EDDIE & the Crontabs

This is a bit of a long story.
It is true, at least as I remember it.
The names have not been changed to protect the innocent;
they are the stage names used by the performers!

One more tidbit:
In the reading of the story, if an acronym is written in all caps, it is to be pronounced as a word;
whereas, if each letter is followed by a period, the names of the individual letters are pronounced.
Thus, "RAD" is pronounced "rad," but "R. A. D." is pronounced "are-ay-dee."


Chapter The First

The Russler was team leader for six other computer programmers at a now-defunct I.T. company. The team's job was supporting the E.D.I. (electronic data interchange) for a system that ran a manufacturing operation. The system was named "R.A.D." although no one in management could agree what that stood for, so everyone just called it "RAD."

The system ran under the Unix operating system, where the scheduling of automatic procedures is handled by a program called "crontab." The team had a lot of programs with names like "edi_this" and "edi_that." Instead of pronouncing them as "E.D.I. this" and "E.D.I. that," The Russler referred to them as "Eddie this" and "Eddie that."

It was probably in the back of his mind that there had been a book and a movie about a fictitious rock band named "Eddie And The Cruisers," but The Russler was not consciously aware of it when he started referring to his team as "Eddie & the Crontabs." What was on his mind was that five of the seven were active musicians in addition to being systems engineers:

Fingers was playing guitar in a band of brothers.
Chicago had played bass in various bands previously.
Buff was playing drums in a band (and had played bass in another).
Toby The Bear was playing alto sax in an instrumental ensemble.
The Russler played various instruments in a pop group.

One day the team leader said to the best guitarist he had ever known, "We could be a jazz combo or a rock group." Fingers replied, "I don't like jazz." The Russler meant to say, "We could be a rock group." He told the other musicians about his fantasy. They must have been off their rockers too.

Next, he approached the other two programmers, Howling Jeff and Bunny (the only woman on the team). "In our fantasy band, do you want to be backup singers, dancers, roadies, or what?" The answer surprised him. "No, we want instruments too!"

Since Buff was a proficient amateur photographer (this was before everyone carried a digital phone in pocket or purse), the team began making plans for a publicity photo shoot, which would include Bunny on keyboard and Howlin' Jeff on trumpet.

Notes on this publicity shot:
At top left is Bunny on a Yamaha keyboard.
Then Howlin' on trumpet, Toby on sax, Russler on bone.
In the center is Buff, drummer and photographer.
Up front are Chicago on bass and Fingers on guitar.
Technically, that's not a trumpet; it's a cornet. And that's not the way to hold it.
Buff's drum set is electronic, so all you can see are pads. Don't ask where the kick drum pedal is.
The Russler's tie features The Cat In The Hat, but all you can see is little of the red & white stripes.
Buff's tie features various elements of a traditional drum kit.
Fingers' tie features The Fab Four. John Lennon is peeking out.


Chapter The Second

In this segment of the story, one manager and one supervisor were both over the same group of programmers, organized into some number of teams, and each team had a different responsibility within the project. We will refer to the two individuals as "Management" and the collection of teams as the "work group."

Toby led Chicago in working on an E.D.I.-related piece of the system, known as "A.C.S.," so he was present at all team leaders' meetings with Management.

During one such meeting, the team leader whose programmers were in charge of resolving problems discovered by the users announced, "We have a new name for our team: RADCOT. It has a comfortable ring to it, like EPCOT. The C.O.T. stands for "Customer Optimization Team."

His inside joke was, because some of the higher-ups wanted to get out of the manufacturing segment of the business and thereby dissolve the entire work group, R.A.D.C.O.T. really stood for "Re-Arranging Deck Chairs On the Titanic."

Always eager to create change for the sake of change, Management said, "Okay, all of you come up with new names for your teams." The Russler piped up, "The E.D.I./A.C.S. team already has a new name, EDDIE & the Crontabs." Management responded, "Huh?" The Russler continued, "You know, like a rock band. You'll understand better when you see the poster."

Always eager to create a team-building exercise, Management instantly announced a poster contest, with the promise that the entries would be judged by employees outside the work group, and the winning team would be taken to lunch at a nice restaurant (meaning something other than fast food).


Chapter The Third

At the meeting of the entire work group during which it was announced that EDDIE & the Crontabs were the winners of the poster contest, a voice from the crowd urged, "So when do we get to hear you play?" Without hesitation, The Russler answered, "We'll get back to you on that." (Those three months of intense training on dealing with questions for which there was no answer finally paid off!)

So, when the meeting had dispersed, The Russler reminded the team/band: "One of my hobbies is writing musical arrangements for groups with varying instrumentations that include players of varying skill levels. If you want, we can make this work."

Immediately the Crontabs started taking a long lunch break once a week to begin building a repertoire. Fingers, Chicago, and Buff were learning songs by listening to recordings, mostly by original artists, but sometimes from demos of The Russler's original material. He wrote appropriate horn parts for Toby and himself. Buff handled lead vocals with Fingers backing him up.

What about the two non-musicians? Howlin' Jeff had private trumpet lessons and learned a half dozen notes and where to play them in the songs. Bunny learned a range of notes in the middle of the keyboard and played one-finger-per-hand parts on the beats. (Remember learning "Chopsticks" as a kid?)


Chapter The Fourth

The RAD work group had a new boss' boss' boss named Layla, who was eager to get to know the thousand-or-so people under her. So, one day this work group's thirty-or-so were invited to have lunch with her. She went around the room and asked each programmer to tell "who you are, what you do on the system, and anything else you want to share."

When it got to Bunny, she said, "Well, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I graduated from college and immediately came to work here and was put on The Russler's team. I got married a couple of weeks later, I'm trying to learn this job, and now they have me playing in a band!" Layla begged, "Tell me about the band." Bunny told who was in it and what instrument each played. "What kind of events do you play for?" was the next question.

Since that question had no answer, and since Bunny had not received the aforementioned three months of intense training on dealing with such, The Russler came to the rescue: "For instance, your next town hall meeting!" In those days, the boss' boss' boss would hold these meetings which were nearly-all-day affairs and were a mixture of work and play.


Chapter The Fifth

A few weeks later, The Russler got a call from Layla. "Can your band play for my next town hall meeting?" She gave the date. Falling back on the standard response learned you-know-where, the answer came back very decisively, "I will do some research on that and get back to you."

Each (other) Crontab was asked individually about his or her willingness to play in front of "so great a cloud of witnesses," and the answers came back:
"Sure."
"Sure."
"Sure."
"Sure."
"Sure."
"Only if we just play our best stuff."

Since Fingers had 51% of the talent, he got 51% of the vote, so the return call to Layla reported, "We only have three songs that are ready for prime time. Maybe we could play them during dessert after lunch?"

After that, there were only three songs hammered out at every rehearsal:
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" [ à la Chicago the band ]
"Spinning Wheel" [ à la Blood Sweat & Tears ]
"My Old School" [ à la Steely Dan ]

The first two of those have "album versions" which feature extended trumpet solos, and EDDIE had a beginner on trumpet. No problem: Fingers stomped on that effects pedal and kicked out those solos note-for-note. The third includes multiple guitar solo breaks on the Dan's recording, featuring "Skunk" Baxter on some weird and wacky stuff. Again, they were faithfully reproduced by Fingers' fingers.


Chapter The Sixth

The town hall meeting was held in a convention center, whose ballroom could accommodate the 900+ attendees. The band arrived early to set up, using The Russler's sound system. They dragged in some risers from backstage for the keyboard and the horn section. The drum set, manned by the lead singer, was front and center ("as God intended," according to Buff) and flanked by the guitar and bass.

During the morning sessions, Layla pumped the crowd for ideas on this, that, and the other-worldly. When she really liked a comment, she gave the employee $100! Business attire in those days was suits and ties, so her invitation had included "casual. . . . you can come in your pajamas if you want!" One of the females came in her pajamas; Layla gave her $100!

At lunch, as dessert was being served, Layla took the microphone and said something that began with "Who is the most talented team present today?" The Crontabs cranked out their three cover numbers and the crowd went crazy! (That was a relief: they were no longer the only crazy ones.)

At the end of the business-mixed-with-pleasure day, the band began to strike the set. Layla gathered them around her, thanked them for adding to the fun of the meeting and gave them each an envelope. You are probably expecting that each envelope contained the ubiquitous $100. You're half right. Do the math; she spent $1400 (of the company's money) to hear three songs from an unknown band that had never auditioned for this or any other gig! Layla received a few hugs and a virtual pedestal that is extant to this day.



Chapter The Seventh

At that time, there was a chain of stores named MARS. That stood for Music And Recording Superstore. There were two of them fairly close by. In order to raise money for school music programs, they held an event called Corporate Band Challenge. For $100, a company could enter a band in the competition, but it had to consist solely of employees of that company. "No Ringers," they said. Management said they would pay the entry fee if EDDIE wanted to participate.

The responses from the Crontabs were varied:
Three of them were good to go.
The two novices both declined.
The bass player said he should retire from playing to save his hearing.
The drummer said he would do drums if they found a different singer.

So the band was faced with a choice between giving up on the Challenge and locating—within the company—a vocalist, a trumpet player, a keyboard player, and a bass player. . . .

Hey, these were systems engineers who got paid $200 each for playing a measly three tunes for nearly a thousand of their biggest fans. How hard could this be?


Chapter The Eighth

The Russler wrote new, "respectable" parts for trumpet and piano, suitable for accomplished players.

There just happened to be a new supervisor in the work group who played trumpet. Since he replaced Howlin' Jeff, let's call him Howlin' Jerry. "Check One."

The aforementioned team leader of RADCOT just happened to be a piano player. He was very good at playing classical, but he confessed he had not played rock'n'roll. So call him Ludwig. "Check One Two."

After getting the word out, the team was pointed elsewhere in the company to a lady who was interested in experience being a singer. She was told that everyone in the band went by a nickname. "Do you have a nickname?" "Nuts," she said. Sounded like a perfect fit considering this whole thing started as a joke. "Check One Two Three."

Bass players are harder to come by. The Russler heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that he should to talk to a certain lady that might maybe perhaps be a potential feasible possibility. Conceivably.

Turns out she used to play bass in a disco-funk-soul band back in the soul-funk-disco era. And yes, she was interested in playing in a horn-rock-fusion band. And yes, a Corporate Band Challenge sounded like fun.

Fast forward . . . . not very far, when she realized that prior commitments would prohibit her from taking on this project.

So, when Plan A fell through and Plan B fell through, the next logical step was to try . . . Plan A. Fingers and Buff and Toby and The Russler ganged up and put the pressure on Chicago. (Did I mention that bass players are harder to come by?)

"It's just one more gig."
"We don't do heavy metal."
"You could wear earplugs."
"Please please please please."

Chicago was outnumbered and finally caved in. "Check."


Chapter The Ninth

The MARS people required one coaching session before the competition. The singer, the rhythm section, and two of the horn players were available for the session. T. R. was out of town, but missing the trombone part was not a show-stopper. Everyone would be available for the big event.

The coach from MARS* helped mentally prepare the Crontabs for playing in front of judges, which is a different kind of pressure than playing for a few hundred coworkers.

They played for him the three selections they had worked up. His comment on "Spinning Wheel" was that it "has a lot of potential for error." As computer programmers, they took that to mean they didn't play it very well. About "My Old School" he said, "You guys seem very motivated to have this be the one thing you play for the judges." Indeed, that's the one that had gotten the crowd the most worked up at the town hall meeting.

One of the bands in the competition was a jazz combo from a very large company; they had played together for a lot of years. Another group was from a law firm and wore jackets and ties . . . with their shorts and sandals!

Before the performances started, a nervous excitement permeated the air of the green room. But "We've come this far; let's do this!" EDDIE & the Crontabs came out and played the stuffin' out of "My Old School." They certainly didn't expect to win a prize, but wouldn't you know it . . .


Chapter The Tenth

Here's a picture from the event. Unfortunately, the photographer—a Man from MARS—got a little too close, and left Ludwig and Fingers off-camera to the left! You can see Nuts smiling at the audience during an instrumental break, with the E&tC logo partly visible behind her. Buff's face is behind a crash cymbal, but what a great hat! Howlin' Jerry, Toby The Bear, and The Russler are blasting out those brass parts behind bass-thumpin' Chicago, who, as you can see, is wearing earplugs!

Now, just to be fair,
here are the missing players!
Fingers is on the left;
Ludwig is on the right.

"And a great time was had by all."

Oh wait, did I mention that they did not win a prize?


Epilogue

This really was Chicago's last gig, and The Russler switched to bass. Meanwhile, those higher-ups who wanted to eliminate the RAD system did get their way, and one by one the members of the band either jumped ship or were forced to walk the plank. Ludwig had no more deck chairs to rearrange. The last days of RAD saw Toby and Russler with one other man holding it together with duct tape and baling wire until it was phased out.

It was a pleasant dream, but you have to wake up sometime!


*"The Coach From Mars" . . . That could be my next novel. . . .



~ FURTHER READING ~

At the time EDDIE & the Crontabs were working their way up from nothing into a state of extreme obscurity, the general public still remembered the Blues Brothers, with their dark suits and shades. So the dress code for the company worked well for the publicity photos.


original lineup, L to R:
Howlin' Jeff, Toby The Bear, Fingers, Bunny, Chicago, The Russler, Buff