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"Me And The Mob, Part One"
I was playing in a rhythm and blues band at the King o' Hearts Club on NW 7th Avenue
in Miami. The band was called "Donel Austin and the Rockin' Impallas", with two "L"s.
I later made a record with them under the name Jackie Blanchard and the Rockin' Impallas.
We had a great band, nothing but R&B. I played piano/organ and left hand bass. The
piano/organ was called a Lowrey Organo, an early synth. It was a Rube Goldberg type
setup with a long metal bar with 88 pegs hanging down from it. You clamped the bar
on top of the piano keys, the pegs hung down on the keys and played an organ sound
when you touched them. You could bring the organ in and out with your knee on a lever
under the keyboard. I think these came from the factory with torn speakers. We didn't
need fuzz boxes!
I won't say the guy that owned the place was a mobster. I won't say it because he
might kill me. Let's call him Big Nicky to be safe. He had the mandatory smaller
brother Pauly, his sidekick.
The club was like an airplane hangar. The dance floor held hundreds, amd was situated
behind the bandstand. It was concrete, with linoleum covering. I was behind the piano
at the back of the stage, with about a six foot drop if I stepped back. This will be
The club took photos of everybody who came in the door. I don't know why. There were
over a dozen bouncers who carried saps, or blackjacks, a leather weapon shaped like a
small squash, and filled with lead. At least a couple of the bouncers were nuts. They
couldn't wait to beat somebody up. There was a lot of bloodshed, but the music was good.
If you were looking for the rest room and happened to wander toward Big Nicky's office,
crazy Dobermans would bounce off the inside of his door, wanting you for lunch. Nicky
said they only attacked when annoyed. You could annoy them by just existing.
The Musician's Union guy came around all the time to see that we were taking our 20
break every hour, and to try and catch somebody working under scale. His name was Don
Caruso. Everybody was afraid of him but me. I liked him. We used to talk over coffee
on my breaks. It took him six months to find out I was not a union member. I was called
before the Union Board for a trial. They decided to make me a member so they could
watch me. They all smiled.
We had a nightly live radio show from the club, and Pauly, the brother, was the emcee.
For some reason Pauly and Donel the bandleader started arguing while we were on the air.
It turned into a fist fight and they began bouncing and wrestling around all over the
bandstand, knocking stuff over. Now, to thicken the plot: My big wooden piano was up on
whiskey cases so I could stand up and play! They fell against the piano and tipped it
off the cases. I was straining every muscle to hold up the piano with my bare hands,
and looking at the six foot drop to the cement behind me. This is what Pauly yelled at
me: "Dammit! Keep playin', kid! We're on the air!"
We got a higher paying job at another club, but Big Nicky sent his whole crew of
bouncers to walk through the new club, intimidating us and the customers. We finally
went back to work at the King o' Hearts.
A few years later it was in the papers that Big Nicky did some prison time. The thing is:
When he got out he became Mayor of an adjacent city!
You gotta hand it to a guy like that.
Copyright © April 9, 2001 by Jack Blanchard. All Rights Reserved.