Back in the early 1980's I was asked by head of Disney park talent (Kevin Frawly) if I was interested in performing at Disneyland /Anaheim with my band, then called, The Nightriders. We were a 5 piece country band at the time, and featured Stand-up bass, Steel Guitar, Lead Guitar, Drums and Sax/Piano. Of course being a total Disney freak, even as a young man, I jumped at the chance. I had booked my band in all kinds of venues, from night clubs to state fairs, and rodeos to house parties. We played everything and anything we thought was fun, and to earn some fun cash.
The boys in the band thought of our soon to be booking at Disney as just another gig, but for me it was a dream come true. How many of you have wanted to work at the park in some capacity at some time? I think all of us would say yes. Not only was I going to work at Disneyland, and get paid well, I was going to be an entertainer at Disneyland, the happiest place on earth! So I was really looking forward to playing there. Excitement, almost bordering on a religious experience, had me really amped up for the performances.
I soon found out we were going to be playing at "The Golden Horseshoe". Holly smoke, I was elated and surprised at the same time! The Golden Horseshoe? Wait a minute, umm I think that is Wally Boag and Betty Taylor's hang out, there must be some mistake? I was becoming quite nervous and I promptly called Mr. Frawly to see if there was a mix up? "He replied" no, the Horseshoe Revue is going on hiatus and they needed some fill in bands to run the show until they were back. Kevin stated that he wanted us and another band to fill in during this time.
Holly smoke! I was honored and also horrified at the thought that we were taking the place of this great show and funny cast. The Horseshoe Revue started way back in July 1955 and featured the best comical show this side of the Pecos for years. Wally Boag (the show's funny man) was amazing, and as the years went by, he was responsible for writing many of the shows and gags that entertained guests from all over the world. Wally and the cast made many cameo appearances in many Disney films and television shows, and you can spot them today on vintage DVD collections.
Anyhow back to us, I really could not get my head around how we would go over at the horseshoe. We were a top notch dance band, full of talent and charisma, but we did not have a funny humorous show. Also note, I said we were a "dance band". Well as most of you know there was no dancing at the Golden Horseshoe at this time.
So I accepted the gig knowing well I was entering a venue that was new to us and a bit uncomfortable. I arrived at our gig about two-hours before show time. Loading equipment through the back gate was a real treat for me, seeing props and old ride parts stacked up in corners was just magic. Once arriving at the backstage door of the Golden Horseshoe, it was very apparent that is was a hallowed place were talented people spent many hours entertaining the masses. It was kind of like walking on the original "Grand ole Opry stage" it had a definite mystic to it. If I remember, it was mostly all wood, dark red curtains, very clean and very professional. We were led to the dressing rooms and I could not help but think what it was like being around back in the opening days of the original cast putting on their make-up for a show.
The first thing that struck me was it reminded me of back stage at the Muppet Show. Remember the Muppet TV show? They were always back stage getting ready for the show, and this came close to it. We set up our gear on the stage, being told by the stage manager not to make much noise. The curtains opened to an empty room and we were introduced to the sound man who promptly told us we would not need much in the way of guitar amps because the room was so loud. He was right, I never have ever played with my amp on the setting of (1). As we finished we were told to follow the stage manager to the employee commissary. Once outside my drummer lit up a cigarette, and our host immediately told him to put it out, she stated we were "On Stage" and that before we entered the doors to the commissary, many people would ask us to take photos with them. I did not believe this statement, but she was right, before we got near commissary we must had taken 6 sets of family photos. This kind of blew me away because no one even knew who we were? I guess it was those matching jackets.
As we walked through the doors of the food court, every employee there stopped what they were doing and looked at us like we were fresh meat. We kind of blew it off, ate, and returned to the saloon for our first show. As I said before, I thought we would go over like a lead balloon. Sad to say I was right. The curtains opened with our first song and I could see on the guest's faces that this was not what they expected. My heart sank but I tried not to show it. See I found out later they had never told the guests that the show had changed. Many people rushed out of their seats to ask the saloon employees what had happened to the review. I felt bad for them trying to explain our purpose there and for the guests expecting the former show.
After the curtains closed to polite applause, I felt like dying. Even the boys in the band knew something was amiss. The stage manager came back to say we did a good job, but I was not buying it. I went home that night knowing that I had to create some kind of quick show to entertain the guests for the next day. I quickly changed the song line ups, wrote some gags and thought I would turn my sax player loose to walk on guest tables and such.
We opened the next day with me on my fiddle, stupid gags, and my sax player running around the building. We were met with a thunderous applause, and every day after that was the same. I could finally take a breath of success! The other band and us took turns playing, us one week, them the other. We ended up being the favorite, and that led to more Disney work In LA for Toy Story. However that is for another article down the road.
The Golden Horseshoe review never returned to the saloon after our short tour, it was replaced by The "Golden Horseshoe Jamboree Show". This show starred Judi Wallace, Judy Bell, John Eaden and many others. One thing I cherish is the memories of working there, friends I met, and the professionalism of the stage managers and soundmen. Five minutes to curtain Three minutes places!
Steven grew up in Orange County. He worked as an entertainer at Disneyland and in Los Angeles on Disney films.
Steven Orsinelli Can Be Contacted at:
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