Cab your enthusiasm

One of Oscar's favourite books, in that it's one of the ones he always pulls off the shelf and crawls about with, is something we bought for a couple of bucks at a secondhand store. It's called Taxi Driver Wisdom and when Oscar can read for himself he'll realise we were not the recipients of anything resembling a bargain when we purchased that book. But he's happy lugging it about - and in that sense the book is worth what we paid for it.

I've had some good advice from taxi drivers; I've had some wallies too. Hey, it's surely no different from any other walk of life, right?

I don't know if I've ever given any taxi drivers any wisdom - certainly not any that I can print here. But I've enjoyed, over the years, sharing the odd musical moment with a driver; I always enjoy it when you get in a cab - particularly on a longer drive, to or from the airport say, and they've got the music happening - a CD, or a decent radio station (I know that's less likely these days).

A couple of years ago I had a cab driver, two weekends in a row, who loved blasting Bob Marley. That was more than okay - the driver was very enthusiastic about the music. It was the likely trigger behind my going back to my record shelves to find some of the Marley LPs I hadn't listened to in a while; it resulted, for what it's worth, in this blog post.

Last week - and apologies to any of the late night Facebookers who saw a version of this on the Blog on the Tracks Facebook page - I was in a rush to get home at the end of a long evening; I still had work to do and figured it easier to nab a cab. If I walked - an easy enough stroll, one I take most of the time - I would get home and go straight to bed. The better option was to fork out a tenner for a quick ride home and get straight on with the work. And that's what I did.

It was a five-minute ride, I reckon, couldn't be much more. And so this driver begins by asking if I'd had a good night. I tell him yes and say that I was out for a bit of a meeting, I apologise for the short fare and tell him I need to get home to carry on working. He asks, so I tell him I'm a freelance writer (some of the time, anyway). And so I have a story to write for the following day. If I walk home I'll go to sleep and have to get up extra early. As I'm telling him this I know I'm sharing too much information. But that seems to be okay. He asks about the writing and I tell him I mostly do music stuff, reviews, this blog, I have my own site, etc.

He says, taking that as his cue, "I really like good drumming, so the other day I Googled 'good drumming' and I was taken to a clip that featured these three very good drummers. One was Dave Weckl." Here I cut in and tell him that I know Dave Weckl, in the playing sense at least. I tell him I saw him play in Wellington, a drum clinic, must have been around 1997 or so.

"Really!" he says with so much enthusiasm. "Wow, that's great. So you know this man. That is so great. Well, let me tell you the next man was someone named Vinnie Colaiuta." So I jump in and tell him that I've seen Vinnie play too - this time not a clinic: he was here as part of Herbie Hancock's band eight or nine years ago.

"Wow," says taxi driver. "He is really good, isn't he?" So I tell him that I've been a huge fan of Vinnie's playing - I'd even checked out some of Barbra Streisand's work because an old drum tutor and friend had told me he flew to Auckland to see Joni Mitchell in 1982 because the drummer on that show was Vinnie. He'd found out on that trip that Colaiuta had played with Streisand also. (This is - also - where I first banked the name Joni Mitchell, returning to the name when at university, buying up the albums, falling in love with her worlds and world).

My introduction to Vinnie's playing was Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales album; a brilliant set of performances from, well, all the musicians, but my ears were focused, at that time at least, on Vinnie's creative patterns and the way he so skilfully played with time signatures. (I do not tell the driver all of this; this time I'm aware it's too much information - settling instead for "Vinnie is quite awesome, it was great to see him live." I do now wish I'd mentioned Frank Zappa's Joe's Garage album because hearing that, shortly after the Sting, was what cemented the Vinnie interest for me.) And I've blogged about my discovery and love of Vinnie's playing before.

"The third drummer in this clip," my taxi driver continues, "was someone called Steve Gadd. Do you also know this man?"

This time I have to report that I have, as yet, not seen Steve Gadd live - but I'm able to tell him I'm a huge fan (I'm really not a fan of Dave Weckl but I had not said that). I say that Gadd has played with Paul Simon and Steely Dan and done some cool things, signature grooves and fills.

"Wow," the driver says again, "it's so great you know all these people, I have only just seen them and, man, they were so great. They were all playing together."

"Ah," I cut in again, "so this would have been a clip from the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert then." He tells me he doesn't know who Buddy Rich is - so I say that he was a great drummer, to many the greatest, and that there is a memorial concert every year. This clip would have been from the concert one year. I know this because I owned the VHS tape.

We're home now - outside my place. The last bit of the conversation has taken place over the fumbling of change and the printing of a receipt. And as this is happening the driver takes a call. "Hold on John, I'll call you right back."

Now you can choose to not believe this - but if you've read this far chances are you are keen on an ending and possibly any ending will do, right? Whatever gets you out of here - so as we say goodbye and mutually agree that it was nice to connect over some music-talk, I've confirmed for this guy that his three drummers he Googled are actually very good; rated. And he's reminded me of a clip I watched so many times in what now feels like another lifetime, pre-YouTube and Google, pre DVD (so more than a lifetime pretty much).

And then as I'm walking up the steps to my house I hear him, his window down, he's called back John. He says as he crawls down the road, after 1am, "John, this guy I pick up just now, he knew them all! He knew all the drummers!"

It isn't so much the Taxi Passenger Wisdom that I'm touting here - but I felt pretty good, bleary-eyed, so late in the evening, to inform/affirm this guy's connection with some great drummers; to share in his discovery and joy of some music. I liked that. It was a nice way for my night to end. Having a chat about music - well that's why we're all here, here at Blog on the Tracks, right?

So tell me, in the best of a feel-good start to the week as possible, have you ever had a great musical conversation/connection in a taxi? Have you schooled the driver, heard some great tales of famous musicians being delivered to the venue or the hotel after? Have you taken a tip, as well as giving one I hope; maybe you've been taught about some new music, given a name to Google or YouTube? Or you've been proud to be a nerd - like my example.

Share your taxi music stories below. And here, of course, once again, a favourite piece of music to soundtrack the journey.

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