Winter Gigs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine January 2017

It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be grey. And it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life, says Bill Murray.  Now is the winter of our discontent, as it were. The holidays are over and we can’t remember the last time we had a piece of fruit or a good hearty salad. We’ve forsaken alcohol for all time and want to hoard every coin we earn. It gets dark by 4:30 p.m. in the Northeast and with the absence of sunshine, our long-lingering depression seeps into our souls like a drafty old scuttle hole. Fireplaces, fuzzy socks and fleece blankets beckon us, and we can’t get off the couch. The last thing we want to do is get all layered up, pray the car starts and venture out to drinking establishments for one more night on the town.

But I say hogwash to all that! That’s all rubbish! The dark days of winter are actually the best times to gather with friends, listen to music, and get the heck outa the house. What would you rather: suffer in silence or dance the night away? Succumb to seasonal affective disorder or rejoice in the fruits of friendship? Watch Mariah Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance on repeat or experience musicians who actually sing and play in front of your eyes? Oh it’s a glory to behold I say! And the musicians who brave the elements to load up their gear and slip and slide their way through ice-packed back entrances know that while their efforts may be fruitless, to the trained eye, one can see, there ain’t nothin’ gonna keep us down! While gig opportunities in these cold and dreary months may be sparse, the courageous and admirable club owners who continue to host live music are the modern day heroes of our time. We love you all. We toast a green smoothie drink filled to the brink with kale and wheatgrass to your moxie!

Say yes to the invites. Get the Uber app. Start a group text with your high school friends and mean it when you say, “We must get together some time.”

We’re in this together. We must endeavor to slay the winter beast. We must never allow our mobile devices and fear of bad winter drivers to triumph over our need for human interaction. Summer gigs are no fun. Winter gigs are where it’s at. Hope to see you at the shows!

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A Musician’s Carol

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine December 2016

 Ghost of Music Past

“Suzy darling, do you remember when you were 8-years old?” said the cheery-eyed apparition who appeared out of nowhere.

“Heck no! I’m lucky I can remember what I had for dinner last night!” Suzy said.

“Try harder.”

“OK. Give me a second. Oh yes, yes, I see it now. Are you doing something to my brain? I can see it clear as day. I’m saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy pleeeease can you tell Santa or whoever buys the presents around here that I really really want a guitar for Christmas? You were right. Barbies are boring and rather sexist.”

“Well I’m glad you’ve come to your senses about the barbies dear, but absolutely not. You may NOT have a guitar dear. Girls don’t play guitars. We’ve paid in advance lots of accordion lessons for you.”

Suzy’s little brother Paul, who had been idly playing with some Legos, chimed in.

“If I don’t get a Superman from Santa this year I’m putting my hand on a hot pile of spaghetti and leaving it there forever!” he yelled. Suzy rolled her eyes.

“Mother please, honestly, for someone of such intelligence, where do you think I’m going to get in life playing an accordion?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she said.

“Very good Suzy,” said the phantom. “Now, do you remember when you were 16-years old?”

Suzy thought a moment. “Oh yes yes I see,” she recalled. I was on stage and the lights were in my eyes and I was kind of like a star and I thought it was the grandest place on earth and that this is what I will do the rest of my life. I will work hard at it just like my schoolwork and attack it like a beast.”

“Excellent Suzy. You always knew that if you had a gift, it was your job to give it away.”

And the ghost was gone.

 Ghost of Music Present

“Ug! Lugging this equipment around is absolutely destroying my back! Man I hope they cancel because of the snowflakes,” Suzy thought to herself. “Nobody’s going to show up anyway. Everybody just wants to drink at home and watch Netflix or plug in their Amazon Fire Sticks or stream YouTube videos of cats. Or they all have to get up early and run a marathon for charity. Or they’re snap-chatting. What’s the point! This time of year is the worst. Between work parties and pie baking and chestnuts roasting and waiting for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ to come on TV, it’s just downright useless. My music has officially become irrelevant. I simply cannot bear the thought of performing one more time in one more empty bar.”

“Jeez, what a whiner,” the ghost said. “Things are worse than I thought. Let’s see what I can do.”

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 Ghost of Music Future

“We could belabor this point for hours,” the grumpy old men said. “Whether it was the musicians who refused to play out anymore or the club owners who canceled all live music, is not the point. The point is, there simply is no more music to be heard anywhere. It’s all gone. Digital samplings squashed together from the music of the past is all we got. Ain’t what it used to be I tell ya.”

A wrinkly old woman with a sparkle in her eye and a smirk on her face stood up in front of the men and said, “My dear boys. Everybody knows the whole world went haywire when that girl started writing those articles in some magazine complaining about the music business all the time and everybody started to believe it was a waste of time and money. Then one day, she stopped playing gigs altogether and stashed her guitar in the attic. Everybody else just sorta followed suit. Before you knew it, all school music programs were canceled and every music store shut down. You couldn’t even find a church choir on Christmas Eve. Oh if not for that wretched girl! What a Scrooge!”

“HA HA HA. No! It was all because of Kanye West!” and they all laughed and laughed and smoked their pot.

“Let me see if there is something I can do about this sad state of affairs,” said the ghost.

 The End – Thanks to the Ghosts

At band practice, present day. Some musicians are determined to write a song together.

“Oh Don! You remind me of Brian Wilson in that movie ‘Love and Mercy’ when he’s telling the cello players to play that super low note over and and over again in ‘Good Vibrations,” Suzy said lightheartedly.

“Yeah right. My bass doesn’t go any lower,” said Dave.

“I can tune down,” said Don the guitar player.

“Who cares about the notes! Let’s move on people! Let’s finish this thing,” said Kevin the drummer, while rolling on the toms.

Suzy was irresistibly intrigued. “This is awesome. You know what? I think we should write a song about Brian Wilson and make it so everybody can sing along to it. Then we can record it and give it away for free, just because! We can sing it all summer long!”

The band hoots and hollers in unison.

“Let’s do it! Merry Christmas to all! God bless us, every one!”

The ghosts hover high above the chilly but cheerful basement stuffed with an assortment of musical instruments, scribbly noted loose leaf papers, guitar picks and drum sticks.

The band mates hear a whisper somewhere in the back of their minds.

“Very good boys and girls. You’ve come to know that while some 8-year olds dream of being Superman, playing music together is actually the thing that feels like flying, and it’s all worth it,” said the ghosts. “We’re depending on you.”

Give The People What They Want

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine November 2016

In the entertainment industry it is standard practice to give the people what they want. This is actually a contradiction in terms. If I gave the people what they wanted, I would be playing “Brick House” for four hours at every gig; or, for an older crowd, that horrendous instrumental “Sleepwalk” for just as long. If I comply with this, I become somewhat of a miserable beeitch and I actually want to kill myself rather than shake it down or calmly strum the A minors. This in turn makes the entertainment value of my performance not so stellar and therefore the audience is actually not entertained at all. And people of all ages are reaching for the defibrillator. “Brick House” consists of one chord. ONE CHORD! Over and over and over. This is worse than, for those in the know, blues songs, which only have three.

At shows I like to say, “We’re happy to take requests. We’ll TAKE them, it doesn’t mean we’ll actually DO them.”

I just can’t stomach sacrificing my art (yes it’s mine, all mine) for the greater good, and the better gigs and the freer bar tabs. And if you’re not careful, giving people what they want can seep into your soul creating chasms of horror and defeat. It can happen at gigs, in the recording studio, in the practice space, or over dinner with your husband, your parents, or your friends. “You should do this song, it’s perfect for your voice. You need some oohs and aahs during the verse. You should have put more upbeat songs on the album. You should only sing slow songs. You should only do blues. You should only do rock. You should write a song about me. You should try to get a gig in New Zealand. You should try out for The Voice.”

I think suggestions from music fans come from the heart and they’re just trying to help, and I believe in the sanity of most people. They can tell when you are being fake however, and that you don’t particularly care one iota for their suggestion. They can sense when you’re lying. Except if you’re a serial killer. Most people can’t tell about those people, but that’s another subject entirely. Being true to yourself is the greatest gift you can give to yourself and the clearest path to success and peace. Even if you have to Bruce Jenner it.

One year my daughter sensed I wanted to give up on all this crap so for Christmas she made me one of those Shutterfly photo calendars with all our greatest band moments caught on camera.   The photos were mostly of me, doing my thing, and not sacrificing a darn thing for nobody. It got me back on track. Sometimes your children can be motivating, exasperating, and at times downright inspirational. Have some! It’s all true!

When I was 13 our teacher assigned us the fun task of making a collage of everything that we felt was important to us. We could use photographs, magazine or newspaper clippings, whatever. I was in love with magazines at the time – Teen Beat, Tiger Beat, Seventeen – so I glued together about 25 sheets of tan construction paper and started cutting my life out. Images of healthy foods on picnic-filled blankets, gorgeous girls and gorgeous guys completely in love running through the fields, cute guys roller skating with cute girls, Cathy Rigby jogging, a big tub of Noxzema and somebody washing their face, music notes, guitars, and lobster. I guess I’ve always had a thing about gorgeous guys, and being clean and healthy. And lobster. The point is, when I was 13, I knew exactly what I wanted, who I was, and where I was going. I could picture it in a collage if you will. I still have the wrinkled patchwork stuffed at the bottom of my high school yearbooks and I pull it out once in a while to remind myself that a) WOW – I used to be able to jog? And b) it’s never going to be OK for someone else to tell me what I like and what I don’t like and what I should do or not do. I have the collage! This comes in handy on my day job as well. If you let them boss you around, they will. If you declare that “No one is the boss of me,” then no one ever will be. It hasn’t led to very many promotions but at least I’ve kept my sanity, my self-respect, and stress intact.

Even if your best friend in the whole world requests “Brown Eyed Girl” because she has brown eyes, and it’s her song, and it means everything to her, it still doesn’t mean you have to play it. Actually people, please don’t EVER play it, ever again. The Rolling Stones knew what they were talking about in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

I’ve never pretended or claimed to be particular well-read, artsy-fartsy, a smarty-pants, a name-dropper or a poet. I’m not going to tell you my lyrics were inspired by some post-modern feminist leftist anti-politico 500-page snoozer I’d been reading on Saturday nights. They’re just words that rhyme, occasionally. Sometimes just phonetically. I enjoy my intellectual musical friends and get what they’re trying to do – music as art and all that stuff – but the point is, they’re doing their thing, and I’m doing mine. It hasn’t gotten me very far (or them either), but who cares? This ridiculousness has chosen us.

I think I’m ready to go shake it down now. Maybe to the car radio.

And one final note, last night I had a dream that the head of the statue of liberty was laying on the ground like in that 1968 movie Planet of the Apes. Translation: Get out and vote on Nov. 8. We’re our only hope.

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I also had a dream about Bruce Springsteen, but that’s for another time, and perhaps another magazine…

Calluses, Meniere’s, and Large Uvulas

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine October 2016

Like a professional athlete, a professional musician must stay in shape, or else you do things like pass out on stage, pee yourself on stage, or get weird leg cramps in the middle of a gig that make you fall over your guitar amp. So every day I walk my dogs and do these awkward stretches I learned from a 1985 Jane Fonda exercise video. One fine day in 2009 I developed this bizarre ear problem which felt like a head cold, except I did not have a cold. It’s like when you get off an airplane, and you’re walking through the terminal trying to figure out where to get your luggage, and your ears haven’t popped yet. That not-popped-yet feeling is how my ears feel all the time. It comes in handy when my husband starts talking about mortgage rates and kitchen paint colors.

Lots of doctors have lots of theories on this, from Meniere’s Disease, to allergies, to stress, to Rock Star ears. They have also given me lots of drugs. Not one single drug on this entire planet has cleared my ears, and believe me, I have tried them all. They crackle, and itch, and burn and ring – all the time. This may or may not have led to some bad decisions in the recording studio. Cloudy, rainy days are the worst so I figure I must be in-tune with the natural elements, but not so much with pharmaceuticals. On these days I just want to sleep and sleep, but I don’t have time to sleep. I have the day job, and have to cook dinner, learn new songs, have band practice, and all that stuff. On these days, I’m the one who looks like Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” after they shock him.

Doctors also noticed I have an extremely large uvula. That’s the thing that wiggles in the back of your throat.

My friend Tina has known this since the seventh grade. She used to get particular joy out of watching the thing flap back and forth when I laughed. So this medical mystery was no big deal to me. But apparently, it had grown to epic proportions, and was interfering with little things like swallowing, and breathing. On bad days, I take about six Advil to keep it under control. I pretty much feel like I’m going to drop at any time though, especially at night. My monstrous flap of skin sometimes causes me to completely stop breathing so I often wake up reaching for a huge gasp of air. As my friend Rob says, “Well, it must not be life-threatening, because you’re not dead yet.”

The best part about the ear and throat problem is, and yes, there is a best part! – I haven’t had a cold in over two years! All this blockage is well, blocking, the bad stuff. The last time I had a cold I had a gig at the local Borders Book Store, with the purposes of selling my CD of course. There is nothing worse than having to sing with a cold, with all that crap running down your face and sounding like that comedian Gilbert Gottfried with the whiny voice. So it was basically, the worst gig ever. People sat in the comfy chairs, and kept reading, and tried hard to ignore me, and silently begged for me to go away. I have not been back to a Borders in any town. I blame it on their own bankruptcy.

So in addition to the constant ear and throat problems, in this poor, poor, pitiful me column, are the DAMN CALLUSES guitar players must deal with! I don’t know if there are any books on this subject, but man oh man are these things a pain in the butt! I am constantly peeling off pieces of skin and leaving them everywhere – I mean everywhere. When you play guitar, you have to constantly press the strings against solid wood. If you think this is painless you are wrong! The more you play, the harder the skin on the tips of your fingers become, and everything eventually becomes less painful. But here’s the kicker – if you peel off the calluses in between gigs or practice sessions, you have to start all over with the callous building. It’s a vicious cycle that never ever ends!

My living room floor always looks like there’s potato chip crumbs everywhere, when in fact, it’s just all my dead skin.

There are also a number of other physical ailments that crop up out of nowhere the older I get. There’s this pain that goes up and down my right leg and into my back. It makes it uncomfortable to sit, lie down, or stand still. So I pace back and forth a lot which keeps the dogs and my audiences entertained. I do a lot of moaning and groaning in the night, which keeps my husband entertained. A guy told me it’s my sciatic nerve and he showed me an exercise for it. You lie down on your back, cross your right leg over your left leg making a triangle, then lift your left leg up and hold it there. Yes it’s as awkward as it sounds. I think he just wanted to look up my shorts.

I also can’t see very well anymore. This comes in handy when I start the wrong song on a set list and I yell, “Sorry! I couldn’t see!”

One time I had a urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI, also known as worse than pushing out septuplets all day and all night for a week while you try to eat, cook for everybody else, take care of the dogs, and go about your daily life while convincing yourself you can survive a simple bladder problem. It had burned and hurt when I peed for five days and when I couldn’t pee at all and was completely bloated and near death I went to the doctor. When you go to the doctor with a UTI you have to be able to pee in a cup so the girl with no gloves on can pick it up and look at it and tell the doctor you need the good drugs. You know you really want the good drugs so you try really hard to pee in the cup. I fill the cup and I am proud. I was given some meds, and sent on my way.

I had a gig that night, and it was going to be a long one: Two and a half hours for setup, a three and a half hour show, then another hour and a half breakdown. I was thrilled. Throughout the night whenever I had to pee I just had to psych myself out by chanting “You’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor, you’re peeing in the cup for the doctor.” If I didn’t chant those words I would just get more bloated and start to crouch when I walked. Nobody wants to look at a bloated and crouchy lead singer so I got it done.

The show went fine and no one knew I was dying in front of their eyes.

Then I got Lyme Disease.

When you live in the Northeast, everybody gets Lyme Disease, or you know 10 people who’ve had Lyme Disease, and everybody’s always checking themselves for Lyme Disease more than they’re checking themselves for ticks in the first place. The residual effects of this lovely disease never truly go away so your normal aches and pains are just magnified times ten and make you super tired, blah blah blah. Band practice tonight? Heck no! Write some songs today? Heck no! Gig tonight? THE SHOW MUST GO ON. Stay healthy people! (If that’s even a thing.)

How to Get Along Like Fleetwood Mac

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine September 2016

These two are married and currently not on speaking terms. These two are getting a divorce but are in really good moods. These two are having an affair. This one’s leaving, this one’s coming back, this guy’s actually a jerk but is an awesome player. This one’s afraid to fly so out of state gigs are out of the question. This one’s got kids with that one. This one’s on drugs and that one drinks too much. This guy’s wife is jealous so he can’t play anymore in the band, and that guy gets into fights at shows. This one wants to go solo, and that one wants to take over the band. The band’s breaking up but is getting back together with a new name without that guy who is now suing to get back in. Then that guy starts a social media war against the band. This guy says there are creative differences and this one says his creativity is being stifled. This guy doesn’t want to do any gigs on Thursdays ever and that one would prefer to be home by 11 p.m. The guitar player thinks the chord progression is too unconventional but the bass player thinks it’s a joy to play and the keyboard player wants to just sit that one out and the sax player can’t find the pocket. The drummer thinks this should be the groove but the singer can’t fit the lyrics into the measures so the horn section says they’ll come up with a riff instead. This one thinks the band doesn’t charge enough money while that one believes a price tag cannot be put on art. This one plays solos way too long and that one turns his head away when it’s his turn to solo so he doesn’t have to do one. This one thinks the horn section should just go away while that one would prefer a full orchestra, backup vocalists and dancers.

That’s Fleetwood Mac. Or basically, every band that ever was.

Getting along in a band requires adapting to one big fat changing dynamic. And it ain’t easy. It’s all fun and games until the bass player threatens to kill the keyboard player with his screwdriver because he’s playing the bass notes that he, the most awesome bass player, should be playing. It looks like everything’s going just fine until the drummer knocks over the guitar player’s guitar because a fan kissed her, on the mouth and everything. When the booking agent is in the audience and prefers the bands adhere to certain rules so he can keep his reputation intact and his 20 percent, and the band breaks a rule or two, all hell can break loose. Yelling and screaming, “Get back on stage now!” doesn’t usually go over well with too many guys, and some booking agents can get punched for doing so. And some guys can get thrown out of bands for saying the retched f word over the mic at a family-friendly event.

These are all true stories. I tell the guys in the band, “I don’t do drama. You’re either in or you’re out.” And that’s how we get along.

Casual listeners in the audience can become fans, who become roadies, who become groupies, who become absolutely obsessed maniacs who are out to ruin marriages, the band dynamic, or even worse – want to be in the band! I blame it all on the romance of music, which some people equate to being in love with the bass player. It can get weird.

But we have to stick together, just like the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. We get along so good that sometimes I have to wonder if that’s actually the problem. Generally, people love drama and chaos, especially on stage. Videos online showcasing band members losing it and knocking things over and beating each other up get way more hits than any of our boring, perfectly crafted and impeccably played performances. Bands like Fleetwood Mac get all the attention.

Millions of men have come and gone in my band (well OK, maybe 20 or so) and I won’t go trashing them all here, but suffice it to say, in or out, we’re all still good friends. We’ve always tried to just have fun, play in key, not overplay one another, and adhere to the following simple rules:

Rule No. 1 – I’m the boss. Somebody has to be the “boss”… the “leader” just like Bruce. Once everybody starts thinking it’s some kind of democracy, it just falls apart.   Suggestions, criticisms, and opportunities for improvement are all given fair consideration, but know this – one person has to have the final say. Escalating situations such as: one song going on forever because two people are dancing and somebody feels bad about ending it; taking hour long breaks because somebody’s entire high school class showed up; starting at 10:30 instead of 9:30 because somebody forgot to set their nap alarm; etc., can occur.

Rule No. 2 – No Drama. Music is about expressing emotion. However, if you’re a cry-baby, you’re not in my band. If you’re a sociopath, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to practice every time, you’re not in my band. If you’re late to a gig, you don’t play the gig. Consider me a tame version of the jazz teacher in that movie “Whiplash.”

Rule No. 3 – If you’re the boss, don’t be the “B” word or the “P” word.

Simple.

You see because there are times, once in a while, and they last maybe a minute or so, where magic actually happens in a band, no matter the in-fighting and BS. We say, “There were moments.” When we’re hanging on A-minor, and the drummer starts a gradual thunderous roll on the toms, and I hold a vocal note and lift it higher, then higher, then the bass line climbs and climbs, then we stop on a dime, well, a snare hit. The drummer throws his stick in the air about 25 feet. The audience and the band looks up to the ceiling or the heavens, it hurls back down, and he catches it, and we end with one final BLOP. The crowd erupts into ferocious applause. We look at each other and smile.

We live for the moments.

If you keep at it, you too, can one day be Fleetwood Mac.

Under The Covers

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2016

Does anybody understand “BREXIT?” Heck No! Does anybody understand the Department of Justice’s latest decision regarding consent and licensing and royalties controlled by Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP and BMI? All the more – Heck No!

All I know is this – it’s nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via online streaming services – no matter who you are. It’s also nearly impossible to make any money off your original music creations via hard copy CDs because the only way to sell them is to do live shows.   Once you sell out of CDs in your local area, which cost thousands of dollars to manufacture, you need to “broaden your circle” as they say and book shows out of your chosen city. The problem with that is you need money to tour with in order to play every night of the week and sleep in a van. (You can’t just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the Allman Brothers did while recording in Muscle Shoals.) Well, I guess you could. But in order to have the money to at least afford the peanut butter and jelly, you need a day job. But since most employers probably won’t appreciate you taking a month off here and a month off there to go gallivanting around the world, you are stuck playing shows only on the weekends, and not too far away.

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This is the Catch-22 of the music biz. Unless Mommy and Daddy are funding your little rock star trip around the world, the rest of us, have to find a way to pay for it. It takes money to make money.

My point is – this is why millions of hopeful musical geniuses resort to – you guessed it – starting COVER BANDS. Cover bands don’t need to book studio time, pay copyright registration fees, hire photographers and artists for album art work, or pay for CD manufacturing and online upload “bundles.” They don’t need managers, publicists, booking agents, album distributors or radio campaign promoters. They don’t have to constantly yearn for stardom. They can just be awesome musicians onstage, playing music everybody loves and wants to hear, and they pack the clubs. And they make a lot of money doing it; especially Tribute bands who are super duper good at copying someone who paid to do all that previous stuff and who got lucky with lots of hits so lots of cover bands could cover their stuff.

The word “cover” in regards to music by the way was coined by the Chicago Tribune in the 1950s to refer to a rival version of a previously released original tune. Some original bands throw covers into their set to make everybody happy, and to show off how THEY would have recorded it. Original bands have realized that some live music appreciators are just simply not interested in hearing songs they don’t know while out on the town spending hundreds of dollars on food and drinks. They want to dance and party and eat chicken wings and sing along.

Cover bands follow only a couple rules when it comes to choosing songs: Everyone in the band has to at least like the song, and no one in the band can absolutely hate the song. Pretty simple. No K.C. & The Sunshine Band, and no Bay City Rollers. Peter Frampton – yes. Kansas, Boston, Journey – yes. “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones – no. One guy said, “I just can’t consciously play a song about a black slave girl.”

“Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss – no. “I will shoot MYSELF in the head if I hear that song one more time,” somebody said. “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton – no. Just for a laugh – “Billy Jean” – yes. Pat Benatar – yes, except “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” – karaoke crooners have worn this to pieces over the past 20 years. Prince – yes, especially “Purple Rain.” Captain & Tennille – no. Allman Brothers – yes. Delbert McClinton – yes. Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt – yes.

There are also certain songs that only certain guitar players can handle, so those song choices depend on the shredding ability of the lead guitarist. “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter – only one guy. “Funk 49” – only one guy. Anything by Jimi Hendrix – pretty much only one guy.

Bruce Springsteen – yes, except “Dancing in the Dark.” Janis Joplin – most definitely yes. Anything reggae – only if the audience is wearing bathing suits. Lynyrd Skynyrd – yes, except you know what.

AND NEVER EVER BROWN EYED GIRL.

Sometimes in my own band, we’ll be playing a cover song for the millionth time, and I’ll turn to the band and exhaustively say, “I just can’t do it anymore.”  I’ll end it (swiping my finger across my neck) somewhere before the bridge, and the retched song never makes it onto a set list again. No questions asked.

But basically, you just feel the crowd and feel the venue. If you can’t “feel” the crowd” or “feel” the venue, then you have no business being in a band. When you’re famous, like Bruce Springsteen or Adele, the people are there for YOU. When you’re in a cover band, the people are there for THEMSELVES. I don’t care what the famous people write on their social media pages. When I’m doing a show, and tons of people start screaming “ADELE,” it’s because they want me to COVER Adele, for THEM.

So back to the original music creators – and this point is argued a lot – how much of their great music are we missing out on? Why is the SAME OLD STUFF that SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME AS THE PREVIOUS SONG on mainstream radio all the time? It’s because once an artist gets lucky and gets a ‘big machine” behind them, i.e., MONEY, then the production and touring costs are covered. Once that machine proves it can make a profit off that artist, other machines look at artists who SOUND JUST LIKE THAT ONE, and put their money behind the next one, and so on and so on and so on. The result: ALL THE SAME STUFF OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

You can listen to independent radio or Pandora and catch some non-mainstream music created by hard working souls who have managed to get some airplay, who have paved their own way either through their bank accounts or GoFundMe campaigns but ninety-nine percent of the time, they give up and either get real jobs, or become, COVER BANDS. Musicians are happy, diners and dancers are happy, club owners are happy.

FREEBIRD!

Musicians’ Unspoken Nod of Understanding

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine July 2016

While washing and scrubbing out the dog food bowl this morning I spied my bulldog Penelope out of the corner of my eye so I turned a little and nodded and bobbed my head a few times at her silently saying, “Yes Yes Yes you are going to get a big bowl of food today, just like every day, I’m working on it, you won’t starve.” I mean, how much of the English language does she really understand anyway?

Humans do a lot of nodding and head bobbing, but musicians are actually the worst. I like to call it the musicians’ unspoken nod of understanding (The UNU.) When stuff gets really loud on stage there’s really no other way to talk to each other, hence the unspoken nod signaling something REALLY IMPORTANT is about to happen.

It’s a disaster of course when everyone in the band decides to nod and bob all at the same time resulting in massive confusion and nobody knowing what the heck the other person is thinking. And the bigger the band the more the head nodding ensues. The nod means “Do something!” or “Stop doing that!” or “Get ready for me to do something!” or “That was sweet!”

Sometimes I like to be funny and yell out over the mic: “Do you want me to do something now? What exactly is it?” And we laugh and laugh and continue to screw up the song.

But there’s more to the head nodding than that. You know that movie “Jerry Maguire” when Cuba Gooding, Jr. wants the “quan?” He wants love, respect and community like all the other well-liked football players. Well in your local music communities, everybody wants the UNU. When other musicians are doing a gig with you, or they come to see you play, they understand you’re not going to screw up, you’re going to do your part when it’s time, and you’re not going to act like an idiot.

They give you the unspoken nod of understanding.

They don’t hug and kiss you, or give you a high five, or slap your butt. They’re not there to be entertained. They’re there to play, and listen. We’re all in this together. It’s called respect. Not the kind Aretha Franklin sings about, or your boss talks about, or your parents hound you about. It’s just a nod.

We musicians, you see, are really just super-sized introverts. We only reveal our inner selves on stage. That is why the silent nod is all we can muster, and it makes complete sense. Think of us as an assortment of brightly colored candy coated M&Ms. When we perform on stage, we’re actually stripping off our candy coating, so you can see right inside our soul. In the mornings when we first wake up, we feel more like peanut M&Ms – our candy coated souls are filled with self-doubt and fear of allergies, and the candy coating is a little harder to get off. We practice, study and write in a silent drudgery that nobody gets to see. Except the dogs, who would rather just be taken for a walk.

I won’t state the obvious.

OK I will.

You have to actually be able to play something, anything. Even if it’s the tambourine, you still have to know when to tap that thing.

Some people will never be a part of the collective UNU. They’re just crazy nut jobs who are so pissed off they never made it big they can’t get out of their own way. They’re so serious all the time they can’t even recognize what all this stuff is about. They are the people we leave mid-sentence to go tune our guitars.

To an outsider or general fan, the unspoken nods may be confusing and a bit weird, but we get it. Hey, if you really want to complement a musician, just give ‘em a nod. It means the world.