Paul F. Brass
I met Paul forty years ago at the Roycroft. I was probably a busboy schlepping ice and kegs to the service bar and Paul, I think, was a day porter but all I remember seeing him do was playing the pianos. I didn't know him, he went to Iroquois with the F.F.A. I figured. He was just a young hippy with a Jesus hair-do playing the pianos.
I really missed the bet on him. Not for the last time. Paul wasn't from far-off Elma, he lived just on the other side of the Country Club. I might have met him in the Boy Scouts but I was in Troop 513, and he was in 599, the ground zero for juvenile delinquency in those days. His troop was legendary for crimes and misdemeanors, with a cast like a POW movie, they had a brains, a burglar, a smuggler, a lummox, etc. I heard that they marched with a flag, but just because the flag had a secret pocket to carry their shot glass. My troop was busy earning merit badges and training to become cannon fodder.
I later figured that we had a more cosmic connection; his father and my mother dated when they were kids. Get this; my Grandma Edith referred to him as "that Ronnie Brass." Sound familiar?
From our humble, but wayward beginnings at the 'Croft, we fell in together for various stretches through the '70s, but they were scattered, especially after he bought 'boss equipment' with a microloan from the Arch Hilton Foundation and started making his living as a working musician on the road. Paul played in top-forty bands, cover bands, disco bands, whatever they could get booked and tour with. Boy did he have some crazy suits. One trip the band lost the bass player, so Paul bought a keyboard bass to play with his left hand, and collected two pay checks. And there was a U.S.O. tour of the Far East, where Paul's "bullfrogs on acid" sound check near the DMZ set all the Kims on high alert. In between he played in other project bands with friends, where he didn't have to play "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," but the tour bands were probably more commercial and less fun. What was fun was being in EastA when Paul showed up with a few weeks off between tours. It was like the "Panama Red" song; "nobody feels like working, Panama Red is back in town," or " bet your woman's up in bed with ol' Panama Red." Other years I caught up with him on the road, in Indianapolis once, another time in Laredo, a few times he stopped when his travels brought him near or through Houston.
Until finally Paul decided he needed a home somewhere, and settled in Padre Island, where he "took all the piano jobs George Shearing and Stevie Wonder don't want." Julia and I got to visit him there once too, where we met the lovely Lori Brass, if we hadn't already met in Houston. Damn, hard to remember so long ago, and double-damn, how did I let it get to be twenty years between postcards and phone calls. And jeeze, this social media is a two-edged sword; it's peaks are getting in touch with old friends strewn across the country, it's pits are learning things like "Paul Brass died this week."