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.

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Book Em Danno

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2016

I adjusted the microphone stand to align my silver Seinnheiser so it pointed straight at my upper lip. Not too high, not too low, not pointing up and not pointing down. I screwed my water bottle holder precisely half-way down on the left side of the stand, not the right side. I swung my electric Fender strat over my head, stood up to the microphone, and waved my guitar to the left to be sure I wouldn’t knock the stand over, or whack my bass player. It was 15 minutes to show time and the bar was filling up.

The waitress seated a party of four directly in front of the stage and I smiled at them. A coiffured woman in her sixties said to the group but mostly to me, “Oh No! There’s a band? We’re going to go deaf!” I quickly scanned the room and saw there were literally no more seats to be had so I politely interjected, “We’re not loud at all. It will be nice dinner music for you.” Huffy-Puffy lady was not convinced.

Would you like to know what I REALLY wanted to say?

“Listen you old fogey, enjoy your shrimp but, do you have ANY IDEA the steps I had to take to set up this microphone in front of your ungrateful self? HUH?!? It’s not just a microphone. If you would look past your salad fork you’d see it’s also guitar amps and monitors and speakers, which involved the heaving of those said speakers on top of whimsy old speaker stands that may loosen and come crashing down smack dab in the middle of your carafe. And it’s not just the the bags and bags of super heavy maple-shelled drums and copper symbols and metal stands with delicate screwing knobs that were also lugged in here at 11 a.m. so we wouldn’t get in the way of ‘your party.’ We also did a sound check hours earlier so your delicate ears weren’t subjected to any squealing or pounding snare drums. In order to set up this microphone you see before you, first we had to learn how to play our instruments, then we had to become a band, then we had to rehearse once a week after working all day at our day jobs, and then we had to hone down an entertaining show – FOR YOU. Then we had to PROMOTE the fact that we now ARE a band, and then we had to BEG the manager for this grand opportunity. You see my dearest, this microphone in front of you should actually be referred to as the eighth wonder of the world.”

As most musicians know, booking gigs is worse than root canals, the mere thought of colonoscopies, and stomach flus that come out both ends – combined. It’s like what Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire says: “It’s an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”

But let me tell you about it. Here’s how it goes down.

You scan Facebook event invites, newspapers, and especially this wonderful publication – Sound Waves Magazine – to see where other bands are playing. You see if there is anybody in those bands who will talk to you and you ask them who the booking contact is at the venues they have bookings. You call the venue and ask for that person. That person is never there so you ask when they will be there. You call back at the designated time, but miraculously they are still not there. How do they make a living if they’re never at work? You set a plan to drive to the venue and spend a few dollars at the bar so you can talk to the booking contact who should be there who maybe just never wants to come to the phone. You get there and ask for the booking contact, but they are not there. So you ask…again… when they will be there. They say they don’t know. Obviously, all booking contacts are independently wealthy.

So then you move on to the next lead, and the next, and the next, and they all pretty much work out the same: NO GIGS and out a lot of gas money.

Sometimes venues want you to send them a package in the mail with a demo CD, a “Fact Sheet,” and a nice glossy picture. So, you scrounge up the money to record a demo CD in a studio, a photographer for a photo shoot, and a print shop for the 8x10s. Then, you make up some facts in a Microsoft Word document and list all the places you have managed to play. You buy some ink and paper for your home printer and print out the facts. You go to Staples and buy some fancy colorful folders to put the facts, the picture, and the demo CD into. You also buy some 10×13 yellow clasp envelopes to put the colorful folders into. You write the mailing address of the venue on the yellow clasp envelope and drive to the post office. You pay the post master to deliver your yellow clasp envelope. You wait two weeks to call the person you addressed the yellow clasp envelope to but get his voicemail so you leave a message informing him that he should have received a brightly colored folder in a yellow clasp envelope for booking consideration. YOU NEVER HEAR BACK. EVER.

Sometimes venues have fancy forms on the Internet for you to fill out where you list your band name, upload an .MP3 (from the demo CD if you can figure out how to burn it off the CD and attach it to the form), and you enter in your band’s web site. Sometimes, free Facebook band pages aren’t enough, as well as other free services such as SoundCloud, ReverbNation, or BandCamp. So, in order to have a REAL band web site, you have to make up a domain name for your band and register it with a service like Go Daddy so they can make your band name into a URL (the stuff behind http://.) Sometimes you have to add “TheBand” to the end of your domain name because there are only so many domain names to choose from. Then, you have to find an Internet provider to host your band web site, but you also need an Internet provider at your house so you can build the web site and upload it to the other Internet provider so when people type in your URL, Go Daddy knows where to send the people who look at booking consideration forms. But in the meantime you have to learn how to build web sites so you can have a band web site so you can type it into a form so the booking contact at the other end of the form can ignore it. Sometimes it’s just too complicated so you have to hire your next-door neighbor’s 12-year old son to build it for you. But regardless, you NEVER hear back from the people behind the form. EVER.

For this particular gig mentioned at the beginning of my whining here, it took THREE YEARS of going into the venue, not getting to talk to anybody, finding out the booking contact had changed and the new one preferred emails, so emails were sent, to no response, ad nauseam. The BIG LONG AWAITED BOOKING DAY came on an unexpected Sunday afternoon while having lunch at the venue, with no particular agenda. I was just hungry.

The bartender said, “Hey – when the heck are you playing here?”

“Apparently never.”

“No wait, she’s here, let me go get her.” She went and got the billionaire from her yacht or the back office or something. We talked. She booked us for three gigs, one every other month.

Well that was easy.

So, Party of Four? Enjoy this show that was super easy for us to book. And by the way, the microphone WILL be quite loud.