Nightmare Gigs

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine May 2016

Throughout my illustrious and surely un-famous musical career I have been plagued with nightmares between the restless hours of three and five a.m. But they’re not your standard falling, drowning, getting chopped up kind. They are about my gigs. They usually come when I have a big show coming up, or when I am completely prepared for the show, or if I have serious doubts. I had a gig coming up at a prestigious folk venue in Pomfret, Connecticut. In my dream, when I started to play my guitar that night I noticed too late that it had no frets, no little dots, and the strings were arranged upside down. I was guessing where to play the chords, and they were all wrong. I was doing a slow, haunting melody, and one of the band members started helping me out by playing along (with a proper guitar) and turned it into some zydeco foot-tapping thing. The whole place started dancing crazy, while I tried to sing my heart out. There was this plastic cover on the microphone, like a prophylactic, and my mouth kept swallowing it up. This in turn would choke me, and I kept screwing up the words, so to speak. As the place is hopping, and I’m mortified, this horrific thunder and lightning storm comes out of nowhere, and the power goes out. People start screaming and scrambling, and I figure, I’m a professional here, so no matter what, I am going to finish this song. I get to the epic final note, without the help of my Creoles, and the place erupts into hysterical laughter. “What a stupid way to end a zydeco song!” somebody yells, and the laughter continues.

This is the stuff dreams are made of people.


I often dream of my Junior High. I am walking the halls like I own the place, and disapprove of the changes and new paint. But in reality, Junior High held such promise for me, except for one fateful night when somebody thought it was a good idea for me and three others to perform as a barbershop quartet a Capella at the BIG high school in town. When you’re 12-years old and can sing harmonies with others, teachers and parents think it’s just so wonderful and cute. Unappreciative, rebellious teenagers in high school… not so much. So we break into a rousing rendition of “Jeepers Creepers” in perfect four-part harmony, just to show them how great we were.

It took the audience about 10 seconds to start giggling – softly and respectfully at first. But then, before we knew it, the place was ablaze with uncontrollable laughter. My barbershop mates and I looked at each other as if they must be laughing at something going on behind us. We finished the song and were rewarded with more laughter, and not a single hand clap. I guess you could call this my first experience with celebrity mortification. This humiliating event appears and re-appears in my dreams, and is right there on the surface every time I start a show. Will they buy and appreciate my music, or will they think it’s a “Saturday Night Live” skit?

Gigs that can easily turn into nightmares include: playing to empty bar stools, competing with sporting events on a TV set right over your head, equipment malfunctions, band members not showing up, and bartenders forgetting how to turn off the jukebox. But there’s more!

Charity gigs can be emotionally rewarding while you give your talent away in exchange for a good cause, but can occasionally be nightmares.

One time we went to Woodstock, New York to do a benefit and our pay was “gas money.” We pull into town, and it didn’t take long for the reefer to permeate. It was everywhere man! The scene: Kids riding bikes with joints hanging out of their mouths, seriously good musicians on every corner with bongs next to their tip jars, nostalgia boutiques with Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix tapestries covering the door. Far out stuff here.

It is still 1969 in this town.


There’s this 100-year old dude who rides around on quite a fancy 10-speed with all kinds of voodoo stuff hanging off it. He calls himself Grandpa Woodstock, and flashes the peace sign more than New Yorkers flip the bird.

Protestors show up every day on the green with freshly made signs advertising the cause of the day. Our day was “Free Gaza” day. People in this town are either pacing back and forth for a cause, sitting on a bench eating ice cream, strumming a guitar, or just flat-out wasted on the sidewalk.

So we get to the venue (a church) and expect hundreds of these modern moguls to pack the place and rock out for the cause. There are only a couple places for live music in the entire valley so our hopes are high.

Not to be.

Turns out, people just didn’t want to hand over the $20 cover charge to help out the church – no matter who was playing in there for free. We played a Woodstock-inspired set to five people. One was the pastor. We never got the gas money. We drove back to Connecticut in a blinding rain storm at 3 a.m.

Sign of the times I guess.

Another nightmare gig to EVER agree to is the abominable “Play for the Door” gig. This means there’s a cover charge and the band is presumably paid what is collected at the door.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Unless you’ve got one of your own groupies watching every move the door-collector guy does, the band ain’t getting nowhere NEAR what’s collected at the door. It’s their word against yours. If you count 50 people in the room, at $5 a head, then you would think if you graduated Junior High, it equates to $250 for the band. When they hand you $100 at the end of the night with a nice smile and a thank you so much, you can cry foul all you want, but stupid you, you agreed to this stuff.

One time at a bar in New London this exact thing happened, and the drummer got so mad he literally punched the bartender (or slightly missed him, can’t remember.) “You’re full of crap! We can count! Give us what we’re owed!” But unless you’re going to break the poor bartender’s knee caps, you really have no choice but to take what you’re given. Better than nothin’!

This other time at a bar in South Windsor, we were again, playing for the door (STUPID!!!) Having learned from our mistakes, we actually left our own scout at the door, to count every dollar. The door-collector guy kept letting people in for free, and this was immediately reported to us. We approach the guy.

“Why aren’t you charging these people? We’re the entertainment and we get the money collected at the door.”

He says, “I can’t charge my regulars or they’d never come back here again.”

Turns out, every single person who walked in the door that night was a regular, except for my brother and the sax player who showed up late.

We made $10.

Sweet dreams people!


Don’t You Know Who I Am?

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine April 2016

Spring is here! But life as a musician ain’t all Easter bunnies and daffodils, I’m sorry to say. Musicianhood is fraught with self-doubt, heartache, disappointment, bloody fingers, late nights and worst of all – anonymity. There are so many of us fighting for the same gigs, marketing to an ever-decreasing audience, trying to secure the best musicians and attempting to balance our rock-star delusions with day-to-day doldrums, we all tend to feel a bit lost in the shuffle. This year, there were two thousand bands at the music festival South By Southwest in Austin, TX who all traveled there from around the globe to play thirty minutes in a bar with its doors open right next to another bar with its doors open hosting another band who competed with thousands of other bands for the right to perform next to the other band. What are any musician’s chances of ever standing out? Musicians and bands with name recognition get the best gigs, the most money, and all sorts of other things I know nothing about. But how are we “discovered” so things get just a tad easier?

The road to musical fame and fortune is different for everyone, as well as the definition of it. Some musicians are happy to play out only on the weekends and have their day jobs, kids, and lawns to mow. Others are happy to bang around in a van on tour half the year, come home to an apartment to write and record, and head back out. Some prefer to just record, sell the music, and never play out. Some people only want to sell their original songs to well-known acts via basement demos. Some musicians only work on television and movie scores with barely a line of credit at the end of the show. Some people end up somewhere they never even thought of.

One commonality among those who have “made it,” made it to a point where millions of people knew who they were, is that they usually never saw it coming. Whether they were ready or not for the fame, it was thrust on them, and they had to deal with it. Some faltered, some thrived.

Bruce Springsteen played New Jersey clubs for seven years before he was referred to manager and producer Mike Appel in 1972. Appel got Bruce an audition with CBS Records’ John Hammond, which led to Bruce’s first record contract. Bruce worked with Appel on “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”, “The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle”, and the epic “Born to Run.” Eventually, President Reagan thought his song “Born in the USA” was a great patriotic anthem and then he and the E Street Band played a Super Bowl half-time show televised to millions.

Blogger Justin Gage, who runs the Aquarium Drunkard blog, posted a song from an Alabama Shakes EP, and the Internet went nuts. The band then played at the CMJ Music Marathon, and somehow shortly after received some Grammy nominations and the following year, a Grammy.

Bonnie Raitt played solo at Boston coffee houses in between her college classes and soon met blues promoter Dick Waterman, and then, record executives at Warner Brothers. Then she won a ton of Grammys and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Lady Gaga, who is really Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, quit, started performing in lower East side clubs, and collaborated with other bands. She got a job with Interscope Records as a songwriter for other artists on the label, including Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block, and The Pussycat Dolls. While performing at her own burlesque show, R&B singer Akon saw her, signed her, recorded with her, and then she eventually sang “The Sound of Music” at the Grammys and then pretended she was David Bowie at the Grammys.

Las Vegas area rock band Imagine Dragons were recording and playing out like everybody else when they were asked to step in for the band Train at the Bite of Las Vegas Festival because lead singer Pat Monahan was sick. Then a couple years later they won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance.

Aretha Franklin sang in church with her father, a Baptist preacher named Reverend Clarence La Vaughan Franklin, and performed on the road with his traveling revival show. She went to New York, was signed by Columbia Records, and is now the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer Queen of Soul.

Adele attended the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology, cut a three-track demo for a class project, and posted it on MySpace. Executives at XL Recordings heard the tracks, signed her to a record deal, and then she won a million Grammys and did carpool karaoke with James Corben.

Ed Sheeran left home for London at age 14 with a guitar on his back and worked himself into the local singer-songwriter scene. He recorded and posted his songs online, and one tune reached No. 2 on the iTunes chart. He was signed to Atlantic Records and then he was nominated for 109 awards and won 40.

Taylor Swift sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Philadelphia 76ers game at age 11, and started writing her own songs and learning guitar at 12. She talked her parents into moving near to Nashville, Tennessee, she performed at The Bluebird Café, and was signed with Big Machine Records. Then she sold out football stadiums and picked fights and won them with the Apple Corporation and Kanye West. One time, my daughter and her friends were on their way to a Taylor Swift concert at Gillette Stadium, the home of the New England Patriots, and I was packing the car up for my own gig. I said, “Taylor Swift gets Gillette Stadium, and I get the Olde Mistick Village Gazebo.” And they laughed and laughed. What else could they do?

The Beatles played Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly covers in Hamburg, Germany bars, and then met Brian Epstein in Liverpool who made them wear Pierre Cardin suits and get haircuts. Then they became the best-selling and most influential band of all time.

Did they all have talent? Yes. Did they have determination and actually try to do something musically? Yes. But why were they the lucky ones? It’s clearly like when Professor McGonagall finds the dead troll in the bathroom at Hogwarts and says to Harry Potter and Ron: “Not many first year students could take on a fully grown mountain troll and live to tell the tale. Five points will be awarded to each of you, for sheer dumb luck.”

It’s just sheer dumb luck. I’m thinkin’.

Those of us stuck in the “I want it so bad I can taste it” road to nowhere still can’t stop trying though, no matter the ridiculous odds of notoriety or slim chance of quitting the day job.

And let’s face it, being able to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” when pulled over by a cop could be quite gratifying, and so could the million dollar paycheck for a two-hour set. But more importantly, what fame and fortune bring, if you choose to use your power for good rather than evil, is a voice. You gain the ability to impact change through your voice.   You can “leave the world better than how you found it,” which isn’t such a bad gig. Good luck! Happy Spring!

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.

Why Do We Do It?

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine February 2016

Today I speak to you – YEAH YOU – you in your smelly, moldy, mouse infested basement, you in your bedroom in your bathrobe, you playing guitar six nights a week in the corner of a bar while people get drunk and ignore you, you lead singing for any band that will ask you, you writing songs and hoping to record them and change the world one day, you writing songs while you’re on the road starving to death in your van, you tracking and mixing for bands you can’t stand to listen to, you with the hairbrush in front of the mirror, you who thought taking flute lessons and playing in the middle school band would make you smarter. All of you.

Yes I’m talking to all you musicians out there nobody’s ever heard of.

Why do you do it?

Maybe you do it because you think it’s your ticket out of the 9-5. Maybe you do it because it’s the only thing that makes you feel alive. Maybe you do it because it’s the only thing that keeps you sane in this crazy terrible world. Maybe you do it because Mommy and Daddy made you take piano lessons and now you’ve got this talent that shan’t be wasted. Maybe you do it because you still hate sports and all that stuff about concussions. Maybe you do it because the roar of the crowd makes you cry. Maybe you do it because you still think it will get you girls. Maybe you do it because you believe this is what you were born to do even if it kills you.

And you keep doing it don’t you.

When I was 18 and living in L.A. trying to be a rock star, with absolutely no clue on how to go about becoming a rock star in L.A., I used to marvel at the lights and the energy on Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards while gazing longingly at all the fake and true rock stars and their super long hair. I ate Ramen noodles and scoured the papers for auditions. I lost 30 pounds and got really tan. I secured a real audition finally at a night club in town for a band of some sort at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. The joint is closed so I knock. And knock. A burly guy comes to the door and asks what the heck I want. I explain I have a very important audition that’s taken me weeks to obtain, and I’m all the way from the east coast so please let me in now.

“You 21?” he asks.

“No. I have a very important audition though.”

“Drinking age is 21. Come back when you’re 21.”

“No seriously. I don’t care about your warm stale beer. They are expecting me and it’s extremely important.”

“Get outa here.” And he slams the door.

On my dreams.

It’s funny how when you’re 18, you think you’re this brilliant game-changer who’s got it all figured out, when in actuality, you know absolutely freaking nothing. For example, I didn’t know the drinking age in California was 21. I didn’t know that in order to play in a band in California, in a bar, you better be 21. I didn’t know that, looking down Hollywood Boulevard at night, at the rows and rows of talented, beautiful, glamorous would-be-nots, that I was really just one step away from a seedy and certainly illegal future if I didn’t get some work soon. I had been out there about three months, and those limp noodles were getting a little old.

So I came back home. Not a rock star.

Now what to do? Maybe you have a similar story. Maybe you would NOT have come home. Maybe you would have kept plugging away. Maybe you still are.

Last month, I learned you’re never too old to go back to school. I received complimentary tickets to see Aretha Franklin at the Mohegan Sun Casino because I throw twenty dollars in a slot machine once a year. I don’t go to many concerts because secretly, I usually just sit there mad because it’s not me up there. (OK, spoiler alert, my secret’s out.) But Aretha can sure teach you a thing or two.

Still Doing It

One of the biggest complaints we musicians have is, in order to keep gigging, because we’re not Taylor Swift or Pharrell or Aretha Franklin, is we have to do covers so people in the audience don’t look at us like we’re complete aliens. “People want to hear stuff they know,” club owners often say. And we get that. Actually, some bands have completely given up on their own originality, because “people want to hear stuff they know.” I want to scream – “If you want to hear stuff you know, just play the juke box!” But it’s not that simple of course. People also want to see a “live band” for reasons ranging from “groupie envy” to “bass thumps in my chest”, to “super sexy guitar player syndrome.” But my point is, when you go see a super famous person, like Aretha Franklin, and she sits down at the piano and does her own glorious, super personal, Gospel-like version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, I, as a musician, ponder. She’s doing a cover. She most certainly has not been asked by Mohegan Sun to do a cover because “people want to hear stuff they know.” No way. She’s doing it because that song is first of all: awesome; second of all: it means a great deal to her; and third: she not only makes it her own but completely owns it.

My point is, you musicians out there who have made it through the last paragraph of my ramblings, is – don’t be afraid to show who you are on stage, no matter what the club owners say, or the guy slamming the door on you says. The audience is there to see your talent in full form (or else they would simply turn on the juke box.) Mix it up. Surprise them. Don’t hide your creativity and originality. It’s probably why you do it.