Behind the Platinum
By Jordan Waldmeier | 2/16/2015
Exposure: To Shed Light Upon. This Is Our Declaration.
Walking down the street, we pass many people. Have you ever wondered who those people are? Sure, we know a select few, but for everyone else: we tend to pass off as strangers. Have you ever thought about their life, their experiences, their journey? That person; maybe they are fighting an addiction, maybe they saved a life last night, maybe they wrote the song that you are singing in your head, maybe they walked on the moon. We are all human, we have infinite potential. Do not think of any person as lesser than ordinary, we are all capable of being extraordinary. That being stated; for this premiere issue of Exposure Magazine, I was given the honor of interviewing an incredible man. A man from Basile, LA who now resides in Lake Charles. You might ask, what makes this man so incredible? What is his story? Allow me to expose a man who is more than meets the eye... Mr. Ed Fruge'.
"We All Have Governing Moments In Our Lives"
With one simple question, we were treated with a nearly two-hour long story of Ed's life. To begin, let's start with Ed's father, Hubert Fruge, a piano technician, who happened to be blind. He lost his sight in his early twenties, but not his wonderful sense of humor. Ed recalls watching television one night as a child when his father walked into the living room and said, "turn that light off, Eddie, it blinds me," then turned around and walked off.
Hubert was sent to The School For The Blind in Baton Rouge where he was taught to read, write, play piano and saxophone from Braille, as well as how to repair and tune pianos. His heightened sense of hearing, due to his lack of sight, made him the ideal candidate for piano tuning and repair (not to say that it was an easy task). Hubert eventually moved his family the Evangeline Parish farm property, inherited from his father, into the town of Basile. It was there that he opened his piano business, Fruge's Piano House, where he would purchase, salvage, repair, and sell pianos.
The youngest of five, Ed's musical education began at the tender age of three. With the training from his father, he began to master the craft of repairing and tuning pianos; an instrument consisting of 20,000 moving parts. By the age of seven he was helping his father tune pianos at local schools, churches, and people's homes; all while building an understandable resentment towards his father, for having taken his childhood away. Ed recalls: "I can still remember my young apprenticeship which involved tuning piano string unisons and octaves for 3 to 4 hours everday after school while I could hear other children in the neighborhood yelling and having fun." One day, Ed dropped a screw while repairing a broked hammer from a piano action, and he asked his father, "Dad, what do you do when you drop a screw?" His father simply replied, "I don't." This taught Ed that he can be meticulous, but only if he chooses to be.
By the age of nine, Ed had [unknowingly] become a bit of a businessman, setting up and arranging appointments by phone. Because they had no vehicle, as part of the deal they had to be picked up by their clients. One particular day, at the age of eleven, Ed's father decided to send him on a job by himself for the first time. Ed exclaimed his fear of being kidnapped, but his father responds, "Why? We don't have any money." Ed was picked up by the client, piano tool case in hand, and taken to a small church in the deep woods of Ville Platte. Every mile brought Ed farther and farther from civilization; his anxiety rising with each passing tick of the odometer. Finally, the destination was reached – a small barn with a cross on it where a new small country church had just been established. After three hours of working on the piano, Ed's job was done. He brushes his hands and says, "That'll be $72.50." When he arrived back home, he excitedly told his father, "Dad we made $72.50 today!" His father softly responded back with, "That's your money," to which Ed immediately quipped, “when’s the next job?”A generous experience that became a governing moment in his life.
"I Had No Doubt, I Was Going To College"
With no car and no money, Ed knew, be it intuitively or divine, that he would go to college. He attended the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, which was then known as USL. When he was there, he formed a band called Penny Arcade. Ed was no stranger to being in a band. He had been playing in bands since he was eleven. As a kid, he played piano and sang in nightclubs all throughout the area, making $50-$100 a night. All throughout college he played in a band and tuned pianos to afford his schooling. Five days a week he would attend classes from 8am to 12pm, religiously have a burger and an orange for lunch, tune three pianos for $50 each, and would study the rest of the night. Friday and Saturday he would play gigs making $400/weekend. By the time he graduated college, with a degree in mechanical engineering, he had saved $10,000. He gained a new perspective of his father's methods, and thanked and forgave him for his perceived loss of his childhood years. "He had taught me the value of hard work, and a trade skill that allowed me to make and save money and put myself through college," Ed recalls. He had taught him to be independent and self-sustaining.
"To Work For GE, or To Not Work For GE?"
With his college degree in hand, he had a choice; either work for GE in Kansas City, for $910 a month, or hit the road making $500 a week playing music with his band. Ed chose the road. He and his band Southern Comfort were playing as the opening act for well-known headliners. Eventually, Ed and the band ending up working in Los Angeles (the music and film Mecca), thus fulfilling one of his goals. While warming up for a show one day, he caught a glimpse of a band, which was a little further down the path he had found himself on. They looked worn-down; exhausted from years of chasing what Ed considered to be "the wrong dream". At that moment, it dawned on him that that was not what he wanted. He did not want to be forty-five years old, playing the same circuits, with the same "humdrum" cover-tunes ordered by the club owners. It looked to be a dead-end, one that would inevitably keep him from his true passion, producing and writing original music. Having made the hard decision to leave the band he had started, he headed back home to Louisiana, to which he hadn't seen in four years. Ed arrived home with a new career outlook. He had two options: Become a teacher (Ed loves the feeling of teaching, even to this day); or purchase Lake Charles Music from the retiring owner. As fate would have it, Lake Charles Music was sold to him for $10,000, ironically the same amount he had saved up during his relentless college years.
He originally wanted to own the Lafayette Music store. It was nothing against Lake Charles, but he had already established 5 years of relationships while attending college there. However, after extensive research, he saw that Lake Charles was in dire need of a music store that didn't just sell instruments and accessories. The demand was the result of some 250+ churches in the area. Ed began by selling pianos and sound systems, to include his old band's equipment, and tuning local music teachers' pianos. After three months of owning the store, business was doing great, but one day the landlord informed Ed that he had just signed a ten-year contract with a computer company, and needed Ed to vacate the Broad Street building immediately. With much disbelief and disappointment, Ed drove around town looking for a new location, and stumbled upon a complex off of Ryan Street. He was given the news on Friday, by Sunday he was moved into his new location, and opened his doors on Monday. With the sudden detachment from his old location, Ed was sure he was doomed for failure. But within the first month at his new higher traffic location, Ed's business tripled. A defining moment for Ed, showing him to be open to possibilities that he'd not thought of. Ed clarifies: “When we are prideful and think 'my way is the only way', we can miss opportunities and we suffer while on life’s journey.” “Being open and vulnerable to possibilities brings about peace, learning and growth.”
It is now 1980, Ed has owned the store for three years and it has become a great success due in great part to a talented staff which included his brother Gerald Fruge and his wife Joy Fruge. By now, he had created a well-oiled music store machine. One day Ed received a phone call from one of his Louisiana musician friends who had moved out to Los Angeles. He was now singing in one of Ed’s favorite college bands Three Dog Night and they were looking for another keyboard player. He said if you are interested, come out and join the band, thus giving Ed an opportunity he had been dreaming about for years. As grateful as he was for his store, it still wasn't exactly what he wanted to be doing with his life at that time. He wanted to create, produce and play music. With the offer at hand, and the confidence that his store would thrive in his temporary absence, he headed off to Los Angeles to chase a dream.
(Now, this is a story so crazy and awesome, that we at Exposure feel it rightfully deserves it’s own article. Sorry for the intermission, Jordan. Please continue with your most excellent story.)
Though the Three Dog Night gig didn't pan out, Ed had established a network of friends and connections in Los Angeles, whom he began recording with. The well-being of his store still on his mind, Ed was commuting back and forth between Lake Charles and L.A. As the years passed, the rent on his building was steadily rising. He was given many offers to buy more music stores in bigger cities, but he had no desire to simply be a music retailer. Ed decided to build Lake Charles Music Plaza, a musical complex fit for a dream. The Lake Charles Music retail store was expanded to include pianos, keyboard, sound systems, guitars, amps, drums, recording gear, band instruments, and home audio/video equipment and music lessons. One year later, EMF Productions, a “state of the art recording studio’ was built in the Lake Charles Music Plaza. This new music production space would allow Ed to now write record, produce and publish music on a professional scale. This music complex, to this day, remains an icon in Lake Charles.
Hearts On Fire
While Ed was in L.A. working with his new pop/rock band Cajun, one of his band-mates, Vince DiCola, finds an ad in the newspaper stating the Frank Stallone (Yes, Sylvester's brother) is starting a band. Vince auditions and is accepted into Franks new band. Vince and Frank began writing songs for the movie Staying Alive, as Ed and Vince were recording songs for Cajun. Following the success of Frank and Vince's music for Staying Alive, Frank decides to take his music on tour, but they needed another keyboardist. Vince approached Ed with a list of thirty songs and says, “We start touring in two weeks.” Ed decided to video tape Vince playing all of the parts he would have to learn in order to be ready in such a short period of time. It seemed like an overwhelming challenge, but Ed was ready by the time they left to go on tour. It would appear as if the work ethic instilled in him by his father had paid off once again. They began a six week tour, as the opener for Little River Band.
Before the tour, Ed and Vince were introduced to Sylvester Stallone, while he was producing Frank’s first music video of the band. Sly (as his friends call him) noticed that Frank's music was becoming more sophisticated, and approached Robin Garb (Frank's manager), to find out how why. Robin pointed to Vince and Ed on stage during one of the music video takes. Robin was also the music supervisor for, the yet to be released, Rocky IV. Robin sent a copy of the screenplay to Vince and Ed, so they could produce a demo in Ed’s studio. So, Vince and Ed, with the help of a 17-piece McNeese Orchestra, produced a demo tape consisting of three songs: Training Montage, War, and Hearts on Fire. Robin sold the idea to Sly to add “new/fresh” songs instead of the standard orchestral music associated with films at that time. While discussing who’ll do the music for “Rocky IV,” Robin asks Sly to listen to something he had on cassette. Sly puts the tape in a Walkman and begins to jump up and down. Excitingly he asked, “Who is this?” Robin replied with, “It’s Vince and Ed.” Sly's response was, “No Way! I want them to score the film.” It was a subtle victory.
Yes, these young, “small town” musicians just landed a multi-million dollar movie franchise's musical score. Something that people strive to achieve, and oftentimes fail. As if working with time-sensitive materials isn't stressful enough; imagine working with editors, producers, and the ever-changing minds of filmmakers. It required a lot of hard work and many long-hour days, but they managed to achieve their goal; producing a soundtrack that is, still to this day, enjoyed by the masses. Even I find myself often listening to their work while exercising in the gym. After the success of Rocky IV, Ed has worked on many other film projects, including the original Transformers animated movie. All throughout this journey, one thing remained; home.
Why Lake Charles?
“Making it big (double platinum), you’d think you'd want to be in Los Angeles or New York City," Ed says. He continued with, "I realized when I stayed too long in the city (Los Angeles), that I would start to become a different person - sort of arrogant and decadent; I felt Hollywood.” Lake Charles was his safe-haven, and returning here kept him grounded. Being over there he always knew he had somewhere to come back to, where he was not at the mercy of the grueling “Hollywood” game playing. He did, however, enjoy the feeling of being exotic in a foreign land. “Fruge’! He’s from Louisiana, man! They got cool music and great food there!” people from California would say.
Advances in technology now allow Ed the freedom to do the same production work from the comfort of his home studio or from his EMF Productions recording studio, where he is free from the (sometimes) overbearing personality of the City of Angels. Recently Ed has partnered with some of his L.A. contacts, which includes Lake Charles native Michael McGowan, to form a Louisiana film company, LA2La Productions. Their film company has 5 movies slated for production in Lake Charles in the near future. One of Ed’s primary jobs is to compose and score music for their franchise films. Ed closes with, "Los Angeles is great in doses, but Lake Charles offers me a sense of safety, spirituality, community, culture and authenticity...An essence which is hard to find elsewhere."
A Note From the Editor
I love drums more than Sir Mix-A-Lot likes big butts.
When I heard that Lake Charles Music was looking for someone to manage their drum department, I put on my only tuxedo (dress for success), and rushed down to see if I would prove to be the Chosen One. I have walked through those glass doors more times than I can count, but this time was different. As soon as my hand touched the handle, I was brought back to the very first time I entered that sanctuary.
I was nine years old, and my father took me there to buy Nirvana's "Nevermind" album. The store is still rather large, but I remembered it as a kid would remember Disneyworld; even super-huger, with more monster trucks and explosions. As I waited for my interview, I began to realize how significant that store is, not just to me, but to our community as a whole. Businesses come and go, but Lake Charles Music - as far as I am concerned - has been there forever. I'm pretty sure it was the first establishment in our little town; probably doubled as a general store/saloon at some point. As Lake Charles grew, changed, lost, and found its identity, Lake Charles Music was there. It was the weak, yet promising heartbeat of our music scene, well before we had an ear for Rock n Roll. Places like this define towns like ours, and I felt privileged to be considered for employment.
As I boarded the elevator to the second floor, I remembered standing in that very spot with my father, anxiously waiting to see the music selection. I wonder if my dad knows how significant that moment was to me. The doors opened and I was directed towards Mr. Fruge's office. He greeted me with an authentic smile, and handshake; motioning for me to take a seat. He asked me the typical questions you'd expect during an interview, but before he began his inquiry-sequence, he asked me to tell him a little about myself. That, in and of itself, is nothing spectacular, but as I began telling him my story, I couldn't help but sense that he genuinely wanted to learn about me as a person, not just a candidate for employment.
It would have seemed as if the stars had aligned, and I would soon be surrounded by/talking about drums all day. But I am an honest man. It was with great pain that I revealed to Mr. Fruge that I was not the Golden Child; nor could bring little, dancing Pepsi-can men to life. I had to come clean, and disclose my true intentions...to be an astronaut, or President/Editor-in-Chief of a radical magazine. We both knew my ambition would inevitably lead to my abrupt departure, and a subsequent employee replacement process.
We took a moment to come to grips with the realization of my shortcomings, but we continued to talk about the magazine and my fascination with passionate people. He humbly told me about his past and his love for producing and creating music. I couldn't have found a better person to interview for our first printed issue of Exposure Magazine. I was unaware of just how far Mr. Fruge had chased his passion until I mentioned my adventure to my guitar player/great friend, Eric Richard. Eric filled in the details that Mr. Fruge had modestly left out. It was at that point, I realized that I had been brought to his office by some sort of underdog-destiny.
A great interviewee deserves a great interviewer. If you had the pleasure of reading my Rootbeer and Mermentau interview, you'd understand why I felt the need to pass the storytelling torch to more capable hands. The first and only candidate was the Great Jordan Waldmeier. I guarantee you can’t find a better writer to tell this saga, even if you looked for one.
I'm still not sure how any of this will help me when I'm an astronaut. I really wish we would've talked more about outer space, but sometimes, you just have to live in the moment.
We are honored to share this story with each and every one of you; even all of you who like our magazine, but won't take the time to subscribe. Seriously though, it only takes a couple seconds. We understand that sometimes it is very painful to type your name into our tidy little information blocks in the subscribe section. I even called 911 to have an ambulance on stand-by when Calvin created that page. For those of you who risked life-and-limb to join our team; expect great rewards in the near future. We will be hosting events this year, and they’ll be free for you. It’s the least we could do.
As always, thanks for reading, and thanks for your support (for all you non-subscribers, thank you for reading only).
Astronaut Enthusiast/Editor-in-Chief, Exposure Magazine
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