I was running late as usual, but I had promised to hang out with the guys at Johnny’s Night Club. When I arrived the bouncer, Johnny Blot, nodded and let me in. Security was always tight at Johnny’s Night Club.
As soon as I walked through the door someone called out my name.
“Look who it is. Johnny Comelately. You’re never on time.”
It was Johnny Swansong, manager and part owner of the club. He gripped my hand.
“Good to see you Johnny boy.”
“You too Johnny.”
“A lot of your friends are here tonight. There’s Johnny Onebrow at the bar.”
Johnny Onebrow waved, martini in hand.
“Hi, Johnny. Glad you could make it.”
Johnny Hygiene came out of the restroom area.
“Johnny Comelately! Good to see ya.”
We met half way across the floor. He pumped my hand. His hand was still wet, but I didn’t mention it.
“What have you been up to you old rascal?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “A bit of this, a bit of that. And you?”
“The same. Insurance. That and the family. Keeps me running.”
I spotted Johnny Memento at a table with Johnny Hardon.
“Hey Johnny,” I said and meant it for both of them.
Johnny Memento smiled. “Wow Johnny. Long time no see. What has it been, a year?”
“More like three months.”
“Really? Could have fooled me. Takes me back to when we were kids. Remember when Johnny Bigarm threw that touchdown pass to me in the championship?”
“Sure do. Bounced out of your hands, off my helmet and back into your arms.”
“Those were some times. Weren’t they? Seems like yesterday.”
“Been fourteen years, but I’ll never forget it.”
“And the crowd! They went wild.”
“And Betty Lu Johnnyson from the cheerleading squad kissed me, and we went out after that for the next two years.”
“Great times. What have you been up to since I last saw you?”
“Same old, same old. Still working in my uncle’s funeral parlor, sharing stories with the old stiffs.”
I turned to the other Johnny. “How about you? How have you been doing?”
“Can’t complain,” said Johnny Hardon. “Have a hot date later tonight. Remember Yolanda from chemistry class in college?”
“Well, she just got divorced. Hasn’t aged much at all. And guess who she wants to help her get back into circulation?”
“You got it mister.”
Johnny Swansong tapped my shoulder. “Sorry to interrupt, but one of the reasons I wanted you to come by and hang out for a change was to check out a new act. I’m thinking your boss, Johnny Platinum, might check him out himself if you put in a good word.”
“Okay. I’ll have a listen.”
I was used to these types of requests. Johnny Platinum was a top record producer in the area with connections to some of the big companies. I often got a nice tip along with a request, but Johnny Swansong was an old friend. I let it pass when it turned out the envelope was a bit light.
Johnny Swansong escorted me into the big room where a five-piece band had just finished setting up.
“What are they called? There’s no sign.”
“Just listen first.”
“Hi, Mr. Swansong,” yelled a young kid from the stage. Couldn’t be more than nineteen.
“She the singer? Easy on the eye.”
“Martha? Not the singer, but in the band. Rhythm guitar and tambourine. Does some backup. Good kid. I mean really good.” He grinned. “She’s why I hired them in the first place, but now it’s about the music. Just the music.”
“Who’s the singer?”
“The skinny blond guy. Martha’s brother. You have to hear this guy’s voice. I think they’re going places.”
We sat down at a table, ordered some drinks. I saw some familiar faces in the crowd. Johnny Spine, my chiropractor, and his lady; Johnny Wholesale and his gal; Johnny Narc, and Johnny Looselips, and a bunch of others. We listened while the band ran through their set. Some covers, a few originals. Pop, light rock, a little heavy metal. But the voice of the lead singer. The voice.
“They play okay,” I said, “But you are right about the singer. Just needs the right material. I’ll talk to my boss. “
I gave Johnny Platinum a call. Asked what he was doing. He wasn’t busy. I suggested he stopped by and catch the band. They were playing three sets that night. Johnny Platinum said he’d try to make it.
I let Johnny Swansong know that Johnny Platinum might stop by. Johnny Swansong thanked me and slipped another envelope into my pocket. The night was getting better.
Johnny Platinum stopped by around midnight, just before the final set. Johnny Swansong was more than cordial, explained he sort of represented the band in a semi-official way. We got a good table in the second row and sat back to see what happened. The final set had more songs, more range, and better instrumentals as if the first two sets were warm ups, or adrenaline or something else had gotten them juiced up. But they still weren’t great. Except for that voice. It was all about the voice. The lead singer had a gift. Johnny Platinum agreed with Johnny Swansong. There was a chance to make money here. With the right songs, the right music, the right costumes, and, of course, the right promotion, who knew what could happen.
After the show Johnny Swansong brought the band over to meet Johnny Platinum. Johnny Platinum extended his hand to the singer. The other Johnnys at the table stuck out their hands as well. There was a lot of shaking and pumping before getting down to business.
“You’ve got a set of tonsils there,” said Johnny Platinum. “What’s your name?”
“Bobby Healey. Together we’re Bobby and the Floaters.”
Johnny Platinum laughed, “What kind of name is that for a band? That’s gotta change. Look, you sound good, not great, but you need proper guidance. I might have Johnny Comelately here throw together a contract for you to review for an album and a small tour, if you’re interested. Not a lot of money to start. A percentage. Maybe an advance. But who knows what can happen in a year of two with luck and hard work. But you have to be willing to make compromises.”
Bobby looked at his sister who nodded.
“We’re interested,” said Bobby. “What kind of compromises.”
“First thing, the name. What kind of name is Bobby and the Floaters? Come on. You gotta change the name.”
“You don’t like The Floaters?”
“I can work with that,’ said Johnny Platinum. “Though you could make it easier for me by opting for a different band name or different band altogether. If you want to keep the band as it is, we might be able to do a deal, but they’ll need to get a lot better. It would be easier to swap players, but I’m willing to give it a try. But Bobby and the Floaters… that Bobby part has to go.”
“What do you suggest?” asked Bobby. “Just go with The Floaters?”
“You can do that or you could change Bobby to another name.”
“How about Johnny? It’s warm, friendly, people can relate to it. I can go with Johnny and the Floaters. That’s bankable. Sounds marquee. Sounds much better than just The Floaters, and a hell of a lot better than Bobby and the Floaters. Though, like I said, the band might need to be reconstructed. Down the line. I’m willing to give them a shot, but they have to earn it. You on the other hand, you’re in. You can sing. I can work with you. If we can reach an agreement about the name thing.”
“But my name’s Bobby.”
“About that.” Johnny Platinum scratched his chin. “Healey is not a good name for a singer either. It don’t quite go with a great name like Johnny.”
“You think I should change it?”
“For professional purposes only. No offense to your family, you know.”
“What kind of name do you have in mind?”
“How does Johnny Scales sound? You got your Johnny, which everybody loves, and then Scales, a name that means something cause you can hit the high notes and the low notes. That’s the kind of name that audiences and investors eat up in Johnnytown.”
“The world’s bigger than Johnnytown,” the kid mumbled.
“It sure is,” said Johnny Platinum. “But you gotta start somewhere, and you’re in Johnnytown. If you want to win in Johnnytown, you need to be Johnny Scales or Johnny something else. But not Healey. It will sell some tickets, but not enough. You have to give the people what they want, and in Johnnytown they want a Johnny, but not a Johnny Healey. Healey doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t say anything about you. You need to either go with the flow or wind up a schmo.”
“I’ll think about it Mr. Platinum. I’ll definitely think about it.”
“You can call me Johnny. But don’t think about it too long. After tomorrow I may have changed my mind. There are a lot of bands out there.”
Martha whispered to her brother, “Just do it. Johnny’s your middle name anyway. That part should be easy for you, and you’re real name will still be Bobby Healey.”
“Okay. You can call me Johnny Scales.”
“Good,” said Johnny Platinum. “We’re all simpatico. Let’s have a drink to celebrate.” He invited the band to sit at the table. Johnny Swansong signaled the waitresses to accommodate them. When all had a glass of something alcoholic in their hands, Johnny Platinum raised his in a toast.
“To the next big thing in Johnnytown. Johnny and the Floaters.”
He drained his glass, then added, “and after Johnnytown, who knows? The sky’s the limit… with a change or two.”
I had to agree.