Jazz Institute of Chicago

Steve Galloway and the Count Basie Experience

by Charles Walton

I met Steve Gallowy and his brother Tim in 1963, while they were still students at DuSable High School. I was doing my student teaching under the supervision of Walter Dyett. Steve and Tim were in the school concert band. Steve played trombone and Tim played trumpet. Fred Hopkins, bass, and Jerome Cooper, drums, who later came into musical prominence, were also in the band.

I was born in Chicago June 25, 1946. I graduated from DuSable in 1964 and worked a day job for a short period of time. John Watson called me to substitute for him at the Regal Theater, in Red Saunders' band and this musical experience was the deciding factor for my decision to become a professional musician. I was making $40 per week for 40 hours on my day job and for 2 hours of subbing for John, I made $40. I quit the day job.

From my subbing, I networked onto other groups, one of which was two years with Phil Cohran, and his Artistic Heritage during the civil unrest period, 1965-66. I was in my second year of college at Roosevelt University when I became a member of George Hunter's Moonlighters Band. Prince Shell was the pianist and arranger, Donald Myrick, reeds, Earl Crosley, reeds, George Hunter, reeds, Harlan "Booby" Floyd and myself, trombones, Fortunatus "Fip" Recard and Billy Broomfield trumpets, Jimmy Duncan, drums, Louis Satterfield, bass, and Wayne Bennett, guitar. The band's first gig was at the reopened Club DeLisa, operated by Purvis Spann and featuring Arthur Prysock.

While the band was in the Club DeLisa, Count Basie would call Booby periodically to join the Basie band. Finally, Doris, Booby's wife, "gave him permission" to join the Basie band. Booby had said to me, when we were still playing together at the DeLisa, "Kid, if I get in the Basie Band I'm going to get you in the band." Booby left and for two years, I didn't hear a word from him.

I was 22 years old in April 1968, and sitting at home. I was nearing graduation from Roosevelt College with about 12 hours of college credits still needed when I received the call.

When the phone rang, I answered and it was Booby who said, "Come on down to the Regal Theater and meet Count Basie and do a couple of weeks with the band, they are going to Las Vegas."

I went down, met Basie and he asked me how much salary I wanted. I told him and he said, "You can't live on that amount. Give him some more money, Jaws." ( Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis was the road manager.) I was willing to go for nothing. I thought they were being generous with the salary mentioned, however, later I found out they were not.

In the band at that time was Marshall Royal, lead alto, Bobby Platter, alto, Lockjaw and Eric Dixon, tenor saxes and Charlie Fowlkes, baritone sax. I went in on Booby's chair. Booby had replaced Al Grey. That was a very heavy chair especially since I didn't know what a C7th chord was. If I had been asked to name the notes in a C7th chord I would have been in trouble.

Somehow it worked its way out. Grover Mitchell was playing lead, I played 2nd, Richard Boone 3rd and Bill Hughes 4th. The trumpet section was Gene Gold, Oscar Brashear, Albert Aarons and Sonny Cohn. The rhythm section besides Basie was Freddie Green, guitar, Harold Jones, drums and Norman "Dewey" Keenan, bass, who became a very close friend of mine. He and Richard Boone became my running buddies and gave me insight into what being in the Basie band was all about.

There was always talk about the quality of the music, which in jobbing bands you never had that kind of conversation. Sitting in the hotel or on the bus after a job, there would be a discussion on how the band sounded that night, on previous nights and what everybody's musical aspirations were for the band. They made comparison tapes of the old Basie band to the present band and [talked about] what we could do to be a better band. It was a tremendous team spirit; unheard of in a jobbing band. It has colored my musical life ever since.

I was in the band three or four months and Basie never said anything to me. I would ask the other members of the band, "How am I doing?" They would say, "If Basie hasn't said anything, then you must be doing okay." Later he started talking to me and we became very close. I had never been out of Chicago, or on a plane. I had never made those personal decisions that you make as a man before I joined the band. Maybe Basie sensed my immaturity and tried to advise me. For example, one night Basie called me on the bus and said, "You don't have to try to make love every night."

His advice to me was, "All you need in life is a croaker sack and a piece of chicken."

My reaction to that statement was, "What did he mean by that?" I repeated Basie's statement to Dewey, my mentor in the band, and his analysis was, "You know that image depicted by a hobo with a tied up handkerchief, with all of his belongings on a stick in one hand and holding a piece of chicken in the other hand eating it—makes him 'cool.'"

In the future, I intend to write a composition, "A Croaker Sack and A Piece of Chicken," because Basie's philosphy says it all. In essence, that's all you really need and not so many females in your life. But the chase was fun.

I think that it was because of my youth that Basie talked to me. Even after I left the band he kept in touch with me. Someone would call when the band was in Chicago and say, "Basie would like to see you." I would go to see him and he would take me in a room and we would talk. He would always inquire as to my health and so forth.

When I first joined the band, I was told by Dewey that Basie plays the horses, so in the band he has got to find out what kind of horse you are. Are you going to be a quarter horse or a thoroughbred? Every thing was put in metaphors in the Basie band. Metaphors around horses, gambling or women. What kind of player is he? A thoroughbered or a quarter horse—long term or short term?

One of the reasons Basie tended not to talk to you, at first, was that he didn't know where to place his bet. He didn't want to expend that energy because no one knew how long you'd be around because it all depended on you.

My travels with the Basie Band made me aware that there was a whole new world out there. Even with the language differences, all over the world, people found a way to communicate. And of course, not to mention all the beautiful women out there.

I sat behind Freddie Green on the bus the whole two years that I was in the band. He was much quieter than Basie. You felt honored if Freddie said anything to anybody, but he was a very warm man. It was the warmth about Freddie that you always felt and it seemed that Freddie had seen it all and had been there and done that.

Freddie was adamant about the quality of the band, especially about the Rhythm section. If it wasn't right on a particular night, you knew because Freddie grumbled under his breath and had an angry look on his face the whole evening—then, when he got on the bus he really wouldn't speak to anyone. If the band had a bad night you didn't have to ask how it went because the bus would be very quiet. It was as if the team had lost the game.

There were days when it was like that and there were days when the band sounded so good, everyone's spirits would be high and joking on the bus. It all depended on how it went on the job.

Freddie was hard on Harold Jones but everyone grew to love him. Harold would talk about his difficulties with Freddie a lot, since the new boys hung together. The band had three new members. The other members of the band always called us the youngbloods—Harold Jones, Oscar Brashear and myself. Oscar joined the band six months before I came in and Harold three months after Oscar. In a period of six months we were the newest members in the band for a long time. I was the youngest player they ever had in the band. To this day they call me the original Newboy.

They gave Harold "hell" and Harold gave it back. We were in a period of Black consciousness and Harold and Oscar were on my case, saying that I should have a Natural, dress hip and get into the whole Black thing of the time. I was trying to live up to their expectations. In the mean time, Charlie Fowkes asked Harold, who was wearing a big Natural hair style, "Why are you wearing your hair like that? It looks horrible." Harold, who was trying to be as respectful as he could, said, "Charlie, if someone who had a Natural told me that, I think I would really listen and take that person seriously." Charlie replied by showed up two weeks later with a Natural wig. When Black consciousness really caught on, Charlie and Eric Dixon began wearing Natural wigs.

Marshall Royal set the phrasing of the band, but not by words. If you didn't hear something in the music, someone would say to you, "Didn't you hear what so and so did?" Or, "Didn't you hear what I played?" Nobody ever said, "Play this long or play it short," which is the approach that is used in most college bands. I was told never to ask those kind of questions. When you hear what everybody is doing, you do that. It was done just that way. There was no verbal articulation as to what was going to be done.

Later, I fell into drugs. When it became apparent to Basie and everybody that I couldn't handle it, Basie told me I needed to go home and clean myself up and get my life back in order. I felt it was the right thing to do.

When I returned home, getting myself together helped to open up another avenue to me. I started to live up to the Basie experience. So, while I was working on getting myself in order, I truly felt I had been blessed by having had that experience and should give something back. I had to prove to myself that I merited that experience. My great emphasis was always to grow musically. That emphasis still exists.

To make a long story short, I cleaned my self up, graduated from Roosevelt University and went into a new phase of life which I am still living.

Johnny Pate, Steve Galloway, and Dawn Renee Jones:

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