I met Paul Chapman in Summer of 1983 just before I crashed my Honda Twin motorcycle into a white sedan on US41 in Fort Myers, Florida. I never saw Paul again.
I'd just gotten out of the Army, and was couch surfing at my friend, Dennis's house, just down the road from Fort Myer's Beach. I took up work prepping Mexican food at small franchise called Casa Lupita, until I could find something that would hold my attention. Famous Dave's Barbecue now sits on that location.
Behind the restaurant was a bowling alley, called Gator Lanes. After work the prep cooks would go to the bar attached to it. The bar was called "Gator Lounge". One hot summer day, Dennis and I decided to go and hang out at the bar before calling it.
We were sitting there enjoying our drinks and this guy with long hair was talking to the bartender/owner, Kevin, about British history. He spoke English, but his accent was distinctly unAmerican. I think it was me who asked him where he was from. Of course, he said he was from Wales.
I'd never heard of Wales. I'm sure Dennis did. Dennis was much smarter and more worldly than me. I was just some farm boy who knew Jack and shit about the world. Paul introduced himself as the lead guitar player from the band UFO. Dennis was super impressed. He knew Michael Schenker took over for Paul as lead guitar player. And of course, I'd heard of UFO, but never heard a song from them.
Paul introduced his girlfriend, a rather good looking red-head, Debby, whom he later married. We talked a lot about his knowledge of Western Civilization. Then, I was impressed.
It was at this time, I really wanted to be in a band, but only had my mom's Danelectro and a small 30-watt practice amp. I was impoverished. But, I started playing with a bunch of kids down the road when I could. And then, my motorcycle wreck. I was nearly killed. I digress.
Paul had mentioned to Dennis and me that he was needed a guitar bridge, and Dennis knew just the guy, Danny, or something, who owned some equipment at his house. We went to "Danny" and got this "Bad Ass" bridge a few days later.
At the time, there were no cell phones, and Paul didn't give out his number. So, we met him at the bar about two weeks later and Dennis gave Paul the bridge. If you don't know, Leo Quan's Bad Ass bridges were known for their clarity and attack. Again, as a farm boy, I knew Jack and shit about guitars, too. But, a big score helping this Paul guy find one, right? It's a memory Dennis and I still cherish. [Dennis is a retired cop, now. Go figure. All the shit we used to do together, and he ends up being a cop. And I end up being the explosives expert?? Seems bass ackwards!!]
Paul's guitar was a B.C. Rich Supreme, a guitar worth about $12,000 dollars today. And he did all of his own work on it. So, Dennis handed over the bridge to a rock star. And I'm sitting there, like a total dipshit not realizing what's going on. Sheesh. There was so much more I could've talked with him about, but I just didn't want to make a big deal out of it. I was sure Paul met thousands of nameless people just looking to get close to fame. And to me, Paul was just some guy having a beer at a bar like me. Whatev's.
After meeting Paul, and talking with him about music and how the business works, he told me the reason he was in the bar wasn't to get a beer. He was pitching the club owner about playing there. He said it took time to win people over, and so when you pitch a club, you gotta get to know the bartenders. You see, they need to make money. And when they do, they'll ask you back.
So, no kidding, Paul was doing a slow motion sales pitch to get a gig. And sure enough, his new band, Trilathon, opened to a packed house about a month later. I could barely fit into the room. They didn't play any cover tunes. They played all original stuff. And of course, Paul was a virtuoso on the guitar.
I don't remember if Dennis made the gig. And quite frankly, I don't remember how I got there, or how I left. Life before my crash is pretty blurry. All I know is the place was packed. It was too busy, actually. I saw him standing on the house left side of the stage, just laying down all these leads. His singer was hitting all these high notes. Just incredible.
As I look back on meeting Paul and Debby, I'm left with two things. 1. how incredibly intelligent and kind Paul was. And 2, how he encouraged me to stick with it...something I've done for over 40 years. Through thick and thin, my world has been filled with meeting folks like Paul along my path, and they all are wonderful people. And I've stuck with it. Through college, through working at Eglin. Through working at Sandia. Through dating. Through marriage. Through all of it, music is the only thing I've stuck with. I am still fascinated by it. And equally, I still have a long way until I'm good at it. I digress, again.
Paul died at age 66 in 2020 on his birthday. Debby died just a few months before that. While she did taxes for musicians in Melbourne, Florida, Paul was busy teaching music and playing with Gator Country...a band filled with old Molly Hatchet guys. If you're going to go out, go out doing what you love. Right?
I would never claim to be even half the musician Paul Chapman was. But his kindness, smarts, and people skills always remind me that music is about relationships. And getting gigs isn't about pay. Never is. Never was.
While getting paid for doing what you love is everyone's dream, and indeed it is an honor to do it. But it is also is a huge responsibility. So, while no music is ever played in public without someone getting paid, it is the artist who gets paid last because it's your responsibility to make people, like bartenders, happy first.
Your job is making people happy. And then, you leave. If you're lucky, you leave with enough money to get to the next gig. But everyone else in the room has to go first. Like the musicians on the Titanic, you keep people happy even if the ship is sinking.
Paul made it clear. Working in a band is providing a service while making friends. And you can't do that and be a huge dick at the same time. So, while he never said the words, "Don't be a dick", he certainly lived it. He knew it was an honor and a privilege to do this. And learning from him and watching him do what he did was an incredible experience.
That's what it was like meeting Paul Chapman: unforgettable.
Gator Lounge is now called "Gator Complex" and has been in business for over 40 years thanks to Kevin and Terri. If you want to book your gig, call Terri, who runs -tini's. But it's been so many years Kevin wouldn't remember Dennis or me now.
Love & Rockets,
PS. I do have a CD for sale only on my website.