfully still with us!

Irwin Corey                  99    07/29/1914    Entertainment
Herman Wouk              99    05/27/1915    Literature
David Rockefeller        99    06/12/1915    Business
Norman Lloyd              98    11/08/1914    Entertainment
Olivia de Havilland      98    07/01/1916    Entertainment
Kirk Douglas                97    12/09/1916    Entertainment
Zsa Zsa Gabor              97    02/06/1917    Entertainment
Vera Lynn                    97    03/20/1917    Music
June Foray                    97    09/18/1917    Entertainment
Joan Fontaine               97    10/22/1917    Entertainment
Marjorie Lord               96    07/26/1918    Entertainment
Louis Jourdan               95    06/19/1919    Entertainment
Al Molinaro                  95    06/24/1919    Entertainment
Billy Graham                94    11/07/1918    Religion
Joseph Wapner             94    11/15/1919    Ent,Law
Alan Young                  94    11/19/1919    Entertainment
Maureen O'Hara            94    08/17/1920    Entertainment
Jayne Meadows             94    09/27/1920    Entertainment
Nanette Fabray              94    10/27/1920    Entertainment
G.D. Spradlin                93    08/31/1920    Entertainment
Ann Rutherford             93    11/02/1920    Entertainment
Noel Neill                      93    11/25/1920    Entertainment
Little Jimmy Dickens    93    12/19/1920    Music
Carol Channing             93    01/31/1921    Entertainment
Hugh Downs                 93    02/14/1921    Journalism
Abe Vigoda                   93    02/24/1921    Entertainment
Barbara Hale                 93    04/18/1921    Entertainment
Jake LaMotta                93    07/10/1921    Sports
John Glenn                    93    07/18/1921    Space,Politics
Monty Hall                    93    08/25/1921    Entertainment
Ernest Hollings              92    01/01/1922    Politics
Patrick Macnee              92    02/06/1922    Entertainment
Steven Hill                    92    02/24/1922    Entertainment
James Noble                  92    03/05/1922    Entertainment
Carl Reiner                    92    03/20/1922    Entertainment
Marty Allen                   92    03/23/1922    Entertainment
Bill Macy                       92    05/18/1922    Entertainment
Christopher Lee             92    05/27/1922    Entertainment
William Schallert           92    07/06/1922    Entertainment
Kay Starr                        92    07/21/1922    Music
Janis Paige                     92    09/16/1922    Entertainment
Fyvush Finkel                92    10/09/1922    Entertainment
Doris Day                       91    04/03/1922    Entertainment
Norman Lear                  91    07/27/1922    Entertainment
Stan Lee                         91    12/28/1922    Cartooning
Red Schoendienst          91    02/02/1923     Sports
Liz Smith                       91    02/02/1923     Entertainment
Franco Zeffirelli            91    02/12/1923     Entertainment
Chuck Yeager                91    02/13/1923    Military
Ara Parseghian              91    05/21/1923    Sports
Henry Kissinger            91    05/27/1923    Politics
Jack Carter                    91    06/24/1923    Entertainment
Earl Hamner, Jr.            91    07/10/1923    Entertainment
Bob Dole                       91    07/22/1923    Politics
Rhonda Fleming            91    08/10/1923    Entertainment
Rose Marie                    91    08/15/1923    Entertainment
Glynis Johns                  91    10/05/1923    Entertainment
Larry Storch                  90    01/08/1923    Entertainment
Mort Walker                  90    09/03/1923    Cartooning
Bob Barker                    90    12/12/1923    Entertainment
Gloria Vanderbilt          90    02/20/1924    Fashion
Stanley Donen              90    04/13/1924    Entertainment
Theodore Bikel             90    05/02/1924    Entertainment
Charles Aznavour         90    05/22/1924    Entertainment
George Bush                 90    06/12/1924    Politics
Eva Marie Saint            90    07/04/1924    Entertainment
Bess Myerson               90    07/16/1924    Entertainment
Arlene Dahl                  90    08/11/1924    Entertainment
Phyllis Schlafly            90    08/15/1924    Social Activism
Jimmy Carter                90    10/01/1924    Politics
Roger Williams            90    10/01/1924    Music
Bill Dana                      90    10/05/1924    Entertainment
Lee Iacocca                  90    10/15/1924    Business

To A Long Life!

Dispelling the "Cruise Ship Act" Myth

"I'll be joining the cruise ship Diamond Princess in a few days sailing Bangkok to Darwin, Australia."

Quite often when I say something like that to a "land based" entertainer, I get a  look from them that seems to say "Sorry your career is not going well.."

I guess it's understandable to feel that way if you've never been on a ship before.

On popular TV Reality shows like The X Factor or American Idol, some of the Judges make disparaging remarks about someone being a "Cruise Ship Act".

And 40 years ago, there was some truth to that....but not in today's cruising world.

Many of the acts you see today on ship routinely perform in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, New York, London, Branson etc.

On ships, not only are the Show Rooms world class and the audiences appreciative, but as a performer it makes monetary sense.

About 20 years ago, I was offered a job at a well known Theater in Branson MO. The offer broke down to a total of approximately $1200 a week for six days / eight shows. Additional money could possibly be earned by selling albums (cassettes were big back then) after the show.

This did not include housing, meals or transportation to/from Branson.

At the same time (20 years ago), I was making about $1500 a week on ship. I was working a maximum of two nights a week (4 shows) and all of my meals, my transportation to/from ship and my accommodation (private passenger cabin) were provided by the Cruise Line.

Needless to say, I did the math and didn't take the Branson gig!

Since then, the money and the onboard conditions have continued to improve. On many ships, I don't just get a Passenger Cabin, I get a Mini Suite with balcony!

I also get to travel the world (well over 80 countries now).

I've seen a lot of great Entertainers on ships (and, to be honest, a few less than great..) but that holds true in Las Vegas, Branson etc.

For many Performers, Cruise Ships are a great venue to work.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Buy A Banjo ... See The World!

It's not often in life that a $35 dollar decision can change a life but it happened to me....

I was one of the first Advanced Cardiac Life Support Paramedics in the United States back in the early 1970's.  I loved my work and I was good at it.

Unfortunately, at the time, there was very low pay and extremely long hours for those of us willing to do the job. I felt that, in my 20's I could work those grueling 24 hour shifts, but in my 30's......

I wanted to find "something" that I had a passion for and could pay a decent salary.

I had always loved the music that was NOT of my generation. I enjoyed the Big Band Swing and Dixieland Jazz my parents listened to. These were the tunes that constantly ran through my head.

One day, while walking down King Street in Charleston SC I happened to pass a Pawn Shop that had a banjo in the window. I went in and, on impulse, I paid $35 for it!

Now understand, at this point I didn't know a Tenor from a Plectrum from a 5-String. All I knew was it was $35 dollars and I had that!

Once I got it home, I soon discovered there were no 4 string banjo teachers in Charleston and I was pretty much "on my own". There were no Youtube videos to learn from back then, only dry instruction books.

I did have as inspiration a copy of Eddie Peabody's "Man With A Banjo" album which I would play it and attempt to copy.

Little did I know at the time, Eddie played a Plectrum Tuning and I was trying to duplicate it on a Tenor Banjo!

Most Tenor Banjo players would either chunk chords or play single string melody. I learned to play Chord Melody style on a Tenor Banjo because I didn't now any  better!

It was a long, hard learning curve until one day my friend Randy Morris found me an out of print copy of Harry Reser's "Let's Play The Tenor Banjo" published in the late 1920's.

Reser, who was widely known for his single string dexterity was also an excellent chord melody player.

Suddenly a light went on! So that's how you are supposed to do this!

Combined with Pat Terry's Cassette Banjo Tapes (Terry Tapes), I finally had the tools to learn and explore.

It took months years to play well enough to work professionally, but in time, I did it!

That $35 dollar investment literally has taken me around the world dozens of times as the two maps below will show. If it's in blue, I've been there, thanks to playing the Tenor Banjo!

1982 to Present. States visited while playing the banjo!

1982 to Present. Countries visited while playing the banjo!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My New Gold Tone Banjo

When I began playing Banjo, I could only afford a low end instrument. I learned to play on an old KAY Banjo I bought in a Pawn Shop for 35 dollars.

It, (and I) sounded awful.

That was 1978.

As a Professional Banjo Player I've been lucky to play very good instruments through the years.

The first really good Instrument I had was a B&D Senorita Tenor Banjo made by Gretsch.  A beautiful banjo with the distictive B&D "ring". Although it was a "well worn" instrument when I acquired it, I truly wish I still had it today...

Following that, I played a hand made instrument by WC Chester from California. The Chester Banjo was a sturdy, well crafted banjo with great tone.

The instrument previously belonged to my friend Randy Morris in Orlando, Fl and he gave me a wonderful deal on it when I wasn't able to afford much more (thanks again, Randy!)

In 1990, I met CC Richelieu at a FIGA (Fretted Instruments Guild of America) Banjo Players Convention and thanks to "Rich", I travelled the world playing his Golden Eagle Tenor Banjo for the next 24 years.

Of course, CC Richelieu has passed on and his workshop is closed, so when it came time to find a new Instrument, I turned to Wayne Rogers at Gold Tone Banjos.

I emailed Wayne in mid September and he responded immediately and was extremely helpful (as were everyone at Gold Tone I dealt with).

In less than 10 days, I had my new TS-250AT Tenor Banjo delivered to my door in Thailand.

Gold Tone TS-250AT Tenor Banjo

It's a beautiful, well made instrument that sounds great! Admittedly, it took a day or two to get used to the instrument (anytime you play one banjo for 24 years and suddenly switch... ) but now I love it!

Thanks Wayne for making it so easy to put one of your fine instruments into my hands! I'm looking forward to debuting it onstage on the Diamond Princess next week (Oct 31 - Nov 09).

If you are looking for a really good quality banjo, check out Gold Tone, you won't be dissapointed.

Follow Me Boys!

In this age of constant Internet connectivity, it's are to believe we survived reasonably we without it!
When I began working cruise ships in the early 1980's, there were no Televisions on board, no Internet service, no Cell Phones, No Satellite TV Channels... we were lucky to find a two week old copy of USA Today in port (for $5).
Every Port Day guarenteed that there would be lines of crew members and passengers waiting to you the bank of  Pay Phones in the Cruise Terminal.
Now, if ESPN flickers for two seconds, passengers are calling the Front Desk in a panic.
As a kid, before we had Gossip Websites like TMZ we had to make due with "Party Lines" (under 40?, ask your parents).
Of course all has changed now, we have Emails, Twitter accounts, Websites, Blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, LINE, WeChat, Google Plus, Hangouts, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, AIM, Smart Phones etc.
I recently heard that someone actually sent someone a hand written letter! Have to check on that one!
The point of all this is that we live in a different age now. EVERYBODY is interconnected now.
I'm no different.
Here are the easiest ways to connect to me:
Twitter: @jcoston
Skype: jcoston54 (not always online)
There are others (snail mail etc.) but if you can't catch me here, it means I'm either dead or in jail!

Reviving The Blog (& Catching Up!!)

It HAS been awhile, hasn't it?

In a way, Blogging is like exercise. It's a discipline.  You can be going along fine every day and suddenly, you miss a day and the next thing you know .... IT'S FOUR YEARS LATER!!

OK, a LOT has happened over the past 4 years (I promise NOT to bore you). I turned 60, put on a few extra pounds....

You know, the same thing that happens to everyone.

I'm still (thankfully) working the cruise ships. Next week I'm on the Diamond Princess sailing from Bangkok to Darwin Australia (Oct 31 - Nov 09).

I'm Still in Thailand and love it more every day. Actually bought some property up country that will be my eventual retirement home burial plot!.

I have a new Banjo (more on that in a future blog) and my health continues to be good.

There you are. Caught up without having to read 4 years worth of  blogging!

I'll be back soon (promise!)