Confessions of a Starstruck Cruise Ship Performer

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When I tell someone about our past of being performers on a cruise ship, I’m fully ready for the token follow up question: “What’s it like to work on a cruise ship??”

You would think by now I had my answer down to a memorized monologue, but that’s just never been the case. While I know the question is certain to come, to this day it’s one that’s almost overwhelming to try and put into an appropriately-short reply. My mind is instantly flooded with memories of extreme sunburns from the beaches of Cozumel and $1 crew bar beers. I’m brought back to my endless breakdowns of being vocally exhausted and beyond sick of the weird food we as crew members get fed. I also could never reflect back on such times without viscerally remembering what it was like to fall madly in love for the final time when I found my person.

Difficult as it may be to best describe the odd parallel universe that is ‘life on ships’, I still love to do my best to paint the picture of our experiences as best as I can.

As a person who loves engaging with people, one of the greatest parts of the job was mingling with the guests after performances. On a Carnival Cruise Ship you NEVER know what you’re gonna get, but they all come with one common goal… to PAR—TAY!

Among the many stories I could tell you about these crazy cruisers, and believe me, I have some doozies, one of my favorites was getting to meet the world famous drummer, Bernard Purdie!  (Little did I know at the time that a few years down the road, I’d be picking up a pair of sticks myself!)

Now, I’m not surprised if most of you have no idea who that is…to be totally honest, I wasn’t exactly sure at first either. I had heard the term “The Purdie Shuffle” in college amongst my friends at Berklee, but would have never put the pieces together on my own. However, the other musicians on board were acting like little 12 year old school girls at a Justin Bieber concert over this guy so I knew he was someone big! Without the convenience of Google to save me while at sea, I had to fess up and ask my over-intelligent-judgy-band mates, “Who is Bernard Purdie?”  Which, as expected, was met with tall glasses of eye-rolls before offering me such prevy insight.

They informed me that Bernard Purdie is one of the most recorded session drummers of all time! He was the creator of the “Purdie Shuffle” and the “Bernard Purdie Half-Time Shuffle”. He’s played drums for many legends like The BeatlesJames Brown, and BB King. He also acted as Aretha Franklin’s Music Director for 5 years. To sum it up, I realized that I’ve been listening to him play drums on some of my favorite tracks my entire life, and just never knew it!

Well, once my band mates name dropped Aretha Franklin, I was done!!! Aretha was always one of my biggest influences and all-time favorite artists’! I melted at the idea that someone as close to her as her music director was within reach to me, and I just had to make an impression!!!

However, being the rambling word-fumbling girl that I am, I was way too nervous to go talk to him directly. So I did what any intelligent woman would…I got chummy with his now wife, Celia! She was an enthusiastic New Jersey woman who much reminded of me of my Northern parents and relatives.

Once I mustered up the courage to meet Bernard himself, he was one of the most endearing and humble men I have EVER met! He complimented my performance style way beyond what a man of his status needed to, and while I can’t be certain as I think I was having an out-of-body experience, he even compared my sassy presence and gritty vocals to ARETHA herself! WHHHHHHAT!!!? I’m DEAD!

As the cruise went on and we were all able to better control our giddy nerves when he came around, we had the opportunity to really get to know him on a deeper level than one would expect from an old dog who’s just trying to take a vacation. He happily answered questions and offered up advice about our crazy business and before we knew it, he was on stage, sitting in as our drummer for some of the most famous songs that he himself is responsible for bringing to life! Have you heard of a little song called R.E.S.P.E.C.T? Yeah we played that one with him. No big deal. 😉

Yes, this cruise was definitely one for the books and probably the memory I go to more often than ever these days, as I continue to hone my new craft and love for the drums. It was also one of those experiences that reinforced the golden rule of performing; Always give it your ALL at ALL times …cause you NEVER know who’s in that audience!!!

I often wonder how much the experience of meeting such a famously talented and kind drummer had to do with how my life is unfolding with the same instrument. In any case, I can’t wait for the day that our paths cross again and I can share with him just how musically defining his presence and warmth was to me on that cruise.

Do you have an amazing vacation story of your own? Was there an event that you look back on now from the past that helped steer you towards the path you’re on now, even though you didn’t know it at the time? Brandon and I would love to hear about it! Leave a comment below…



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