#120 & 121 – Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad by Meat Loaf
I agree with the song title when it comes to having odds in your favor. Bad odds would be “one out of fifteen million”. I’ve thought about that for more than a few decades because I was once the “one” among fifteen million and survived the odds.
My story of moving to New York City from a small town in Ohio has been bragged about in past Classic Rocker ramblings, but today I’m focused on the numbers. When I jumped into the big city in May 1977 the population was just over fifteen million and I didn’t know a soul. Nada. Zilch.
To quote Three Dog Night, who were quoting Harry Nilsson, “One is the loneliest number…”
My goal was a career in show business and by the time I left for a warmer climate in Hollywood thirteen years later, I had beat the odds and scored. But there was a learning curve in the process that could be a topic in a Survivor TV series if they ever decide to dump a contestant onto the streets of Manhattan. Surviving would include finding an apartment, a job, and friends. Fortunately, I checked all three in a short amount of time.
My first pal was a guy named Mike, who shared a last name with a powerful Mafioso family. I didn’t realize it at the time but figured it out a couple years later when my showbiz career meant keeping vampire-hour work schedules and hanging out afterwards with fellow showbiz pals in nightclubs that were never too concerned with laws about closing times, serving alcohol, or other activities. The police would pay occasional visits but would look the other way after a brief exchange with club managers that could have fit the casting call for bit players in the movie Goodfellas.
These places never seemed too different than many other bars or clubs we’d visit in NYC. They would just cater to a later than normal night crowd that didn’t finish work or get off stage until the early morning hours and wanted a place to chill out. Once you were “known” you’d have admittance to (usually) packed clubs with great music, full bars, crowds of other showbiz people and… in some case maybe a few gambling tables in the back room. We’d often go to work in the evening with sunglasses because by the time we were headed home it was past sun rise.
So, back to this guy Mike. I met him in an acting class, and it seemed like he knew what he was doing. He had a cool job bartending at Broadway shows and I often asked him to help me get on with the company. His standard answer was they weren’t hiring, but he’d “let me know.” Well… he never did. I finally went to the office myself and was hired on the spot. So much for help from my first NYC friend.
The company ran the bars and concessions at numerous theaters and my first assignment was behind the soda counter for a show called Oh, Calcutta. Maybe you’ve heard of it. This was a series of sketches written by different well-known and un-named artists about sex. From memory, two of the creators were “supposed to be” John Lennon and Woody Allen. I don’t know that for a fact, but it’s what we were told. Oh yeah, one last thing. The cast was naked for much of the show.
Welcome to New York.
After a few weeks I was moved to the Barrymore Theater and the musical I Love My Wife, which was about swingers. Seems there was theme going on in the theaters that season… But the show was very funny, had great tunes (I even bought the cast album) and did big business. It’s also where I first met The Smothers Brothers, who took over the two lead male roles. I learned to bartend and within a couple months I was promoted to a management position at theaters for The Shubert Organization. That’s another story, but I had free access to the biggest shows on Broadway and took advantage of it.
While at The Barrymore, I met my next NYC pal. One of the other bartenders was a guy named Jeff who had just earned his degree in Acting from The University of Miami in Florida. Through him, I started meeting others with the same interests – showbiz. One Saturday during the hours between the matinee and evening shows when we’d usually grab something to eat or catch a movie, Jeff brought an acoustic guitar. We sat in the lounge area, took turns playing, did some harmonizing and thought it might be fun to do something together.
The next week I came to work with my guitar.
It turned out our apartments were within a few blocks of each other, and we started to get together after the shows and during off-days (make those nights, vampire fans) learning songs. We also started writing together and before long had what we considered a good mix of originals and covers. We also excelled at harmonies. We could trade off which one would go high or low. It didn’t matter – because we each could do both.
I’m trying not to brag (like above), but we could do If I Fell by The Beatles and hold our own with any tribute act. At that time, it would have been the cast of the Broadway show Beatlemania (where I also managed and watched dozens of times). I won’t go so far as to say we sounded like Lennon and McCartney or The Everly Brothers, but we were darn close.
I’m sure most musicians will agree that two (not bad looking) guys harmonizing with guitars will attract girls. That happened during a Saturday afternoon rehearsal at The Barrymore Theater when a female co-worker arranged our first paying gig after the Christmas holiday. This was Uptown at The Lighthouse, which was a meeting / social gathering place for the blind. Our first audience couldn’t see us, but they enjoyed what we played. I remember someone asked what we were called – a “group name.” Jeff and I glanced down at our footwear, nodded to each other, and answered, “The Sneakers.”
Okay, it wasn’t “The Beatles” but still better than some other group names I’d heard before or since.
After that first wave of success, we started trekking down to The Village after finishing our shifts at the Broadway shows (vampire hours) for open-mic auditions at the music clubs. There was a lot of competition, but we held our own and started booking paid gigs at places like The Back Fence, Kenny’s Castaways, The Other End (formerly The Bitter End) and Folk City, where we performed on the same stages that launched Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkle, The Lovin’ Spoonful and others during the 1960s.
I know that because their framed pictures were displayed on the walls when entering the clubs.
The pay wasn’t great, usually about twenty dollars each, an egg roll and a couple drinks, but it kept us going. After a few months we added clubs in The Gramercy Park area and had (better paid) bookings every night of the week with expanded free food and drink options. I remember steak dinners and boozy walks home following more than a few late-night sets.
Wait a minute, I know what you’re thinking. What does all this have to do with the classic Meat Loaf song Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad? I’ll tell you.
The album Bat Out Of Hell came out in October 1977, about the same time Jeff and I were starting to rehearse and write songs. Paradise By the Dashboard Light was the big hit and video from the disk, but the ballad was more doable by an acoustic duo in The Village clubs. We learned it off the record with me singing lead and added it to our set.
Hearing the song still reminds me of winter nights in New York. We’d walk with our guitars from my apartment on East 22nd Street, through Union Square, past 14th Street and Washington Square Park to Bleecker Street and the clubs. It was cold, snowy, and windy – and I’d do it again today for twenty bucks, an egg roll, and a few free drinks.
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad hit this Dream Song List two times (that ain’t bad) on August 15 and November 30. Since I’d heard it on my digital playlist it joins the recent memory category. It’s also what stirred these memories of friends, music, and late-night clubs in Manhattan.
For the final notes…
Jeff and I used to do what we referred to as Hamburg Beatles length shows. Our paid gigs would usually go five hours, with short breaks between sets. The club audiences would come and go all night and were always different from when we started to when we’d say goodnight. But our goal was to never repeat a song. Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad was new and popular at the time and a highlight we saved for when we had a full audience. But we would only play it once. If they wanted to hear it again, they had to come back the next night.
On a final, final note. Jeff and I lasted as a team for probably just under two years. I bought an electric bass and went on to play and sing with a more hard-rocking trio while Jeff went on to marriage, a family and eventual move to Los Angeles. But one goal we accomplished together came true during our time as professional musicians.
In my words…
“I got my butt out of the subway and into the back seat of a taxi where it belonged.” Rock on.
Thanks for reading and as always – keep rockin’!
For a great video by Meat Loaf signing Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad check out YouTube.
Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of the books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. For more information visit his author page on Amazon.com