‘WOODY, you just topped off six vodka on the rocks, at our VIP table, with water!” These were the first words uttered to me by my snarling, coked-up manager.
It was the summer of 1990 and I had landed a job as a busboy at a supper club in New York City! I was young, wide-eyed and innocent. My only restaurant experience had been working the salad bar at Bonanza back home in Texas, and a famous restaurateur had taken me under his wing.
This supper club had marvelous jazz bands and served dinner into the wee hours. It played host to the likes of Frank Sinatra, too many famous actors to mention, and many wise guys including, every Thursday, John Gotti himself.
I was a complete failure as a busboy and the manager feared what my next blunder might be, so the owner promoted me to service bartender and hid me in the kitchen.
It wasn’t long before I was moved to the front bar when it got very busy. I would take over for the head bartender when he went home at 2 a.m.
This was a crazy shift! One evening I would find myself playing liars poker with Leslie Nielsen, the next I would be decanting ’77 Wares Port while Mr Gotti’s boys watched me VERY CLOSELY.
The owner would introduce me to every celebrity he could. I think he got a kick out of watching them squirm while I chatted them up with naive exuberance.
I would often come to work toting my guitar. I had only been playing for about a month and a music career had not ever crossed my mind.
One evening I was called away from the service bar. The owner wanted me to meet his good friend, a music publisher by the name of Lou Levy! I was introduced as an aspiring musician. Mr. Levy shook my hand and said; “Kid, if you write a song with the lyrics, ‘Tell me the truth and I’ll help you lie,’ you’ll have a million dollar tune on your hands.” I thanked him for the sage advice and went back to serving drinks.
When I would arrive home after work, usually when the sun was coming up, I would often find that my neighbor Dave Thomas was still awake watching The Prisoner or some old B-Western. He would hit the pause button on the VCR and I would regale him with the night’s adventures at the supper club. The night I told him I met Lou Levy his jaw dropped. He told me that Lou Levy was a music publisher during the Tin Pan Alley era of American popular music. That he was credited with the discoveries of Bob Dylan, Charles Strouse, Richard Adler, and Henry Mancini. How he had discovered, managed or developed the careers of numerous artists including Buddy Rich, The Andrews Sisters, Connie Francis, Steve Lawrence, The Ames Brothers and Les Paul. He had supplied numerous other singers with hit material: Frank Sinatra with “Strangers in the Night”; Petula Clark with “Downtown” and “Call Me”; Tom Jones with “It’s Not Unusual.” And he published the Beatles’ first American hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
Dave’s history lesson made me appreciate the gravity of having received advice from such a legend and although I was only dabbling in writing music at the time, I vowed to myself that I would, one day, write this tune.
Years later, during a rehearsal break I started humming a melody to an inspiring bass line Matt Lyons was working on. The feel of the thing just screamed espionage, and those lyrics Lou had suggested to me, so many years before, came flooding back. Tell Me the Truth was born. I love the melody interplay with that bass line. It’s plain to see how that song just wrote itself.
Lou Levy passed away in 2001. I wish he could have heard the song. I would love to think he would have liked it. I didn’t make a million dollars but the memories are worth more than a million to me. Thank you Lou.
Tell Me the Truth