Back in the olden days (the 1980’s), I loved to go dancing with my friends. One of my favorite dance partners was my friend Jon, because he was tireless. That man would dance until the perspiration flew from his hair and just laugh, laugh, laugh. He and his partner, Carl, were good friends of mine; actually, Jon was my best friend.
Jon was tremendously smart and funny; he could be very crafty, too, and he was always scheming about something. I had to be on my guard when he came up with new ideas, because you just never knew what he might do. But he always showed me a good time when I’d visit, taking me to new restaurants, popular shows and hot clubs, and introducing me to his friends.
One day, Jon called me with a dilemma: he and Carl had planned to go to a show that was playing for a few nights at a favorite venue. At the last minute, Carl was called in to work and couldn’t go. Would I be interested in going in Carl’s place? Jon explained to me that this was a band called the “Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra” (ZPMO) and they were THE dance band, out of San Francisco. Sounded good to me, so I agreed. Jon would pick me up at 7 p.m.
Jon drove up in his olive green ’72 Mustang with the vinyl top, windows down and music loud, as usual. We car-danced all the way to the place; the name escapes me now. I was pretty excited for the show; he had really talked it up on the way there. Once inside, he said, “stay right there – I’ll be back in a second.” I stood in the lobby, off to one side, to wait. Suddenly, I heard Jon’s voice behind me, and when I turned around, there stood Carl, too! They had pulled a prank to get me there, and I was glad they did.
Pretty soon we were seated with the first of many overpriced drinks in front of us, and we watched the stage hands putting the finishing touches on the band’s setup. Looked like it was a big group — lots of mikes and music stands. Sure enough, when the lights came up and the band came out, there were over a dozen of them; more like fifteen! Zowie!
There was a horn section (I love horn sections) and a keyboardist, percussion section, and sax. There were lots of other instruments, too. This was going to be fun.
And it was. The vocalists were a few ladies up front. They played R&B, soul, and funk, all danceable, with a tight, bright sound. The solos rotated between the ladies and the instrumentalists behind them; everyone had a spotlight at one time or another. The music was great, and the energy in that house, that night, was palpable.
There was one woman I enjoyed watching in particular, whose voice could melt butter one moment and cut diamonds the next; I think her name was Katie, and she was phenomenal. They were all very talented people. And their catalog was widely varied, but always engaging. You could not sit still. The dance floor was packed from the start and stayed that way. Wow. I had never seen anything like this before, and I loved every minute of it.
We danced all night, the three of us. We laughed until our faces hurt and our sides ached. We were soaked with sweat and a few spilled drinks courtesy of the dancers, my pantyhose was shredded, and we were absolutely spent. I will always remember the fun we had that evening.
This was the start of a beautiful relationship with this band. I saw them a couple more times. Each time was the same, but different. The band members were always changing, but the high-energy output was the same. Other stories, another day.
Have you been to a ZPMO show? Have you heard of the band? I’m so glad Mr. Stuck mentioned them today!
Man, I wish I had bought the album when I had the chance…wait — I think I did! Now I just have to find it!
photo credit: Eddie Berman