One of the best ideas I had during the 15 years I worked with QVC was The QVC Café. It was a late-night show that featured cooking products and food. It aired at 1 AM Eastern Time, Saturday, and had a live audience. Musical acts would be featured and I would sell their recordings and videos after they performed. I would use the cooking products to cook for the audience while selling those products. I would also serve any premade food I was also presenting.
The show took a great deal of preparation. Our set designers, working under the supervision of Bill Fitzpatrick, a real design and theater wizard, created a very cool set, one of the best looking they had done to date.
The show, featured performances from huge acts of the 1990’s like Acoustic Alchemy, the cast of Smoky Joe’s Café and John Tesh (who had an amazing band back then). A true audio master named Jason Lyle handled the live sound for the musical performances. It took a “village” to do the show, as did the rest of the 24/7 live TV for the network.
The first show featured the talented guitar duo from the United Kingdom, Acoustic Alchemy, consisting of Greg Carmichael on nylon string guitar and Nick Webb on steel string. They had quite a few hits in the A New Age/Smooth Jazz genre, back when that was a popular radio format.
When I was talking to the group when Nick asked me if there were any music stores open at the time. Since it was after 9 PM, I knew the stores were closed. I asked him what he needed and he said Fender Medium guitar picks. I told him to follow me and led him to my locker in the host lounge. Since I would play guitar on-air at the drop of a hat or happy dance, I had a gross of the confetti colored Fender Medium picks in my locker. I grabbed a small plastic bag and gave him several dozen picks.
Apparently, the confetti design had not made it to the UK. He noted that he really liked the design as it would be easy to find on the floor if you dropped one. I told him that was why I used them. He was surprised that I had so many in my locker. I told him they were a lot cheaper when you bought them by the gross.
When he joked about me having a set of .11 gauge coated guitar strings (named for the diameter of the first string), he laughed out loud as I produced a set from my locker. I also told him I had a set of 12’s, a small practice amp and a small-bodied travel guitar in there as well. I rarely used my locker for clothes. We went backstage and were joined by Greg. We spent several minutes talking about music. So much so that I didn’t have the opportunity to thoroughly examine the ice cream that had been made from an ice cream maker I would be presenting.
When the show started, I joked about starting the show by serving desert to the audience. Unfortunately, they had made the ice cream the night before and stored it in our professional freezer. It was frozen harder than steel reinforced concrete. I bent the first scoop almost in half. I laughed and so did the audience. I was silently freaking out since this was the first show and this could have been disastrous. I took the frozen container to the closest table and told them they could take turns licking the top.
I grabbed the second container, still extolling the virtues of homemade ice cream and the unit we were selling and took a large kitchen knife and a meat tenderizer hammer and proceeded to chisel out 4 servings for the next table. I told this group that they should wait for the ice cream to soften before they tried to eat it. I noted that since it was Saturday morning, it should be thawed by late afternoon on Tuesday. I guess America liked the humor because the ice cream maker sold out as I was showing people how to add the ingredients to it.
Acoustic Alchemy was amazing. Their CDs sold out. I mistimed their performance and we had to fade them out before the next show started so I couldn’t say goodbye to them on-air. But obviously it didn’t matter to the viewers. I was delighted that we were able to introduce Acoustic Alchemy’s music to the thousands of people who saw them and bought their CD’s.
Many of the products in the show sold out. It was a success. Sadly, even though it would continue to do very well, the powers-that-be cancelled it because it was very labor intensive and they were afraid that the music (which they called “rock and roll”) would offend our core audience.
After the show, Nick asked me if I would go the hotel and have a drink with them. Since it was after 2 AM, I told him that the bar at the hotel was closed, but that “Steve’s Café” was open. I took them back to my locker in the host lounge. Nick told Greg that I probably had a full functioning pub in my locker. When we got there, I showed them the bottles I kept at the rear of the locker. I had a 21-year-old Scotch, a bottle of fine, boutique Bourbon and miniatures of red and white wine. They opted for some Kentucky sippin’ whisky. I also kept some good glassware there. We talked and drank for an hour and the limo took them back to their hotel.
A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from Nick. He said he was grateful for the hospitality and the opportunity to present their music on QVC. He also said he was still using the picks I had given to him. He went on and on about the confetti design and told me that no one in England had ever seen them. It was a couple of years before the onset of email so we became snail mail pen pals.
He invited me to their next Philadelphia performance which was at a major outdoor concert venue in the area. I took him up on the invitation and even got backstage passes. After the show, they asked me to come back to their hotel in Philadelphia for a drink. Since it was only 10:30, the bars were open. We had a drink and talked music. Although I didn’t see them often, Nick had become a good friend along with Greg.
A year later I heard that Nick had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At the end he was even too weak to play the guitar. He passed away in February of 1998. I found out too late to fly over and attend his funeral.
He was a great friend. You never know what’s going to bond two people in friendship, Many would say it was music with Nick and me. While that certainly played a part, I think it’s simpler than that. It was a confetti colored Fender Medium guitar pick that initially forged our friendship. I still use them today and sometimes think of Nick and smile when I do. And even though my eyes (and the rest of me) are more than 20 years older, they’re still just as easy to find when I drop them, which I do a lot more often these days. Bending over to pick them up is another story.
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and reposted on any online site or read aloud on any audio media without the express permission of the author.