Tag Archives: gig

I wish I’d had a camera

 

What follows is a true story.

In 2002ish, I was in a band called Gwendolyn Speaks, with some friends who were superb musicians and singers. We were booked to play the Columbus Arts Festival that summer.

Festival performances are a mixed bag. Organizers want live music all day long, but most people are only interested in seeing live music starting approximately at sunset, when the stage lights are on, and the alcohol is starting to flow. As the bigger names get the later slots, this means that you have to be pretty well known to play an evening set. Otherwise, your crowd looks like this:

Woot!

Well, Gwendolyn Speaks was not a big name in Cincinnati, much less in Columbus, so our set time was something like 1pm on a Sunday. Predictably, the area in front of the stage was pretty empty. There was a steady stream of, say, moms with kids, who would stroll by, listen for a few minutes, and then move on. But there were two guys who “looked like musicians,” sitting and watching our set. One was in black jeans, a black sleeveless shirt and black skullcap. The other had a Hawaiian shirt and very tall hair. I figured maybe they were playing on the same stage later.

On that same date, there was a guitar show scheduled on the opposite side of Columbus (these happen twice a year). Now, knowing that not many people were going to be present at our show, I was mostly hoping to finish the set and leave quickly, so I could find a cool bargain at that show.

It was also at this time that I was using a pretty complicated rig, though I may have been actively simplifyng it. In any case, I was almost certainly using two UK-made Vox AC15 amplifiers, running in stereo.

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[Two things: (1.) I believe I may have been a front-runner in the Cincinnati area for using AC15's. They weren't being used by many people. Then I got mine, and suddenly everyone started getting them. (2.) Yes, I know these aren't AC15's. ]

At the conclusion of our set, I went straight to work, tearing-down my gear, and loading it out to my car, which was conveniently parked right near the stage. As I was heading back to the stage for another armload of gear, our bassist said something like “Billy Bob Thornton is over there, and he wants to meet you.” I laughed, because, come to think of it, the guy in black DID look a lot like BBT. It was a good joke from Pete the Bassist, who was usually clever and understated like that. So I walked up to the stage front to meet the guy.

It was actually Billy Bob Thornton. The actor. The real guy.

I shook his hand and said hello. He had a tattoo on his right bicep that said “Angelina.” As you may remember, he and Angelina Jolie were married there for a bit. This meeting was like a month before they split up.

Anyway, turns ut that BBT is a musician (a drummer – make your own jokes), and he and his band were actually performing later, though on a different stage.

If you were a man, it was easy to watch a Gwendolyn Speaks set, because our two lady singers, Tara and Carrie, were quite lovely. And Pete and Scott and I were all music geeks, so we tended to infuse the catchy pop songs with some nice flourishes.

So, not surprisingly, BBT loved the show, and he and his guitarist (Hawaiian shirt guy) said they loved my tone and playing, and wanted to ask some questions about what I used. So, long before there were YouTube videos and guitar sites devoted to this sort of thing, I gave a “Rig Rundown” to Billy Bob Thornton and his guitarist.
Image result for billy bob thornton band[Note the amplifiers behind these guys]

After a pleasant chat, we all went our separate ways. I headed off to the guitar show, where nothing memorable happened. For the remainder of the day, several of us just called each other and screamed into the phone; “Aaaagh! Billy Bob Thornton! Aaaagh!

“Aaaagh!”

This was back when cell phones did NOT come with cameras. So of course no one took pictures. Who takes pictures at a Sunday afternoon gig? Well, the next day, I stopped at a gas station and bought a disposable camera to keep in the car, just in case. For you youngsters, a disposable camera cost a few dollars. You would take a bunch of pictures with it, then take the whole camera in to a place (say, a pharmacy or grocery store) to get the pictures developed. They would discard or recycle the camera, and you would get your pictures. I am surprised to learn that they are still around.

Also at this time, my wife had a tendency to steal whatever camera I owned, take photos with it, use up all the film, and then lose/ruin/misplace the camera. So a disposable camera seemed like a great idea for me. I kept one in my car until she found it, stole it, took a bunch of photos, and left me with no camera. This happened several times.

Thus, despite my best efforts, here’s another “big fish” story:

A year or two later I would find myself on stage with The Pointer Sisters.

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Yes, really.
Of course I had no camera. Of course.

 

Ankles, Aikido, and Amplification

So I had this lingering sore foot/ankle/leg thing…
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On March 9, a doctor cut into my ankle to repair what had turned out to be a pretty major injury. I spent a month (March-April) with no weight on my left foot, then started hobbling a bit. I’m now walking normally, mostly.  With the help of my physical therapist (a friend since 7th grade), that ankle getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. All of this is good… actually it’s better than normal, and I’m grateful. I now have an awesomely gross scar to horrify the squeamish.
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As a result of my ankle injury, I had become progressively less active, and not able to spend much time out and about with my family. I gained weight from being sedentary. Honestly, I gave up on taking care of myself. That has all changed. My diet is better. I’m sleeping normal hours. Last week, I even walked the dogs with my sweet little wife, twice. Life feels like “normal” is within sight.
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Wait, there’s more…

One of my great loves, aside from music, is the traditional martial arts of Japan. I’ve been an eager student of Aikido since I was 21, and started Iaido back in 2004ish. After my injury (which had nothing to do with martial arts), the first thing I had to stop doing was all the lateral movement in Aikido. Iaido stopped a few months later.

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This past week, I not only did some Aikido training, but I did a small demonstration of Aikido within a broader presentation at the church where I work. So not only am I physically active again, I was able to bring a thing I love into the job I do. The last time I did anything like that was back when I was still directing music there. I had to let the music role go, when I moved in to my creative “Production Director” job, last year.
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Well, one of the things about musicians is that, in the summer, they want to play all these festivals. I suppose the money is good (back when I did it, the money wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the heat and hassle). Anyway, because of that, there’s a need for a substitute guitarist. So I will be subbing in on guitar in a week-and-a-half.
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That’s June 9. Also on June 9, there’s a big event at the Aikido dojo. Also-also, my acoustic duo has a gig that night. I may have over-committed.
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So… as it pertains to June 9, I might be going too fast. But after a year-and-a-half of slow motion, I gotta believe this is all understandable.

Have you ever been sidelined for an illness or injury, and had to wait it out? How did you cope during the interim? Have you ever been sidelined because of a role-change, and had to watch others do what you started? What was that like? Finally, have you ever overcompensated by over-committing? What safeguards did you put in place to prevent it from happening again?

Sprich, mein volk!

The goings-on of May

There are several creative-type things I like to do.

It may have come up in conversation that I play guitar a little.

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I’m hilarious, aren’t I?

I also sing a little, write songs, record & music. I’m a decent audio engineer and editor too. Sometimes I do voice-over work, or commercial production. In the past, I have done some acting on stage and screen. I tinker, a tiny bit, with video and graphic design/presentation. I write, and I think I have two novels in me, but I’m reluctant to put any energy toward them.

So when I write, it’s usually in blog form, which takes us to this writ.
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Being a classic ADHD (not so much the H part) sufferer, it’s difficult to focus on something unless I can HYPERFOCUS. Get me working on any of these creative exercises, and I can lose a whole day.

At the end of 2017, I shared a fairly large pile of recordings with the world, which I put on my website, and called “The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vol.1” These are just cover songs I recorded for fun, to share with friends. Obviously, the name implies that there are more to come, and I truly intend to do so.

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Ouch. Yeah.

Realistically, it’s May now, and I haven’t put much energy towards those new songs yet. Getting back into creative music mode in the studio has been a hard engine to start. I’ll blame ankle-surgery, but there has been a fair amount of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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So whilst I’ve been putzing around…

A friend of mine who lives afar had mentioned several times in the past, that it would be fun to work on a music project together. Well, he popped the question, and I accepted. So, even though this is a very busy (and tired) time, I forced myself to sit down and ride the music wave last night. The hardest part is swimming out into the proverbial ocean. So I swam, and I listened, and I thought a slide guitar might be a nice interpretation.

Two and a half hours later, I came up from the depths, to get a breath of air.

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Whoa.

It’s fun to be back in the saddle, making music for someone -even if it’s just one song- again. How nice to shake some of the rust off of my modest (at best) slide guitar skills! Of course I used my Telecaster. Of course I did! Well, the intonation on it is all out of sorts, the strings are old, the volume pot is busted, and the whole damn guitar is noisy. Of course I used it anyway.

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I finished a basic rhythm track (which may have been unnecessary) and a slide solo, and threw some ad-lib slide parts here and there. I will probably do some better ad-libs later. Then I get to do some studio singing, which I haven’t done in like six months.

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On the periphery of all of this, I’m now performing somewhat regularly in an acoustic duo called The Mood Rings. We keep getting gigs offered to us, and having great ease booking new ones.

A few years ago, I was frantically busy with music stuff just to keep my name recognizeable, and my income steady. Now I get to do it for fun and inspiration.

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I wouldn’t change a thing… except that I’d like to be performing with an electric guitar a little more.

We’ll see what the next half of the year brings.

What’s your creative outlet? Do you do it because you love it, or because it’s an obligation?  If you could do something else, what would it be? Do you create because you love creating, or because you want recognition/fame/money? ‘Fess up.

Small Steps, Stomps, and Stages

Greetings, Friends.

It’s been a bit since my last writ,
And I’m glad to be a-typing.
See, I hurt my ankle (tendons mangled!),
So to work I’ve been a-Skype-ing.

Yeah, I haven’t done much lately. I injured my ankle a while ago, and was foolish to think it would just get better on its own. Finally, at the recommendation of a trusted teacher, I visited his favorite podiatrist. Ill at ease about the whole thing, I expected a protracted process of “Hmmm… yeah, not sure what’s going on here. Let’s try anti-inflammatories and rest, and you pay me an exorbitant office visit fee… and see me again in 2 weeks.”

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Well, he walked into the room, and within seconds, knew from the angle of my foot, and the description of the injury, EXACTLY what had happened. To be sure, he ordered an MRI for me (my first!). He was right. It’s busted. Course of treatment: surgery. Heal with STEEL!!

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So several stitches, a couple of screws, and 24 staples later, my ankle is fixed, but it will be recovering for many more weeks. That hasn’t stopped the kid from trying out new gear, no, certainly not.

Prior to surgery, I knew I’d need motivation to get me moving and being productive again, so I ordered an ELEVEN Rack (without Pro Tools, because I’m an individual) to get me excited about recording guitars WITHOUT amps for a good long time (Can’t lift an amp on crutches!). It arrived fasted than expected, giving me about a day and a half to play with it. I still don’t really know how it works.

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I just started moving around again, and have recorded a few tracks with it. I will share some serious insights, once I get more familiar with it.

Not long afterwards, I went crazy and ordered the Superego+ pedal from Sweetwater. It arrived 30 hours later. I’m using it with my acoustic duo.

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Oh yeah, by the way, I’m now in an acoustic duo. We call ourselves The Mood Rings (this was a band name I was using back in the early 2000′s), and we have played one whole gig so far. It was so well received that we got two more gigs out of it, that same night.

As a result, we have a gig this Saturday night. I will still be one-footed, so my buddy Andy has to carry all the gear. I can’t believe he agreed to it.

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Don’t Buy Gear For A Gig You Don’t Have

There you are, dear guitarist. You’re sitting at home with your guitar. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s pretty good. Could it be “better?” Maybe, but then what’s the definition of “better?” That’s another topic.
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I joined my first working band when I was about eighteen. My guitars were an Electra Phoenix, a Westone Spectrum FX, and an Ovation Custom Balladeer. My Electra looked just like this… until I added EMG pickups, and a Kahler tremolo.

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The Westone was snazzier, and the Ovation was the envy of my peers.

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Chick magnets!

My only amplifier was a Crate 20w solid-state combo that I had gotten when I was about fourteen. It didn’t sound very good, so my bassist (who was really a guitarist) let me use his Gallien Krueger 250ML amp. We ran it directly into the PA system via the microphone cable output on the back. Combined with the handful of cranky old effects pedals I had picked up, it sounded enormous. The Crate amp got used for my acoustic.

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It would be several more years before I would discover what a real tube amp could do.

Before the gig, I spent about $30 on three guitar stands, reasoning that a real gigging guitarist needed stands for his guitars. That way they would be within reach on stage, without lying on the floor (bad idea), leaning against something (risky), or sitting in their cases (inconvenient). I’ll never forget how cool my side of the stage looked with my three guitars on stands, plus two (dorky little solid-state) amps stacked one atop the other. Thus began my process of buying gear for gigs. THAT purchase was sensible. Subsequent purchases might not have been so practical.

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Somewhere along the way, the allure of expensive solutions appeared. A few years passed. Now I had a great Stratocaster… but it wasn’t American. Now I had a great amp… but it wasn’t vintage. I got great sounds from my modern effects processor, but… it lacked vibe. So I got a vintage amp and some vibey pedals. By dumb luck (really- the singer was my friend’s little sister. Some other friends started producing an album with her, and I recorded some guitar tracks as a favor), I ended up in a band that got a lot of attention. As a result, “tapers” came to our shows and recorded our performances. Today, I have a small collection of those recordings, and, in listening back, I honestly cannot tell you what gear I was using.

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At the time, I reached the conclusion that I needed “pro gear” to be considered a pro; and if I was considered a pro, THEN surely I would get more pro gigs. This led me to a lot of bad purchase decisions, basically in an attempt to buy my fame and fortune, one gadget at a time. I observe this trend running rampant today.

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Two things: (1.) This guy should get some stands. (2.) I may or may not have a room that looks like this.

I haven’t played a “real” gig in a while. I work for a church with an approximately 3000-person congregation, and find myself on stage there pretty consistently. Between that and my own studio work, I am pretty content. Nonetheless, I think about booking a live gig here or there, but to do that, I imagine all sorts of needs: I surely NEED a high end vocal mic. Definitely, I will NEED expensive pickup solutions and preamps for my acoustic guitars. I have a small PA, but I will NEED monitors for it. Even though my 1941 Epiphone archtop has traveled in a gig bag since I bought it in 1997, I’m going to NEED a hard case for it.

I haven’t booked a single gig yet, and already I’m buying a microphone, pickups and preamps, monitors, and a case. See how that works?

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A few weeks ago, I was gear-porning on Sweetwater.com, looking at studio mics, upgrades for my pedalboard, some VST plugins, and even a couple of instruments. I got up to get a drink, and when I came back to my computer, the lust-spell had been broken. I closed each shiny browser tab, saying “Nope,” “Nope,” “Nope.” “I don’t need this yet.” That’s when the wisdom landed in my lap.

“Don’t buy gear for a gig you don’t have.”

Have you ever imagined a need for a piece of music gear? Was it an instrument, amplifier or another gadget? Did you buy it? If so, did it really solve your problems? How about real solutions? Have you ever bought something that was a perfect solution? What was it?

Share your thoughts!

Defining The “Speso.”

The first electric guitar I ever played was a vintage Fender Jazzmaster. I have no idea how old it was, but it was already old when I discovered it at age ten or eleven.

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It was owned by the oldest brother of my childhood best friend. I knew it was forbidden, and so I treated it with grave respect… every time I secretly played it… when he wasn’t around.

Sometimes I had access to his old Fender Twin Reverb. It wasn’t sacred like the Jazzmaster, and I recall being fascinated by the reverb and vibrato.

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I found a classic Twin Reverb in my mid-20′s. I ended up gigging with it for several years. We had a good run together, but Jazzmasters remained elusive- they were hard to find, and expensive. This is still the case, when comparing to Stratocasters or Telecasters.

When my main gig ended, I taught lessons in a couple of local music stores (this is a great way to see cool gear before it gets sold). A consignment Jazzmaster showed up one day. It was a ’61, and seemed to be all original, but a previous owner had stripped the finish down to natural wood. That ruined its status as a collector’s item, and made it perfect for a player- exactly my type. More importantly, it sounded amazing. I looked like this when I played it.

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So I taught lessons on it, fell in love, and started saving money for it. As these things happen, I had an expensive car-repair, followed by a water-heater failure, followed by something else expensive. I had no Jazzmaster money after that. The seller got antsy, and moved his guitar elsewhere.

A few years passed…

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I started shopping casually on eBay for Jazzmasters, researching and comparing. After several months, a familiar-looking natural ’61 Jazzmaster showed up. Same one? I asked the seller about certain features, and yes, sure enough, it had to be THE SAME ONE. Unbelievable! I was similarly penniless at the time, for similar reasons as before. I started making arrangements to sell other gear so I could afford it. Then, out of the blue, the auction was removed. Two days later, it showed up again on eBay, on the other side of the country, as parts. PARTS. Aaugh!

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It seemed like a bad idea to buy a box of parts. So, after some wise council, I finally let it go. THE VERY NEXT DAY (I’m not making this up), a Jazzmaster appeared on the local Craigslist. I had never seen a Jazzmaster there. It was a Japanese model from the mid-90′s, certainly more affordable, and less of a risk. I met the seller, checked it out, and bought it. Truth: it actually sounds better than that parted-out ’61.

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I’m really happy with my Jazzmaster. It makes a sound like no other guitar I own, but I’ve started to recognize that it isn’t the guitar that makes itself sound so good, it’s how I react to it. And here’s the thing- I can react that way to ANY guitar. The special part isn’t the guitar, it’s my unique interaction with it. Boom.

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That ’61 Jazzmaster sounded great in my hands, no doubt about it. There were plenty of other competent players who handled it. Why didn’t THEY buy it? Were they all deaf? Did they lack my tonal majesty? I don’t think so. I think the “SPEcial SOmething” about it was my spiritual/emotional/artistic reaction when I picked it up. So here’s where I invent my own unique term- The “Speso;”™  that particular reaction from the inside that we attach to a person, place or thing.

I recognize that I have a different Speso ® for each instrument to which I become attached, and it isn’t just guitars. My relationships each have a Speso™. My songs are each an out-loud Speso®. My family’s cabin in the Poconos has a Speso™.

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Dang preexisting government acronyms! In any case, I’ll keep using the term.

You can buy any guitar, or have any relationship, but there’s THAT ONE that’s special; separate from the rest. I think the difference isn’t the guitar or other person (or whatever), I think it’s the Speso; the unique connection ingredient, that resides mysteriously inside each of us. It’s that thing, where when you made contact with the other person, or that one guitar, and there was an instant connection. THAT is the Speso; the unique facet of your identity that becomes matched or complemented by the connection to the other.

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Today is my wedding anniversary. I have an obvious Speso for my sweet little wife, having literally chosen her over every other woman on Earth. I have completely different, much-less important Spesos (Spesoes? Speso’s?) for my guitars, but that’s the easy example we’re reaching for today.

 

What guitar / amp / music object exemplifies and undeniable indefinable Speso for you? What was it that connected you, over anyone else, to THAT guitar, over every other one at the time? Was it another version of one that you already had? Was it something completely different? How long and how deeply did it go?

Describe your Speso. Go!