Welcome to another Music Monday! Every installment, I’ll be bringing you a different artist talking about how they stay healthy on the road. This series is part of a larger project I am working on in conjunction with the nonprofit, WhyHunger, which works to fight hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment. If you have the time, take a look at their site, and please feel free to share this with your social networks, especially with your music-loving friends!
Today I have Alan Mandel, who toured with rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef from 1978-2000, playing keyboard, tenor saxophone, and providing some vocals. At times, that meant anywhere from 4 to 7 weeks on the road at a time.
One of Mandel’s main motivators for staying healthy while on tour with Sleepy was having the energy to keep up with the veteran rocker. “During his performances, you have to concentrate because you don’t know what song is coming, what key, what tempo it’s going to be in,” says Mandel.
Another issue was his cardiovascular health. “I never had a big sweet tooth, and I was never much for deep-fried food, but when my father died during quadruple bypass surgery in 1983, I had my cholesterol checked and it was off the charts—the doctors actually tested it a second time to make sure it wasn’t a lab error.” At the time, statin drugs weren’t available, so Mandel went on what he describes as “a diet of broccoli, millers bran, and miso soup.” As he got the hang of things, he learned to swap steak topped with melted butter for egg whites and other lean proteins.
“It can be difficult on the road,” he admits, “but Sleepy has a good nose. He’s been touring since the 1950’s, so he knows lots of off-the-beaten path places where you can get a better meal than your typical fast-food restaurant.” This often led them to places like cafeterias, cafes, and diners, mostly in New England and in the South. Aside from the dietary advantages, Mandel enjoyed soaking up the local color. “Being Jewish and growing up in the northeast, it’s a different culture. The conversations you overhear there are very local, having to do with trucks, farms, and small-town [talk] you wouldn’t hear in New York, which tends to be more financial, more about professional concerns than your down home everyday stuff.”
“In waffle houses, I was able to get chicken filets with egg whites and grits. At buffets you can get vegetables and local poultry. I try to avoid red meat and pork because of the cholesterol and triglycerides, but that wasn’t usually a problem,” he explains. Sleepy always made sure the band was able to get a decent meal. “It was only [difficult] when we had to stay in the trailer park/camper park for a few days. I probably survived mainly on PB&J, oatmeal. I always brought my real maple syrup with me to cook over the range.”
“A lot of people go to the chains,” Mandel says, “because they want something familiar, but often there’s a diner down the road or a great local place where you’ll get something much better… Even when we toured in Scandinavia, the food was reflective of the local cuisine, and appropriate for my diet.”
“Because Sleepy is a born-again Christian,” Mandel explains, “we were a drug-free, smoke-free, drink-free band. Most of the conversation while we were driving was where we were going to eat next because the places he knew were worth looking forward to. There was never a dull moment in conversation…And he’s an excellent gin rummy player.”
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