gimme a gin...
and i'll eat the glass!
Being a professional musician and working in bars every night, you see some really strange stuff. I’ve seen guys pick up 70-pound tables using only their teeth!
One night a guy came in a club I was working at with B.B. Odom. He had an electric circular saw that he was taking from table to table, looking for a buyer. For some reason Billy Branch began talking to the guy about the saw. Billy was asking how would he know if the saw even worked? Hey, no problem. The guy just plugged it into an outlet and sawed the table top clean in half!
My friend Birmingham Jones used to have a glass eye, which he would take out and put in his drink at the bar to shock the customers. Junior Wells’ stepson Lucious once got robbed in an alley behind a club, and when the robber found he had no money, he took all his clothes and left him completely naked in the alley.
Then there was the night I was sitting in with Sonny Boy Wilson and Louis Myers on 61st Street when a man clad only in a gold lame g-string suddenly popped out of the men’s bathroom with a flaming (as in on fire) corndog which he began rubbing on his hairy butt. There’s nothing quite like the unexpected smell of burning butt hair to ruin your whole evening. But the next incident is probably the strangest of them all.
I used to work with Taildragger’s band a lot, from about the time Howlin’ Wolf died until the mid-’80s. The money wasn’t great, but the band sure was. Ninety percent of the time Hubert Sumlin was our guitar player, and when he couldn’t make it, the equally capable Willie James Lyons would fill in. After Big Leon Brooks got out of jail we began using him on harmonica, and Chicken House Shorty Gilbert was on bass.
Our regular Sunday night gig was at the Golden Slipper Lounge, located at 345 S. Pulaski. I really liked this gig. We usually started in the afternoon, and all the Westside musicians would come by to hang out and sit in all night long.
On the particular Sunday in question, I got to the gig kind of early. There was nobody there but Bowtie, the proprietor, and myself. I set my drums up and headed to the bar for a beer. Several minutes later we were joined by the first customer of the evening.
I didn’t notice anything unusual about this guy — just your average-looking working-class patron. The man headed for the bar and said to Bowtie, "Give me a free shot of gin and I’ll eat the glass." Bowtie said, "What?" The man repeated himself: "Give me a free shot of gin and I’ll eat the glass."
Bowtie wasn’t a man to give anything away for free, but I guess this time he made an exception. He handed the guy a small bar glass with a good healthy shot of gin in it. The man proceeded to drink the shot in one quick gulp, and then he took a huge bite out of the glass. I was starting to get a little scared. Not only did he take a bite out of the glass, he was munching on it very loudly. You could hear him grinding it up with his teeth! Ouch!
I figured it was some kind of trick and he would spit the glass out and chew something else loudly, but I kept a careful eye on him and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t really eating the glass. Not only did he take one bite, he ate about one-third of the glass. Jeez, what a guy will do for a free drink. Talk about having a serious alcohol jones.
Our new friend then asked for a beer and said he would eat the can. Bowtie gave him a can of Old Style beer, but the man only managed to crush the can with his teeth, not succeeding in ripping it apart. I was now beginning to get a little leery of him, not knowing what he would do next. I was wishing someone else in the band would show up so I would feel a little safer. Finally Hubert came in and I felt a little safer — at least if he was going to mess with me, he’d have to deal with Hubert too.
By this time I had moved over near the bandstand to get out of the guy’s way. Hubert and I looked over to see the man pull a long coat hanger with a cotton swab on the end of it. I began thinking, "What is this guy gonna do next?" Well, I didn’t have to think too long. A few seconds later and he produced a small jar of clear jelly and began coating the swap with the substance. He then took a match and lit it.
I had no idea what he was up to now. Well, it turns out our friend was also a fire-eater! He managed to put the lit swab into his mouth several times and, upon removing it, blew flames all the way up to the relatively low ceiling. I think that even in Bowtie’s long career as a bartender this was more than he had seen in any one night.
Our friend was still hitting Bowtie up for drinks. Eventually he ran out of tricks and was off into the night — disappearing just as quickly as he had come, never to be seen again.