Johnny Carson & Buddy Hackett
My first appearance on "The Tonight Show" was a memorable day.
I met Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Doc Severinson, the fabulous Tonight
Show Band, Tonight Show producer Freddie DeCordova, and Buddy
Hackett. I was playing piano with Michael Martin Murphey and we were
slated to perform his #1 hit "Long Line of Love". At the afternoon
rehearsal, they asked us to prepare a second song for later in the show and
Michael picked "You're History". A good choice for me, as I had co-written
the song with Michael and would be featured with a piano solo.
Standing in the "green room" waiting area just minutes before the show began, I turned and was surprised to
see Johnny Carson standing right next to me. He said hi, and I introduced myself. Knowing that he'd recently had
a falling-out with his long-time lawyer, "Bombastic Bushkin", I asked if I could tell him a lawyer riddle. He said,
"Sure, lay it on me." I asked, "What's the difference between a rooster and a lawyer?" "I don't know", he
replied. I answered, "Well, a rooster clucks defiance..."
He laughed, then said, "Yea, you got that right".
At the commercial break just before our performance, I was to walk out and stand next to the piano, (being
played by Ross Tompkins) while the Tonight Show Band tore through one of their incredible arrangements for
the commercial break. I can't describe how surreal it was to stand directly behind Doc Severinson, looking over
his shoulder at his music as he was playing. The power and the swing that the band played with were immense, and
standing in the middle of it all was an "out-of-body experience".
A similar "I'm not really here" feeling happened during our performance when I looked up from the keyboard
to see Johnny Carson, 20 feet away, staring at me.
After our song, Buddy Hackett absolutely stole the show, telling his famous "You can have the duck" joke,
among others. Buddy liked to tell the audience a dirty joke during the commercial break, then when back on the
air, would tell a clean joke that started with the same opening line as the dirty one. Of course, this would get a
howl from the audience. As was common with the Carson Tonight Show, if one guest was on a roll, they would
bump later acts to let them continue. The producers scratched our second song, which was disappointing. We
didn't realize however, that this show would become a classic "Best of Carson" and would rerun several more
times over the years. We got to be part of a classic Carson show and we got paid each time it was rerun, so it
worked out pretty well after all.
Throughout the day, I had been talking with Buddy Hackett in the halls and he was regaling me with stories of
working in the Catskills in the '50's with Harry Belafonte, Sinatra, etc. As he finally turned to leave at the end
of the night, I called out to him, "Hey, Mr. Hackett, you know the difference between a rooster and a lawyer?"
He spun around and quipped, "Not much!" I laughed and let it go at that, but a minute later, his comedian's
curiosity got the better of him. He walked back down the hall, tapped me on the shoulder and asked, "O.K. kid,
so what is the difference between a rooster and a lawyer?" I told him and he walked away, rubbing his chin and
chuckling. He turned back and pointed at me, saying "Yea, that's a good one. Thanks."
As we flew out of LAX that night and coasted over the endless twinkling lights of Los Angeles, I looked at my
watch and realized that the show was airing. I tried to imagine how many of those homes were tuned in,
watching us perform, and laughing at Carson and Buddy Hackett.
Buddy and Johnny are gone, but the day I got to spend watching them work is my favorite "show-biz" memory.