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!.