True-Life Rock Tales

The Forty Thieves

I’m sitting with my sister Ellen at an outdoor coffee shop on the ocean in Venice Beach, California, and we’re talking about our dad. Hard to be exact; it had to be the mid 1990s and what the point of the conversation was I am not sure, but we were disagreeing. Not strongly, but we had different memories.

She glances over my shoulder, points, and says, “he gets what I mean.” The place was empty in the late afternoon and I thought we were alone. I swivel around in my chair and to my surprise there sits a grinning Carl Anderson.

I say, “Carl!” And he looks puzzled; he does not recognize me. “It is me, Ken Sander. I was your road manager.” It clicks and his eyes widen, and he flashes his wonderful smile. Carl then tells me that he never forgot me for the showbiz advice I gave him when we were in Bermuda.

Carl was a singer and actor who played Judas in the movie and Broadway versions of Jesus Christ Superstar. He played Reverend Samuel in the movie The Color Purple and success as a soul and R&B singer with songs like “How Deep Does It Go” and “Pieces of A Heart,” and “Friends and Lovers,” his 1986 duet with Gloria Loring, reached number two on the charts.

We had worked together about 20 years earlier at The Forty Thieves club. One night backstage, Carl suddenly started getting sick and in a short time, he had a fever. This came on quickly and he felt so bad that he did not think he could perform. I said to Carl, “sick or not you got to try.” He looked doubtful so then I said, “Once you hit the stage the adrenaline will kick in and you’ll feel fine, you’ll have a good show.”

“And if it doesn’t?” Carl asked. “In that case,” I responded, “you do a very short set and apologize to the audience and tell them that you are sick, and then two things will have happened. First, you showed up and tried to make a go of it, people get that, and second, no one will blame you for being sick and you will have fulfilled your contract. If the club does not have to give refunds, they’re happy. Trust me, Carl, It’s both gracious and sincere.” You have heard the expression, “the show must go on,” I said, smiling.

Not sure that this was the right approach, Carl walks onto the stage. And bang, he is going 90 MPH, you guessed it, He aced it, Carl really tore it up. It was one of his best shows. At the end of the set Carl bounds offstage dripping in sweat (nothing new about that), and he’s totally amazed and thrilled at his transformation and the way the show had gone. He’d felt great on stage, though after ten minutes or so when he cooled down his fever came back. Got to admit it made me feel good that I had such a positive impact on Carl.

This all began in Al D’Marino’s office at Creative Management Associates (CMA) in the early summer of 1974. Al was a vice president in the company’s rock department and one of his clients was Dionne Warwick. Her manager, Guy Draper, was based out of Washington DC. Guy’s other client was Carl Anderson. Al wanted me to work with Carl.

In July Carl had some club dates around the DC area. Then in August, we found ourselves at the Forty Thieves Club.

The Forty Thieves Club was on Front Street in Hamilton, Bermuda, right on the waterfront where the docks were located. It was a month-long gig, most of August through Labor Day. Till then the weather is beautiful, but after Labor Day the season is over and the weather starts to turn nasty quickly.

Mind you, this was over forty years ago and Bermuda has changed since that time. Originally Bermuda was a quaint British colony; okay, granted, the label “colony” is very 19th century. Nowadays Bermuda is referred to as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.” In the 1600s Bermuda was a popular port of call for swashbuckling pirates. The pirates had a nod and a wink relationship with the British Navy, and to keep things that way they built some special elevated booty storage caves on the water outside of Hamilton.

The pirates could back up their ships to the cave’s opening and unload their pirate booty before sailing into Hamilton. The reason for offloading their booty was that Hamilton was a popular hangout for pirates and if they just sailed into the port of Hamilton their ship might be looted by other pirates or some other unsavory sorts. Additionally, they never knew if the British Navy would hassle them and it wouldn’t be wise to rub the Navy’s nose in the fact that they were pirates, so they stored their booty in those hidey caves on the rocky sides of one of the seven main islands and about 170 additional islets and rocks. Then they would sail an empty ship into Hamilton and party.

Carl, the band and I stayed in a middle class 1930s era house that was big enough for all of us to have separate bedrooms. Staying in the house was part of the engagement deal with the Forty Thieves Club, and each of us were also provided with Honda two-stroke mopeds for our transportation. Every night we would drive to the club and do a show or two, depending on the night. The opening act or rather the house band was a calypso band called the Bermuda Strollers. They were local musicians who were just like most of the other locals who worked in the hospitality industry. After Labor Day and before the winter many of the locals left the island for cities like Boston or Montreal. For the most part, Bermuda is a summer island with a very small winter population. The year-round residents usually work in businesses like banking, finance and shipping that require their presence and have little to do with tourists.

The Bermuda Strollers.

Carl and I would walk in the club and there was usually a full house. The Bermuda Strollers would be on stage performing and they’d see us walking in through the club (there was no backstage entrance). They would stop playing and point to Carl and announce, “there’s Carl Anderson and his lad Ken!” Everyone would look over at us and the place would crack up roaring with laughter. The Strollers and Carl were Black (the audience knew Carl; that is who they came to see).

After the show and providing that CarI or I had not made other plans, we would go for breakfast. The only places open at that time of night were a few unlicensed restaurants that had these open outdoor kitchens in the backyards with picnic tables. They were in the workers’ residential section of Hamilton. Even though I was the only Caucasian there I never felt unwelcome or uncomfortable. The food was good home cooking. This was an off the map, after-hours restaurant for tourist industry workers, musicians, and entertainers, almost all of them Bermuda citizens. It was easygoing, relaxed, and a part of Bermuda that tourists never get to experience.

Our days were free; we worked the night, so I enjoyed the sunshine. There were parties and barbecues like the one this British guy gave for Carl and the band. He was a prison official. It was my understanding that police and other types of officials would only do service for a few years in one of the colonies and then they’d be rotated back to the UK. It was nice duty for them, and a much different climate than the UK. It was also the only way to get experienced public servants and bureaucrats to the territories. He and his wife had a wonderful house provided for them, located right on the ocean.

I took to going to the beach most days. one day I met this beautiful young girl, who attached herself to me. Her father was a manager of one of the large hotels and she was spending her summer with him. We became friendly. She was gorgeous, and too young for me to romance, but she glued herself to me and I was kinda flattered. It got to the point where she would come to the house just about every morning and wake me up. We would go for breakfast at her hotel’s snack bar and after that we’d hit the beach or explore the island. We spent our days together and part of the time at dusk as well.

After I left Bermuda she went back to Europe and I never saw her again.

At the end of August Carl, the band and I flew back to Washington DC, gig over. I had to bring the balance of the box office money to Guy Draper. I had a little over two thousand dollars left after I paid the band, myself, and other relevant touring expenses. My instructions from Guy were for me to take a cab that night to a house in the DC area and slip the cash along with my expense report through the mail slot on the front door. I never ended a tour settling up like that. I was concerned. What if Guy did not get the money or said he did not get the money? It felt dangerous. I am thinking jeez, I am going to a strange house at night in a neighborhood I did not know. What if I made a mistake and went to the wrong address and slipped the money in the wrong door or something like that? I did not know DC.

The cab pulled up to this darkened house with only one outside light on. I asked the driver to wait and was as careful as possible while being hyper-aware of the surroundings. After double-checking I slipped the money in, hoping it was the correct mail slot. This was one of the most off-the-wall things that I ever did in my music business career.

It turned out that everything was fine. The job was over, though I did kind of hold my breath for a few days.

I never heard from Guy so I assumed no news was good news. The next morning, I checked out of my hotel and took the Amtrak back to New York City. Carl went on with his career and I had not seen him since that gig.

Now here it was 20 some years later and Carl, my sister Ellen and I are sitting there in Venice Beach, talking and catching up.

Danny Glover is walking up from the beach and Carl spots him and calls him over. Danny had just finished his jog and is wiping his face with a small towel. He knew Carl and they were friendly, after all, show business is a small community. Carl introduced Ellen and me to Danny we all chatted for a few minutes.

That was the last time I ever saw Carl. He died of leukemia 1n 2004. He was a talented and sweet man. He worked at a high level in show business. He never had a breakout hit record, but he did make the charts a few times and he entertained many, though he was not a household name. I miss him. Lots of people miss him.