Summertime Blues

Sometimes I want desperately to cancel gigs, but my darn work ethic and guilt get in the way. I like BOOKING gigs, because they make me feel wanted, and make my band calendar look full, but I don’t always like actually DOING them all. For example, outdoor concerts sound like so much fun, sort of like Woodstock, but when it’s 100 degrees and humid in the Northeast, people just get cranky, and no one can be more cranky in the heat, than me. Loading and setting up equipment ain’t no picnic in the heat. Sweat rolling off your face onto your electric guitar is just not cool, and rather dangerous.  Constantly smacking mosquitoes off your skin can really ruin a groove.

We did this outdoor festival once in New London, Connecticut and it was hot, sticky, and breezy.  Three things my hair don’t like.  I was holding my guitar, singing into the microphone, and my hair thought it would be great fun to stick to my face and clump up right into my mouth.  If I tried to whack my hair away I’d have to let go of the guitar, miss the next chord, and screw up the band, because I was the leader and everything.

I started complaining over the mic, because I’m not a leader, I’m actually a big fat baby.

“I would kill for a hair tie right now!” I sort of yelled into the mic.

A woman flicked me a hair tie (well, shot it at me.)  I tied up my hair.  The wind blew.  There went my hair into my mouth again.

“This just isn’t working,” I said even louder into the mic.

By now I was making everybody feel sorry for me, and it was as pitiful as it sounds.  The audience was there to be entertained and have fun, not deal with my hair issues!  So then this nice guy motioned that he wanted to throw me a hat, because obviously everybody in the front row had had enough of my whining.

He threw me the hat, I missed it, and it fell ten feet below me into the mosh pit, which was gated so it really wasn’t a mosh pit it was more like a barrier in front of the stage.  You know, because we were so famous and everything.  So the hat laid there on the ground until a security guard, taking extreme pity on me, picked it up and put it in my hand.  I placed it on my head.  Hair thing finally solved.

But by now everybody secretly hated me and thought I was ridiculous.  That was the vibe.  We feel these things, really we do.  Our set mercifully came to an end.

Stupidly, I motioned to the hat guy and asked him if he wanted his hat back.  I whipped the hat at him like a frisbee.  He missed it so he leaned over the barrier gate to grab it.  His sunglasses fell off his head and broke into a million pieces.

The crowed let out a huge BOOM – “Oh…..No…..” like it was the worst thing that could ever happen on the planet.  Knowing I’m about to have a really stupid riot on my hands, I took off my own sunglasses and motioned for him to catch them.  And easy as pie, he caught them, in the hat, and the crowd cheered louder than they did for any song we did in the previous hour.

I was out the sunglasses, the hat, and the hair tie had already blown away into Long Island Sound.  HOT SUMMER GIGS AIN’T WHAT THEY’RE HYPED UP TO BE.

As I sit here now, I want desperately to cancel an outdoor gig because I’m sweating just typing this.  But I won’t, because summer gigs are what we live for.  YEAH RIGHT!

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Opening Acts

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2018

As an unknown Indie band, opening for a national act can gain you tons of potential new fans, super bragging rights, and you can write “Shared the Stage With….” on your web site so people think you’re even more awesome than even you think you are.

When you’re on a “bill” at a venue, the first name on the list is the “headliner”, and all the names below it are the “openers.” We were asked to be on the bill at a prestigious venue in New Haven, Connecticut and we jumped at the chance. We got to the place, loaded our stuff in, and got a sound check, which is a rare event for an opener. When we first arrived we were last on the bill, but after impressing the electronic poster people with our awesome sound check, we were magically moved up on the list. The closer you are to the headliner in line, the better you are, I guess. We even had a dressing room, which smelled like Mick Jagger. This place had hosted all kinds of national acts, but had never been cleaned.

Another important factor for determining how far you move up the bill is how well you bark. How well you bark also determines how much money you get in an envelope after your set. Barking is the time-honored and highly-skilled activity, made famous in New York City and Las Vegas, of handing out pieces of paper to people walking by. You hand out pieces of paper to people around the venue in the hopes that they will read your piece of paper, digest what you yelled, i.e., “barked,” into their face, and show up to the venue with the piece of paper.

Our pieces of paper were pink so the more people who showed up with pink pieces of paper, the more money we got and the later we played. We spied most of our pink pieces of paper in garbage bins up and down the street, but we never let it sway us. This is just the way of the world people!

After we had had enough barking, we went back to the venue and hoped for the best. We had to wait in line for our turn on the left side of the stage, with our amps and drum set and guitars, so that when it was our turn, we could get our butts up there real quick like. We got up there, plugged in, tuned, and stopped hyperventilating. The band before us thought it was real cute to climb on top of the house speakers and spew beer from their heavy metal mouths. A lot of beer. So we were sticking to the floor, and I don’t even want to know what kind of gunk got on my purse, and we attempted to put on an energizing and unforgettable show. It was very hard to jump around with all the stickiness, so we just sort of stood there.

We did our thing to a packed crowd, and exited stage right. A couple more bands played and then the main attraction took the stage. These dudes didn’t have to load a thing up there, because their stuff was already magically there. We had been playing in front of “their” Marshall stacks, mic stands, and drum set. They took the stage and we humbly sat with expectation to see who had been bestowed this great honor. To our horror, the main event, the headliner, the big kahuna, was a Van Halen cover band! We had waited twelve hours, and so had the rest of the crowd, for a Van Halen cover band! And since Van Halen did a lot of covers in their day, we were actually opening for a cover band covering a cover band?

Disillusioned, and rather pissed off, we just shook our heads and said, “Well, that’s Connecticut for ya. The Land of the Cover Bands.”

We got some good video footage, a tic on our resume, and zero dollars. Not enough pink pieces of paper they said.

Back when I was still in a cover band, we did ‘50s/’60s music and were “popular.” Some college in Massachusetts thought it was a good idea for us to open for that fictional band from “Animal House” – Otis Day and the Knights.

Because we were such professionals, on our tech rider (that’s the contract where you write things like green M&Ms), we requested water bottles and cut-up fruit. This was living the dream man! The organizers actually delivered, and we were just ecstatic. We got through sound check and the crowd started arriving.

In togas.

Yes, people wrapped in sheets.

John Belushi In 'Animal House'

Apparently, we were in for some kind of a fabricated “Animal House” reunion. With trepidation, we did our thing, and the crowd loved it. Well, they were already quite drunk and actually couldn’t care less who we were or what we played. With the guys in the band trying to focus on the songs, instead of watching all the sheets fall off all the girls, we ended to thunderous applause.

Otis and his band hit the stage, and well, all hell broke loose. By this time, we were really wishing we brought togas, because we looked completely out of place. Otis and company took a break and the crowd started chanting, “Fan-ta-sy, Fan-ta-sy,” (the name of our band) just like “toga, toga, toga, toga….”

I think we got up there and did some more songs to placate the situation, and we were soon told to get the hell off the stage so the “real” band could get back up there. It was all good fun. We got paid, but never saw those people, or that band, or that college, again.

I haven’t figured out how to best word these experiences on the web site yet…

Lessons in Life

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2018

Growing up, I had a love of music that I will attempt to explain here. It all started in a Catholic church in Groton, Connecticut and the Folk Group Mass. I had been going to church since I had been swaddled and the ancient hymns performed usually out of tune by a failed opera singer and a failed concert organist had been ingratiated in my brain. When the family moved from Florissant, Missouri to Connecticut in 1975, we realized things were a tad different in The North. Hippies were everywhere. Acoustic guitars and long-haired tie-dyed clothed cool people took over the repetitive music portions of the weekly ceremony, and I fell in love. Songs like “Morning Has Broken” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” fit into the service like jelly on peanut butter and I dug it. I was too young to join the folk group, but I wanted in on the action. Somehow.

I started timidly. I asked for a pink 45-RPM record player. I would take my paper route money, any money I could find actually, and purchase the hit songs of the day. Listening actually became quite a favorite activity of mine. I would sit on the floor of my room for hours on end. I wore out Beach Boys, Carpenters, and Barbra Streisand records and the worst pop songs ever recorded like, “The Night Chicago Died,” and “Billy Don’t be a Hero,” and “Sylvia’s Mother.”

But I learned. The Beach Boys taught me how to sing harmonies, Karen Carpenter taught me how to control my voice, and Babs taught me how to make every word and every note count. I used to play tiddlywinks with the insets of the holes in the 45s. I would set them up on the floor shaped into little neighborhoods where I would one day live, where everybody had 45s playing different songs, at the same time, in a symphony of ridiculousness. I remember just sitting on the floor for hours, and with six siblings in the house, no one even noticed. Besides, my parents were forever cranking the Ray Conniff singers on their big album record player. Their music was not my music. Not cool enough, sorry.

When it was time for bed, I would play my clock radio all night long, tuned to whatever station played Barry Manilow and Bread. Those melodies permeated my subconscious every single night throughout my growing years. Even now, I can name those tunes in three notes. I could win a million dollars if that ‘70s show Name That Tune was still on.

Since I had two older brothers, I also learned how to be a cool listener. I would hang out in their room, lie on the floor, stare at the ceiling, and groove to Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Boston and Pink Floyd. I still like to get high listening to the greatest ending of any song ever – “Freebird.” Just kidding. About the getting high part.

But when I watched Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music it really started to click with me. That movie is like a master class in what music is all about which simply is: do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do. I could finally visualize how all the sounds on those wonderful 45s were made, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to be in the folk group at church.

So I gathered up some confidence and told my parents I wanted to learn how to play music so I could join the folk group at church. They did what all well-intentioned Catholic parents would do when faced with such a request. They signed me up for accordion lessons! The checkered panted, collared-shirt-buttoned-up-too-tight, thick mustached dude showed up with this monstrous bag of piano keys, and began his lesson. I didn’t have a clue what he was saying or how he was making sound come out of the thing. That thing sat untouched in my room until the next lesson, and the non-learning went on. I explained to my mother that I just wanted to sing and play guitar with the cool long-hair people at church. These pleadings, and pretty much all outrageous requests for the next nine years, were usually answered with the emphatic Hungarian phrase: Uyum Puffum Vogluk kutchya kate a semmed kitick! Didn’t know what it meant, other than, forget it! I would stomp up to my room and slam the door, or sometimes run away which meant, throwing some underwear and some candy in a paper bag and walking down the street to my friend Sara’s house. My younger brother Paul, on the other hand, would handle undesirable answers to requests by sticking his hand onto a hot pile of spaghetti and holding it there for as long as he could.

But eventually, they gave in. “Well, if you’re going to use the lessons for playing in church, that’s alright with us,” they said. I guess you could call this my first lesson in “How to Manipulate a Situation to Your Advantage.” I was eight years old.

Somehow an acoustic guitar was purchased and then I couldn’t believe my eyes, I got to take guitar lessons from none other than Peter Frampton!

Well, he was Peter Frampton in my mind anyway, and he could do no wrong, not with that long blonde hair anyway. He was the Frampton Comes Alive version, not the 2017 version mind you. Turns out, he wasn’t really Peter Frampton, and he eventually opened up a very successful music store in Groton, Connecticut called Ron’s Guitars. He asked me what song I wanted to learn first. “I want to learn them all,” I said. So first he taught me “Angie” by the Rolling Stones, which I can still groove on if called upon by the way. I was amazed at how my fingers could create the harmonies I had learned from the Beach Boys’ voices. You just had to press your fingers on the wood in the right formation – and voila! Majors, minors, diminished, sevenths, ninths. I purchased a huge poster illustrating the fingering of every chord there was and practiced them all. I still have the poster. After about three months of guitar lessons from Peter Frampton, the family fortune ran out, and I was on my own. These were the only professional musical instructions I have ever taken. The best teachers are the ones who don’t just teach skills, but impart wisdom on you or encourage you to think for yourself, and that’s the most important thing Ron did for me. After our lessons were over, I continued to teach myself and still do to this day.

Oh, and thanks Mom and Dad, for that guitar. And well, for everything.

Fish, Pipes & Pandemonium

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2018

Lenten fish dinner specials are my fav. This time of year here on Long Island Sound, everything imaginable is plucked from the sea by dedicated busy fishermen and women in a frenzied free-for-all. Restaurants and grocery stores cook it all up fresh to order, and it’s all on sale. Fridays are super popular but some places push the crustaceans every day for a month, and I love every second of it. Of course the church is to blame for all of this, it being Lent and all, but that’s OK. I’m OK with churches. I grew up singing in church and it’s basically where it all began; until somebody ruined it for me that is. Now I’m pretty much a basket case full of fish sticks every time I’m asked to sing in a church. My nerves rattle the rafters, golden chalices shake and shutter and bells start ringing on their own.

I can narrow it down to one person who ruined it. This person left me with this not-so-good taste in my mouth, you know, not nearly as good as a heaping roll of buttered lobster meat.

Here’s what went down:

I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” for a friend’s wedding and needed to rehearse with the church organist. I arrived on a cold and wintry night and made my way up the secret stairs to the blessed balcony area. I exchanged pleasantries with the typical-looking church organist lady and I began. I decided on a nice and easy Karen Carpenter alto pop version, which is what my friends were looking for. I got to about the eighth measure and she stopped me and said, “Um, have you done much singing?”

I assured her that yes indeed I had.

“You didn’t warm up before our rehearsal then?” she asked.

I assured her that yes indeed I had.

“Well let’s take it again from the top.”

I got to about the fourth measure, she banged the organ a bit and uttered between clenched teeth, “I really have to be honest here. I don’t think you are capable of singing this. I simply can’t allow it. Not in MY church.”

“Well, they really really want this song. It’s either this or the ‘Irish Wedding Song’,” I said.

“Let’s try the ‘Irish Wedding Song’ then,” she said.

So by this time, I was indeed warmed up, and the song went off without a hitch:

“Here they stand, hand in hand

they’ve exchanged wedding bands

today is the day of their dreams and their plans

and all we who love them just wanted to say

May God bless this couple who married today.”

“That will work. ‘Ave Maria’ will not,” church lady said.

“Well maybe we could try it again,” I pleaded. My friends were going to be pissed!

“No.”

2015Simpsons_InAGaddaDaVida060515

And that was that. Church organists think they rule the world! They probably do. So for the rest of eternity, every church organist I encounter is that same scary church organist and I tremble with fear in their midst and my confidence goes out the stained glass window. Just stepping into houses of worship it’s difficult for me to form a syllable. It may sound rather silly but whenever I have to sing in a church, to calm my nerves, I picture an audience of naked church organist ladies to calm down. Somehow, it works. It is what it is.

Years after the ill-fated not in my church night I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” at a funeral, accompanied by guitar, in the funeral home. I was given $180 for two minutes and thirty six seconds of singing – on key and everything.

Conclusion: Some people get me and some people don’t.

As I’ve aged, I often get “When are you going to give up already?” Or like my mother says, “When are you going to grow up?” Or like my father says, “Still trying to be a rock star huh?”

And to them all I say, “I’ll stop when I’m dead.” And whoever sings at my funeral, I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Stick with acoustic guitar accompaniment though, please.

#Musicianship Goals

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2018

The beginning of a new year is always such a joyous and hopeful time for bands. Just like normal people, bands set goals, make resolutions and promise themselves all kinds of things. They vow to “get better,” “practice more,” “get better gigs,” “write Grammy-worthy songs,” and “really grow the audience.” Stuff like that.

So when I get the email from BandsinTown.com containing a rundown of other bands’ new show announcements, and I see that some of them are booked through the spring already, through the summer, through the fall, and all the way until the end of 2018, I sort of, kind of, WANT TO SCREAM MY HEAD OFF.

Are you freakin’ kidding me? Booked through the end of the year, already? Don’t you think you’re being just a tad greedy? Maybe a little selfish? Maybe a little over-zealous? Have you no conscious? Don’t you want to leave some time to watch music documentaries as a team-building exercise with your band? Don’t you want to ride roller coasters or race bumper cars or go on a hike or go skiing or sit on a beach? How about reading a book. Do you people even READ?!?!?

No fair I say. The “other” bands taking “all” the gigs needs to STOP. Give somebody else a chance!   Why can’t we all just swimmingly get along? Why do you have to be such sharks? What on earth is compelling you to take EVERY SINGLE REMAINING GIG ON THE PLANET?

Here’s how it goes down for me to get just ONE gig, never mind every single remaining gig on the planet:

I tried to get a jump on things and thought in February I could work on getting a gig for St. Patrick’s Day for the next month in March. Irish bars are just THE PLACE to be around St. Patrick’s Day so I wanted in. I had heard “Whiskey in the Jar” a couple times, so I assumed I was all set.

I picked out an Irish pub in town because it was classy, the drinks were expensive, and I thought the chances of people buying my CDs were higher.   I went into the place, drank four black-n-tans at the bar and headed over to the bar owner who’d already had ten.

The white-haired, red-cheeked flabby-faced elf-like Irishman barely looked up from his race book as I slithered over with my promo package and sat next to him. I said, “Hey. I have a great band that would fit in really well here. How about giving us a gig?” He ignored my pretty green folder, turned to me, looked me up and down, and said, “OK. Let’s see what ya got. Let’s go to the back room. You can give me a little live audition.” We headed back to the secret room full of broken-down leather chairs, a green and orange couch, and tons of bric-a-brac hanging from the walls. From behind a two-seater bar, he whipped out a guitar, handed it to me and said, “Go.”

I proceeded to play and sing an original song, with all my heart. Then, like that scene in the movie “The Da Vinci Code” when all the descendants of Mary Magdalene miraculously appear at the Rosslyn Chapel, burly guys of questionable character began to fill the small spooky room. The nice bar owner guy rudely interrupted my audition with a “Ho Ho Ho” (of some sort) and him and the other “musicians” broke into a series of Irish folk songs complete with Gaelic accents and songs about the Moors. I don’t know if they were in a trance, drunk, or flat out insane.

I put the guitar down and found a way to sneak out of the room. He didn’t want to get to know my music. He just wanted to have a bit of a Craic. I never got the gig.

Because every other band on the planet is mean.

blah blah blah

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2018

Music died the day dawned on the digital age, people say. Nobody buys music anymore, as we all know. There are so many ingenious ways of stealing newly created music I could write a book about it (hmmm….) But when we musicians actually do make new music for people, we sort of want people to buy it so we can recoup the cost of making it, even though we know in our hearts of hearts, that we’re living in a pipedream. We try to make it as cheaply as possible, in our basements and such, and put it out into the universe on an air of hope that it will “click” with millions of people. We dream that one day we can move out of the basement and record on a ranch or something or at Abbey Road. We want better gear. Some of us even want the big stage that comes with chart-topping hits. Or a golden trophy.

Before we release new music, we beg bloggers and media people to review our stuff to up the chances of people clicking or buying when we do release it. We try to create a buzz. We wish we could afford fancy PR people who do this kind of thing for a living, but most of us can’t. So we do what we can.

So with a recent album release, we did everything we were supposed to. We got lots of nice words from some really nice people exalting our musical art, gathered up our mailing lists and social media accounts, and let the thing fly.

I hit send on an email blast advertising our new album, chock full of text from wonderful and insightful reviews of the album, announcing our joyful glee of finally releasing something, and held my breath.

Some people responded – “Yay! Finally!” Or, “Congratulations!” that sort of thing. But my favorite response was from an email subscriber who simply wrote, “blah blah blah.”

That’s it. blah blah blah. Not even in CAPS.

blah

Not one to be intimated by derogatory email list subscribers, I quickly replied, “I know, right!”

He responded that he was glad I had a sense of humor (duh!) and proceeded to ask me where he could go to listen to our stuff for free so he could decide for himself how awesome we were. He said he doesn’t give his credit card number out to anyone even if you’re Van Halen or Toto. He also chastised me for self-promoting, blowing our own horn, that sort of thing. By the time he was done with me, geez, I didn’t want the damn album either!

He proceeded to tell me that he was a musician himself with a record label and that he knew a thing or two. So I, the awesome investigative journalist that I am, looked him up. Upon review, yes he had put some music out. He didn’t have any trophies or hits though. His music was artistic and fine. blah blah blah. I showed him how to listen to one of our tracks for free, because I’m a sucker.

What to do? Accept the inevitable is what to do. NOBODY BUYS MUSIC ANYMORE.

So we, the peddlers of melody and lyric and dreams, must decide: Keep writing, recording and releasing music for the love of it with absolutely no hope for financial return, or, die the slow burning death of giving up on a dream? Keep going about my errands with loads of free burned CDs in my purse to be doled out to passersby as I see fit? Hope beyond hope to be included on some famous person’s Spotify playlist so that each stream nets us $.000001 cents?

We in this millennium kind of get a kick out of getting stuff for free because we’re in the 99 percent. I get that. Gimme gimme gimme, that sort of thing. But we still hope that if we get millions of clicks, we could get into the one percent, and make even more awesome music, and live happily ever after.

But I shan’t forget – to the four people who have purchased the album – WE LOVE YOU!

That guy from the email? Haven’t heard back.

BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Holiday Muffin Pondering

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2017

I woke this morning to an overwhelming sense of optimism.  My pre-programmed cynicism toward the impending gluttony of the holiday season and all things doom and gloom had vanished without a trace.   Sounds crazy I know with everything that’s going on in our world, but if you look back through history, has anything ever been completely right in this world?  Individually, it’s all how you look at it. Today, all of a sudden it’s clear to me, that I think we all do what we can to make the world a better place.  If we stay generally positive, get pissed off when we have to, work for change when we see something awfully wrong and do our best with whatever talents we have been given, our little worlds can be personally rewarding which as a whole, makes the world a better place.

So this morning I decided that no matter what, I was going to make chocolate banana toffee muffins even though I have a hundred other things to do:  columns to submit; set lists to prepare; promo packages to drop off; gigs to get; melodies and lyrics to get out of my head; strings to change; equipment to unload; trying to find last year’s winter coat; changing some men’s old-fashioned attitudes toward women; that sort of thing.  But by golly, something had to be done about the brown bananas!  I simply will not waste a brown banana!

I prepared the mixture, got flour all over the place and popped the little beauties into the oven.  While they baked I pondered further about my little world.  How long should I wait to put up the Christmas decorations?  How many parties should I attend?  Who should I splurge on?  What do I do for my Jewish friends?  What do I do for my Atheist friends?  If I give something to the garbage collector, will he just be insulted?  How broke should I go?

Although my back was already aching from all the hams and turkeys and cookies and dishes I had slaved over through Thanksgiving, I was determined to bake these muffins even if it killed me!  I loaded up a second batch.

That’s the power of the human spirit you see.  Sometimes you gotta just say screw it and forge ahead.

While the muffin aroma filled my yet to be decorated home, my mind wondered again.  Should I perform Joni Mitchell’s “The River” at holiday gigs or is it too depressing?  Is “Run Run Rudolph” simply ridiculous or do people like it?  Should we just incorporate the sound track from the movie “Elf” and call it a day?  When John Lennon’s “This is Christmas (War is Over)” is playing do you really just want the SONG to be over?  Should I wear a Santa hat or elf ears on stage?  Should I literally arrive with bells on so I jingle with every strum?  Do people really WANT to rock around a Christmas tree?

In a musician’s world, these are very important issues to resolve.  Yes, yes there are many other things to contend with and we often wonder:  can music change the world and does it have to; are we making a difference in the lives of others in any way; or in my case, can baking chocolate banana toffee muffins make my world a little more grand?

We’ll see how long this strange but lovely optimism lasts and if I ever come to any conclusions worth telling you about.  I’ll keep you posted, and see you at the shows!  By the way, most people didn’t even like the muffins.  But I did.  Happy Holidays everybody.

holidaymuffins