Several members of the doo-wop revival group Sha Na Na met while playing in a five-piece rock band called The Pilgrims, which played in the Combat Zone–Boston’s adult entertainment district–dressed in traditional garb.
The Boston Globe
Take it off–take it ALL off!
We was takin’ our second break of the night, me and Duane (bass) and Mickey (drums) and Tony (lead guitar), and Kevin (rhythm). I play the organ–don’t make any of the customary jokes, okay?
Anyways, the swingin’ sounds of The Funky Puritans had ceased for fifteen minutes, during which we was tryin’ to figure out how to s-t-r-e-t-c-h our song list to cover the last hour of music we was under contract to provide at The Naughty Pilgrim, Boston’s most highest class strip joint, when you factored in the historical atmosphere and the many educational displays and artifacts and dioramas and such. The club was like a City on a Hill, to steal a line from John Winthrop, and also Jesus Christ, fer Christ sake. A shining example of what a strip joint could be if only you added touches of class ‘n history and such, instead of just pink cakes of deodorizing soap in the urinals.
“We could play something psychedelic,” said Mickey. He was hoping to get in a drum solo to impress the dancing girls, but the rest of us quickly put the kibosh on that one.
“You ain’t no Ginger Baker,” Duane said, and he was right.
“I was thinkin’ Louie, Louie with the ‘clean’ lyrics,” Tony suggested.
“That wouldn’t go over too hot with this crowd here,” Kevin said, and I nodded in agreement. A scurvier crew you never saw before, unless you came in from the clubs next door or across the street.
“How ’bout somethin’ slow and sensual that the girls could–disrobe to?” Duane asked, and with appropriate circumspection, I might add.
“We could do ‘Stand by Me,'” I said, then looked up at the ceiling hoping no one would take it amiss that I had kinda sorta suggested a number on which I would be featured.
“The Ben E. King version?” Kevin asked, one eyebrow raised in a rainbow of skepticism.
“I was thinkin’ more the Spyder Turner rendition, from 1967,” I replied.
“With all the impressions?” Tony asked. “Who’s gonna do ’em?”
I cleared my throat, as if the answer was obvious. “Well, me.”
The guys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders in unison. It was like a modern dance performance, without the high price of admission and the pretentious talk at intermission and the scarves on the guys.
“Okay by me,” Kevin said. “My throats gettin’ sore anyways.”
“What is he THINKING!”
We climbed back on the risers that were our pathetic little stage, and tuned up a bit. If we were going to drone on and on for twenty minutes or more, it would help if we didn’t have to stop mid-song because somebody’s high E string had slipped down to a C#.
“You guys ready?” I said, as I adjusted the stops on my Farfisa Combo Compact organ.
Bitchin’ cool Farfisa Combo Compact!
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Mickey said, a bit miffed that he wasn’t going to be in the lime light, or even the lemon light, for that matter.
I counted down, like a youthful Lawrence Welk: “A-one, a-two, a-three, a-four–”
And with that we launched into the simple four-chord melody that has earned over twelve million dollars in royalties. “When the night . . . has come. And the land is dark.”
I didn’t know which one of the native New England girls who made up the clubs corps de strip would come out on stage. Misty Fogg? Crystal Chandelier? Melba Toast? You never knew who was gonna show up for work, they had so many other sidelines and affiliated businesses they were into, like ballet and Zumba and prostitution and Tupperware and such.
Increase “Inky” Mather: A lot of fun at a party.
And then I saw her: Prudence Stoughton, the lineal descendant of one of the women who was tried as a witch in Salem back in the late 1600’s. Her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (you get the idea) grandmother had been hanged by the neck until dead on the say-so of a bunch of goody-goodies, including Increase Mather, President of Harvard from 1692 to 1701 and the King of Stiff-Necked New Englanders. Whenever I meet someone who’s impressed by the fact that he’s got Harvard on his resume, I let slip something like “Harvard–it wasn’t so long ago that the faculty there believed in witches, was it?” That usually shuts ’em up.
As she sashayed on the stage I caught a glimpse of the small of her back, buried under yards of muslin. I know there are proposals to ban muslins from coming to America, but I thought it looked pretty good on her.
Guys were yellin’ for her to do the pole dance at the stake, like she was gonna be consumed by flames, but we stuck to strict historicity. The Salem witches wasn’t burned–that was the way they did it in Europe. Here in the good ol’ U-S of A, we conserved firewood for the tough New England winters by hanging them–you can re-cycle rope!
I had to go through the whole gamut of R ‘n B greats that were name-checked and impersonated in the song, like runnin’ the gauntlet through the Iroquois: Ben E. King, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Jackson, Billy Stewart, among others. It gave Prudence plenty of time to do some pretty imprudent things, if you know what I mean.
There’s nothing so tantalizing as modesty, I say. The greater the impediments to satisfaction, the greater the fulfillment when you achieve it. Prudence had a lot to work with: a cowl, stockings, petticoat, chemise, bolster, bodice, skirt, apron, coif, outer gown and shoes. My throat got dry just thinking about it.
My only concern–and it was a big one–was what we would do if the New England Watch and Ward Society, f/k/a the Society for the Suppression of Vice, showed up when Prudence was, as the French say, deshabille. Usually a girl can make haste and take herself hither into the night, but Prudence was weighed down by wads of cloth. I had to give her some advice in case the God Squad showed up.
“I’m about to wrap it up,” I whispered. “I’ve just got Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett to go, then you skedaddle.”
“What does ‘skedaddle’ mean?” she asked.
“It’s a kids game involving a top, right?” asked Duane.
“You’re thinking of skittles,” I said.
“I thought that was a candy,” Kevin said.
“It is, but the game came first. Anyway,” I said, turning to Prudence, “As soon as I go 6-3-4-5-7-8-9 you beat a hasty retreat.”
“Okay,” she said, just as two rather dour-looking personages appeared at the door. I could tell by the looks on their faces and the drinks they ordered–ginger ale with a glass of ice water on the side–that they were keeping themselves clear-headed for the collar, as the cops like to say.
I finished “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” by Solomon Burke when the two bluenoses moved in for the pinch. “Oh I’ll be, right here at home,” I sang. “All you got to do is PICK up your telephone and dial, now . . .”
The Savonarolas swooped in and were just about to grab Prudence when I intervened.
“I’m going to need to see a warrant,” I said, giving her time to gather up her stuff and scoot off the stage.
“A warrant would be unwarranted,” Copper #1 replied. “We’re doing the Lord’s work here.”
“You ever read the Song of Solomon?” I asked. Always a handy rejoinder whenever you need to rejoin something.
By that time Prudence was gone and beyond even the long arm of the law. I put my own arm–slightly shorter–around Copper #2 and consoled him. “Better luck next time,” I said.
“Don’t see how that’s gonna happen if you’re gonna tip off the strippers,” he replied.
“All it takes is a little Diligence, and Foresight, to catch Prudence,” I said, lapsing into initial cap letter allegorical spelling mode.
“And how would that help us?” Copper #1 asked.
“We have an Early-Bird Special for Senior Citizen Strip Aficionados,” I said. “Half-price Gibsons, Old Fashioneds, Whiskey Sours and other Drinks of a Bygone Era from 5 to 7 every Thursday night.”