Stage (f)Right Part 3
Recording was new to Ritchie Jean. All of his prior band experience had been before live audiences, but yet the recording was what it was all about. Without a successful demo Ritchie Jean would remain what he was and where he was. Neither prospect seemed especially appealing to him.
The boys rented the use of a studio in Aberdeen, Maryland. This was indeed the turning point for the band. It was all or nothing and Ritchie Jean was not about to settle for nothing. He wanted it all and he would have it at absolutely any cost.
Ritchie Jean had studied, invested, and waited years for what was about to happen. The songs had all been rehearsed and when it came to the guitar, he knew his lines inside and out. It seemed like such a long time ago he left his small town for the city and a chance at stardom, but in reality, it wasn't long at all. Most people would never dream of accomplishing the things he accomplished, especially at his young age of 22. That was the difference. Ritchie Jean dreamed.
As they approached the studio gate, the excitement of their first recording seemed to melt into deep concentration. It seemed like such a long time to reach this point and yet, this was only the beginning.
Once behind the closed doors of the studio, inside the dimly lit room, their energy, although harnessed, was bucking to get out. The equipment had been set up and they were ready for a sound check. The perfectly matched acoustics within the studio gave them an edge they had never experienced in any club.
The sound man, John, who was mixing for the boys gave them the signal and they jumped into their first number. The notes rang clear and true as they pounded through it. As the music blended, Ritchie Jean could feel it come alive with every beat, and with every strain of emotion they could feel that harnessed energy being unleashed. Yet only half of the work was done. Next each boy would have to play their individual lines onto separate tracks to be properly mixed, balanced, and blended. Painstakingly, Ritchie Jean worked through the original tunes one by one--all the while watching a dream come true.
After the final notes rang out, it was time to go "behind the glass" and listen to the finished product. The only things left to do were to make any slight changes that were necessary and add some finishing touches.
With the recording behind them, the next step was to sit back and see what would happen.
Robbie knew of a disc jockey in Delaware that would play original material from time to time so he gave him a call. A meeting was set up with the boys and their demo tape won the D. J.'s approval. It would be aired for two weeks twice a day, just to see what the response would be. Of course this was only as a personal favor for Robbie, but at any rate, at least there would be exposure. That's what they needed at this point in the dream.
It was 6:16 a.m. and the phone was ringing. Ritchie Jean had just gotten to bed after a long night of playing across the river in New Jersey. All he wanted to do was sleep, but the phone wouldn't quit so with all the energy he could muster he reached over to the night stand and groped for the phone.
On the other end was a very excited and almost out of control Robbie. His D. J. friend wanted to meet with Joey and Ritchie Jean before his 10:00 show. Robbie didn't know anything except that it was good news and their career could take a giant step up. Even though it was short notice it was imperative for Ritchie Jean and Joey to be there.
"Robbie, I just got to bed. You were there last night. You know it was a long night. I'm tired and we gotta do it all over again tonight. We've been pushin' it. Can't we meet with him after the show and at least I can get a couple hours of sleep?"
"No! You need to be there before he airs. Mess with your own career if you want, but don't you dare even think of doing anything to hurt mine. Get up and get there right away and then you can come back and sleep later. Joey's already on his way. Are you listening?"
"Yes. . .I'll be there."
A reluctant Ritchie Jean wrestled himself from his nice, warm bed and prepared to leave. The morning sun was rising, and as it greeted the day, a velvet pink seemed to cover the horizon. A crispness in the Fall air seemed to rejuvenate Ritchie Jean as he began his short out-of-state drive to the radio station.
Joey had already arrived and was waiting for Ritchie Jean in the parking lot. Neither knew what this meeting was all about, but they were there. They did their part. Now it was time to find D. J. Billy Maxwell. As they entered the door, Billy met them and ushered them into his small, but comfortable office. Already seated was an attractive woman Ritchie Jean guessed was probably in her early 30's. She was tall and well dressed with the look of success written all over her. Billy stepped forward for the introductions.
"Allison, I'd like you to meet Ritchie Jean Baker and Joey Santore. Boys, this is Allison Masters. She's heard your stuff. She wants to talk to you about being your manager. I have a show to do, but make yourselves at home and relax. I'll catch up with you later."
The demo tape had accomplished its purpose, and much easier than the boys thought actually. Allison liked what she'd heard, and if the boys would just follow her leading, she knew they could go a long way.
Ritchie Jean had always called the shots concerning his career and now he wasn't sure he wanted to turn it over to a total stranger. He and the other boys would need to talk about this before anything was signed. Joey and he would meet her at 9:00 that evening at her penthouse atop the Tremont Plaza to discuss further.
The building was impressive. So was her apartment. Ritchie Jean could just tell she was successful in her field and that helped to make the decision of trust easier. Allison was on the phone to L. A. when the boys arrived. Her next call was to Atlanta followed by one to Atlantic City.
"Joey, Ritchie Jean--if you're willing, I can make some big things happen for you guys. If I wasn't sure of it, I wouldn't waste my time. I have enough other business going down that if you wouldn't be profitable for me, I'd never get involved. I'm a professional and I'm prepared to have you playing some of the biggest clubs in the East, and I'll guarantee you a recording contract within the year if you play the game by my rules.
"I know you don't want to hear a lot of talk about changes right now, but one thing you must do. That is you must add a keyboard player. For today's music and for the style of music you play, you're not complete without a keyboard player. I'm working with one across the river. He's perfect for you guys. Add him and let me work the rough edges off and there's no limit to what you can do or where you can go. It's up to you. You can stay where you are, or we can get to work on it right away."
Although she came on a little strong, her confidence and control seemed to agree with Ritchie Jean. "Joey, the Impulsive" would have accepted anything and so began their alliance with Allison Masters.
The following day the entire band met with Allison, Billy Maxwell, and keyboard player Kevin Henry. At first, Ritchie Jean wasn't sure about Kevin. The band had worked hard at developing a smooth, tight sound and now to add another instrument could cause disaster, but with this much invested, it had to work.
First impressions aren't always reliable. As it turned out Kevin fit in better than anyone would have thought--especially as far as Ritchie Jean was concerned. There seemed to be a mutual respect and admiration which only facilitated the growth of the new sound.
The keyboards added a completely different sound to the band without losing the basic style. It gave them more width and more versatility in their writing and performing. Ritchie Jean knew he was going to like this.
As for Kevin personally, he mixed in well with everybody, but Ritchie Jean especially took a liking to him and it lasn't long until the two had developed a lasting and inseparable friendship. When it came to the music, they read each other better than any of the other band members and they interacted naturally on stage. Slowly the show shifted emphasis from lead singer Joey Santore to Ritchie Jean and Kevin.
As Joey's ego began to show signs of wounding, Allison began to put slight pressure on him. It went something like this. "Grow up OR leave." Success well within his reach, Joey took one last temper tantrum and was kindly dismissed by Ms. Masters.
Ritchie Jean was now ready to assume his position as front man for the band. His natural talent by far outweighed the other boys, but still they blended well and developed a unique sound. The show was built around Ritchie Jean's vocals and guitar and his stage play with Kevin. With the absence of Joey, Ritchie Jean was now responsible for all the writing of the band and Allison changed the band's name to simply, "Ritchie Jean Baker."
The natural energy of the band was infectious at the clubs and concerts they played. It wasn't long until they had developed a substantial following under the direction of Allison. The clubs were better; the concerts, bigger. Everything was falling into place nicely and the boys were preparing for their first full length recording in less than a year, just like they were promised.
To sell the recording it was also necessary that they plan a concert tour. For Ritchie Jean, this was what it was all about. The crowds (and large ones) were what made Ritchie Jean come alive. His drug, the applause, was now readily available for him.
Night after night the band perfected its sound live on stage, preparing themselves for the tour to come. It was exciting for Ritchie Jean and the others, but yet, there were many unanswered questions, too. Allison was having trouble with the travel agency and some of the dates. Some of the music and light coordination had yet to be perfected, and at times, tension among all of them rose. Still, they knew what they had to do. It was such a long road from small town U. S. A. to stardom.
It was time for another of those many afternoon rehearsals. Kevin and Ritchie Jean worked on their stage play while the rhythm section worked out some of the kinks. It was during this time of tension and pressure that Ritchie Jean first noticed something unusual about Kevin. He passed it off as just a bad night or maybe just being a little overworked. The dullness in Kevin's eyes was nonetheless very obvious as they worked on their act.
Ritchie Jean made it clear that he didn't use drugs, nor would he tolerate the use of drugs by any of the band members. The music was his god and all ability and concentration were necessary to give the music its due. Nothing could or would ever interfere with that number one objective. Ritchie Jean really didn't think drugs played a part in any of his band members, including Allison, but still, there was something unusual about Kevin's eyes.
Night after night of live shows and day after day of rehearsals had prepared the boys well--two nights off and they'd be at the start of their first tour. They were ready. All the work of the previous months (and years) was beginning to pay big dividends. Although they'd remain the opening act for the more established bands, prestige and bigger pay checks were beginning to be a regular and welcomed addition to the boys repertoire.
The traveling wasn't bad at first, but after a few short weeks, it began to take its toll. It was harder for the boys to appear fresh on stage after traveling all day, but nevertheless, that was their job--always fresh, always energized, always intoxicated by the crowds.
The crowds went wild when Ritchie Jean and Kevin would interact on stage. They had their cues and their lines down as perfectly as anyone could. It all looked so natural and spontaneous. The truth of it was that literally hundreds of hours had been put into perfecting their end of the show--and it was good.
Ritchie Jean felt so comfortable with Kevin. The two brought out the best in each other and that in turn brought out the best in Robbie and Craig. The bottom line was the crowds loved them and the applause was there night after night.
The recording did well and the boys had enjoyed the tour although they were also ready for a well deserved break. A couple of weeks off and then it would be time to be back in the studio to work on their second recording and get ready for their second tour. Through the first tour they were able to establish themselves as respectable musicians, but as they prepared to head into their second tour they found themselves still performing as the back-up band. Ritchie Jean wasn't thrilled with Allison's decision to keep them as a front band, but when all was said and done he knew it was for the best. As good as the band was, they still were not ready to hold their own as the main attraction.