Ever wonder what it would feel like to have your rock ‘n roll dream come true?
Music business legend Paul Rappaport (“Rap”) has the inside scoop – read on….
PLAYING LIVE ON STAGE WITH PINK FLOYD
I very much value the friendships I’ve made with many of the artists I’ve gotten to know during my long career in the music business—thirty-three years of which were working for Columbia Records.
But imagine my surprise when I got a call from Pink Floyd wanting to thank me for all I’d done for them over the years and give me a “special” Christmas present—one song live on stage with the band!
I was very blown away by the gesture, said thank you very much, and then pretty much just left it at that, a beautiful gesture. This was the end of 1988 and the band had just finished the American leg of their highly successful “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” tour. The holidays came and went and three months into the New Year their legendary manager Steve O’Rourke called back to ask if I was coming! I told Steve that I hadn’t thought they were really serious and also that I was a real player and didn’t want to get up there and just kind of pose. He told me that David Gilmour knew that exactly and it’s why they came up with the idea in the first place—they knew how meaningful it would be for me as a musician.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of people over the years, but I have to say David Gilmour has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. Come and play in my band for a song? Really?! Who does that? I’ve received some nice thank you’s over the years, but this was over the top.
I called David to confirm and he told me the best song for me to play on would be “Run Like Hell” because it was the encore and all the stage production would be on full tilt—massive lighting, lasers, pyrotechnics, etc. etc.—everything going off like the end of a huge fireworks display.
Because the band was starting the European leg of their tour he said I could come to London, Paris, or Russia. I chose London fearing I could be back stage at another country where I couldn’t speak the language trying to tell some security guy that I was really suppose to be on stage and miss my big chance. So, in July of 1989 my wife Sharon and I flew over with my trustee Fender Telecaster, which was perfect because that was the style of guitar that David was using a lot of at the time as well.
The evening of the show, I was treated just like a real band member from the get. We met David at a hotel and took a nice mini bus with his family and guests to the gig, which was at London Arena located in an area known as the Docklands.
When we arrived, David had the promoter hold the doors for a few minutes so that I could have a proper sound check.
David showed me a riser where I would stand behind him and asked if I wanted to use one of his Telecasters. I tried it but the string action was very high off the frets and so I decided to use the one I’d brought from the States. He laughed and called me a wuss (he has very strong hands, and uses10 gage strings with high action). I slung my guitar over my shoulder and he plugged me into his rig, which was a giant stack of electronics towering over my head. Low and behold, when I played a few licks I had that David Gilmour signature sound, big and bold with echo delay and all–it was the greatest sound I’d ever gotten out of a guitar!
I thanked him very much and handed my Tele to his well-known guitar tech, Phil Taylor, who put it in the rack next to all of David’s guitars. We went backstage.
July in England can be very warm and this night was especially hot and muggy. We walked backstage to a very unhappy Harvey Goldsmith, London’s famous promoter. It seemed that the band’s lighting director extraordinaire, Marc Brickman wouldn’t let Harvey turn on the air conditioning system in the building until the first half of the show was over for fear that the moving air would blow away the smoke effects that showed off the band’s laser lights so well. Harvey was backstage all hot and sweaty as we all were, grumbling away—it was pretty funny–“Goddamn Brickman and his Goddamn smoke machines!! Won’t let me turn on the bloody air!”
I was hanging with David and Nick Mason, Pink Floyd’s great drummer, who were both being very kind to me and trying to take the apparent edge off. David said, “Just go out and have a good time.” Nick, who can be a very funny man, told me not to worry, that they didn’t even know the song that well themselves! Yeah, right.
I explained to David that I had studied all their exotic chords, like A suspended 2nd, etc., and that I planned to just play soft chords behind him. He said, “No, those chords are for the record, this is live, just hit a power chord, that’s what I do! And I really want you to have a good time so you can play some leads if you like, just make sure you sound like Pink Floyd.” I assured him that I had been working on the one song “Run Like Hell” for three freaking months and that if anything I made sure I sounded like Pink Floyd! I kind of pinched myself–did he just say I could play some lead guitar?!
I went outside to try and chill for a bit. There was Marc Brickman smoking a cigarette trying to do the same. I had known Marc since the Springsteen days when he lit Bruce and the E Street Band during the early years. This stage production of Pink Floyd featured big robots that came out of trap doors from under the stage as well as lighting pods that looked liked flying saucers and flew overhead. Each flying saucer had a man in it controlling a very powerful spotlight. When a band member did a solo the saucer would hover very low over their head and shine the bright light down on them.
So, here I am trying to gather myself together and Brickman says, “Hey Rap, when you do your lead part I’m going to have one of those flying saucers swing down really low and try and knock you off the riser! Ha, ha, ha!” As if I didn’t have enough on my mind already! Marc’s a great guy, but he’s also a tough kid from New York and so you never know with him—he loves playing pranks. Forget chilling out, now I even had more stuff to worry about!!
The evening was kind of surreal. For the first half of the show Sharon and I watched from the audience, but for the second half I was going to be in the show—weirdly cool but strange. We returned backstage during intermission and the moment of truth soon arrived. The band finished their last song and had come off the stage waiting for the encore. I was escorted to the back of the stage and I could hear the audience clapping and screaming.
I don’t know if this was an every night ritual, but right before the band went back on a well-dressed man appeared with a big silver tray holding a bottle and some glasses filled with Port wine. David told me that Port wine is good for soothing the throat and certain opera singers even gargle with it. I was asked if I’d like a glass—forget the savoring part, I downed it in one gulp like a shot of whiskey hoping they’d offer another to help calm me down!
But, no chance–David walked up the stairs to the stage and began playing some riffs to wind to up the crowd as a few laser beams began to swirl. I quickly followed and met Phil on stage right. I stood there as he draped my guitar around my neck and hooked me up. I felt like I was being knighted. He was very friendly, “Hi Rap, how you feeling–would you like a cloth to wipe your hands? Some water? A pick?”
I remember thinking, and all I have to do is play? I could get used to this.
The stage was still dark except for the odd laser light or two shooting about the arena while David kept hammering out some very cool guitar sounds. The crowd was starting to roar now.
All of the sudden, Phil looked wildly at me and yelled “Duck!!!” He put his hand on the top of my head and physically shoved me down to my knees. Both of us where instantly crouched down next to each other when a very big hot green laser light shot just inches over our heads!
“Careful,” Phil said, “You could get killed up here!” He laughed.
Then he pointed to the riser where I would be standing behind David for the song. “Go now,” he said, “because in a second a robot is going to come rising out of the stage right where you’re going to walk. Stay on the riser and don’t leave that spot until the end of the show.”
I took my place behind David and Tim Renwick (playing second guitar downstage to my right), both looked back and smiled. They were genuinely happy for me—they knew how much this meant and soon they would have their own fun watching me all lit up and playing in the band.
I hit my strings kind of muffled to echo what David was doing and just to make sure my guitar was on. David started playing a rhythmic pattern, the crowd started clapping in time, then the drums came in and the houselights went up! I turned up the volume on my guitar. Here we go,…HOLY SH*T!!!!!!!!!
My brain kind of exploded. It was exhilarating, euphoric, and dreamlike all at the same time. Just the bigness of it all—the huge stage, all the musicians, the incredible big sound and an audience of 12,000 fans totally engrossed in the music—just amazing.
The adrenaline rush was over the top and David kept jogging back my way laughing and yelling in my ear “Let ‘em have it Rapper! Let ‘em have it!” I was like “Dave, stop it, you’re gonna mess me up!!” I thought concentration was a good idea since I was playing in one of the world’s greatest bands and 12,000 fans were looking straight at us. Well, not exactly. I remember looking out over the audience and watching their eyes as they seemed to dance all over the place because there was so much going on for them to see—the lasers, the visuals projected on the massive circular screen behind us, the robots, the flying saucers, fire works, etc., etc.
Then came the best part. In the middle of “Run Like Hell” there is a breakdown for a few lead guitar parts. David played one and then turned around and motioned with his finger for me to answer. Instinctively I did, and the next thing I knew we were trading licks! All of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks—I’m thinking to myself, “Let me get this straight, I am in London Arena playing live on stage with Pink Floyd, and I’m trading licks with David Gilmour!!!” Are you kidding me???!!
Anyway that thought only lasted a nanosecond because I really had to concentrate, as I wanted to play well for David and all those great musicians in the band. The song was coming to a close and it has a reprise ending. Tim looked back wanting to help me and mouthed the words “one more time,” I mouthed back, “I know” and gave him a big smile. The song ended, I’d played great (thank God!) and then the next best part came. It was the end of the show so I walked to edge of the stage and took bows as part of the band. Threw a pick into the audience, waved my hand, “see ya next time!” Ha, ha. Jon Carin a friend and the keyboardist for the band walked by and gave me a thumbs up, which made me feel really good inside. Truth was, for four minutes and twenty-five seconds I was in Pink Floyd—for real.
I remained a band member throughout the evening as Sharon and I cruised in a boat with the rest of the players up the Thames River to an after party thrown by their English label EMI. What was kind of funny and also kind of neat was that none of those folks nor any of the British press, radio, or retail who were invited knew me as a record exec, only as a guest guitarist who had played with the band that night. So I got the royal treatment along with the rest of the band–a lot of overdone compliments about my playing and all that kind of thing.
I came back to the States a bit of a hero. Had my picture playing with the band in all the trade magazines. And Luanne, and the Album Network folks actually designed a cover shot for me—it was very sweet.
I remember coming off the stage that hot July night in London thinking if someone tells me now that I can’t be in the record business any more for whatever reason, that’s just fine, because nothing I ever do will top this!
Fifteen years later came the Pink Floyd Airship! But that’s another story… 😉
© Paul Rappaport 2016
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