DUCKING THE FIRE

In my career, I’ve probably learned more from the most outrageous people with whom I have worked, rather than the sensible ones. They teach you that you can never underestimate the value of pushing the boundaries and getting a bit wild.

When I think back, there are a few people I’ve worked with who really stand out. I had the pleasure to work with one guy who was absolutely unforgettable. While he passed away a while ago, he made an indelible impression on me (and a lot of others) that no one could ever forget.

During my days as a touring musician, I was in a band called Lois Lane that was based in Chicago. We played all-original rock music and toured throughout the U.S. and Canada. There were certainly no wallflowers in the band. In fact, we were all bound and determined to lay it on the line every show and hold nothing back — even if it meant taking on some big risks to entertain the crowds. That’s why my friend and former band–mate Bill Gent comes to mind.

We’ve all seen Gene Simmons from KISS spitting fire, drummers playing their solos on spinning platforms and Keith Emerson with his piano going end-to-end while playing a solo. But unless you saw Lois Lane, you never saw an entire drum kit go up in flames.

Bill was a drummer who wasn’t technically perfect. Keith Moon from The Who comes to mind as a comparison. Like Keith, Bill was a wild man and always entertaining. He would always be the guy who threw us a curve ball in the middle of the show and kept us all on our toes. And he had a smile that would always make you wonder what he was up to.

As for “ducking the fire,” that’s exactly what I did every show. As was typical in the day, the rest of us took a short break while Bill did his drum solo. He would solo for about five minutes or so and I would come back on stage early, in the dark, to do a few support things.

Our crew would drench Bill’s drum kit with lighter fluid, then light his sticks on fire. As he hit each drum and cymbal with his flaming sticks, it was my job to trigger the big boom sound effects on my modular Moog synthesizer that would shake the house. Because I had a large stack of keyboards between Bill and me, I would duck when he ignited his drum kit. Some might think that it was just a trick, but it was an extremely hot burst of flames that could singe your eyebrows off. I can only imagine how hot it was where Bill was sitting. So I would “duck the fire” behind my keyboard stack as every drum or cymbal in his large kit was ignited.

After the fire extinguishers put out the last of the fire, I’d follow up with my best DJ voice saying, “Ladies and Gentleman, the Phenomenal Billy Gent!” (Crowd roar…)

I will forever remember my good friend Bill. Always look for that person who doesn’t just keep it safe. They will not only move a project forward, but also inspire you to do the same. Thanks, Bill!
Billy Gent

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2 Comments to “DUCKING THE FIRE”

  1. Most people are familiar with the normal upright piano but what advantages has
    a digital piano. For personal listening, the Yamaha P85 has two headphone jacks available or alternatively,
    sound is heard by the two onboard speakers. Having said that, not everyone can afford to spend $30,
    000 on a new Steinway Piano and so the question arises, “Is it possible that a pianist or piano student may be better served by purchasing a digital piano rather than an acoustic piano.

    • The acoustic vs. digital piano debate has been going on since I first started playing keyboards. The first (and only) piano class I took in college was on an electric piano. Since then, I have played a wide variety of acoustic and electronic keyboards. My current keyboard is a very inexpensive 88 note, semi-weighted MIDI controller that serves me well for composing. In my humble opinion, each type of piano serves a purpose. If your goal is to become a concert pianist, then you should be learning and practicing on an acoustic piano. They have a unique feel and response that digital pianos only try mimic (some better than others). But if your goal is to enjoy playing music, either professionally or just for yourself, consider these things. The cost of acoustic pianos are high and require a lot of maintenance and tuning throughout there lifetimes. The ability to practice on headphones is always advantageous. And being able to unplug your keyboard and take it where you need it can’t be overlooked. Best of luck in your musical ventures!

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