Desperados

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2020

We musicians can be a desperate bunch. We act like “we’re all that” but we’re really not. We desperately want to show off our stuff because there’s some inner drive within us that does not end and continually calls to us. We take gigs at questionable venues because people nicely ask. We fill in for somebody who’s sick even though we’ve probably got what they got. We spend our last dime to fix an amp because the show must go on. We play outside in sweltering hot conditions because we already committed. We troll the internet looking for open jams. We throw bands together and practice for months to play one special private show. We look up songs on our iPads and play them on the fly because an audience member begged for it. We’re not so sure we have a clue what we’re doing or why.

Or, like I (numero uno desperado) recently did, we take last minute outdoor gigs knowing it is going to be 36 degrees out with a chance of snow.

Desperados.

Though precautions were taken to ensure the success of putting on the most wonderful of shows, it was, in the nicest of terms, a sh*t show. Firstly, and unbeknownst to me, wearing a hat that covers your ears, in order to keep warm, blocks, well, your ears, and you can’t hear the monitor. Yelling and screaming at the sound man inevitably ensues. Secondly, wearing nice warm winter gloves when playing guitar as you can imagine, is not possible. I could have purchased fingerless gloves, but there was no time. Thus, my fingers froze. I had a little portable heater with me but even laying my hands directly on the device (as outlined in the directions is something you just absolutely shouldn’t be doing) didn’t do sh*t to warm my fingers. Here’s an experiment for you all: Put your hands into a nice, big fresh bowl of freezing ice water. Hold them there for about 10 minutes. Find a guitar pick or something similar, like a toothpick. Can you grasp it? Hold onto it? Act like you’re strumming? Does the item keep falling out of your grip? Okay, keep trying. After about 10 minutes you may be able to hold onto the thing. Great! Now, stick your hands back into the cold water for another 10 minutes. Repeat the steps above. Now, repeat the steps above for three hours. Fun isn’t it? Feel like a rock star? Thirdly, there’s the constant runny nose when out in 36-degree weather with a chance of snow. I won’t go into the details here, but it’s pretty hard to keep on singing with that stuff running down your face.

Desperados.

Every time I agree to these questionable things I say the same thing to myself: NEVER AGAIN. How many times have I said that to myself? About 36 million times. Including the time(s) I said yes to playing on the back of an Irish Parade float. But that’s another story…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! See ya out there!

 

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

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.

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.

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.

Out of the Closet

originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2019

It has come to my attention, because due to certain circumstances I have been forced to actually pay attention to people – listening to what they are saying – casually observing them – caring about them – instead of worrying about my dogs all the time, that there are a boatload of closet musicians out there.  You know, dudes who only play in basements or their bedrooms – some even with other closet musicians.  It’s like a secret society of maestros and geniuses who don’t play in bands, don’t play in bars, and basically just shy away from spotlights all together.  They timidly ask to try out a guitar in a music store and proceed to shred like some reincarnation of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Hendrix, in their own world, with pure joy on their faces, while the rest of us struggle to not keep our mouths agape at what we are seeing and hearing.  Screams from onlookers ranging from “Oh My God!” to “Who are you?” to “What the heck are you doing in a dump like this?” ensue.  I have just been informed that some of these people actually change their guitar strings, repair their amps and polish and preen their instruments just to get together with other like-minded folk – FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER than to play in the same key with others.  It’s like those guys at the end of “Titanic” who continue playing while the waters rise around them and the leader calmly states, “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

Yes, these people exist.  And there are a lot of them.  Any attempt by me or anybody else to urge them to share their awesomeness in a public venue is answered with various apprehensive responses such as, “Oh no, I couldn’t play like this in public,” or, “I don’t like the bar scene,” or, “That’s not why I play.”  What the heck is wrong with these people?!  It’s sort of like how Heaven’s got one hell of a band, but it’s right here on earth, in somebody’s old broken-down barn.

And then there’s me – complaining complaining complaining about band practice, the drudgery of the load-in and the load-out, the blank stares from the audience, the pains and pitfalls of booking gigs, the haggling over money, song choices, writers’ block, band drama, and so on and so on and so on.  Where’s the joy?  Where did it go?  Am I doing it all wrong?  Why can’t I bottle up that joy oozing from those guys’ faces and have it emanate in a performance setting?  What the heck is wrong with me?!

Maybe the closet people really do have it all figured out, and I just don’t yet.  Maybe it’s because I don’t say enough – “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight.”

Okay, I’ve said it.  Whew! I feel better already!  So, rock on people (wherever you’re hiding.)

Picture of Fantastic Old Wardrobe Closet Fashioned Cedar Wooden | Unicareplus Old Wardrobe Closet

I wrote a book about this stuff!  “They Made Me Play a Polka” is available here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1725534584/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

Music, Actually

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2018

The time is nigh for Christmas movies.  Love ’em or hate ’em, some just stick.  For me, it’s that crazy, multiple story-line, mish-mash of wonder:  “Love, Actually.”  It’s about a broken-down, dried-up, down-hearted ex-rockstar trying to make a comeback with a cover of the Troggs’ “Love Is All Around,” brilliantly played by that British dude Bill Nighy.  It’s about lots of other things too, but for me, it’s all about the soundtrack.

From the pop-up musicians at the church wedding doing “All You Need is Love,” to Norah Jones’ “Turn Me On,” to “Wherever You Will Go” as the English guy hooks up with the girls in the bar in Wisconsin, to Dido’s “Here With Me” (I can’t breathe) playing when the guy walks out of his apartment yanking his sweater zipper up, to the British Prime Minister running around 10 Downing Street to “Jump For My Love,” to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” to “Kelly Clarkson’s “The Trouble with Love Is,” to Eva Cassidy’s version of “Songbird,” and then  the wrap-up “God Only Knows” at Heathrow Airport.

This is what dream soundtracks are made of people.  The movie should have been called “Music, Actually.”

loveactually

It’s about the music.  Everything is about music.  It’s a proven fact (in my book anyway!)  According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), Nick Angel was the music supervisor for the movie… apropos.  Cheers to that dude for sure.

At a gig the other night, with a festive crowd and festive lights and festive drinks, and even a Christmas tree on stage, I proudly and rather emphatically said over the mic:  “We are working on Christmas songs.  They won’t be ready until after the new year.”  Enough said!

Who needs Christmas music when there’s so much REAL music?  So, I say:  Enjoy the holidays.  And you don’t have to play that….other stuff…. just so ya know.  Good times can still be had by all.

Cheers and Happy Holidays to one and all!

I wrote a book about this stuff!  “They Made Me Play a Polka” is available here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1725534584/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0