He should have known better than to try to slip an unauthorized song past one of the Cleveland Indians' most knowledgeable music fans. From his cramped perch in the scoreboard room of Jacobs Field, Darrell Scott Wright plays the music that follows the introduction of each Indians hitter. One game Wright played War's "Low Rider" as shortstop Omar Vizquel walked from the on-deck circle to the plate. Vizquel, whose eclectic tastes run from salsa to hard rock, stopped and shot a glance into the scoreboard room behind home plate. Busted.
Wright had played "Low Rider" at the request of Vizquel's wife. "Of course, I see [Vizquel] a few days later and he says, 'Don't play that song. I know my wife wanted it, but don't play that song,'" Wright says.
A youthful-looking 41 years old, Wright was a Cleveland radio journeyman when the scoreboard operator at the old stadium asked if he wanted a job in 1992. Then-and-now Indians outfielders Kenny Lofton and Mark Whiten were the first to request songs to precede their at-bats. "A couple of players had suggestions," Wright says. "I picked everyone else's."
The Indians have changed a lot since 1992 (where have you gone, Alex Cole and Scott Scudder?), but Wright's charge is the same: keep the players' toes tapping, honor their superstitions, and assist the musically challenged. Wright says that Lofton and Vizquel are the club's musical gourmets. David Justice's tastes have evolved nicely (he's exploring more hip-hop). Travis Fryman and Richie Sexson couldn't care less. Brooding former Indian Albert Belle, typically, didn't want any music played as he scowled to the hitter's area. Of all the players Wright has worked with, Julio Franco gets the Tin Ear Award. "He had a gospel tune that was just . . . not good," Wright says, scrunching his face.
During the game, Wright doesn't struggle with a stack of CDs. The first twenty or so seconds of each song are pre-programmed into a machine. All Wright has to do is spin a dial, find the song in the computer's digital memory, and press the cue button on the last syllable of the player's name as it bellows over the PA system.
This is what he currently plays for each everyday player:
Lofton: "More Money, More Problems," Notorious B.I.G.
Vizquel: "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)," the Offspring.
Roberto Alomar: "Can I Get A," Jay-Z.
Manny Ramirez: "Slow Down," Snoop Dogg.
Jim Thome: "Hard Workin' Man," Brooks and Dunn.
Fryman: "Ain't Goin' Down Till the Sun Comes Up," Garth Brooks.
Justice: "Atomic Dog," George Clinton.
Sandy Alomar: WWF star Stone Cold Steve Austin's intro music.
(Pitchers Mike Jackson and Jaret Wright have gotten into the act. Jackson has Kirk Franklin's "Stomp" played during his entrance; Wright asked for Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower.")
If a player brings Wright a CD, he screens it to make sure it's appropriate for kids and nuns (often a challenge, when a Latin hitter brings in something sung in Spanish). Wright cuts off "Pretty Fly" before the suggestive sighs of "Give it to me, baby" kick in.
"If it's questionable," Wright says, "I let them know this isn't ballpark-friendly."
The key to getting along with millionaire athletes, Wright says, is to treat them like people and not ballplayers. "None has ever been rude," he says. "If I'm on the field, we don't talk about baseball. We laugh, we joke. I'm not there to be a fan; I'm there to do a job."
Wright prefers basketball to baseball (he works as a producer for Cavaliers and Cleveland State radio broadcasts). He says that, despite the Indians' success the last five years, the job can get tedious--especially at the end of a long homestand. It's not hard to imagine why. Players adjusting and readjusting their crotches, the relentless pitching changes, the drone of Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part II" during Tribe rallies.
"You know what's really bad about that?" Wright asks. "I have the 45 at home."
As of Monday, only seventeen non-Cleveland Orchestra concerts were scheduled for Blossom Music Center. "We're not done yet. That's how many we have right now, but it's only May," says Blossom Marketing Director Jennifer Black, adding that "several shows" are pending.
Still, Blossom's roster looks skimpy compared to that of sheds in neighboring cities. Polaris Amphitheater in Columbus has 24 concerts booked this summer, and Star Lake Amphitheatre, outside Pittsburgh, has 36. A typical Blossom season, Black says, is twenty to thirty concerts.
Among the acts bypassing Cleveland: Brandy, the Allman Brothers Band, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan/Paul Simon, Tim McGraw, Alanis Morissette/Tori Amos, the Offspring, Ozzfest '99, and Phish.
One challenge for Universal Concerts, which operates Blossom and books non-orchestra events, is working around the orchestra's schedule. The Musical Arts Association, the orchestra's nonprofit governing agency, owns the land and has first dibs on dates. Twenty-two orchestra events are scheduled.
Universal also competes for shows with mighty Belkin Productions, which has booked tours hitting outdoor venues in other cities (Shania Twain, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Cher) into climate-controlled Gund Arena. Belkin's Dan Kemer says that talent-buying is not all dollars and cents. The Belkin-promoted J. Geils Band show July 1 at the Gund, for instance, would appear to be tailor-made for the rolling land of Blossom, but Kemer says that Jules Belkin and J. Geils have a relationship that goes "way, way back."
"It's a lot more than just show-me-the-money," he says. "Don't get me wrong, that has a big part to do with it, but it really comes down to where the artist wants to play."
It's not often a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee visits the Euclid Tavern, but it happens Thursday, May 13, when Par-liament/Funkadelic founding member Bernie Worrell and his Woo Warriors descend on the Euc. Mr. Tibbs opens. Tibbs bassist Ted Pecchio says that Worrell was interested in producing the band back in its Funkomatic days, but their schedules didn't allow them to get together. "This is the first time we've been able to hook up since then," Pecchio says.
Alternative country fans can escape the big hats and bare navels on Thursday nights with a radio show and live concert series. On WERE-AM/1300 from 9-10 p.m., freelance writer Cindy Barber and David Bowling host the alt-country show Made in America. Then the action moves from the radio dial to the Blind Pig for live national and local shows on Thursday nights. The Ex-Husbands played last week. Thursday, May 13, is a Lucinda Williams listening party.
The Cowslingers have their CD release party for Americana A Go Go at Wilbert's Bar & Grille Saturday, May 15 . . . Mr. Downchild hosts his own birthday party at Fat Fish Blue Thursday, May 13. Guitarist D.C. Carnes, who plays with Robert Lockwood Jr., is now part of Downchild's backing band, the Houserockers . . . Fuzzhead singer Bill Finsel is no longer with the band; his duties will be assumed by bass player John Howitt . . . WZAK Program Director Bobby Rush was nominated for the Program Director of the Year award by Radio & Records newsweekly . . . Goth scene veteran Tim Smith DJs at "Dark Heaven," a Gothic and industrial night at Trilogy every Wednesday.