I returned to Las Vegas a couple of months ago. I popped into Sin City for a few days to see an old and dear friend of mine who had been in Europe for the last year or so. We kicked around together, had a few drinks at the Yard House, and then it was over.
On the way to the airport and my return flight to San Diego, I asked Duke to drop me off at the Orleans Casino. I had four hours to kill and someone I once met was playing the Ballroom. I thought we might have time to say hello and reminisce a while.
Thirty-five years ago, in Winnipeg, I got a call from a guy I knew who promoted bands for a living. I guess he knew I was flush. He needed a couple of bucks to put on a gig (which turned into two back-to-back sold out concerts) at the Centennial Concert Hall on Main Street.
Burton Cummings had recently quit as lead singer for The Guess Who. From what I came to understand he’d become disenfranchised with the whole band thing. He woke up one morning in his beautiful home on Hansard and simply quit one of the most successful acts in rock history.
Not too long afterward he began to pursue what became an incredibly successful solo career. And that’s when Frank, the promoter, called me.
As I said, we started with one show. It sold out something around twenty-three hundred seats in a couple of heartbeats. We added another, and it sold out as well. All very heady stuff for moi, a nineteen year old kid with eggshells behind his ears.
After the first show we all got together on the top floor of the City Centre Hotel, situated on Ellice Avenue, not too far from the Concert Hall.
Man, what a night.
At some point in the wee hours, just as the first shadows of sunlight began to appear, I found myself dealing what was to become the second to last hand of Blackjack.
Burton was on my left, two of his roadies were to his left; I was dealing. We’d been playing one game or another for several hours, loving every minute of it. The party had thinned out, and eventually only the four of us remained. Burton had taken the roadies for their next two months’ salaries. Hey, you can take the boy out of the North End, but…you know.
The bet was to Burt. The whole night we’d had quite a party. There’d been some great smoke, and plenty of excellent beer. We were all getting pretty tired by this time, and we knew we still had another show to put on later that day.
I dealt the cards out around the table and asked Burton what he wanted to bet. He didn’t even look up from his hand. He said to me, “The pot.”
He was still looking down at his hand when I let him know what a surreal, amazing time I’d had. I remember telling him I’d never forget any of it. I told him he was my hero, as well as a lot of other people’s hero. He’d shown all kinds of us what could happen if you believed in yourself, and followed your dreams, and that if you had those kind of convictions you could accomplish just about anything you put your mind to. I thanked him for all of it.
Then I told him how very special the night had been for me — so inspirational — that I’d be telling it to people for as long as they still wanted to hear it. I said I felt I wanted the moment to last forever, even though I knew we all had to leave soon.
He was still looking at his hand, and I thought I’d perhaps been a little too maudlin when he said, simply, “Half the pot.”
He won, of course. It’s always that kind of luck with the Irish. I then dealt another hand. The bet was again to him. Same thing, without looking up, except this time the greatest rock and roll vocalist of our time said, simply, “The other half.” And won.
Thanks, Burt. I tip my hat to one of the truly greatest of all time. You paved the way for anyone who wants to follow that wonderful road of dreams. Here’s to you, sir.