This gig story is from pianist Nicki Kerns, who swears that it really happened. Here it is, in her own words:
In October 1992, during the presidential campaign, Vice President Dan Quayle was in town to do a fundraiser for Bruce Herschenson, who was running for United States Senator from California. A woman had called me to play for a cocktail party, at which Quayle was going to be the guest of honor.
At the time, she didn’t tell me that he was going to be there; she just said it was a “high-profile” guest, that security was going to be tight, and that the Secret Service would need my personal information so that they could do a background check on me. Well, if you’re doing a Secret Service check, then you’re playing for the President or the Vice President, right?
So once I figured out that it was Quayle, she admitted it, and said, “Well, you know, it’s a cocktail party, it’s going to be $1,000 a plate, we’ll have some people there. The Vice President’s reputation hasn’t been the greatest lately, and you’re going to be doing background music - so please play whatever you want, except ‘If I Only Had a Brain.’ ”
I thought she was kidding, but she was completely serious, so I said, “Fine.”
Well, the day of the job came, I showed up at this private residence in Los Altos Hills, and apparently it was a really expensive ticket price, because only 24 people showed up. For $1,000 they didn’t even get a plate. They got a cocktail napkin with two pieces of shrimp, and a glass of champagne.
When Quayle arrived with his Secret Service guys in their black limousines, instead of “If I Only Had a Brain,” I played that Gershwin song, “You say potato, and I say potatoe...let’s call the whole thing off.” Nobody caught the joke.
Quayle gave a speech that extolled Herschenson’s virtues while bashing Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, which didn't make me happy. On my way home from the gig I passed a voter registration table in front of a store. The table had a sign asking Democrats to register to vote there. At the time I was a Republican, but that speech had left such a sour taste in my mouth that I stopped at that table, re-registered as a Democrat and put a bunch of "Clinton for President" stickers all over my car.
The best part of this story was that the woman who originally hired me for the Quayle gig hired me again for ANOTHER Republican fundraiser six months later! Of course I said yes, but had to park six blocks from the venue because I thought it would look bad to play at a Republican event with Democrat stickers all over my car.
Note: For readers who may not remember the “potatoe” incident and other details of his political career, see Wikipedia’s “Dan Quayle” entry, in the section “Vice Presidency.”