The Tony Martini Show
Updated: Sep 14
Blog 0003, August 22, 2020
The Tony Martini Show
It is now 1963 and I am playing accordion with Tony Martini and his group.
Tony Martini was the most unique character I had ever run across. Tony had style oozing out of every pore. He was a ruggedly handsome, Sergio Franchi sort of guy who had women running after him every minute I knew him. Tony sang songs like “Volare,” “Old Man River” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” We backed him really well and the bookings started coming in.
Elden couldn’t handle being upstaged by Tony and left us shortly to pursue his own stardom. We replaced him with an excellent show drummer from Canada by the name of Roger Lowe.
Roger Lowe was 100% Chinese (he probably still is) and became our cook on the road. Everything he cooked was served with rice. Ham and eggs with rice, corned beef and cabbage with rice, tuna fish sandwiches with rice. He never made us Jell-O but if he had, I’m sure it would be served on rice. He wouldn’t let us eat unless we used chopsticks. We all became very adept at chopsticks. Roger was also very funny and he and Tony did a lot of comedy routines in the show.
The Tony Martini Show worked mostly in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, usually playing the best clubs in each town, but it wasn’t necessarily guaranteed. As was the custom in nightclubs in those days, we’d play two shows per night and do two or three dance sets between shows. One time, in Missoula, Montana, the joint was so bad that we called Jack Belmont and begged him to book us elsewhere. The clientele was rough; so rough that they wanted to fight us just because we wore suits. When Tony sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” they not only wanted to fight us, they wanted to kill us. I guess they just didn’t appreciate show tunes.
Tony was a riot. He had the uncanny way of appearing like he was doing so much better than he actually was. One night, I was driving around Portland just goofing off, when I drove by a fancy nightclub. Parked right out front, was Tony’s brand new shiny black convertible with the top down. A big guy was guarding it. This intrigued me so I went in. There was Tony, sitting with the boss and couple of gorgeous blondes, drinking champagne. This was amazing to me as I had just loaned him four dollars two hours before.
Bill McCubbin had replaced Steve Sanders on bass. Billy was from San Francisco. The first time we ever heard the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” was on the jukebox in the Keyboard Lounge in Fairbanks. Billy got so homesick he cried. Billy later went on to play bass for such greats as Roger Miller, Tony Orlando, Bobby Darin, and Glen Campbell. I remember the first time I ever saw “the City.” Billy gave us a guided tour. He was so proud of it.
In the spring of 1963, Mom called while I was playing in Sacramento to inform me that Daddy had died. I asked Tony for a couple of days off and I flew to San Antonio where Mom met me at the airport. We then drove north to Kerrville, Texas, where the funeral service would be held. Daddy had a ton of relatives in Kerrville. I met aunts and uncles I didn’t even know I had. The funeral was very sad and I completely broke down. I thought I’d have to console my mom but it was the other way around. To this day, I think of my father and the hardships he had to face in his life. He was an amazing man. I miss him every day.
One of my uncles was a transsexual. Now he’s my aunt. I have a niece who’s a manio-kleptac. She likes to back into Macy’s and leave things. I have a cousin who’s a quatra-sexual. He’ll do anything with anybody for a quarter. What a weird family!
I can’t remember why Billy left but he was replaced by Buddy Raymond, good bassist/guitarist who also sang great. At the time, we were playing in Reno at the Golden Hotel. The group now consisted of Tony, myself, Roger, and Buddy. We continued doing gigs around the northwest and Reno, enjoying life and having great fun!
One day, in the coffee shop in the Golden Hotel, I was sitting with Roger, Tony, Buddy, and a couple of the guys from Louis Prima’s band. We were discussing names of entertainers and why they sometimes changed them from their real names. Tony explained that sometimes a stage name had a better ring to it. The next thing I know, these guys want me to change my name. They told me that Corky Brumble just didn’t sound right. Not showbiz enough. I explained that I had just purchased a dozen custom shirts with my monogram, “CB”, embroidered on left cuff and I wasn’t about to discard these shirts because they wanted me to change my name. They suggested I pick a name that started with a B. All sorts of names were tossed about; Burns, Barnett, Barry, and Bennett. I decided that Corky Bennett had that special ring to it and I became Corky Bennett, just like that. I have been Corky Bennett for years and years. That decision has caused me occasional anguish over the years, as I feel that I may have let my father down by not keeping his name. I justify it by telling myself that Corky Bennett is merely a character I play. My real name is still legally Brumble. My banker, accountant, the cleaners, my doctors, insurance companies, and the IRS all know me as Brumble. Many of my life-long friends only know me as Corky Brumble. When they bury me, I’ll be Leighton Wiley Brumble.
While on stage one night in Portland, I happened to look out into the audience and spotted a beautiful young lady. Right at that point, without ever meeting her, I turned to Tony and told him I was going to marry her. He must have thought I’d lost my mind. After the set was over, I walked down to her table and introduced myself. Luckily, her date had gone to the men’s room and she was alone. I got her phone number and called her the very next day. Bobbie Paul and I went out and immediately got serious.
At about that time, Tony decided he wanted to go in a different direction. He had gotten involved with other things and wanted the opportunity to pursue them. We said goodbye, wished each other luck and continued down the showbiz highway. Buddy, Roger, and I continued as a dance trio and got a booking at Squaw Valley, California, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
It was a fun gig while it lasted. Some of the movie stars from Hollywood would vacation there and they would come to the lounge to relax and dance to our music.
Bobbie came down from Portland and I proposed marriage. We were married that weekend in Reno at the Park Wedding Chapel. Buddy served as my best man and his girlfriend served as Bobbie’s maid of honor.
After dinner, we drove Bobbie to San Francisco so she could fly back to Portland and tell her parents that she had married an accordion player in Reno. Boy, were they happy about that! For the first six-months, they wouldn’t even acknowledge me as a human, let alone a son-in-law. It was somewhat uncomfortable, to say the least.
Eventually, Roger had to go back to Canada or be deported, as he was a Canadian citizen and Chinese too. They only allow three or four of those guys into the United States each year. If you knew Roger, you’d understand why. When this did finally happen, we called Jack Belmont. He booked Buddy and me as a duo at the Latchstring Lounge in the Baranoff Hotel in Juneau, Alaska. Naturally, I took my new bride. She was gorgeous and I was so proud of her.
I’ll tell you a few more stories in the coming weeks about my life as a road musician and entertainer.
I sure do miss my fans. This pandemic has changed the way we all live. Thanks to all of you who have contacted me on Facebook and emails. I want to have you in my life, forever!
By the way, I must eat and feed my dog, Peeve (my pet Peeve). So, if you feel like you would like to help, here are some links to Venmo and Zelle. Only send what you can afford. All donations are appreciated!
Note: I don't know if I can produce one blog per week, as I planned. I don't have a staff of cameramen and other assistants. I do these things by myself. I will, however, try to publish them as often as I can. Please keep an eye on this website.
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