Bill Crow is a legendary bassist who writes a monthly column for my musician’s union magazine. His column contains informative or humorous true anecdotes about musicians, both alive and deceased. This excerpt is from the May 2019 issue:
The New York Times recently published an obituary of an old friend of mine, Johnny Thompson, a musician who was also a magician, working under the name of The Great Thompsoni. He was 84 when he passed on March 9, and for many years had been a dean of magic, advising many younger magicians on tricks of the trade.
He was originally a member of a popular group out of Chicago called the Harmonicats. I met him when he and two other members of that group played a long run at the New York Playboy Club during the years when I was playing there with the Walter Norris Trio.
In John’s magic act, he skillfully transformed silk handkerchiefs into live doves, and then disappeared the doves again. At the Playboy Club he changed the act, playing it for comedy. Our trio was on stage with him, so we became straight men for his wit.
Backstage, John often did close-up magic for visiting magicians. He had delicately shaped hands that were much larger than they seem, and so he was adept at palming coins, cards, rubber balls, etc. He could make moves so skillfully that, even though the magicians in his audience knew how he was making things disappear and reappear, they couldn’t see him doing it.
After working in Chicago and New York, John moved to Las Vegas, got married, and taught his wife to be his assistant in his magic act. He also became the mentor and critic of many of the major magic acts that played Las Vegas.
At the Playboy Club, one of John’s bits was to produce a white dove from a white silk handkerchief, then produce an egg which the dove seemed to have laid. He would open the egg, take out a white silk scarf that was rolled up inside, and from it produce another dove.
An Easter party at the club had left some decorations behind, including a tiny baby duckling made of pipe cleaners and fluff. While John was preparing his props, I slipped the duckling into the prop egg. When he produced the egg onstage and opened it, the duckling was sitting on top of the rolled-up scarf, looking right at him. John did a wonderful job of keeping a straight face.