Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Percussionist King Errisson tried “four walling” at a downtown Las Vegas casino a few years ago and lost $40,000 in four weeks.
He decided he’d stick with his regular gig, in Neil Diamond’s band, rather than renting performance space.
“That was the end of me trying to ‘four wall’ anything,” says the 66-year-old native of Nassau, Bahamas. “The hotel was giving out vouchers for people to come in free and I got to pay the bartender and the cocktail waitresses. I’m losing money. A blind man can count better than that, so I just stopped. I’ll never do it again. That was an egotistical piece for me, an expensive lesson.”
Errisson, a Las Vegas resident for more than 20 years, doesn’t need to rely on local engagements for his income.
He’s been touring with Diamond for more than 30 years and owns a fishing resort, the Pestell Beach Resort, on remote Acklins Island in the Bahamas. A veteran studio musician, he also has recorded several albums of his own, including “L.A. Bound,” “Magic Man,” “Global Music” and “Nice.” His latest, “Conga Serenade,” a nostalgic collection of music from his past including “Bongo Rock” and “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band.
Errisson’s colorful youth was spent growing up in Nassau.
“Growing up in the Bahamas was like growing up in paradise,” he says. “I never had the same problem as black American kids. We had our racism there but it wasn’t slapped in your face. We grew up free people and happy people. It made my life in America so much easier because I didn’t allow any of the foolishness to get to me. I was not raised with that stuff.”
His industrious father owned three grocery stores, which were managed by Errisson’s mother and aunts, but traveled the island selling fish and Avon products.
“He would go up to the docks and buy a box of fish every morning at 5 o’clock and put those into a cart and ride around the Nassau island on his bicycle and sell fish all day,” Errisson says. “When he emptied the cart of fish he would take the same cart, wash it out with Joy soap, spruce it up with some perfume and stuff, fill it up with Avon products and go around the same circuit he had spent all day selling fish and he would sell Avon. When he was finished by 8 or 9 in the evening he sat down in the shop with mom till they closed down and he’d go home. I grew up with a guy who liked making money, knew how to make money and nothing was beneath him when it came to making money, providing for his wife and kids.”
Errisson learned to play drums by beating on lard cans and boxes in his father’s stores. “That’s how I got together with my music,” he says.
His first musical inspiration was Berkley “Peanuts” Taylor, who was playing in Nassau’s Tropicana club. Errisson was a teenager when he asked Taylor to give him lessons. “He said he was too busy,” Errisson says. “So I turned to the radio and listened.”
He worked as a jockey during the day and played in a band at the Conch Shell, earning a $1.50 a night. Later, he began playing on the island of Bimini and traveled to Miami with dancer “Sweet Richard” Dean.
As Errisson made a name for himself, he traveled the world with bands and picked up session work in studios in Los Angeles. He became disenchanted when President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and moved back to Nassau. He formed a band that played in the Conch Shell, the same club he played in as a teenager.
“One night in walked Sean Connery,” Errisson says. “I heard Sean Connery say, ‘That’s the guy there.’ I didn’t know what he was talking about, but right then he was casting me to play in the James Bond movie ‘Thunderball.’ ”
Soon after he returned to Los Angeles as session musician. He became a favorite on Motown sessions on the West Coast and worked with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Jackson Five. He also has recorded with Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Cannonball Adderley and Ringo Starr.
Errisson became close friends with Ben Barrett, who put musicians together for studio work and needed some overdubbing on a Diamond album. He brought in Errisson, who became friends with Diamond as a result of the session. Diamond invited Errisson to join his group in 1975.
“I only took the job because studio work was going to hell,” he said. “The need for live players was going away.”
He rehearsed with Diamond for several weeks before the superstar decided to take a year off. “That was OK because I was busy with Diana Ross and Tony Orlando and Dawn and some others. Also I was finishing my album ‘Magic Man,’ ” Errisson says.
He went on tour with Diamond in 1977 and has been with him ever since.
“It has become my life,” Errisson says. “I have no regrets.”
Diamond tours for a year and takes a year off. He goes back on the road in January.
The tours always end at the MGM Grand, which inevitably fuels rumors that Diamond will become a Vegas headliner.
“It’s too much work,” Errisson says. “I perform with Jay White (Diamond tribute artist at the Riviera) three days and it’s very tiring. I can see why (Diamond) wouldn’t want to do it.”
In addition to his other interests, Errisson was involved with the Incredible Bongo Band for more than 30 years. The instrumental group was formed in 1972 by Michael Viner, who died a couple of months ago. Errisson is working with a producer from Canada to make a film about the band.
The percussionist doesn’t take credit for all of his accomplishments.
“Everything that has happened I must say is 100 percent luck and 200 percent God, because he gave me the talent.”