LIVERPOOL — Reporters enjoy easy access to many famous folks. It’s natural for us to meet, greet and interview some of the chosen few who have excelled in their respective fields, often becoming well-known and wealthy.
Over my half-century as a newspaperman, I’ve interviewed scores of authors, athletes, artists, musicians and even a few politicians.
A few of those who I’ve talked with in person include B.B. King, Stephen King, Stephen Strasburg, Lena Horne, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Schumer, Maria Muldaur and David Johansen. Over the telephone, I’ve interviewed the likes of Lionel Hampton, James Ellroy, k.d. lang, Al Martino, Judy Collins and Ronnie James Dio.
But that was my job. All of those meetings and conversations were arranged well ahead of time, usually by the person’s public relations staff, agent, record label or publishing house.
Several times, however, I’ve happened to experience spontaneous, unplanned and unpredictable brushes with fame.
The first took place around about 1977 at Regan’s Silver Lake, a rural concert venue west of Oswego. As a tambourine player and singer, I was appearing there as a member of the Colorblind James & The White Caps on a multi-billed event headlined by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
Between bands, Joan played a game of Frisbee with her guitar player. He kept tossing the plate toward where I stood, so that Joan had to bump into me in order to make the catch.
This happened three times in a row. She never said, “Excuse me,” but the last it happened we did make eye contact.
Ever since, I’ve always allowed myself to imagine that Joan Jett liked the way I looked.
A very ’Kink’-y Christmas
Then on Dec. 14, 1984, I was playing Santa Claus at Dey Brothers department store in downtown Syracuse. My friends at a local rock radio station asked me if I could wish the crowd “Merry Christmas” before the Kinks concert that night at the War Memorial.
In full beard, red suit with pillow and shiny black boots, I made the scene onstage before being hustled into the wings at stage left and down the stairs toward the dressing rooms. Coming up the same stairs was none other than the band’s leader, Ray Davies. He was accompanied by a stunning brunette adorned with dozens of shiny necklaces and bracelets.
Ray laughed at the sight of Santa, and I had the presence of mind to wish him a “Happy Christmas,” as they say in merry old England. He didn’t say a thing, but the shiny gal said, “Happy New Year.”
Comedian in a Cadillac
A few years later, when I was reviewing concerts for The Post-Standard, I was walking down West Jefferson Street, down city in front of the original location of Clark’s Ale House. I planned to quaff a quick one there before catching a comedy performance that night at the Landmark Theater.
Suddenly, a long black limousine slowed to a crawl on Jefferson Street.
“Hey pal,” a familiar voice called out to me. The man with the New England accent looked familiar. It was Jay Leno, who grew up in Andover, Massacusetts.
“You got any idea where we can park this thing?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, and pointed to the commercial lot in front of the Jefferson Street Armory. Jay was pleased that the lot was so close and also convenient to the venue. He put on a hilarious show that night without a single swear word!
Much more recently, I had another brush with fame right here in the village. On May 27, I was at the Liverpool Post Office mailing my rent check, and on the way out the door, I passed by a red-headed goateed young guy who reminded me a lot of former New York Yankees pitcher Tyler Clippard.
But I nixed the idea right off.
“Nah,” I thought. “What would Tyler Clippard be doing here?”
Well, it turns out he now plays for the Rochester Red Wings in the International League.
In fact, he had won the May 26 game in relief against the Syracuse Mets down at the redundantly named NBT Bank Stadium on the city’s North Side.
Not sure which hotel the Red Wings use, but it’s probably one of the fine establishments in the town of Salina. He was probably at the post office sending mail to his wife or girlfriend or maybe his agent…
I remember when Tyler worked out of the Syracuse Chiefs bullpen back in 2008 and 2009. I followed him closely because he was a former Yankee. Former Oakland Athletics star hurler Steve McCatty was the pitching coach here then, and he had a name for Clip’s deft blend of hard stuff with nasty junk. He called it “FUNK.”