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!.

 

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.

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.

 

Concert Endings… Really?

I have mentioned in previous articles about time between songs, dead air, and onstage banter. One thing I have left out is concert endings to your songs. Bad idea.

If you don’t know what a concert ending is, it is where at the end of your song you all bang a note or every lick you know while the drummer crashes cymbals and does drum rolls to end your songs.

There are certain times during the show where this is acceptable. It can be done when switching from fast songs to a slow number. Anytime the show has to stop, such as changing instruments, an introduction to the next song, or at the end of the set.

All a concert ending does is give your audience the signal the song is over and time to walk off the dance floor and sit back down and wait till the next number start to decide if they want to stay and keep on boogie’n.

Work those songs to where you have an actual ending. A dead stop isn’t necessary, you can hold the chord as the drummer clicks off the next tune. Watch that set list before you reach the end of the song. I hate it when there is a set list right there for everyone to look at and someone (especially the drummer) can’t find the time to look at it during the song. It’s a bad habit that should be broken as soon as possible. Concert endings are unimaginative, lazy, and just plain silly after every song. You want those people to stay on the floor all night, then bust out tunes one after the other.

An easy way to do this is to group your songs together. For example; I used to play “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “I Love Rock n Roll” in an old cover band. We’d play “Hit Me, holding out the last chord without noodling, just holding the last chord. The drummer would then roll the intro to “I Love Rock n Roll”. There was a momentary pause for some crowd screaming but not long enough to let them off the floor.

We always played those two songs back to back. We did this with three songs in a row that fit well together. We made our sets using these blocks of songs. We could still switch out the tunes but the blocks of songs were always the same.

When you pick new songs to learn as a band, think about where they could fit with other songs already in the set. Is there room for crowd participation? A theme? No reason at all? Any way you do it just work it to where it goes from one to another. It’ll tighten the show, you won’t have time for someone in the crowd to come up and request something off the radar.

Funny story. The Matt Poss Band consisted of a singer/rhythm guitarist, guitar, bass and drums. Someone came to the stage and asked for a request when we were being lazy and not running songs back to back. She asked if we would play “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” I said, “ You mean the song about the fiddle contest?” Laughing so not to make her feel like an ass I replied “Babe, do you see a fiddle player anywhere on this stage?” A song request out of left field. If I had been playing I wouldn’t have had to answer any questions. It’s your show, play it. Money talks though, if someone comes up with a few bucks we’ll play it if we know it but usually this is taken care of on breaks.

Another story about not being a jukebox. Dr Wu was a nine-piece classic R&B band. Someone came up to the sax player with a dollar and asked for a song. Pat told them this dollar split up will be eleven cents per musician. Not worth stopping your show. Someone came up with a hundred and asked for some Bad Company and we snatched up the hundred and scrambled to see who knew any Bad Company. In a few moments of talking about the chords and the key and about ½ the lyrics we managed to make it through “Movin’ On.”

We didn’t have too many of these moments because our show was tight, no time for the musicians to talk to people requesting songs. The best way for a person to request a song is to write it down and pass it to the stage. Throwing a few bucks per musician never hurts either.

Tighten up that show and dump the concert endings till it’s time to end the concert! Now for the king of all concert endings….

 

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

 

–Sammy

The Opening Band

The Matt Poss Band just got back from Chicago after opening the show for the Turnpike Troubadours at, according to the Country Music Awards, the number one club for country music in all of America, Joe’s On Weed Street. I thought I’d go through the steps to a successful gig opening for a national act.

 The MPB headlines shows about 75% of the time. The other 25% we are the support act. MPB has supported everyone from Kid Rock to David Allen Coe. Small gigs of a hundred or so people in a small venue, to major concert stages playing for thousands. We’ve been asked for personally by many of the venues and artists we work with.

 This is how MPB handled the show with the Turnpike Troubadours. It started months ago.

 Matt has been working on the getting any booking at Joe’s On Weed St. in Chicago for years. He sent a promo pack or and Electronic Press Kit or EPK to the venue. He called Joe’s before sending it and got a hold of the person (Kelsy) who books the venue, and addressed it to her personally. Weeks later he followed up. Now let’s not forget the venue receives dozens of promo packs daily. How did we get the job? Networking and keeping ourselves on the mind of the person who handles booking. Poss would call the venue now and then to see about working WITH  them. Not too often. We didn’t want her to roll her eyes when we contacted them, but just enough to create a relationship with a venue we had never played. It took awhile but we were offered to open for David Alan Coe. The show went fine. The venue was happy. We were invited back this past week to open for the Troubadours.

 Preparation: A week or two before the date of the show, we made an ad for ourselves and posted it on our Facebook band page plus shared it on our personal pages. We let our friends and fans know that this was a special night for us and would love to see them there to support us. We didn’t over post but we did post about three to four times over a two week period. We sent our EPK to music periodicals in the area and found as many radio stations as we could to play our music and plug our show. This was the preparation part of our job.

 Matt forwarded the gig to find out load in times, sound check times, and the time and length of our set.

 The night before the show Matt sent us the times we played 8pm to 9pm. He also sent the set list he had chosen. Matt is definitely the boss but is always open to suggestions. With the exception of a few last minute changes we knew exactly how our set would flow. The time to meet was decided, 12:30 at the rehearsal studio.

 Chicago is three and a half hours from where the band is based out of. Load in and sound check was at five o’clock. We gave ourselves an extra hour to get there, taking into consideration, stopping for bathroom breaks, traffic conditions and becoming lost looking for the venue and the load in area. We made it at 4:45. Fifteen minutes early. We were in no rush. We found the load in doors easily and before unloading one bit of gear we entered the venue and met the stage manager/soundman. We introduced ourselves with a smile and a handshake; his name was James by the way. We called him James from that point on. Not sound guy, buddy, or dude. He had received our stage plot before hand and was ready for us.

 We came prepared with drums and amps and our own mics. You never know when you may need something. The Troubadours were gracious hosts and had mentioned to the soundman that we could use their drum set. The band unloaded four pieces of gear. Bass amp, and two guitar amps. Rob, our drummer, brought in his foot pedal, snare, and high hat stand and his cymbals. If you are a drummer and playing on someone else’s set, always bring those items. A drummer with a lighter touch isn’t going to want to watch you beat the shit out his snare and try cracking cymbals. On the other hand Rob wants to feel as close to home as he can on a strange set so he brought in the pieces he is used to since everyone sets up a little differently. This also helped the soundman because he didn’t have to mic up two sets. DON’T BE OFFENDED IF THE OTHER BAND DOESN’T WANT YOU TO USE YOUR THEIR GEAR! Some bands don’t mind and some bands do. If they offer, count your self lucky. We loaded in and set up, making sure we stayed out of the way of the soundman, and his crew member Kyle. See I remembered his name.

 Sound check: There is an easy way and a bad way to handle a sound check. Make it as easy as possible for the band and the soundman. The bad way is for the band to be beating on their instruments and all yelling what they want and need in their monitor. The easy and most professional way is to do it like this:

  • Make sure your amps are set how you like them and drums set up. This is all done in the pre-sound check/load in. Also don’t crank your amp up and play all your licks while the crew is setting up in front of you. It’s just plain rude.
  • Don’t stack your cases anywhere there are cables or snakes running. The tech may not be done yet and once again this is a courtesy shown to them. This is their house after all.
  • Check your gear. Is it like you want it? If it is QUIT PLAYING! No one needs to know how hot of a musician you are. Your band knows and the crew doesn’t care. This is hours before the show so warming up is pointless and you can warm up with your volume completely down.
  • The soundman probably has a way they like to do things and will lead you through the sound check. Don’t play. But be onstage and ready for your part. Usually drums, bass, guitars, keys… vocals last.
  • Check at the volume you plan to play at. If you’re too loud the soundman will let you know.
  • Take your turn. Don’t start yelling you want two vocals in your wedge a little bass, a kick drum etc. while he’s dialing in a good sound.
  • When the soundman asks for a vocal check, they will usually ask for them one at a time. This is the time to ask for things in your monitor. Such as in my case, as the bass player I like all vocals in my monitor, kick and snare, and depending on the venue I may want some of my own bass in the monitor. Usually I can hear everything else. When my vocal is checked I kindly ask for these things. When I’m satisfied or close, I tell him that it sounds fine and that it should work and thank you. “Thank you James” is what I said. Take into consideration your other band mates. If you have them crank your guitar in the monitor along with your stage sound, you’ll throw off the mix on stage. Mix yourselves while you are up there.
  • They will have us run through a song. Don’t pick out something you don’t play often or are just learning. Pick out a song that highlights what you do. We usually play a song that shows the harmonies and solos, plus the rhythm instruments. This gives them the chance to dial in those pieces into the mix.
  • Now is when you make final adjustments. Maybe I can’t hear the acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Mac, our guitarist can’t hear all the vocals. One at a time tell them what you need. Mac tells him he can’t hear the vocals and asks for them to be turned up in his monitor. They are turned up, Mac says thank you, then it’s my turn. We don’t noodle, (play your instrument with the volume up) and we fine tune the stage sound to as close as we can get. Work with the soundman then be happy with what you get. Some sound companies may only have one monitor mix and you might not be able to get it perfect. This is when you compromise and the band works around it. DON’T BITCH!
  • With that said, you might do another song or if it was just minor adjustments finish your last minute details and get off the stage so the sound crew can make their adjustments or the next band can get up there. Yes we’ve headlined shows where the opening band took the entire sound check time to them selves, leaving us without one. Inconsiderate and unprofessional. A band vs. band scenario. Always a bad situation. I remember this and won’t willingly have them on the same bill as us. They have a bad reputation in my mind. Good band though.
  • If you have no dressing room, do what you have to, If you are sharing a dressing room, be considerate. If the venue is feeding you and offering the band free drinks, don’t order the lobster and steak with a triple shot of the best tequila they have. Pretend your friend is buying your dinner and drinks. Don’t take advantage or give the bartender or staff hell when they say only beer is free. Be happy you got anything at all. Once again free dinner, free drinks = big tip.

 Showtime: Know exactly when you are expected to be on stage and when you are expected to be off. This is incredibly important. Things may be running behind but if it says you go on at 8pm be prepared to be on at 8pm. Wait patiently and don’t say a word about the show running behind.

  • This is the most important part of opening. Don’t play over your set. If you are on for 30 minutes play 30 minutes or less. One hour, play one hour or less. If your time is cut down to put the show back on schedule then agree, change your set a little if you need to and play. The majority of the crowd is there to see the headliner. Never and I mean never play over your time. Quit a little early if you have to. This past week the MPB were to play from 8-9, one hour. We played, saw we were running about a song short of an hour, added the song on the fly and kept rolling. Giving it our best to rev up that crowd, make new fans, satisfy regular fans, and just put on the best show we can. With an hour we can really cut the set down to our best numbers. We played till 8: 55. Did we have time for one more? Maybe. Better safe than sorry. We stopped playing thanked the crowd and walked off.
  • Before we went on Matt wrote down the name of the venue’s talent buyer, the name of the acoustic act that started the show, and the name of the soundman and his tech. All he had to do to thank them during the show was to look down and read it.
  • Mention from the stage that you have merchandise. “This is from our new album”, “We have t-shirts for sale” etc. If you have a table of merch, point it out from the stage and tell them you will be there and to come over and say hello if nothing else. Hello is a great conversation starter that may be the difference between selling a $20 shirt and not.
  • When you are done with your set, immediately strike your gear from the stage. This includes helping the others. Don’t tear down the drums, pick them up and move them off the stage and tear them down there. Get off the stage as soon as possible and use the interim to meet new fans, sell merch, or just bask in the praises that you are the greatest band in the world.
  • We usually meet the other bands, network, and exchange contacts if we can. You never know. Blackberry Smoke asked for us by name to support them on a tour through the south. Blackberry Smoke just hit the true big time. Number 1 on ITunes, and I saw the singer Charlie on my Yahoo front page this morning. My friends have now become major rock stars and hopefully they won’t forget us, our talent, and our professionalism.
  • The job is done. Matt gets paid, gear is loaded, and now we are available to meet people, hand out cards, and usually get to hear the headliners for a while and catch a great show that we were a part of. Very satisfying.

 To sum up this whole article; don’t be a pain in the ass at any point during the night. The ego is left on the stage. Don’t be stand offish or run to the dressing room to feel like a rockstar for awhile. Thank everyone, even if they don’t do anything but show up. I meet interesting people, contacts for other venues and festivals, and being the only single guy in the band, I meet the ladies and get phone numbers… none of which ever text me back. Damn women!

 A pro keeps all this in mind. Sooner or later it’ll become a habit. In a profession where bad habits are expected, these tips will show the world that we aren’t all drug addicted, groupie lovin’, flakes. We are pros and will be treated like pros if we treat our hosts as pros.

I want to thank Sound Source Music in Mattoon, IL for adding my blog to their website. Support them because they are supporting you. Thank you Mikey.

 Don’t forget to download the “Unwanted, Unasked for, Unbelievable” solo album “The Monkey Speaks His Mind” from yours truly.

 –Sammy