Intestinal Fortitude

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2019

No matter which musical level we’re on, it takes an inner strength beyond our talent and years of practiced skill to get through a show. No matter what our problems and distractions are, if we’re paid to be on stage, the show must go on. Nobody wants to have a meltdown or see a meltdown. Nobody wants to be a nervous ninny or be forced to watch one. There are countless talented people in the world whose gifts shall never see the light of day because of the affliction we call “stage fright.” In other words, they just don’t have the guts to get out there.

It’s a sad truth, but even the Wizard of Oz’s Lion figured out eventually how to reach for courage. Ya just gotta go for it. The fearless prevail, always, and in all things.

When not a single soul is paying attention to your talent in the corner, and the bar manager says you can just stop if you want, you go deep, and keep going.

When you’re Taylor Swift and there’s a hundred thousand people in the audience waiting on your next move, you bring it.

When you’re the barbershop quartet at Magic Kingdom and it’s 100 degrees out with 100 percent humidity and you can barely breathe never mind hold the high note, you take a deep breath and hold the high note.

When you’re the main stage band at Animal Kingdom, in the same oppressive weather, and you have to jump around on stage to keep the crowd interested, while dying, you worry about dying later.

When you’ve got your first gig with a new band and you freeze trying to sing the song “Freeze Frame” by J. Geils, you un-freeze yourself and get going on the not that difficult after all lyrics.

When your guitar string breaks in the middle of a song in the middle of a high-profile gig, you play around those notes and make it work.

And at the scariest moment of all, performing at your first school recital, you just look out at mom and dad and hope the ice cream is coming soon.

The same can be said for dancers, athletes and actors. The difference is always how you handle the butterflies in your stomach; the gut-wrenching fear of public failure. To perform, it just takes guts. Or as I like to say, intestinal fortitude, and it makes all the difference.

I like to take the opportunity during the Halloween season to brush up on my anti-scaredy-pants skills. I watch scary movies. I go to haunted houses. I light eerie candles. I eat questionable candy. It’s all part of my personal fortification plan. Somebody’s gotta do this stuff! Happy Halloween!

pumpkin

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Got ‘Em!”

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2019

At live performances, it only takes one person to start paying attention, then it spreads, like a really cool virus seeping into everybody’s beers throughout the club. And if that one person who gets it started happens to be sitting with a big group of people, it’s even better. It catches on: “Oh I get it. These people are performing for us. We should be paying attention and appreciating them, and clapping and hootin’ and hollerin’ and stuff!”

Sometimes it could be an hour in, maybe two hours into the show. Sometimes it never happens, and you just silently whisper “Good Night” when your time is up.

But on a good night, when that one person gets it started, that silent “Good Night” can turn into shots all around, bravos, standing Os, screams for encores and you feel propelled to shout a resounding “THANK YOU! GOOD NIGHT!”

This is what dreams are made of people.

But most of the time, while pretending like you’re a jukebox in the corner, you play for yourself, hone your skills, that sort of thing, so that when the scenario above actually happens, you are completely ready.

And you must be ready. People are paying attention so your usual screwups can no longer be hidden under a cone of silence, muffled by hundreds of conversations and clinking glassware.

On a recent night, once I “had them,” I turned up the heat (as it were.) Smart phones were pointing at me (for what reason I have no idea, but it’s a thing people do. I mean, I ain’t no Taylor Swift but whatever.) It was go time. The whole place was singing along. Even if I did screw up it didn’t even matter. It was glorious.

But heed my warning: This rarely happens. You need that one person you’re making eye contact with, and that one person has got to have a loud voice and influencing skills in order to get the rest of the place into the groove. It’s never me. It’s always them. We can’t do any of it without an audience. That audience must be on a mission to have fun, determined to forget about the humdrums of their day, forgetting about maybe their quiet desperation.

Live music can be the cure to all sorts of things. And that’s how we get ’em.

Bad Rep

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2019

When Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” came on the radio the other day, I pondered things. Not only is it a kick-a** song, but the message is clear: She don’t care one iota about her bad reputation.

But in the music business, if people start talking about you in “bad” ways, it’s very easy to get a Bad Reputation, and it’s next to impossible to recover from all the talk.

It’s one thing to have musical skills but I would argue that it is just as important to have people skills: the ability to get along with others, and to not be a jerk. It’s so easy in the music business to be a jerk because you think you’re “all that” because the Universe gave you some talent. Nobody likes jerks, and nobody wants to play with jerks. Other musicians just don’t wan to be around you, no matter how good you are. You’re toxic. You’re poison. You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.

These people drift from band to band, never learning their lesson on the importance of people skills. They may not even be able to get solo gigs. Venue owners can sense your jerkiness, and they don’t want nothin’ to do with you either. I feel sorry for these people because if they kind of sense that their reputation is bad, they still don’t get it. They still don’t change. They make excuses: “Oh, we didn’t get along,” or “We didn’t mesh,” or “We had creative differences.” Creative differences my a**. They’re jerks. They’re on pathways to disaster, drifting in a world they don’t understand, unable to grasp what they did wrong. A good musician can not only play their parts, they also give room, believe in less is more, they hang back, give someone else the spotlight, they chip in, that sort of thing. They rehearse on their own. They’re good people as well.

Some sure-fire ways to get a bad rep:

If you don’t show up for a gig and don’t tell the venue owner you can’t make it – Bad Rep

If you never help loading in and loading out due to your so-called back problems – Bad Rep

If you constantly show up late to gigs – Bad Rep

If you act like a diva – Bad Rep

If you overplay and step on other musicians – Bad Rep

If you solo through eight of the chord progressions and everybody already agreed it would be once through – Bad Rep

If you’re a jerk – Bad Rep

And so it goes. I do like that Joan Jett song though.

Too Loud

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine July 2019

You can hear it in the distance over the din of the never sleeping highway. It floats over the trees and across the fields. It comes in and out, but you know it’s there. Sometimes the wind blows the echo away a little but then blows it right back toward you. People are screaming and chanting as the thump thump of a bass drum keeps time. You know what it is, and you want to be there. You can’t smell the hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken on the grill, but you can image them. The keg is on ice. Coolers are full of all sorts of delights. Huge slices of watermelon are laid out. The potato salad is moist. People are diving into the pool. Later there will be fireworks.

 
There’s a band in a backyard in a faraway neighborhood and they are quite loud. As loud as they want to be. It’s a glorious thing. For the band, there’s no BS, no pressure, and nobody telling you to turn down. They can play as loud as they want, in most towns, until 10 pm.

 
At a gig the other night word on the street was that the band was too loud. As is customary when we hear such a complaint, we act like we’re turning the knobs on the mixing board when in actuality, we ain’t movin’ a darn thing. Nobody puts baby in corner, as it were. Turning down in the middle of a gig ruins the vibe, detracts from our mission, and it just doesn’t ever go well. The performance goes south, things take a turn, and you can’t recover. So, like most bands that have ever played in the history of all time, requests for turning down are just ignored.

 
I spoke to a guy at the bar about these volume requests and he agreed with me. “I like it when the band is too loud. It means I don’t have to overhear all the stuff around me: couples fighting, bartenders, waitresses and waiters complaining about customers, business deals going down, and guys getting drunk and saying really stupid things. Bands should always be too loud.”

 
So there it is. Bands ain’t jukeboxes.

 
Outdoor venues in the middle of downtown areas where people are trying to live and sleep is a little tricky though when bands are too loud. I would argue that bands will ALWAYS be too loud after 10 pm, and this reality can shut businesses down. I would also argue that if you don’t want to hear the music coming from venues in downtown areas, you should move to the suburbs.

 
And when you hear a backyard band through the trees, you’re probably going to want to be there.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine June 2019

I’ve been watching a lot of baseball lately, and like others before me, I have realized that most things in life can be compared to baseball.  Baseball is Life, as it were.  But to narrow it down, I offer you some truisms (Sue-Isms?) about baseball and music.

 
1.  Once obsessed with baseball (music) you are obsessed until you die.

2.  If your bullpen (backing musicians) can’t perform well, just make the most out of your starting pitchers (front person/lead singer.)

3.  If you never make it in the big leagues (get a record deal) just coach, mentor and play for fun (be a music teacher, get in a cover band.)

4.  Playing on a baseball team (playing in a band) is a joyous but oftentimes agonizing curse that perpetually frustrates the soul while simultaneously freeing the soul.

5.  Baseball managers (band leaders) must make the tough choices while not pissing anybody off.

6.  Baseball fields (music venues) forever behold a magnetic magic and everybody cries when they’re torn down.

7.  Baseball owners (club owners) act like they own the team (the club) for fun, but they’re actually only in it for the money.

8.  Sports agents (booking agents) are never like Jerry Maguire.

9.  Baseball fans (music fans) can be infuriating and demanding, yet the utmost devoted, even when you can’t find the pocket.

10.  When the score is tied at the bottom of the ninth (playing your last song of your last set) you’re super tired but know you need to bring it home big.

11.   First inning pitches (first couple of songs in the set) can be a little rough around the edges and not particularly worth watching.

12.  When the starting pitcher gets to the bottom of the fifth inning with over 100 pitches in (end of the third set with one more set to go), you just want the bullpen (another band or the jukebox) to finish up the night (because you’re super tired) without wrecking your record.

13.  When your favorite team (favorite band) is in a slump, you want to switch and start listening to another band, but you can’t, because you just want them to come back out with some more good stuff.

14.  When the pitcher (the lead singer) and the batter (person in the front row) are having a staring contest, the lead singer usually wins.

15.  When a team manager (lead songwriter) loses favor with the press, careers can end.  Until everybody forgets about it five years later, then it starts right back up again.

16. The seventh inning stretch is like when the audience has to go home to relieve the babysitter.

17. Clearing the benches (bands fighting on stage) will always be super entertaining.

18. The umpire (the drummer) can and should have complete control over the ego and drawn out batting stance routines of batters (guitar players and their solos).

19.  If you are drafted into the minor leagues (appear on the Indie charts) it’s still a pretty good thing.

20.  Rookies (first-time open-mic performers) should be given respect and the benefit of the doubt.  You never know what great things could be on the horizon and who is secretly a Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams or Bruce.

21.  Nothing compares to hitting a Grand Slam (getting a standing ovation at the end of the night.)

22. And lastly, ya gotta know how to play the game.

3-2-1 Draw!

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2019

There’s a dreaded question in the cybersphere from venue owners and booking contacts that we band leaders are posed from time to time and, every time, it makes my skin crawl, my blood boil, and gives me a hot flash.  The question just isn’t fair, due to the many variables involved with the answer to the question.  When I am asked the question, I usually just completely ignore it and give up on the potential gig, because I don’t think the person asking the question will appreciate my answer.  I know what they want to hear, but I’ve never been a very good liar. I’m like our first president George Washington – I cannot tell a lie.

The question is:  “What’s your draw?”  In other words, how many people are going to show up if I book you?

“Well, let’s explore that.  You want me to say hundreds or thousands, am I right?  Here’s my answer:

Well, if we haven’t played for five years and it’s more like a reunion show, it could be hundreds, unless of course, Netflix has released Season 3 of Stranger Things, then it’s 0.

Is your bar kind of a decent place?  Then it could be around 20, unless of course the final chapter of a super heroes movie is being released that night, then it will be 0.

Are you a sports bar?  Well, if it’s the World Series, the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Final Four, or the Superbowl, it could be hundreds, but your patrons won’t be there for us and their hootin’ and hollerin’ will drive us nuts.

Is snow predicted?  0.  Is a hurricane expected?  0.  Is it a heatwave?  Maybe 5, if your A/C is working.  Is it -9 degrees outside?  0.

Do we have a year’s notice?  Maybe 10, but that could vary. Things come up for people, you know?  Babysitters and such.

Is it a food festival?  Thousands, but they’re not there for us.

What is your venue’s marketing strategy?  Do you plan to advertise the event, throw out some specials and cater to my band’s every whim so we’re nice and happy and entertaining?  Probably 10.

Is it flu season?  0.

Has there recently been a bar fight or a stabbing at your establishment?  0.

Is the event outside?  If it’s raining – 0.  If it’s too hot – 0.  If it’s too cold – 0.

What else is happening in your locale the day of the event?  Arts Festival?  0.  Barret Jackson car show?  0.  Is somebody like Elton John or Kiss playing their last show ever at a local casino?  0.

How are your acoustics inside the venue?  Does every band sound like they’re in a muddled box of mud?  0.

Are we playing during a biker poker run?  Hundreds, but they’re only there for five minutes to pick up their card.

So essentially, my dear booking contact person, our draw, is the luck of the draw.”

Rock on.

Conundrum

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2019

For those following along, we’ve been discussing here why musicians do what they do, even at the age of 80 and beyond.  Thank you all for your insights and personal reasons for continuing the rock star struggle.  I’ve concluded, after more soul searching and input from my fellow pals in musicianhood, that the reason we still do it, in essence… is a conundrum.  It’s vexing.  It’s like an April Fool’s joke that never ends.

But the best reason I heard was: “We do it because we can, and we’d miss it if we didn’t.”  That’s the ticket!

If we stopped, we wouldn’t feel alive.  We’d look with ferocious jealousy upon the band playing in the bar we used to play at.  We’d beg for a slot at karaoke nights.  We’d religiously attend open mics, get there early to get our name on the list, for three minutes of shining.

We’re not like normal people.  We can’t just go to work every day and come home and cook a nice salmon filet on the grill and do it all over again tomorrow.  We want more.  We have something to say, lyrically or musically, and this is the only way we can figure out how to say it without being berated and dejected on Facebook.  Music is its own language.

We’re not going quietly into that dark night.  To continue on, we buy lighter weight equipment.  We book earlier and shorter gigs.  We try to stay in shape so we don’t fall down on stage.  It’s human nature, you see?  We fight to survive, aim to hold on to things that matter, to achieve, to be all we can be, no matter what it takes, even if it kills us.  We do what is required to fulfill our desires and to not have that Stepford Wife look in our eyes, trolling through our days.  We do not want to live a life of quiet desperation.

In a music store the other day I witnessed a guy blissfully shredding on a sunburst Tele flawlessly executing everything from Dire Straits, to Lindsey Buckingham to Duane Allman to Lynyrd Skynyrd and beyond.  He’s not in a band.  And I wanted to just simply cry 96 tears.  I had to sit there and take it, reveling in the glory of his talent, in solitude.

It’s hard work, staying in a band and performing and putting up with all sorts of atrocities.  But we’re following our dream – even if it most likely leads to nowhere.  This is why we still do it.  So, get off your cell phones and stop talking during our shows!  Peace out.