[Dixielandjazz] more on unions

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis larrys.bands at charter.net
Sat Nov 4 10:26:09 PST 2006

After college I came back to St. Louis after about a 7 year absence.  I had been a member of a Southern Illinois Local and generally had good luck with the union.

When I came back no one knew me and it seemed like the right thing to do and I transferred my membership.  I didn't work a whole lot but could put my name on the list for a particular night and if someone needed a sax player I was in.  I probably should have worked that angle more.

Several years went by and I had started working for a couple of the contractors and was doing moderately well.  The only glitch I had was when I tried to book my own high school reunion the local insisted on a 8 piece minimum on the room.  The class hired a 4 piece non union.  The union wouldn't even write a letter complaining about the situation to the hall owners or anyone else.  The explanation was even though St. Charles MO was in the St. Louis jurisdiction they said "look it's on the other side of the river and it's really too late to do anything I should have come to them sooner".  Like it was in a strange country or something and three months lead time wasn't enough time.  I was pretty pissed at that one and I found out they wouldn't even protest to the Union halls that allowed non union bands in.

I stayed in the local and had put together a pretty good quartet and had booked a few jobs but was still very dependent on the other leaders when a personal tragedy came upon us.  My six year old daughter died after a two month stay in intensive care from a fairly rare disease called Guion Beret. (spelled phonetically)  The hospital bills were astronomical and even though I had insurance left a Bill for $16,000 which was more than two times my yearly salary at that time.  That didn't count funeral expenses.  Financially I was in a bind and needed more work.

My only asset was a pretty good group so I started booking it but it wasn't enough. One day I saw in the union newsletter that they wanted all band leaders and contractors to register so the union could better help them find work.  This list had been in existence for some time and I thought it was the opportunity that I was looking for.

Big mistake.  The weekend that the new list came out I was fired off the stand very loudly and publicly and called a SOB in front of several hundred people.  I was in shock.  I was doing good that night and I was right in the middle of the bridge of Girl from Ipanema when it happened.  I had absolutely no idea why he did that but I wasn't going to hang around and find out.

That week I was relieved of 21 bookings that I had with the various bands in town.  I had committed an even bigger sin than being a commie and that was that band leaders didn't hire other band leaders.  I didn't know that.  It had never been a problem when I was in college because they had other less legal means of enforcing the unwritten rule about booking off someone else's job and no one did it.  The union guys told me I was better off not making waves because I couldn't make guys hire me and while they could get those jobs back for me I would probably never work again.  So I said screw it and went on with my life.

I still was booking my group but things weren't going well there either.  My old friend and college buddy who was working for me along with the other two were going off in the parking lot and doing drugs and when he started bringing high school girls from his HS band on the gigs with him on overnight things that was too much so no more band.

Now I'm screwed and not a single booker would touch me with a 10 foot pole.

My wife saw an ad in the newspaper for a sax player for one job.  That one job turned into 15 years with a trio and girl singer.  Before I was playing very long with them I discovered that I had let my union dues lapse.  It wasn't intentional but it happened.  I went down to reinstate and found out that I was going to have to pay all my back dues plus all the initiation fees plus they would estimate my work dues for the time I had been out of the local.

I simply didn't have that kind of money at that time so I never did get back in and kept playing with Group III.  It was a good band and we worked a lot so I didn't need the local.  Being non union only cost us one job in the 15 years.

I rejoined later when they started the amnesty programs.  I was able to prove that I had been in the local before and just had to resume paying dues.  After that I got the circus gigs that came to town and some shows but that all fell through when the circus went to pre recorded music.  To be fair the circus bands sucked.  They were using nine trumpet players because those guys didn't have good enough chops to play the whole show and they were using that gig to hand out favors to union guys.  And yes, I was one of those that got in because I was playing in the Shrine Band at the time and the Booker was a Shriner.  It's not about how well you play but who you know.  That was their only gig for some of those trumpet players and especially for the Timp player who was awful.  He is still on the local board.  What does that say?

Missouri had become a open labor state (I think abut 1990) and the unions lost big time when that happened.  No more closed shops.  A friend that I still play with has more or less a union band but it's hard for him to fill his band with union guys now.  I still use the old union book to call guys that I work with.  Most haven't been in the union for years.

They still fail to help the part time or gigging musician and those guys leave the local in droves after a short while.

The unions could do more to service the musicians but they still like to be punitive towards their members.  In some fairness to the union it's been a long time since the board minutes were full of members and leaders being called on the carpet and fined for something or another.  At one time there were several leaders who regularly brought charges against musicians for all sorts of infractions and they fined them too.  At the same time ignoring the leaders violations. Sometimes they even expelled and fined guys for not much at all.  I don't think they do that sort of thing very often anymore.

I have found them a whole lot easier to work with now that their backs are against the wall and I have booked jobs through their booking agency.
St. Louis

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