15 Years Ago Today

On June 7, 1996, Young James Sigman took the ferry into Manhattan with the intention of getting a musician he didn't know all that well to sign a CD outside The Bottom Line. But in the process of doing so, he wound up having an experience that probably did more to shape the music he listens to than any other event before or since.

Old James Sigman wrote about this a few years ago, but since today's the 15th anniversary of that day (and we're just a few weeks away from a tribute to the Bottom Line at Rockefeller Park, it seemed like a good idea to revisit that fateful day. So, let's revisit the original post, OK?

And, hey, thanks Todd and Mike Snider for making my life better.

It was the summer of 1996. I was home after a sophomore year of college that worked out better than freshman year and had me thinking college might end up being OK. I still wasn't entirely comfortable, but I was getting there. Slowly, but getting there.

Although many now think of me as some righteous music guru, the truth is that music didn't really mean all that much to me when I was growing up. Sure, I clung to the Billy Joel tapes that were issued to every Catholic Schoolboy on Staten Island. And I had a decent collection of 45s and cassettes, though mostly of songs like Pee Wee Herman's "Surfin' Bird" and The Fat Boys' version of "Wipeout" and soundtracks to movies like "The Great Outdoors" and "UHF." Now, don't get me wrong--those are all fine works, but they're not exactly, y'know, weighty or whatever. The weightiest I got were Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Roy Orbison, the latter of whom I started listening to at an age at which no boy should be listening to Roy Orbison. But I digress.

Anyway, after two years of college and being exposed to different kinds of music, I started to look for what else was out there, musically speaking and otherwise (perhaps mainly to drown out the Rusted Root that played incessantly from the room next door...send me on my way, indeed). And that eventually brought me to country music, and its neglected, socially inept offspring, alternative country. It was about 1996 when I first heard of people like Steve Earle and Joe Ely, who were alternative country before such a term existed. Or at least it was the first time I actually paid attention to them. And that I learned that it's pronounced "EE-lee" not "e-LIE."

It was around that time that Joe Ely covered Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" for a tribute record. He recorded the song with a guy called Todd Snider, whom I had seen once on the TV show "Austin City Limits" and was pretty impressed by. In fact, I almost reviewed his CD, "Step Right Up," for the college newspaper, but I went with B-52's lead singer Fred Schneider's CD "Just Fred," because I figured it would be easier to make cheap jokes about it. And I was right.

I did finally get around to buying "Step Right Up" in that summer of 1996 when I saw that Todd Snider (and his band, The Nervous Wrecks) would be opening for Rory Block at The Bottom Line in NYC. I was but a lad of 19 at the time, so I couldn't go to the show at the over-21 club, but I figured I could maybe get the CD signed outside the club after soundcheck. So with very little knowledge of what Todd Snider even looked like, I headed down to the club.

I was standing outside for awhile, holding the CD, when a guy came up to me and asked, "Are you looking for Todd?" I told him I was, and he said, "Well, that's him right there." He brought me over, and I asked Todd to sign my CD. He asked if I'd be coming to the show, and I explained the situation, saying that I wasn't 21 and adding, "and I'm not cool enough to have a fake ID" (what a slick kid I was). Then, Todd and his brother, Mike (who was the guy who had asked me if I was looking for Todd) put their heads together, and Mike just said, "Well, come back at around 5:30 and we'll sneak you in. Just pretend you're with the crew." I think I managed to stammer, "Um, OK" and then I went to get something to eat at Wendy's. And to buy another Todd Snider CD.

I came back at 5:30, looked for Mike, and he directed me to another member of the crew, who just told me to follow him and look like I belong. So I did. And a minute later, I was sitting in a tiny dressing room at The Bottom Line, talking to Mike Snider about that Buddy Holly tribute record and how I had heard about Todd. Now, at the time, I hadn't even really listened to a Todd CD (I bought "Step Right Up" that day), except for a few snippets on a Tower Records listening station. So I didn't really have much to say. I just mentioned seeing him on "Austin City Limits" and that was really all I had to go on. But Mike, and everybody else in the band and crew, were all real nice to me anyway. I ate their fruit, watched the drummer (Joe McLeary) shave, and offered to help, but was told to just relax. Mike was even apologetic about not being able to get me a beer, but then decided it would be OK if I really wanted one (I didn't, naturally).

A few minutes before showtime, Mike told me to go find a seat for the show out front. And about 15 minutes after I sat down, I saw what, at the time, was easily the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It was loud, it was fast, and it was rock and great-God-almighty-I-am-free-at-last roll. I recognized some of the songs from "Austin City Limits," including "Side Show Blues," which I had decided was my favorite when Mike asked me before the show. And there were others that I loved, like "Alright Guy" and "I Like Country When It Rocks" (and at that point, I was pretty sure I did, too). The show was over way too soon (it was probably about 40 minutes) and after Rory Block's dull headlining set, I wondered why Todd wasn't headlining. And that wasn't the first time I'd wonder if a concert's order of performance should have been reversed.

After the show, I wanted to just say goodbye and thanks to Mike and Todd, so I saw one of the guys in the crew, Kevin Shackleford, and told him how what I saw completely knocked me out. He told me, "Really? Well that was Todd on only, like, 7. You oughta see him when he gets to 10." Then he asked me if I was staying for the second show, which I hadn't even thought about. Well, yes, I guess I will.

So I did, and the second set was as good as the first (though still, in retrospect, not Todd on 10). After the second show, I went backstage (with the help of another good guy on Todd's crew, Shamus Bacon) to thank Mike and Todd and promise them that I'd do everything I could to get people to listen to Todd Snider.

And I'm still trying.


The Rev. Zamboni said...

I can't think of anything to say other than "I read it, and I liked it."

So I read, and I liked it. Those were good years.

Cathy said...

Thanks, James. I like hearing about people's Todd epiphany moments. I've had a few myself.


MuddyG said...

It's always good to hear the baptismal stories of a fellow born-again Toddevangelist. Thanks, brotha!

Eric Kincaid

toomuchcountry said...

Great, great story. I found Joe Ely about the same time you did - however, it didn't lead me to Todd at that time. I also listened to Government Cheese during that time. It took Tommy Womack from the Cheese (and the Nervous Wrecks) to intro me to Todd's music about 7 or 8 years ago.