Knowing your Limitations

Sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve written. I’ve been working on writing and recording a new album, plus finishing up my superhero surf album. One more song to go on that one and I’m done. Thanks Pat. It’ll be delivered soon.

My friend and awesome guitarist Jon came over and we listened to my surf album. Jon can run circles around me on guitar. He does all that stuff you read about in Guitar Player magazine. In fact Jon has been featured Guitar Player Magazine twice now. I’m a fine guitarist and from working on my new recordings, I’ve made a point to play more interesting solos. My rhythm playing satisfies me, I tend to think out of the box a lot when I write. I like to think I come up with interesting guitar parts for the most part. Simple but easily digestible. Jon, on the other hand, plays amazing rhythm parts. I enjoy his vision and quirky attitude when it comes to writing and playing. We both have been cut from the same tree when it comes to that. We both are good at what we do but are at both ends of the spectrum when it comes to ability.

Jon will write a song with blazing harmony solos, change time signatures, and layer guitars till it sounds like an orchestra. Jon comes from the Eric Johnson, Steve Via, Eddie Van Halen school. He has the influences and the ability to play that style and he does it perfectly except he has come into his own as a guitarist years ago and now has his own voice.

I am a roots rock fanatic. The sound of twangy Tele’s and Gretsch’s through a twin with monster delay drives me crazy. I love the simple solos that rockabilly cats play. The baritone guitars playing tremolo lines are the reason I get up everyday. If there is a God he plays baritone guitar.

Here is where the limitations come in. Jon and I have written together quite a few times. I love everything I have done with him. Now Jon can copy that rockabilly style but as he told me once before, the style doesn’t interest him enough to set down and learn the finer points of the style. It’s not worth his time. Myself I couldn’t copy Jon’s style to save my life. Like Jon the Steve Via chops just weren’t what I wanted to concentrate on. I doubt I could ever really get it anyway. I do love the David Lee Roth albums with him on it and I know it has been an influence. I hear harmony guitar parts or maybe a lick or two that I’ve figured out that come directly from him. After playing with Jon for so many years I’m getting it all second hand. Jon is more of an influence than Via.

The point is we both make good music, both playing covers or originals. In my sets you won’t hear any 32nd notes, sweeping, or tapping. What you will hear are roots rock songs influenced by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stray Cats, Elvis Costello, etc. You’d hear blues based penetonic leads. Simple songs that my band can make sound great. I know my limitations and I work toward my strengths. When you come to my shows, I try to make it easy on my audience. Kick in that 4/4 rhythm, boom, chuck, boom, chuck, a strong hook and you have yourself a great sound. I don’t try to play songs I love that don’t fit into my limitations. Like all guys and 1% of girls, I love Rush. I can play the beginning of Limelight, Tom Sawyer, and Fly by Night. Do I put those songs in my set? No because I can play Land of 1000 Dances like a madman. My audience loves those types of songs. If I whip out a crappy version of Limelight it’s gonna suck. Who do I need to impress? The guitar players in the back of the room with their arms folded or my audience and my band members. The audience EVERYTIME. So what if the guy at the back of the room is judging my simple but effective playing. He paid to hear it, He see’s me playing it in a full house, in the best club in town and people screaming and yelling each time a song ends and the next one immediately starts. At the end of the night I pick up a large guarantee plus a bonus and go home, possibly with a woman with questionable morals and low self-esteem.

The same can be said for Jon’s band, except Jon has one of the most beautiful girlfriends of all time, so he skips the last part. He knows his limits also. His band could play all those songs that I don’t have the ability to play. Do they? Hell no! He plays in a party band. A hard rockin tattooed, mohawk wearing, rock band leaning toward the heavy side. He knows his audience’s limitations. They don’t come for awesome sweeping solos, they come because they bring the party. They don’t know what Jon is doing they just know the band is great. They scream, dance and yell. Die hard fans have tattooed the band name on themselves and some wear mohawks to the show. Jon gets to play what he’s great at and the band doesn’t just keep up they match the ability. I’ve never heard Randy play a Jaco Pastorious bass line, but he holds that bottom end down. Jeff the drummer isn’t whipping in Buddy Rich licks on the drums but he’s putting that kick drum right up your ass and staying like a metronome so that he and the bass player become the backbone of a rockin machine. Steve the singer isn’t singing a single song he can’t handle in fine form. Together they are a great band. They know what they do well and focus on putting on a show instead of standing there struggling to make it through a song they can barely play.

I’ve heard it thousands of times. Someone will ask for a song, you say you don’t know it or the band doesn’t know it. Their reply is usually, “come on you guys play everything great.” The answer is still the same. “Thanks but really we don’t know it.” What I really think in my mind is, we may know it but we wouldn’t play it well. All good band have songs they have worked on, rehearsed and just doesn’t come together. Realize it and move on. Don’t play songs you half ass out. Make your audience think everything you do is magic. Pay no attention to the band behind the curtain.

One last point. Know the limitations of the members of your band. I can fake jazz bass for about 12 bars. I’m not a jazz player and wouldn’t take a jazz gig even with charts. But I’m a damn good rock bass player, running bass lines are no problem and I’m not scared to pedal through a song if that’s what it calls for. I know I’ll never have a jazz song in my set. I can’t handle it. Do my band members crawl up my ass for that? No there are thousands of other songs that we’d play well. Play rockstar on stage. When it comes to rehearsal and choosing material think of everyone in the band. My singer has that Greg Allman gravel to his voice. I’m not gonna pick Zeppelin songs and then bitch that he can’t sound like Robert Plant. You are a band. A unit. Business partners. Leave the ego on the stage.

Egos are what kill bands. I’ve dealt with it recently, and have moved on, or been asked to move on. It wasn’t my ego, that’s for sure, but I was pretty messed up at the time (through no fault of my own, thanks Doc!) so I understand. We were business partners and not friends, that’s for sure. But the status quo is back to normal for them and it seems to work best. I still won’t stop me from submitting songs of my own that I think fit my band, or coming up with ideas for the show. That part hasn’t phased me. I’ll take my talents, connections, and strengths and move them elsewhere. I’m not bitter or hateful toward them. It wasn’t their place to take care of me when I was going through a traumatic change in my life. They acted concerned which was nice.

Bands break up. They all eventually do. This can be prolonged if there is mutual respect, no ego to be crushed, and no power plays. If there is a problem, screaming and yelling won’t fix it. All that does is push someone in a corner and they will strike back. A band I’ve been enjoying on the internet is going through these problems. Here is my advice to you MD.

You started a band together so there is your respect. You chose each other and made a commitment. You have fans. You have made a commitment to entertaining them on a regular basis. Your contract with them is you’ll do your best to please them, surprise them, and give them 100% of what you have.

If it a question of song selection, put it in perspective. Millions of songs to choose from and one guy refuses to play one? Is it because he doesn’t think it’ll go over live? Or does he think it doesn’t fit the band? Or is it beyond their limitations of the band. You have two choices. Learn it, play it to the best of your ability and find out. If someone believes in a song that much, either it’ll go over or it’ll flop. Either way you tried and hopefully were proven wrong by finding a new song your crowd loves. If not drop it from the set. Easy and no one gets offended.

Each member in Poprocks had veto power over each song selected. No questions asked. We used it sparingly. In fact I can think of about three times it was used in eight years with that band. Mostly we figured “why not?”

Call all the guys. Meet in a bar or at the rehearsal space. Bring beers and smoke and no guitars and calmly hash out your problems in a calm cool manner. Forget petty name calling in the past and refuse to do it from now on. Hurt feeling result in resentment. You are friends and band mates. You have put in the time and now you are gigging and it falls apart? Bullshit. You are at the point where your hard work is now paying off. Don’t slam each other behind their back. Poprocks did most of it’s nonrehearsal discussions by group e-mail. We didn’t always agree but we never called someone an asshole for their beliefs.

Here is part two. DON’T BE THE ASSHOLE! Yeah chicks dig you the most because you are singing to them or playing mind blowing solos. I work as a bass player 90% of the time. The most unglamorous job in any band. The singer can’t sing without his band, the guitarist can’t solo without his rhythm section. The bass player is equal, he just doesn’t get the spot light. If you want more face time, troll the edge of the stage, put on a show. Rock brothers and sisters! So ego has no place between members. If you let it you’ll be standing at the back of my room with your arms folded watching me entertain a packed house. I’d rather you pack your own house.

Boys, breaking up from petty shit is stereotypical. You don’t want to be unoriginal. Stay together. That’ll show em! This my opinion and I don’t know the details. I’m guessing. If you’d like I would be happy to moderate the meeting and get things worked out.

I have been working with this girl in the studio. Her name is Franchelle. A gorgeous little black girl with the voice of an angel. She asked if I’d back her up at a talent night. I happily showed up to help my friend out. She was freaking. She’d never played live before. It was exciting to feel that way again. I played for free for the love of music, entertainment, and friendship. She did great. I grabbed my stuff and left. She was being showered with compliments and I’m not going to stand in her way. It was her night.

She called me the next day and said “You left too early! We won!!!” twenty some years of gigging and I’ve won my first talent contest. We got a little medallion and a gift card. As much as I’d like the medallion to hang on my “Wall of Cool Shit” I’m gonna let her have it. She deserves it and it will go down in my mind as one of my favorite gigs I have ever done.

Land of 1000 Dances. Because my band could handle it. The horns blasted, the guitars rocked, we gave the drummer some and the singer wailed. Packed the dance floor every time… One chord song. We played it in D.

Buy the album damn it!.

 

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It Takes Money to Make Money

My first successful band was a nine-piece classic R&B band. Dr Wu’s Rock and Soul Revue. We carried a full horn section, guitar’s bass and drums. We added a keyboardist later. I formed it in early 1992.

For those who were born after that time, there was internet; just most people didn’t have it. We made cassette tapes for ten guys to learn their songs. You had to rewind and rewind to get that lick learned. Someone had to set down with a pen and paper and write down the words to the songs. You had to call each person individually to give them new dates, set up rehearsals, give them actual directions to a gig, and promote ourselves through printed materials like post cards and newsletters. There was no social media to spread the word to your 800+ friends with one click. We licked stamps. We wrote, printed and folded newsletters and took it in the ass when a hundred or so of them came back undelivered.  Thirty-two cents for a stamp at the time. Doesn’t sound like much, but three newsletters coming back was one dollar out of our pockets. We had to watch the mailing list close to remove the old addresses and put the new addresses in. We did have the ability to print off labels thank God. Our first mailing was twenty five, hand addressed newsletters. It cost us about 40 bucks to get everything together and out for that first batch.

By the time the band got really rolling we were sending out hundreds and hundreds of these three-page newsletters. Our Sax player wrote 90% of them and they were funny as hell. He made horrible sport of each of the members, our stupid band antics, and upcoming dates. It was what a website is for a band today. It paid off in spades for us. We always noticed a rise in crowd numbers after the newsletter came out. It was entertaining; it had our dates and a contact number. We pulled more dates with this one promotional tool. The band was great, we had our niche, and we moved up the ladder of success. Management and a booking agent. We flew to shows; we played with our heroes, etc., all because of this one promotional tool. We paid for it by pitching in five bucks a piece after a gig. We probably were all making fifty bucks per guy at the time, but we saw it as an investment in our future. Everyone tossed it in except our drummer. “I told you I didn’t agree with putting out a newsletter and I’m not paying for it!”

“It’s f@#king five dollars! Just cough it up and shut the F@#k up” I replied in my “oh so subtle” way. I wasn’t a pro at the time either. We were slow learners.

Ringo, (names have been changed to protect the guilty party) replied “Fine! I’ll pitch in but I’m quitting …No one asked him to stay. This was six-months into a gigging band. Ringo never compromised on anything. That band lasted ten years. If Ringo wouldn’t have quit over five dollars the band would have never made it a full year. Ringo just made himself a pain in the ass. He’s still one of my favorite drummers but I could never work with him in a band. Others who have played with him have agreed.

Ringo was working in a factory while we were being flown from gig to gig, or pulling down BIG money working festivals and corporate gigs. Over FIVE DOLLARS!!!!

Point being, you HAVE TO INVEST IN YOURSELVES! We invested in the twenty-five newsletters, got better gigs and more of them, invested in lighting and better PA, which in turn made us look better and more professional and got us better gigs. It was a circle of investing in ourselves. We kept a ton of money but every now and then each guy would have to come home fifty bucks less from a string of dates, so we could make a payment on something new for the show, studio time, buy merchandise, or promotional material. We were a business. We were in show business. “Big B, little s.” The business end must be handled. The music was the easy part.

I guess the question is, how do we get start-up money? Well there a few proven ways.

“Everyone pitching in a bit”. A new band may need lights, PA equipment, a special piece of gear, etc. If you need to make payments on this I’d suggest this method be used only if you are playing with guys with a steady income. This is one place loyalty to you music store can come in really handy. The owner may let you finance the gear at the best price, especially if he knows you are the type of band that will make the money and buy more stuff from him. Get it paid off as fast as you can to help out the store owner, and he’ll be ready to deal with you with your next upgrade. The same can be done with T-Shirt shops, printers for posters, etc. Make your deals and then follow them to the letter. Screw one of these guys and you are screwing yourself.

“The extra man.” If you are a five piece band and after expenses you split up the night’s take. Split it up six ways instead of five. Keep the sixth member’s share. Give him a name. Ours was “the guy who keep the band running, gas in the van, fixes speakers, and even put’s us up in cheap hotels. His name is Tip. As in TIP THE BUCKET! If you have a fund saved up in a separate account, the next time you need a new speaker cable for the PA, take it from the fund. New merchandise? The fund…

You don’t have to pay the sixth man every show. But make it clear to everyone when you’ll be paying the sixth man. You don’t want someone to bitch about having to pay rent the night you decide to take it. Make it very clear. Write it on your master calendar. Every fourth gig we are paying the fund. Big point here. When it’s time to take it from the fund. Take it off the top and THEN hand out the pay. No one likes to be paid and then come back to them and ask for ten bucks. Chances are they’ll want that ten bucks. Keep a ledger of deposits and items you pay for. This way there is no doubt to your honesty, and it’ll keep you honest. On pay the extra guy night, don’t say one word about it. That goes for everyone in the band. You are investing in yourself. Encourage them to look at the ledger. They’ll like the money put away. Bring the ledger to every rehearsal.

“The free gig.” You can always play a gig where all the money goes into a fund. Dr Wu played a lot. When we needed something, we’d take half one week and half the next. Usually that covered it. And everyone went home with some pay. It hurts less this way.

“The Merchandise” Keep ALL your merchandise money for buying new merchandise, expenses, etc. We sold our EP and kept the cash in a lock box. The singer’s car broke down in downtown Chicago one winter day. We handed over the CD money, he got it fixed and came home. Yeah we didn’t profit on the CD but we did get our singer home and earned karma points. We had never split up that cash so no one felt any pain.

“One guy pays for it all” The Matt Poss Band did it this way. Matt bought all merchandise and paid gas expense, van rental, PA rental, everything. In turn, He kept the lion’s share of the money. I played with him for two years and to this day I have no idea what he charged. He paid me “X” amount for each gig, plus a bonus if we got one, or he had a particularly high paying show. I knew I was coming home with good pay and I also didn’t have to worry about money coming out of my pocket. Matt should have the lion’s share because he made the investment. Doing it this way made him some good cash most nights I’m sure but sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.

These are a few ways that have worked in the past. What do you do if a member quits? I’ve never asked for any money when I have left a situation, even though I own part of it. I consider it my payment for using it and their payment for having to replace me. If you do need to pay him, look up the cost of used PA speakers on eBay. See what the average is on the gear and pay him his share. If the band totally breaks up, either keep parts, mics, cables etc. and split whatever anyone wants. If there is a problem at all, sell it all on Craigslist or eBay and split the money. Use eBay to find those used prices. You are splitting up what the gear is worth, not what you paid for it new.

fez for finks

On to another subject. My new band “the Finks” Have teamed up with Fez-O-Rama and the Make a Wish Foundation. Joe and Jason at Fez-O-Rama loved the idea and will be designing a custom fez especially for the Finks. Since we were buying fezzes anyway, we are going to allow someone to sponsor a fez. In turn we take the money we were going to spend and we give it to Make a Wish in the sponsor’s name. I’m working with Fez-O-Rama to work on the design. They will also be available to the public and you don’t want to be caught dead without a fez at a Finks show. We’ll make you part of our wall of fame and send you free stuff now and then, we’ll make available downloads of demos of new songs we are working on, tickets to shows if we can get ‘em, Hell I have a lot of stuff laying around here, We’ll toss in my coonskin cap if it’ll make someone happy. Either way you’ll be part of a band, giving to a worthy cause and to a company that makes fezzes. As Dr. Who says “I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool.”

Sponsor a fez and buy my CD! NOW!!!!

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

 

Getting a new band up and running FAST!

My new band got together for our first rehearsal. We didn’t have anything specific picked to play since this was the first time we’ve gotten together. We were feeling each out musically. I’m lucky that I’ve either played with each of these guys in old bands or in the studio. I have never played with them in this configuration. I wanted to get back to having a band full of friends first and not so much a business partnership like Poprocks and the Matt Poss band was. Even though I was friends with the people in these bands, we weren’t the type of friends that hung out and just enjoyed each other’s company. Even on the road. Conversations were kept to cracking jokes, and small talk. We were partners. If I was having a cookout I wouldn’t call these guys and vice versa. They would be welcome of course but they wouldn’t come anyway. What we all had in common music and a business together, along with respect.

After my tenure with the Matt Poss Band, I thought about what I was going to do next. I looked for my niche in the music scene here and I found it in a simple straight ahead Rock ‘n Roll band. Heavy on the pop side. I made a business plan to follow. I need a vehicle to sell my music and so do a few of the other members. So we’ll do about 1/3 original music from our upcoming album and the rest covers until we build our following and can slip more original music. My eye is making this a concert act, not a bar band. We’ll be a concert act that plays bars now and then. Four of the guys are writers. So we pick the material from what we have written and write new stuff that fits the band. Just because we write it doesn’t mean it’ll fit. That is fine. People can only listen to so many songs they don’t know, so slipping our stuff in between well known songs is the only way to do it. I have my niche defined and can describe what we do. The Finks are a rock n roll revival. Heavy on boogies and dance music with killer vocals and amazing guitarists. We’ll play boom-chuck, boom-chuck. The rhythm that makes white people dance. Ha!

The Finks. A Rock n Roll Revival

Isaiah Edwards – Vocalist and acoustic guitar

Tommy Dunn – Guitarist

Chris Taylor – Guitarist

Chris Schaff – Drums

George Ozier – Keyboards and Vocals

Yours truly, Sammy Roan on bass.

Playing Original and Covers that all meet a certain criteria:

  1. Dance speed. Nothing mid-tempo. Either it’s a fast song or a slow song.
  2. Pop songs in both original and covers. Easy to sing along with. Great melody.
  3. If the song has clever lyrics it is given a higher priority
  4. If the song has simple lyrics, they will be given a high priority. For example: I got a gal named Bonie Maronie, Land of 1000 dances, Gloria… We might not choose these but they will be in this vein.
  5. Songs about girls, cars, and partying.
  6. Songs that we can arrange to sound like the Finks are playing it and not the Finks trying to sound like the record. We are a concert act. We play covers our own way but easily recognizable. My video today will show an example of making a song fit the artist and not the other way around.

That is it as far as music. The next is image. Most of us are old enough that we can’t play rockstar so we’ll come off as Hipsters (hipster doofuses more than likely), This isn’t much of a stretch for these guys. Except Ike and Tommy who are young enough to pull it off. Just look hip. Ask yourself before picking your stage clothes “Is this Swanky?” Ha! But it’s true. This is the kind of band you could wear a fez and it wouldn’t be out of place.

Speaking of fezzes, I want one from Fez-O-Rama. If you’re feeling generous buy one for us. I’ll happily wear it onstage and make you the fez sponsor. In fact that goes for all of us. Sponsor a fez and we’ll MAKE A MATCHING DONATION of the price to the Make a Wish Foundation. In your name. We’ll take it off the top of the night’s pay. Plus we’ll make you a gold member of our “I’m a Fink Too” email list. You’ll get a few extra things, like free posters, tickets, download live shows or hear early demos. We’ll make it special for you.

We’ll play to our strengths. We don’t have a strong front man. Ike, who is an incredible singer, will get really good at by the time it’s all said and done but he’s not one to yell “Come on party people!” so we’ll just run all songs with no time between them. We’ll add sing alongs and shtick as we rehearse and some will just naturally come to the show. Remember we are “Entertainers” We do it with music mainly, but we can’t take ourselves so seriously that we can’t include the crowd. We’ll be the band you will make sure you don’t miss. A good time is what we’re about. With that good time you’ll dance, sing, be surprised, laughing with and at us sometimes, and you’re gonna hear some great music played by some of the best players around and a sound of their own. We won’t be able to be reproduced by another band. If you want a party kick-ass rock n roll show who will you call? The only one around. The Finks.

Now I have a plan to focus on. We all agreed to the same plan. Now no one will bring up a song that doesn’t fit and have their feeling hurt when you say “I love Iron Maiden too, but do they really fit?”

I made a CD of fifteen songs.  Schaff and Taylor both live over an hour and a half away so rehearsals will be tough. We’ll have to work on a lot in a short period of time. We “practice” at home. We come to “rehearsal” ready to play what we have learned and work out the kinks there. That is the difference between Practice and Rehearsal.

The CD’s are all the same. We start learning song number 1, then 2, 3, etc. This way we have all learned the same songs at the same time. If the bass player only learned the first nine songs, while everyone else learned twelve, we have at least learned the same songs and can run through one through nine easily. We take the time away from learning a song at rehearsal and put it into brainstorming how we can work the songs together, tweak the songs and show, or make it into a show piece. We work on the show at rehearsal. Making the music the best it can be is number-one, but a close second is the show. Knowing our stuff when we come in can turn a rehearsal into an hour and a half instead of three hours trying to learn and get a song down.

One thing we have thought about to make things run smoother is that it’s the digital age. The lyrics to covers are online. The guitarists can email or text “which harmony part do you want me to play?” or “What part are you going to play on the keys so I can play something else?” Knowing the tiny parts will save time in rehearsal.

We are pros. We show up on time with our tunes learned. The point is this. Rehearsal begins to suck after the band has been together for a bit. Keeping rehearsal to a minimum and not wasting someone’s time by making them wait on you will make things easier and it’ll stop a complaint that may grow into a full blown argument. You don’t want to be the weak link. When we get there, we tune up and catch up with each other, maybe have a beer or a smoke before getting down to business.

We do drink during rehearsal and it doesn’t seem to be a problem. If it’s an excuse to get drunk then once again you are wasting other’s time. Don’t be that guy. Save it for when you decide to go out afterwards. This band is a beer drinking band and some are 4:20 friendly. If it’s affecting your playing then once again you are being a pain in the ass and the guy slowing things down. So watch it.

While working up the show we’ll also have a professional photo shoot. We’ll have a website being constructed, we’ll have promo packs made up that look better than what the big rock stars use. I make these for booking agents, as packets to send to major record companies, and just to use for booking purposes. Hit me up to talk about making one for your band. Make a great impression with the pack and a buyer will be able to tell that you are pros and will need to be paid better than the jokers he had the night before. Start that hype machine. Talk to your friends about the band. Get people excited about hearing you. Getting in on the ground floor and watch a band rise on the ladder of success. They’ll be taking you with them.

By the time we are ready to book this band we’ll have all of our ducks in a row. We’ll be able to have great looking promo to book with. An album to promote. A great sounding studio recording for a demo. A group of people that want to hear us. Then we come on strong with a look, a sound and a non-stop show that hits you with a left and a right to the head with great songs.

When we spread out we’ll contact all the media and let them know we are coming so they can play a song of ours on the radio, give interviews on radio and the paper, possibly an acoustic song or two on a morning show. This is how you build a crowd in a new market. Let your friends and fans in those areas know you are going to be there and pull in all favors the first time in.

With a working attitude like that your band could be playing opening gigs after one rehearsal. Amazing but true.

This has nothing to do with the tips on running a band but I want to say a few personal views on this past week. Last Friday was the school shooting in Newtown, CT. My heart goes out to all of Newtown. A whole town in mourning. I took a break from working Tuesday and flipped on the TV. The Dr. Phil Show was on and he was interviewing, as he said “the youngest witness” For rating this asshole exploited this little girl of seven years old. She told her story and Dr. Phil did his caring imitation. I’m as liberal as they come and thing live and let live. Who am I to judge? But this blatant exploiting of a child pissed me off so much that I wrote down the sponsors of the show.

I wrote an open letter and sent it to the sponsors and people who advertized, telling them they should be ashamed for what they have done and I will not mention them in the blog if the make a donation to the Missing and Exploited Children Charity. Well it of course fell on deaf ears, all except one.

Shelby Motors of Champaign, IL. They are independently owned and have a budget that allows them to advertize on TV but they have no idea when it runs. I had sent the letter to them also because I saw their ad during the show.

Ms. Jennifer Shelby, the owner, wrote me back immediately. She explained not knowing when the ad would run and would never have supported a show where they exploited anyone. I told her I understood and was happy to let her off the hook. The next day I got a receipt in the mail showing a donation to The Missing and Exploited Children organization. She didn’t have to. I explained that I wasn’t upset with her since she had no idea. She did it anyway. I don’t know her at all but I will stop and meet her sometime and give her a sincere hug. Her caring attitude and loving heart made a difference to a child that day. I feel horrible for mis-placing blame on her but she didn’t donate out of guilt. She did it simply because Ms. Shelby cares about the world we live in and understands sometimes people have to rely on the kindness of strangers. She is a friend of mine now. I brag about her to my friends and have recommended her to a friend just this morning that were looking for a new car. I will shop with her. I will send anyone I know her way. She has character and sometimes I hang my head low in shame for being part of the human race and the coldness and hate we see much too often. People like her make me proud to be part of the human race.

There is always a ying and a yang, a positive and a negative. For all the tragedy I have seen in my life. The Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, 7/7 in England, Columbine Shootings, New Orleans underwater, Hurricane Sandy, for every prick who caused these tragedies, there is always a flood of people rushing to help in any way they can. Ms. Shelby is one that I personally know of, who helped without wanting credit or a pat on the back. Well you have more than that from me. You have my complete respect as a generous business owner and as a generous and caring woman. You are a hero to a kid somewhere today Jennifer. What more could you ask for?

These businesses didn’t care enough to even reply. If they did it was a form letter. Toy’s R Us even lied to me. They said they don’t have email. I said you mean you have to send letters back and forth. They’ll call me in 7 to 9 business days. I asked them if they had phones or if they needed to run to the pay-phone across the street? I’m an asshole too remember.

  • Toys r Us (they hung up on me after sending me a form letter that never addressed my concern.)
  • Arm & Hammer
  • KFC
  • International Delight
  • Milo’s Kitchen Dog Treats,
  • Keuring
  • Payday
  • Macy’s
  • Menards
  • Steak and Shake
  • H.H. Gregg
  • Feeding America.org
  • Palmer’s Baby Oil

Here is an example of making the song fit the band and not the other way around;

fez

Chasing the Dragon Pt.2

When we last left our hero he was hanging around doing nothing musical, and nothing on the horizon.

When I was in Bootleg we hooked up with a sound-man named Bugsy. Bugs we lovingly referred to as “Grandpa.” He reminded me the other day that he was younger at the time than I am now. I feel his pain. Bugsy taught us all a lot. He had run with local legends Powder Mill Hill. The stories he told us about them and the places they played definitely set the bar high for me. I’ve since met Jerry Nichols, a member of Powder Mill Hill. I need to grab him for beers and talk about those times. To say he is a Rock Star in my mind is an understatement. I’m glad to know him. He played the Playboy Mansion!

I loved 60’s Soul Music. Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye. All the biggies. It was the Blues Brothers movie that introduced me to these guys. What if I put together a band that played these great songs? I asked the musicians I knew from out of town and they all thought I was crazy. It won’t work. Too big. You’ll never get paid enough to make any money. So I went back to the drawing board.

I grabbed George and Doug and put up an ad at Eastern Illinois’ music department. Looking for horn players. Two people answered. Mark Cornell and a very young Pat Lee. Trumpet and sax. It took a while to get all the ducks in a row and some personnel changes and adding another trumpet player, Shane Pitsch, to the mix. We met Chris Schaff after our first drummer quit over five dollars.we all pitched in for stamps for our band newsletter. Remember we didn’t have email in those days. After he left the band we hit every small town from here to Timbuktu. We got management; we cut our hair bought suits and then started playing festivals, high profile gigs, high paying private functions. All the while I was getting better as a guitarist. Now I had formed a killer band built around my love of the music and my lack of guitar playing skills. I was the lead guitarist and only played about three leads a night. We had great soloists. Chris moved and we grabbed Kent “Sweet Leaf” Aberle. We all got to ride the rise of very successful band. That slow rise made us very close.

I’m still close with these people. I talk to Pat weekly, Doug is always there and we don’t see each other enough, but when we do we picked up where we left off. Chris Scaff was a crazy mo fo in those days and we just loved him. I’m forming a band with him now. Shane is someone I miss and don’t talk to enough. George I see almost everyday. Sweet moved to Atlanta and I talk to him occasionally. We all fought like cats on a clothesline but there was true friendship. No one was sneaking around trying to replace someone out of personal reasons or envy. We were a band and we worked toward a common goal. That’s what I have done ever since. I’ll leave the petty jealousies to the insecure musicians that don’t have the good sense to realize you need to be unit. I’ve played with that band too and it doesn’t make for friends or band mates even. The prize is too magical to worry about your self all the time. I wish bands like that all the success in the world, but what good is it to celebrate something that you had to walk over others to get?

It is lonely at the top and people you can’t trust to work with really don’t need to be considered friends by me. You see the same folks on the way up as you do on the way down. I’m happy I can look at George, Bugsy, Kent, Chris Scaff, Chris Taylor, Doug, Pat, Mark, and Shane and know we did the best we could and we became brothers. We played to our strengths. We met and played with heroes, celebrities, and heads of state. We played places I never ever dreamed of. I played in the band for ten years before I moved on.

Being gone too much isn’t good for a marriage and I lost a wonderful wife in the process. Depression, gigging all the time. I don’t know what I could have done differently but ever since losing Shannon I’ve been trying to make it up to the world. She’s doing great. Remarried and a new baby. I see her about once a year and she always gives me the best hugs. I’ll always love her and would give her the world if I had it.

Speaking of love, I fell for a wonderfully beautiful woman in Ohio. Kathleen will probably be the love of my life and I lost her due to depression, lies, and most of all fear of leaving my band and friends. I’m older now and if she said “Yes” you’d never hear from me again. I’m pretty sure 90% of the love songs I write are inspired by her. She is my biggest regret.

I joined Poprocks. We made a conscious effort to focus on disco and new wave 80’s music. It was the demographic of the people who were spending money in the clubs. I had a ball with these guys. We played a million great gigs. I married the singer. She was an amazing performer. Communication was our problem, not music. If she would have let me know we were allowed to date while we were married I think things would have went better. Turns out she was the only one dating during our marriage. So I left that situation. The part that hurt the most was even though I was there for eight years only one of the members ever spoke to me again. Mike Poss you are a class act. Thank you.

Music was the cause and solution to all my problems. After Becca’s cheating and having my band mates and friends I knew through Poprocks ALL turn their backs on me, I decided to give it up. I moved into an apartment and threw my gear in the extra room and didn’t even listen to music for six months. I was a ghost to everyone I knew. Since I had nothing for them to take, I was pointless. I made new friends and contacted my old friends. Real friends.

Two years later I decided to play again. Joined 5 Gone Mad for a year. Became close with the singer Brandi Yagow and we talk quite a bit. She is one of my favorite people and one of the best singers I know. She sings lead on a couple of songs on my latest album.

Matt Poss called I took the gig had a ball and now am back to forming my own band again to play my music and the music that my friends have written that fit the band.

The points I want to make is this. I lost two wives. One great one and one cheating one. I made close friends with many people I have played with and have seen that some people weren’t really friends in the first place. But I can look myself in the mirror and know I didn’t fuck over anyone in this business. They all can’t do the same thing.

We have to remember the people we play with have problems from depression in my case to serious addictions. Be there for these people. Don’t turn your back on them. It may come back to bite you in the ass. Plus it just makes you suck as a person. I have a hard time thinking about the good times with Poprocks because the next thought is how they pretended to be my friends when in reality they only cared about themselves.

My friends, both musically and non-musicians now are true blue. We argue and laugh and make great music. This group of musicians that I surround myself with now have character. They are all flawed in many ways but they are actually great people. Not everyone can say that about their friends. I can. I’ll shout it to the world that I love these people and other musicians I grew up with. Jon Clarkson, Bobby Reynolds, and Dave Baldwin are all amazing and I can’t wait to play with you all again even if it is just in the studio or at Jam Night. Ike and Tommy were surprise friends I met when I moved. Unlimited talent and now I’m playing with them.

Was it worth it? Maybe. Probably. I’ve lived out my dreams and have seen and done more things than many people have ever thought about. On the down side, I have no kids, no wife, and at the moment am still nursing a broken heart from the last one I dated. I’m coming out of it and the next lady will hopefully have the balls to stick around through the good and the bad. Like the music, I think it’ll all work out in the end.

Pros
• I played with the greatest of friends.
• I played and met rock stars and R&B legends. I stood toe to toe with these guys and could hold my own.
• I saw places all over the world that I would have never seen
• I made a shitload of money
• All the people who let me entertain them for a few hours
• I can now make that “sound” even though I don’t make it often. My tastes have changed by being exposed to the music of my friends.
• Making my first album with Becca, and making my first solo album.

Cons
• Losing Shannon and Kathleen.
• Meeting and marrying Becca
• Realizing band mates aren’t the friends you thought they were. Along with the friends who hung with us.
• Driving from San Antonio straight thru to  my home in Illinois.
• Snow and Ice
• Slow nights
• Band fighting

I’m not saying it was worth it but it’s the life of this musician. Older and wiser and would do a few things different but I wouldn’t trade the memories of these times for all the gold in the world.

I made this video out of clips I had when I was in Poprocks. It was my Christmas present to them. Be warned!!!! There is nudity!!!! But it was all in good fun. No one was harmed by the flashing. If you are easily offended I have already written my disclaimer.

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money to ask the dark haired girl out in the video! Please buy a song. She may be high maintenance.

Chasing the Dragon Pt.1

I’ve been pondering the reasons why I do what I do. The good and the bad that has come from living the life. The pitfalls, the glorious moments, the long drives, late nights, slow crowds, and playing arenas one night and then to the bar staff in some dive the next night.

I’m not sure this fits into a lesson or a tip but I hope that at the end you reflect on your choice. If that doesn’t work set your wife/husband or boy/girlfriend in front of the screen and maybe I can explain the reason or at least my view.

When I heard the opening chords to the Scorpions – Rock You Like a Hurricane, I knew I wanted to make that sound. The sound of cranked Marshall amps grabbed me by the heart and I’m not if it still doesn’t have a hold on it. I mowed yards that summer and saved up $200 dollars and went to the mall and I picked out a blonde Peavy T-15 guitar with an amp built into the case. I need to remember all that push mowing I did just to have the opportunity to capture that sound. I was fourteen. I don’t think I even had my first real kiss yet (No Janet, I won’t mention your name here) ***snicker***. It wasn’t girls, fame, drugs, or millions that started me playing. It was so simple. It was the sound that actually moved me.

My sister was dating Greg Ozier at the time. To me Greg is the king of all bass players. I feel like he can always play the sounds in his head. He lives two houses away now and I’m still his biggest fan. He showed me a power chord and a Black Sabbath album and let me take it from there. I had never heard of TAB, CDs were brand new and nobody had one, the Internet was decades away. I rewound the tape over and over. Greg showed me how to make my amp overdrive, and I was on my way! Then I got bored with it and put it under my bed.

I turned 16 and a friend had a drum set and could get a hold of a bass. We made Doug Evans play bass by default. He’s one of my favourite bass players in the world now. I was blessed by having people to play with who actually had talent. He learned the same time I did. Rod Plunket on drums. We were roadies, for free, for the band Encounter and they let us use their gear and guitars, plus a place to play them. We bugged the living hell out of Garrie Carlen, the lead guitarist for Encounter. Asking him a million dumb questions. Telling them they should be playing Motley Crue instead of Brian Adams. We were cocky SOBs for never having played anything except Paranoid and Wipe Out.

We met a guy named Merv Schrock who could sing. Merv, Rod, and Doug are still my closest friends. That little crappy band made best friends of us all. We actually got pretty good. We played a few shows… for free. Merv got a call from a popular band and quit. George Ozier, Greg’s brother had just moved into the area, and started playing guitar for Encounter. He was recovering from a divorce. We were beer drinking hoodlums, unlike Encounter who all had girlfriends and lives. Now George was hanging with us and he could play and sing. He taught us ALL our parts and we had a band. Bootleg. I was a bootleg tape lover. The tapes always sounded crappy and that was kind of a little joke that no one ever got.
Bootleg played a lot of gigs. Rod took off over a woman who didn’t understand that we wanted to make a certain sound. We went through some drummers but we weren’t very good so we just kind of quit playing.

So now I’m an OK guitarist with no band and no one lining up to play with a guy who was for all purposes a rhythm guitarist who couldn’t sing. I’ll tell the rest of my story in Pt2. Lets talk about the points boys and girls.

1. It was a sound or a riff that made me want to be a musician.
2. I learned that girls like guys who play guitar. They don’t like guys who play crappy guitar in a crappy band. It was years before getting girls just because you were in a really good band. They are there though. A definite plus.
3. There is a feeling. A release of endorphins when you are playing even the simplest of music together. When it’s good there is nothing but waves of sound that you just float on. You become totally in the moment. It makes you feel as good as any buzz I’ve ever had. Like all things, it needs to be handled with moderation. If you become addicted to that feeling … you become a musician.

My neighbour stopped in last week. I was watching a concert video of Frank Zappa. He sings karaoke, but doesn’t sing any other time. The Zappa Band was totally in the moment. They were on top of their game. Smiling, moving, eyes closed, having a ball playing some of the most difficult music ever written. He asked me “Does it do something to you when you are playing?” I’d never thought of it but I answered “Yeah I guess it does.”

All your feelings are released through your guitar. Anger, love, hate. It may just be in my own mind but I’m getting it out. I suffer from Clinical Depression and have had it for over twenty years. Even when I was so sick that I couldn’t hold a day job, I could play. For that moment I was standing next to band mates I trusted and I was safe and I was releasing my frustration and sadness through playing, leaving only feeling good. When you can get that feeling across to an audience they will return it. They will scream, yell, smile, and sing to you. They’ll tell you that you are great and want to do what it is that you do. To someone wanting to eat a bullet sometimes that’s all it took to keep you going till the next show. On a side note, my medication is working 100% and for the first time in twenty years I feel fuckin’ great! Those dark days are in the distance now.

I was told by my shrink that artists often deal with depression. I guess we wear our hearts on our sleeves and that’s where we pull from to be creative. It’s a bitch to write a woman a love song if you can’t imagine loving her. Anger and angst in the young. It’s what they feel strongest about, and their music reflects it. Anger and angst in the old is called Steve Earle. So take it easy on us. We are a fragile bunch of misfits who work their entire life around creating that feeling. It’s like chasing the dragon. Addiction can be a bitch.

I started with the Scorpions but from that tree I’ve learned to love a multiple styles, some more than others. This is what I’m into today as I write this. At this moment this is how a genuinely feel. I don’t understand the language but he must have been feeling it the day he wrote it. I wish I had written it. That would win the girl. Now wouldn’t it.

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

Top 21 Rules on How to Tour in a Band or Whatever.

Here Is a quicky. I grabbed this from the Metal Sludge website. It was written by a touring musician. If you tour you’ll understand it. If you don’t then you’ll see the dynamic of touring in a van with the rest of the band and crew. It’s not a pretty article, but he’s totally right and brings up many thing’s we’ve talked about before. SO with that said, I copied and pasted it. There is plenty of foul language, so be warned.

Written by Thor Harris

How to Tour in a Band or Whatever

1-Don’t Complain. Bitching, moaning, whining is tour cancer. If something is wrong fix it or shut the fuck up you fucking dick. God-damn.

2-If you fart, claim it.

3-Don’t lose shit. Everybody loses shit. Don’t fucking do it. Asshole.

4-Don’t fuck anyone in the band. There are tons of people to fuck who are not in this band. Dumb-ass.

5-If you feel like shit all the time, drink less beer at the gig. You will play better & feel better. What are you… a child? Some have the endurance for self abuse. Most don’t.

6-Remember the soundman’s name. He will do a better job.

7- Eat oranges. Cures constipation & prevents colds.

8-Masturbate. Duh… Where & when? Be creative. You’re an artist right?

9-If YOU can’t carry your suitcase 3 blocks, it’s too god-damn big.

10-Respect public space in the van. Don’t clutter, you Fuck.

11-If you borrow something, return it. Not Fucked Up.

12-Do not let the promoter dick you or talk you out of the guarantee. If there were not enough people there, it’s their fault.

13- Driver picks the music.

14-One navigator only (usually sitting shotgun). Everyone else shut the fuck up.

15-Sound check is for checking sounds. Shut the fuck up while everyone else is checking.

16-Don’t wander off. Let someone know where you are.

17-Clean up after yourself. What are you… a god-damn toddler?

18-Touring makes everyone bi-polar. Ride the waves as best you can and remember, moods pass. So don’t make any snap decisions or declarations when you are drunk or insane.

19-Fast food is Poison.

20-The guest list is for friends, family & people you might want to fuck. Everyone else can pay. They have day jobs.

21- Don’t evaluate your whole life while you’re sitting in a janitor closet waiting to go on. You think you’re above having shitty days at work? Shut up & do your god-damn job.

This list was written under the influence of lots of esspresso & anti-depressants while on tour w/ such greats as Shearwater, Swans, Smog, Lisa Germano, Angels of Light, Bill Callahan & many more. I hope this list will help you get along w/ your co-workers whatever your job is. Contributions to the list by Jordan Geiger, Kimberly Burke, Brian Orloff, Brian Phillips Celebrity Gang Bang, Kevin Schneider, Jonathan Meiburg, Michael Gira and some other folks.

Thanks for not being an asshole, Thor Harris

Now for my part. Corny and as staged as this video is there are plenty of real moments. The scene at the end where the dressing room is in a locker room, the van, the hotel, take away the plane and the tour bus and you pretty much have it. Now go see a million faces and rock them all!

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

Train Wreck

This question was posed by Tim “the Worst Soundman Ever” Alverson. “Hey Sam, you should do an article on train wreck gigs.” Ok it was more of a statement than a question. A tough question too. Thanks Tim! And that goes for everyone. If you’d like my point of view on a musical/performing/business question, I’ll give you what I think is right from years of experience and if I don’t know it, I’ll ask someone who does.

I’d love to say I don’t know anything about train wrecks but I’ve been involved in them and even caused them myself from time to time. Since Tim wasn’t specific I’ll talk about two different kinds of train wrecks. Band train wrecks and gig train wrecks.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about (I got wonderful feedback from some dear non-musician friends who read so this is for you Heather and Dana.) A train wreck is when the band messes up so much at a show that the song falls apart and comes to a halt. A room full of people standing there and you, being the best band in the world to them at the moment, show your ass.

Famous train wrecks

Recovering from band train wrecks can be done or even avoided if you are quick on your feet. It’s been my experience that the bands I have worked with don’t train wreck on new songs. They are new so you have all learned them and rehearsed them not long before. We always train wrecked on songs we’d played a million times.

All musicians who play quite bit have gone on “autopilot.” You no longer have to play a song while paying attention. Your hands just know where to go and you can put that attention back toward the audience and the show. It gets to the point that you actually forget how to play the song even though you have been playing three or four times a week for years. All it takes is for someone to make a mistake, miss a cue,  start the wrong song on the set list, or you just start thinking about what you are doing, realizing you have no clue. It’ll make you forget how to start songs and singers forget their first line.

Some things you can do to avoid train wrecks is first of all be well rehearsed. If we have a very tricky part we rehearse just that part over and over till we just have it nailed into our heads. Intro’s that were hard to count or having to que the entire band with your part were gone over and solutions to make them easier are come up with. Yelling “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR!” has worked great for years… It doesn’t seem to work as well in a waltz though. Ok bad musician joke.

The next thing that should be addressed is who to look to for musical direction on stage. If the singer is supposed to sing two choruses and the lead guitar comes in after the first one, who do you follow? Well if your bass player is the designated “go to guy” or musical director then look to him and he’ll make the decision. Don’t argue, or get pissed. Follow him and let the rest of the guys get back on their feet. He can then direct you back to a solo or chorus. Know who your go to guy is in the band.

Who do you follow? When I’m the go to guy I try to always follow the singer. If they miss their que, we just keep playing the same part till they catch it. They are center stage, and yes I’ve dealt with lead singer’s disease, but the cat is center stage with most of the eyes on him/her. Cut they singer some slack and don’t throw him under the bus just to make a point. You are a band as a whole. Any way when the singer gives you attitude a year later you can always tell him “Yeah! Well you never come in right on (insert song here)!” or something else just as petty.

Those are the best ways I’ve found to avoid them or at least dodge the train.

Here it comes. You got that crowd pumpin’! You’ve had them on the floor all night. The chord is hanging and you are ready to play the 6th song on your set list. The drummer clicks it off and you have missed a song. The entire band comes in playing another song. This is especially bad when the drummer clicks it off and he’s the one playing the wrong song. It’s a mistake. A bad one. The band just kind of falls apart. No hard ending just kind of stops. You are dead in the water with everyone looking at you. We’re pro’s so we don’t mess up. Well the secret is out. It happens.

The bands I worked with never took themselves very seriously. We’d just stop, laugh it off, and let the audience know that “yep we screwed it up.” Many times it would make the band more endearing to the listeners. It shows you too can mess up just like them. The singer would tell everyone they are fired. With Matt Poss the joke was “Poss you’re fired. This is the third Matt Poss we’ve hired.” The crowd would laugh. They are on your side for sure now.

The worst thing you can do is try to figure out why it happened on stage. Forget it. START THE NEXT SONG! Arguing on-stage is for idiots.

There is no way to totally avoid them. Just don’t let a train wreck ruin a good gig or a good band.

Another idea is; print your set lists larger and number the songs. It also makes it easier for you to see, to know what song is up next, so that time between songs is kept to a minimum.

Train wreck gigs. Funny how you have played hundreds of gigs but the ones you remember are the bad ones. Train wreck gigs to me are mistakes made by others that cause you to sound bad. It’s one thing if the band messes up. It’s a whole other thing when someone else makes you mess up. This is one of the few times that even I will blow my top. There are repercussions though.

My band Poprocks were playing Harrah’s Casino. The Voodoo Lounge in St. Louis, MO. They didn’t pay very well. About half of what we normally charge. It looked great on a resume though. We held the attendance record there at one time. This particular show started with normal Casino hassles. You load in through the front of the venue. You have to find somewhere to park, load in and then go park a mile away. We then had to load gear up a flight of stairs to get to the stage, which is located above the bar. This was a total disadvantage for us because we had so much crowd participation built into our show. The crowd was inaccessible. Nice stage. Plenty of room to put on a “show.” Huge video screen that animates your band’s name. Million dollar PA. They had fired the house soundman and replaced him with some punk who got the job because he could set up a home surround system. When he was setting up the mics, our guitarist, Jon, had to show him the right end to point at the amplifier.

We start playing, no monitors any-more and the PA was just howling. My ex-wife Becca couldn’t hear herself, even out of the mains. It was a holiday weekend and we had three consecutive, huge paying gigs after this one. We stopped after the second song and let him get things back under control and get Becca some monitors. She’s an amazing singer but even Becca would roach her voice if she couldn’t hear. That would have been a bad way to start this string of dates with no singer. We started up again. Halfway through the first song, no monitors and the PA is howling again. We took a break and Becca came off that stage like a woman possessed. I chased her down and tried to let he let me take care of it. So we went to the soundman. He smugly said “Don’t worry about it. I got it under control!” Wrong thing to say in front of the wrong woman.

Becca stuck a glittered finger in front of this poor guy’s nose and said “It doesn’t sound to me like you got it under control!” This next line was an inside joke between Becca and me for years. “LOOK HERE FUCKER!”  Now that was the girl I fell in love with. “I have three more gigs this week and you are roaching me on my first set!” I said “Fuck’n right!” We went back stage and decided if that PA howled one more time we’re walking off and going home. The crowd couldn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t making us look good, and it sucked playing during it. Luckily he caught the next howl and limped through the night.

I know I’ve gone over and over about not pissing off your soundman, but even I have my limits. What was he gonna do? Make us sound worse than he already is? I could have handled it better I suppose looking back. He had a chip of insecurity on his shoulder and wasn’t going to be told how to his job. We were never asked back and we never questioned it or looked back. The Train wreck was unavoidable.

PA’s going out, tuning problems, bad cables and jacks, bad soundman, drunks who pour their beers into someone’s pedal board. Old ladies saying how loud it is even when you aren’t playing loud. Pricks who throw things at the stage, like bottles. Fights that get out of hand. The cops coming into a college bar and start carding everyone during your show. Cops in riot gear will really take the steam out of your party. There are a million scenarios that’ll screw up your show. What can you really do? Play through it if you can. Walk off in only EXTREME cases. Then go play your next show. Then the next one, and the next one, and so on. Some things that happen can be learned from. Such as, making sure there are stairs up to your stage. Dangerous stages don’t make for a very good show. Put it in your rider. Having power to the stage so you don’t have to go on late. Having a good solid contract with the date and guarantee are imperative.

The main thing is, blow it off as a bad gig to be talked about for years to come. You are a good band. Get back on that horse and ride. On the other hand if you are train wrecking too often, take it back to the drawing board. Something is wrong. Start with the first paragraph.

Finishing up, it was brought to my attention that I only say “bad things” about Poprocks. I don’t believe I have but if I have I apologize. I guess I tend to lean on the hard lessons I learned with them, not because of them. These are the lessons I write about. The bad moments with Poprocks don’t even come close to the enjoyment I had playing to our crowd or the chance to play with a handful of the best musicians I have ever known.

Jon and Wally I’d put you up against any players on the planet. You both make me want to become a better guitarist. Truly insane, halarious, and inspiring musicians. Kent “Sweet” Aberle and Brendan Gamble are the two best drummers I’ve ever worked with. Both amazing but with a totally different approach. Sweet was a Bonham style drummer with killer chops. A wild man performer and drummer. Brendan was more reserved. He was a metronome. Solid as a rock but with a finesse style. Both knew how to put a foot in your ass. Mike Poss was a guitar hero of mine when I was a kid. I got to play with a guitar hero and call him a good friend. And last but not least by far. Becca Mitchel, the evil ex-wife. Becca is hands down the best singer/front women I have ever seen. You could put a crowd in your hand in a second, sing your ass off, and had the balls to put yourself out there every night. I never saw her put on a half assed show. And for years we were best friends and I had a ball. So like a bad gig, ya blow it off and move on to the next show. I’m proud of the music, success, and friends I made during my eight years with you. I wish you all the best.

BUY MY CD! I have a psycobilly surf album coming out soon. All superhero themes. Man that has been fun. I’ve been in the studio and just finished a recording a new song for a very special lady. I’ll be done with a new cd in a few months hopefully and I think you need to hear this one first. Just so you can say to your friends I enjoyed his early stuff the most.

–Sammy

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

The Soundman Chronicles Pt. 1

A soundman can make or break a gig. I’ve worked with some of the best and some of the worst and plenty in between.

One of the very best soundmen I have worked with and traveled with is Tim Alverson of Alverson Sound. Tim and I have a great relationship both musically and personally.  So any bad mouthing of Tim will all be tongue-in-cheek, He’s the best. I asked him to write down a few ideas that even I had no idea were problems. I have learned a thing or two just from reading his thoughts. So let’s dig in.

Tim Alverson

Tim Alverson, Somewhere, USA. We were on one of the tours. I don’t know where this is.

I’ve went over this part many times. When you show up at a venue, MEET YOUR SOUNDMAN! Meet him with a smile and a handshake. Ask his name and use it. Remember it, write it on your set list, your hand, anywhere, just remember it. Would you rather be called by your name or red guitar guy? Don’t forget though he meets bands every night and may forget your name, even if he’s ran for you before. Take no offense if he doesn’t remember your name or your band. He’ll remember two things. You are either a pain in the ass to work for or you are good guys to work with. We want to stay on the good guy side.

The following thoughts come directly from Tim. Tim has worked everything from bars to giant outdoor stages. Local groups to major national acts. He has put together a great crew that go above and beyond their job description just to make the show go as smoothly as possible. I worked closely with him for over two years and have never gone on stage late because of Alverson Sound. Total pros.

I’m going to address a subject that I have been guilty of for way too long and after thinking about it I should have known this. When you arrive at the gig, don’t set your stuff on the stage until you okay it with the sound guy. These guys need time to get the stage ready for you. Even when setting up your stuff on stage avoid setting cases and stuff against the walls. Where do you think the techs need to run cables?” Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it. Load in and wait. Set up drums off stage, unpack amps, sit around, pace, visit with bar staff. If you get a drink before the show TIP even if they are free. Anything but get in the sound crew’s way. Ask if there is anything they need.

Carry a copy of your stage plot with you. It’ll be helpful to the sound crew. If they don’t look at it then at least it was there if they need it. You’ve done your part.

“Don’t talk down to or presume you are better than the sound crew. Many of these guys were or still are successful accomplished musicians. Your ability to realize this and present a positive attitude will go a long way when working with these guys.”

 “If you don’t need it, don’t bring it.” Ten extra guitars onstage for an opening act just get in the way. Use your head when it comes to this. More than likely there are cases that need to be packed away and spread out on the stage and floor just get in the way. Don’t sound check an upright bass “just incase” you may want to add an extra song to the set. Use discretion when bringing in your gear.

If your gear buzzes in your bedroom through your fifty watt amp turned down to 3 and at your gig you’re going to be playing through a 10,000 watt PA, don’t do the math, you’re an idiot, just fix it.”  I’m the king of buzz. I take this to heart. What a great way to say it. Ha!

“Practice is for practice, sound check is for the soundman.” The sound check is for the soundman to set levels, get the best sounds out of the PA, setting vocals so they blend nicely, and in general give you the best sound he can. Run through a tune or two that the band does well and reflects the way your band normally sounds. If you sing a lot of harmonies, then do a song with a lot of harmonies. Stopping and starting while learning parts of a song should be done in rehearsal or after sound check.

“If it’s not your turn don’t play.”  I’ve touched on this before. The sound man will ask for the instrument or vocal he wants. If he’s not checking you then be completely silent. Warm up with your volume down. Don’t wander off. This makes the entire sound check go smoothly. Get everything set they way you plan on using it. Amp volume, mic stand placement and adjustment, etc. Then stand back and let the soundman do his job. He won’t forget you. After sound check but before you leave the stage, take turns telling the soundman what needs adjusted. For example; some nights I can’t hear the drummer’s kick and snare well enough. Being a bass player I want to lock in with the drummer so from time to time I would have him toss a little kick and snare in my monitor, and sometimes even my own instrument if I can’t hear it well enough.

“The guy at the end of the bar is not a soundman. All good sound guys are trained professionals with years of quality experience or education. As with anything else, you get what you pay for and it reflects in your performance.” My God, I don’t know how many times one person will come up and tell me what needs to be turned up. I’m not the soundman and unless there is a serious problem, I won’t tell the soundman how to do his job. I worked with a singer and great soundman in Poprocks. When ever her sister and brother-in-law would come to the show after the first set you could count on the brother-in-law to come up and tell me you couldn’t hear the singer and it was too loud.

We weren’t a loud band and our soundman we worked with was killer. So I ignored his statement. No one else said anything or complained. He wanted the live band to sound as quiet as a radio with his sister-in-law’s voice in his face instead of mixed with the rest of the band. He knew a guy in a band after all, and sang karaoke. This didn’t make him a soundman it just made him a pain in the ass to the band and the soundman.

At the end of the night get your gear off as quickly as possible and out of his way. He can’t go home till after you leave. Breaking down gear quickly allows you to sell merch, meet people, network, and thank people for coming. I always threw my bass in the case, loaded my amp off the stage and grabbed a handful of CDs and t-shirts and hit the crowd to thank and sell our stuff. Merchandise sales went up considerably and the soundman could go about his business of tearing down the stage.

These aren’t my rules for making it easy on the soundman, this comes DIRECTLY from an experienced soundman. So take it as coming straight from the horse’s mouth, or in the case of Tim… The horse’s ass. I had to get my stab at him in here somewhere. If I didn’t he’d think I didn’t love him.

–Sammy

Help me out and share this site with your musician/club owner/event manager friends. We’ll get some extra discussion going here and get some ideas you’d like to know about.

Buy my CD or I swear I’ll kick the neighbor’s sweet little miniature schnauzer.

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.

 

Finding the Niche in Your Music Scene

I’m forming a new band now that I’m an unemployed live musician. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still making music. I’m pumping out another album that is almost finished. One more vocal and the whole thing will be recorded. Then I get to wait on the mixing and mastering it. It’s a niche album. It is a collection of superhero themed songs done in a surf style. The idea was given to me by my long time friend and former band mate, Pat Lee. He needs to come and play his sax parts by the way (If you are reading this Pat)

Pat has some sort of plan for the new album by Sammy and the Sea Monkeys. It will be a niche market for sure, but that’s not a bad thing. If you want a surf instrumental album you’ll buy it. If you are a comic book nut you’ll like it. If you are a fan of the crazy ideas in my head and my takes on classic themes and other song choices you’ll buy it. So there is my target audience. These are the exact people I’ll market it to.

Think of your band that way. You need to know exactly what your band is and who your audience is. The most successful bands in my area and the most success I’ve personally had, fill a niche that was missing in our music scene.

I’m not out to make anyone feel bad. I swear I’m only telling you this so you’ll know why you aren’t getting to the level you wanna be. When I hear someone tell me they are in a band that “plays everything”, I think to myself $300 – $500 dollar band, playing in the lowest paying and least visited clubs around. I’ve done it myself early on so I know what I’m talking about here. A friend Bill Carlen once described us as “the band that plays the B-side to all you favorite songs.” (You youngsters follow this link to understand what I’m talking about.)

If you play everything, you won’t play enough of the same style to please anyone. The crowd that shows up at these kind of shows are probably just going out anyway. They didn’t come just to hear “everything.” I love all types of music myself. Off the top of my head I can give you a few of my favorite songs. Elvis’ “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”,  Foo Fighter’s “Best Of You”, Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew”, and I’m listening to Fishbone as I write this. I’d love a band that played all these songs, but my favorites aren’t going to be anyone elses. These songs would have to have a lot of thought to work together. What I’m trying to tell you is find a style and stick to it.


My first successful band was Dr Wu’s Rock n Soul Revue. We played nothing but 60’s soul music. Classic songs no one else could pull off because we had the horn section. Wanna see a bunch of us monkeys in suits jumping around playing soul music with the punk attitude that only twenty year olds can pull off? You’d be at the show. We were young and in suits. We looked good damn it. So girls started coming. Guys follow girls and before you know it you have your feet propped up on the patio looking at the Caribbean. A 60’s soul music party band. Summed up in a sentence. Poprocks played 70’s disco and 80’s new wave during my tenure with the band. Like the horn band, no one were playing these songs. This was the music I grew up on, like it or not and it was the music that people my age grew up on too. We played the disco stuff and the girls screamed during “I Will Survive”, and “Mickey” another party/show band that filled that market. Poss did it as an original alt. country artist. If you can’t sum up your band in a sentence then something is wrong.

Play to your strengths and focus. You may know a million songs but just because you know them doesn’t mean they must be in your set. You may have to learn a new song or two or work on a style of playing to be the best you can be as a band. I’d rather hear a band kick ass on “Johnny B Goode” than play a crappy version of a Rush song. After all our niche isn’t on making other musicians happy, hell they ditch the cover charge and don’t dance anyway. (You guys know I’m right J ) We are there to please our demographic. If you can play the hell out of Johnny B Good then you could probably play some other three-chord rockers.

I’m a roots rock fanatic. My favorite band is The Bel Airs from Columbia, MO. They are a blues and roots rock trio. They’ll play original music and obscure covers and you can’t tell which is which. The thing that sets them apart is the grasp they have on their style of music and their harmonies. The Everly Brothers of the Blues is how I’ve seen them described. 90% of the songs are three-chords but you toss the amazing T-Bone Walker influenced guitar over a great vocal and a solid rhythm section and it’s magic.

Other examples that pop into my head of very successful bands in my area are;

  • X-Krush – They DO play it all from Elvis to Rage Against the Machine, but they have turned their show into a night of wild onstage antics, amazing musical ability, a sense of humor and like the Bel Airs, they all sound like X-Krush are playing the songs. They change the song to fit them, not the other way around. Strenghts are, insane and killer band to watch, the ability to pull off all their material, the ability to make an event into a party. They are just to wild not to enjoy. They have a huge following. They filled the crazy mohawk wearing rockin show band niche.
  • The Brat Pack – 80’s music only. They dress the part play great and bring the party with them. Over a decade of gigs for this band and I’m sure they’re still in demand where ever they go.
  • Leather Pistol – 80’s hair metal at its finest.
  • Beyond 10 – They give you the concert experience in a club. Russ is a great singer and those cats can really play. They put on the big show and play songs that go over great live.

I’m sure there are more but I haven’t been out to hear anyone in awhile because I’ve been gigging. Look at that list. They all fill a niche of music that brings people out and ready to party.

The band I’m putting together is called “The Finks”. We are going to play nothing but roots rockers. Original material and covers. We will make the music fit the band and come out on the scene screaming. There are no roots rockers here. That’s our spot. I’ll kick myself for this but I’ve had other ideas that I considered also. I’ll keep them in my head for future projects or bands that I would manage here are some of the thoughts.

  • All girl band ( I of course would manage this act and book them and take a percentage for doing that part of the work and the idea)
  • Dance music – I’m talking Madonna and everything past there in dance music. A lot of work getting it all together but it would pay off in spades.
  • Swing Band featuring Andrew Sisters three part tight harmonies doing cover versions of current and classic material. A super classy act and show band.
  • Classic Cover Band – If you are going to play the rock standards, go nuts and play em all. Play them great and folks will show up to hear “American Band” and “Give Me Three Steps”… a kind of “you asked for it” kind of band.

These ideas are all missing from my regional music scene. They could be filled and the band that pulls it off will have no problem becoming in demand. There is a line that you can draw between being an artist and paying the rent. Hope fully you’ll use your head and find that line, then follow it to your niche.

Oh and it’s my birthday today. I’m looking for a crazy band and a good woman, not the other way around! Help a guy out!

Did someone say keep on rockin?

–Sammy

I’m Running a sale on my first solo album. $5 bucks gets you the entire album. 99. per download. Thats a savings of ONE-MILLION DOLLARS!!!

You have downloaded my CD right? I need the money.