Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Story Behind My Nickname

They Called Me Fast Kenny

When we first got down to North Miami Beach, in early 1970, it was after a few quick college gigs and we were pretty ready to take some R & R. I think that back then, we used to kind of home base in Miami when we were on the East Coast, even if we didn't have any gigs right there in town. In any case, I lucked out this first time around and got a room to myself, which suited me just fine. The other fellas were used to having groupies and other locals around, and having parties right in the hotel room, but I still liked my privacy and treasured it when I got the opportunity.

This particular time, I had either brought some weed along or just gotten my cut of a 'band ounce', and wanted to just smoke, watch some TV and chill out all by myself in my hotel room. I got myself situated in my room, put the stuff away that I didn't want to leave in the suitcase, and took out my stash and prepared to roll one up. I immediately saw that I had no rolling papers with me.

Now, I don't have (nor did I ever have) a photographic memory. But sometimes I would have something like little snapshots in my mind that would pop up, reminding me of something I had seen before. So, this particular time I saw a pack of papers, to the left of the lamp, on the nightstand in another band member's hotel room. Not wasting any time, I put on some shoes and headed to the room with the rolling papers.

I hit the door with one loud knock (our secret signal) and waited for someone to open up. Whoever came to the door, swung it open and told me to come in. There were about a dozen people all sitting around the room, some were on the floor since all the chairs were taken. I did a quick survey to plot my route from the doorway to the nightstand. Satisfied with my mental map, I proceeded to step over a person or two, up onto a footrest, back down and then over another person, up onto the bed to the right of the nightstand, back down between the stand and yet another person and finally next to the other bed and in front of the papers. I picked up the papers, looked up and asked nobody in particular, “Can I have these for a while?” Charlie, I think, said, “Sure, go ahead; we're done with them for now.” Apparently, they had already partaken of the pretty decent smoke that was available in Miami, back in 1970. I then turned around, and negotiated my way back out of the room by doing the very same gymnastics in reverse, as two dozen glazed eyes followed my movements without a word.

It wasn't uncommon, back in those days, for people in the traveling rock and roll business to walk in and out of each others lives without introduction. I think we probably took the saying “live fast; die young” to heart, and didn't see the need to constantly be introducing ourselves and each other to the many people that came and went. In this case, though, Charlie broke with that tradition. I later learned that even after the door to the hotel room closed behind me, the room stayed silent. That is until Charlie spoke up, introducing me after the fact, and said to the stunned group, “That was Fast Kenny Utterback, from Chicago, Illinois.” After that, they called me Fast Kenny.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Know I Can't Help It

Back in the day, around something like 1970-71, I used to stay at the Tropicana in Hollywood, when we weren't on the road. I could fill a very large book with just short tales of those days, but remembering them would be part of that process. Sadly, that is something that may not be entirely possible, due to lost brain cells. From what I hear, along with them go the memories contained therein. I know I had some great times, though, since the 'small brain' says so. (long memory, that little brain) More on that subject, later.

One great moment, that stayed etched in my brain (or perhaps resides in cells not destroyed), is something that happened around the pool, at the 'Trop', as we used to call it. Pools loom large in my legend. I would lay around a pool all day, everyday, if I was independently wealthy. Back in those days, actually, we acted like we were.

Now Stanley, our trumpet player back in the latter half of my stint with PG&E, was a very hip black man who was also from Chicago. He and I got along really well, maybe due to some combination of our love of The Blues, being Chicagoans or the fact that we were born in the same year. Whatever the reason, I always enjoyed spending time with him and listening to what he had to say. Stan was also a very intelligent person, so his humor--being kinda cerebral--was right up my alley. He also was able to articulate really well in a visual sort of way, which is not uncommon to artists who have speaking skills. On one particular day, he cracked me up with the tale of a little encounter of his own, around the pool.

Tootie (pronounced with the short-double 'o' sound, as in the word 'foot') was Sly Stone's sister. I think one of the reasons that Stan knew her, was because she was the trumpet player in Sly's band Sly and the Family Stone. Anyhow, Tootie went 'pimping' by Stan one day, on the pool deck, maybe on the way to her room. Pimping, by the way--as Stan called it--is kind of like a bouncing strut. Actually, to be as descriptive as I can be, it was a fairly well-known, cool-looking walk that was more common to black people back in that era. It really wasn't a swagger like the hip-hop or gangsta moves today, but rather a slow, bouncing, forward-leaning strut, sometimes accented with one hand hooked into the belt while the other hung at the side, swinging with the arm and shoulder slightly lower than the other side. Basically, a walk that says, "I am as cool as I can be."

Stan, who I think was leaning back on a pool chair enjoying the summer air, couldn't resist making a comment: "Tootie, why you so mean?" She cocked her head just enough to direct her answer to Stan, without changing her gait one bit, and said, "Aw, man. You know I can't help it."

Of all the cool things I have heard said, that would rank toward the top.