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Brushes with Greatness

Over the years, Larry Heagle has been called upon many times to share stages with some of the best. Below are some of the stars he has warmed audiences for and his reminiscences of the occasions:

Johnny Cash

Johnny CashI was hired by the Holiday Inn, Stevens Point, as a separate entity, to open for Cash. I was waiting in a dressing room with his band before the show, when Cash's manager came in and announced to the band that there would be no opening act and to be ready to go at 8PM. "What? No opening act?" I asked. He apologized and said that I was an unknown commodity, and that they had decided not to use me. Although this was a little upsetting, I had already been paid for the gig, so I didn't argue.

As I made my way through the darkness to retrieve my guitar from onstage, a discussion between Cash's management and the Hotel management ensued. Cash's manager returned to me in the dressing room and said: "Here's the deal... you can do the first show, but not the second show. And do 18 minutes, not 25. You're on in five minutes!" As I stumbled back through the darkness to reposition my guitar onstage, the sound man said: "Are they done jerking you around yet?"

"I hope so", I rejoined.

Well, I nailed it 18 minutes on the head to an excellent response, and while I was out front watching Cash work, the management sidled up to me and told me to do the second show as well, and do the full 25 minutes.

Ray Price
Ray Price

I did two evenings with Ray Price at the Carlton Celebrity Room, Bloomington, MN, back in its heyday, and remember Ray as a very warm and genuine person. I also remember that the band insisted that I perform and dedicate The Vasectomy Song to one of the band members whose pregnant wife was in the audience that evening.

Conway Twitty

Conway Twitty

I did two evenings with Conway Twitty at the Carlton and then another evening with him at a beautiful theater in downtown Thunder Bay, Ontario. I remember Conway as being painfully shy, but very much a gentleman, who stayed on his tour bus (not uncommon) until just before he was introduced. I remember that two audience members had won a contest to meet Conway, and he really seemed at a loss as to what to say to them when they visited.

Emmy Lou Harris

Emmy Lou Harris

Emmy Lou afforded me my first opportunity as an opening act at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire field house, and she is probably the nicest person I have ever met backstage. She was genuinely pleased to meet me and told me that I did an excellent job of warming the house.

Ray Charles
Ray Charles

I was called, again, by the Holiday Inn, Stevens Point, to open for Charles. Again, I was in the makeshift dressing room with the band, who had arrived by bus and from the tension in the room and the conversation I overheard, there was a lot of dissension among the players. I never met Ray Charles, but watched his show. The music was great, but at one point Ray stopped the show to chew out the bass player.

Bellamy BrothersThe Bellamy Brothers

I opened for the Bellamy Brothers at the Hayward Municipal Ice Rink, a room, it turned out, which had terrible acoustics, and I could actually see the drop-off point in the audience where they could not understand a word I was saying. It was a long half hour. Disheartened, I bumped into the brothers coming down the hall, and all I said was "It's all yours."

Jerry Lee LewisJerry Lee Lewis

In my first engagement as opening act in Thunder Bay, Ontario, I recall that Jerry's band was very friendly, but Jerry Lee was surrounded by his entourage and held court exclusively with them. I remember being nervous because I was playing for Canadians for the first time, but they grasped the Wisconsin bent of my humor immediately.

I was unable to stay for Lewis' show as I had to be in Green Bay by noon the next day, but weeks later someone sent me a review of the concert, the opening sentence of which read: "Jerry Lee Lewis could learn something from Larry Heagle, his opening act, in relating to an audience..." Whoa!

Johnny PaycheckJohnny Paycheck

I opened for Johnny Paycheck twice. The first occasion was at a resort in eastern Wisconsin and what stands out in my mind is that just before I went on, the owner, obviously agitated, came up and asked me: "How long can you go?" I replied: "What do you mean, how long can you go? I have about three hours of stuff, but what's up?" He said: "I can't find Johnny Paycheck!" Then he told me I should go on and watch for him to give me the cut off sign at the side of the stage.

So I did my 25 and checked, nothing ... 35, checked, nothing. After 40 minutes, he gives me the sign and as I come off stage I ask him what is going on. It turns out he finally "found" Johnny ... he was on the tour bus and wasn't about to get off until he was paid in full in cash. My other occasion was at the casino in Turtle Lake, years later, and I can remember being somewhat taken aback by Paycheck's deteriorating health, although on neither occasion did I speak with him.

Jay LenoJay Leno

I opened for Jay Leno early in his career (check the boy in the photo) at the University of North Dakota and I remember that our dressing room consisted of two long institutional type tables, standing on end blocking the hallway behind the theater's back entrance, accompanied by a rolling coat rack. Jay came rushing in late from the airport and asked me where he could shave. I told him there was a men's room just down the hall, and when he returned I told him he missed a spot, and dipped the shaving cream off near his ear.

I told him I was really honored to open for him, and if he wouldn't mind, would he watch my show and see if he had any advice, to which he immediately quipped, "Get rid of the guitar". He asked me what I was going to close with and I told him "Donald Duck and Peter Lorre singing 'Up the Lazy River' drunk in the shower together", and not missing a beat, Jay replied: "Well, I was going to do that, but you go ahead." Which is why he is host of the Tonight Show, and I am not!

To book Larry for any performance, contact Larry Heagle!
E-mail: lheagle@larryheagle.com

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