in the 21st Century
Frees the Captured Rocker
It was the eighth day on the road for Herculena and the Red Giants, the band from Georgia who, in the spring of 1981, were gigging the I-95 tour up and down the East Coast between Atlanta and Boston. They wanted nothing more than to get signed to a major recording deal, and this was their first tour out after working for months to produce and release their own album on a local small indie label.
They were in New York City, crashing at the tenement apartment-turned-home of some old pals from Athens (Georgia) who'd moved to the city a few years ago. That hot afternoon, as they were getting ready to head downtown for a 4 o'clock soundcheck at the Paradise Lounge, the phone rang, with a piece of startling news.
"Vic Varney has been kidnapped" their art professor from back at school was calling to get some help. Vic was, like the members of Herculena and the Red Giants, a former art student. He, also, headed up Athens band, Acting Tractors, at that time a duo ~ Varney on guitar and the drummer.
The Tractors had gone out a couple weeks before on the same circuit, and after they wound up their three-week tour, the drummer went home while Varney stayed behind in New York to soak up more of the rich club subculture, and to make his big play with the music business. He also was hoping to get signed to a big record contract, and coincidentally there was a convention of music types due into town for their annual convention.
Getting signed to a contract with a big advance would mean Herculena and the Red Giants ~ or the Tractors ~ could quit their day jobs and record again, which was why they'd taken off from those jobs at this particular time to play out on the road. This, the last night of the convention, they were being showcased at one of the biggest club venues, as all the A&R reps were in town to look at, and sign, new talent.
"Why would anybody want to kidnap Vic?" asked Randy, the guitarist, as his bandmates listened in. Professor Presidio backed up the story to explain that almost a week ago, Varney had said goodbye to his friend Angel, where he'd been staying, and told her he was off to return to Athens. But another New York friend the professor had just now spoken to said Vic had plans that day after he left Angel's, to meet with the head of A&R at Minotian Records. Minotian was a big money label and was reportedly tied to the Mob.
And now, Varney had missed two days at his job back at Kinko's.
"Seems they wanted Acting Tractors to sign a deal where the label keeps all of Varney's songwriting royalties, and Vic absolutely refused to sign," was the theory. Varney and all his musician friends in bands on the circuit were somewhat naive about record deals, but they knew better than to sell out their publishing rights to the greedy labels. That was what had happened to some of the early rock 'n roll stars who never made it rich, because they'd given up all their future songwriting income just to get out their first record.
But Minotian Records didn't see it exactly that way, and for reasons of their own prerogative, were now apparently holding Varney hostage. Vic was headstrong and stubborn, and known for shedding light on dark situations. He had probably called a spade, a spade, and angered the wrong person.
Professor Presidio had just finished talking to this friend of Vic's who had, like the professor, minutes ago received a distressing message by fax. Apparently Varney had been able to sneak to a fax machine while nobody was looking. The note basically said he was being held there at the label against his will, locked in the same office for a week now.
Herculena, the singer, got on the phone with the professor to ask a couple questions. "What's Minotian's address? Who's their president?" She took down the answers and said to her bandmates, "Hey, finding Vic is more important than this soundcheck, fellas. We gotta go get that cretin now."
"Wait a minute," protested Michael, the bass player. "We've waited years to get this chance to play for the big guns." It was hard for the band to give up their time in the downtown club that afternoon, because they so wanted everything to be perfect that night. But Herculena insisted.
"I won't sing if we don't get Vic back first," she bargained. The Red Giants gave in, albeit reluctantly.
They all piled in their van, parked on W. 45th Street at 9th Avenue, and headed across through Times Square to go downtown. It was a slow, hot ride midtown through the bright lights of Broadway, for it was already rush hour. And traffic was stalled.
After a nervewracking drive they finally pulled up in front of the record company, barged in together, and found their way through the maze of desks and dividers right to the president of the company's office.
Herculena came through the door to enter, and the guys followed behind her. The secretary, not really knowing what was up, immediately said, "He's not in."
"We're here to get Vic Varney, we know you have him. And we'll call the police if you don't let him go right now!" she demanded.
Varney could hear the commotion, so began pounding on the wall to get out. Herculena grabbed the set of keys on the woman's desk and went to unlatch the door while the others restrained her. As soon as she found the right key, Herculena very quickly grabbed Varney. Then everyone ran for the van.
People from the local club scene had come out of the woodwork to find out what was going on and to show their support, for word had spread quickly that Varney was missing after Herculena and the Giants called to cancel their soundcheck.
By the time the band rode to the club through more traffic, flashing lights and hornhonking, people were lined up around the block outside the door of the Paradise to get in. It had been dark out for awhile when H&RG pulled up out front. There was no time for them to do anything but load in, get dressed and up on stage while the crowd moved in to fill the hall.
So to stall for a breather, and to tell people who hadn't yet heard, Herculena walked up to the mic. "Hey everybody. Vic's had an adventure, but he's back safe and sound." A hearty round of applause brought Vic to the stage, and pretty soon Herculena got the Tractors' drummer, who was in the crowd, to join him for a few songs as a warmup. The room ate it up.
With the lights down and the crowd reeling in air conditioned euphoria, Herculena and the Red Giants took the stage now to play. And as the band tuned their instruments, the room hushed in electric anticipation of the loud music to come. When they started playing, Herculena began to dance, gyrating as she sang. Pretty soon the crowd was in a frenzy.
On the high of all the energy in the room that night, the band couldn't do anything wrong. All the people were on their feet dancing, and loving every minute of it. The white lights in the smoky club shone on Herculena as she sang the words, "Everything is, everything is, everything is cool," that warm spring night.
After the third encore, back in the dressing room, there was a knock at the door. In addition to fans and friends wanting in to cheer them, three other visitors had come to pay homage in their respective ways.
The head of A&R for one of the biggest labels right there on the spot was offering Herculena and the Giants a 7-digit, 5-record deal!
Despite their overwhelming desire to sign on the dotted line and assurances they would still own their publishing rights, the band shyly told her they'd have to sleep on their decision. After Varney's experience they didn't want to make a big mistake.
The music editor from the New York Times was there for a scoop. He'd found out earlier in the evening about Varney's mysterious disappearance, and wanted to research the story. Just now he'd heard about the label deal being offered to H&RG so he wanted interviews with the band to use when news of their signing became official. Once word of their stellar set that evening got around, it was inevitable they'd get a deal, no matter which big label they decided to go with.
And an old friend of Professor Presidio's had shown up to take Vic to the airport, so that Vic could get back to Athens in time to go to work at the copy shop the next morning. Despite having to go back to his day job, he loved Athens and was glad to be heading back to the "country." Besides, seeing Herculena and the Red Giants about to get signed to a big contract made him ever more confident, everything IS cool!
In the steamy dressing room, people hugged and kissed. It was getting late. "Thanks for the ride," Vic said to Herculena, just as he was leaving to go to the airport.
She gave him a kiss goodbye, and replied, completely honestly, "Same to you, Vic Varney, you stubborn bull, you! See you back in Athens!"
Loosely based on Alice A. Baileys book, The Labours of Hercules
To read the classical myth, as given by the Tibetan, click here
Color images: Club Pylon, Tokyo
B/W image: from a People Magazine photoshoot of Herculena + the Red Giants, circa 1982
Labours of Hercules is
from the writings of Alice A. Bailey;