David’s been shaking trees and sometimes looking under rocks for stories for years. The following is one of those stories.
Joe “The Rambo of Rock 'n' Roll” learned the hard way that snakes and dancing don’t really go together.
The last time the entertainer wrapped two pythons around his neck was during one of his Saturday shows at the Toy Tiger, a nightclub outside Louisville. He didn't think anything of it. Why should he? He'd been wrapping the same two snakes around his neck for 12 years, and they'd never turned on him.
He had no reason to imagine that this time, he would end up at the University of Louisville Hospital with the wind squeezed out of him, almost to the point where it was a case of that’s all she wrote.
“This time, he overdid it,” said Dennis Fischer, a bouncer and assistant manager at the Toy Tiger.
“Both those snakes together weigh about 250 pounds. Plus, Joe's in his early 50s now, and you can't be doing this shit forever.”
Joe Savage was unavailable for comment because he was on his wayto his next gig in Wisconsin. But Dennis Fischer provided this eyewitness account:
The Toy Tiger was packed to its 300-person capacity. Most of those in the crowd were ladies, we’ll say. It was around midnight when Joe Savage made his dramatic entrance.
“He looks like a little Telly Savalas, you know, the Kojak guy – and not just because his head is shaved,” Fischer said.
“He has the same features as Telly Savalas. He's about five-eight, and his arms are real hairy. He's in good shape, but you can see he's starting to get a little bitty belly on him.”
Savage had painted his face and head white, like he might be a roadie for Kiss. On top of the white, he'd painted a series of black horizontal stripes. On top of the stripes, he’d glued a narrow swath of hair, Mohawk-style.
He was dressed in a black cape and a matching suit of a stretch material that has “all this metal stuff hanging on it,” Fischer said. Like jagged metal pieces, emblematic of Savage’s disillusionment with the post-modern industrial society. Also, it makes him stand out.
“When he comes out, the girls are scared,” Fischer said.
“People think he looks like a devil worshipper, but he's not. He has a couple songs about life, about smiling and being happy. And he gets real serious on one song where he talks about God.
“But most of the time, he's ornery. He does a lot of Jethro Tull and Metallica. He's one of these performers who goes out in the audience with a bottle of whisky and pours it down peoples’ throats.
“It's a really good show. He has a charisma or something that captivates an audience.”
About 1:25 a.m., Savage began building for his finale. A fog machine, colored laser beams and strobe lights were cranked full bore. Savage opened the box where he keeps his pythons.
“First he grabbed the big snake, which is about 12 feet long and 140 pounds, and he wrapped it around his neck,” Fisher said.
“Then he got the smaller snake and slung it over his shoulder, like a jacket. That’s when he lost his balance.”
It wasn't a gradual loss of balance, Fischer said. It was more like a brick being dropped. In the process, Savage fell on the snakes, causing them to revert to their primitive reptilian jungle instincts. They began constricting around the performer as if he were a succulent wild pig.
“At first, everybody just thought Joe was acting crazy, like it was part of his act,” Fischer said.
“Me, I thought he'd hit his head, the way he was just lying there with his feet sticking out. Then the bass player started freaking and pulling the snake off him. And pretty soon, here come the drummer and keyboard player. So I got in there, too.
“Joe couldn't talk for a while after that. He was still shaking when the ambulance arrived.”
The singer spent four hours in the hospital. On his release, he issued this statement to the Associated Press:
“I'm fine now, but sore. And I have constriction of my throat and chest.”
Fischer said Savage showed up for his show the next night. But he seemed different somehow.
“He wasn't jovial like he usually is,” Fischer said.
“He seemed more serious. And for his finale, he only used the one snake.”