Night clubs were a source of work for many musicians, open seven nights a week with live music every night - usually until sunrise. Somewhere along the way, there was a union movement to shorten the work week so that musicians could have one night a week off. Suddenly, there were seven-night clubs and six-night musicians. Even the smallest club had at least one musician, and the largest clubs two full bands – a show band with up to fifteen players, plus a quintet for dance music. Lots of musicians under the new day-off rule meant new openings for one night gigging.
I became one of the travelling subs, filling in when another trumpet player was off. Now we know there's no system that can't be beaten. Some musicians were happy working seven nights a week, so they left their steady gig for the mandatory one night off to go sub in another club. The merry-go-round kept everyone happy. Club owners got seven nights of music, band leaders got seven nights of musicians, and those musicians who wanted to, could work seven nights a week. The union was happy since members who wanted it got a day off, with the empty chair filled by a travelling sub, like me.
A common moniker for a night club was "bucket of blood", a term originally applied to jazz clubs from 1900s into the 1940s, when they were referred to as The Bucket of Blood supposedly for the huge cups they served their beer in. There were many of them in Montreal in the 50's. And there was a not-so-glamorous parallel use of the term.
One of my travelling sub gigs was at the Hale Hakala, a seedy quasi Polynesian "bucket of blood" joint on Notre Dame Street near the docks, where it wasn't safe to walk in the day, never mind at 3 am. On the night I subbed, the band leader was a little short and told me I'd have to come back the next night, after hours, to collect my pay. It wasn't an unusual request, so the following night I went back. Around the dark corner opposite the club, the police cruisers with flashing lights blocked my way. The barricaded entrance prevented entry. I beat a hasty retreat and made for home. The morning newspaper story said a disgruntled waiter had shot a patron, and threatened the owner. The police had stormed the club and arrested the perp. I waited two weeks before going back, just in case.