Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Memphis Mike Challenge!

In my never-ending quest to prove the worth/value of art (painting, sculpture, music, writing, photography, etc.), I've decided to pose a challenge. It's open to anyone. However, there are a few rules.

  • You cannot spend one cent to create your art.
  • (Please describe HOW you created your art)
  • You cannot use tools/equipment you already possess.
  • You cannot borrow tools/equipment to create your art.
  • You cannot use 'found items'.
  • You can use items found in nature.
  • You will retain all rights to your creation.
Sound tricky? Think you're up to the challenge?

Here's how I'd like this to work: Create your masterpiece. Get someone to take a video of it and upload it (that's the only expense allowed), and share the link in the comments section.   I will check back from time to time and repost this on social media (my Facebook page).

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS!!!!!!!

I'm sure you're probably wondering what purpose any of this will serve. Easy! Too many artists are expected to just give their art away. If an artist chooses to do so, dandy. Just don't expect one to do it. It usually takes some monetary investment to create art...art that can be enjoyed by anyone.

Paints, brushes, and canvasses cost money. Paper, pens, and pencils cost money. Cameras cost money. Musical instruments cost money. Everyone knows this. However, many people out there expect us to give away our art. How many times have we heard the following?

"You'll get a lot of exposure..."

"Can you give me a painting/sculpture/photo/CD/poem,etc.?"

"Well, we can't pay you but....."

Allow me to leave you with these words of wisdom, passed on to me years ago by an unknown, old jazz musician: "If you don't place a value on your work, no one else will either."

I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!








Sunday, March 30, 2014

"This is why we can't have nice things!"

Oh Pittsburgh....you've done it again.

Week after week, people ask me when 'this act' or 'that act' is coming to town. Simple answer: they're not. Want to know why? Sure...I'll tell you why...

I heard from a friend today. This friend is an amazing singer/songwriter/performer...who tours for a living. Nice work if you can get it, right? Right! Well, this friend had booked a show in Pittsburgh at a nice venue (I'm not mentioning names or pointing fingers...we're all to blame). My friend heard today, from the venue, that the show was being cancelled. The reason given (I won't go into detail) was pretty stupid and showed more about how little this venue trusts it's own employees to handle things, than it says about my friend (who most likely would have packed the joint). In short, what it shows is a total lack of professionalism on the part of Pittsburgh's venues, "promoters", musicians, and event staff.

My friend and I discussed the reality that most of the acts that play around here are folks playing music as a hobby...which is fine. But, a lot of people make their living from music. Playing it, selling it, using it as a tool to generate revenue, etc. Pittsburgh, once again, shows that we 'just don't get the concept'.

I've beat this horse to death...but here we go again. If you're a musician, demand to be paid. If you don't, you're fucking over other people...people that you know or might not know...but also people that you would probably enjoy getting to hear...whether it be in person, on the radio, on the internet, on a CD, mp3, whatever. By being an idiot in regards to the business end of show biz, YOU ARE FUCKING THINGS UP FOR EVERYONE ELSE! Stop it!

If you're a so-called "promoter"...do your fucking job! PROMOTE THE SHOW! This does NOT mean conning some band into selling your tickets. That is part of YOUR job. Move those tickets you lazy piece of shit! Get off your ass and PROMOTE! Make sure there are posters in as many places as you can think of. Put ads where you think they'll work. Promote the hell out of the show via social networking and the internet. If YOU do YOUR job right, people will be lined up to see the show! That translates to MONEY IN YOUR POCKET! Quit being idiots. Once upon a time, a certain local promoter accused a band, that I was in, of "taking food out of his children's mouths" by helping him move a LOT of tickets* (we were given a percentage of the sales).  These are the types of morons that we in the music business have to contend with.

I went to a show last week. 2 music legends on the same stage. There were 50-60 people there (I did a head count). There was NO ONE taking tickets/admission. I was on the guest list but just walked right on in anyway. No one stopped me. No one asked for a ticket. Nothing. I'm not THAT well known. There should've been 3 times the number of people there. I looked online and no one even had the correct door/show times listed. Again, the only reason I knew what time to be there was because one of the artists told me! What? Did they think people were going to just wait around for an extra 3 hours spending money? Nice job promoter!

If you own/run/manage a venue...GUARANTEE your acts as good a night as possible. Make it worth everyone's time. If you can't...DON'T HAVE SHOWS. Leave it to those who WILL do the work. I know...your hands are tied. You don't have a budget. Then maybe your venue shouldn't have live music (or...here's a thought...create a MUSIC BUDGET!). Hire a fucking DJ and have karaoke...just like every other bullshit dive does. If the event staff working your shows ain't doing a professional job...show them the door! There are lots of people looking for work. LOTS! Anyone can be replaced pretty easily. Oh...that's a hassle? So is doing the work to book a show and getting screwed over.

NO MORE EXCUSES!

This is a BUSINESS. Treat it as such. Someone screws you over? Have a contract. Problem solved. A venue dicks over an artist? Sue them. An artist dicks over a venue? Sue them. Yes. It's a pain. But if EVERYONE treats this like a business, not a hobby, these problems will dwindle and go away.

The music scene in Pittsburgh is dying. I hate the thought of that. There are great people here, talented people, wonderful people. There are lots of venues that could be filled on a regular basis. Want to know why they're not? Because no one takes it seriously until its too late. "Gee, no one came to the show!" Well DUH! There are LOTS of reasons why. I've told you time and again what these reasons are. You're on your own now.

Whenever my show biz friends and colleagues ask me about playing Pittsburgh, from now on, I'll suggest they try Cleveland or Columbus instead. Until such time as Pittsburgh truly WANTS live music, I'll send it elsewhere. And if my home town doesn't want live music...that's fine too. There are lots of DJs and karaoke people to let you hear the same shit you've heard for 35+ years. Why change, right?

Get used to empty seats. You're bound to start seeing more of them.


* The excessive ticket sales, done by our band, led to a sold out show, which has translated into 20 years of sold out shows, by this particular artist, here in Pittsburgh. We got $130 and a case of Iron City. The promoter, venue(s), and artist have each reaped 10s of thousands of dollars from this. You're welcome!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

You are what you....

"You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” - C.G. Jung

Pretty powerful words, if you think about them. Consider them a pragmatic approach to life.

Say you want to be a dancer. The best damned dancer of all time! But...you work on a pig farm. You work on that pig farm for 30 years. Guess what? You're a pig farmer.

In this day and age, people are often misled by bullshit promises by talk show goons, authors of pathetic self-help books, and the like. "You can do it!" "You can be whatever you want to be!" "You too can be happy!" Hogmuffins.

What all of these types often fail to mention is that it takes work. LOTS of work. Hell...not just work...DEDICATION! Is your dream, your goal something that you're willing to dedicate your life to...even if it means failure?

If you're content to just dream...be a dreamer. It's not a bad thing to be. But if you want something bad enough, don't expect someone else to make it happen. It just doesn't work that way.

Having just celebrated yet another birthday, I've spent the past week looking back at my life thus far, assessing and re-assessing, and planning for the future. I have to say, I've done pretty well...at most things.

I'm broke. I mean BROKE! But...I live in a nice home, with a beautiful woman who thinks the world of me. I have many people in my life who are genuinely glad that I'm still around. I'd say that when it comes to people and relationships...I'm successful.  I've created a lot of art. I write music almost daily. Some of it, the world gets to hear. Some, the world doesn't get to hear. I still created it. I've taken thousands of photographs. Many are beautiful. Some are not. Some I share with the world. Some I don't. They still, however, exist. I created them. I write and write often. Some of my writing, like this, I share with the world. Lots of what I write, I don't share. These works still exist. I created them. My music took me around the world. I've played to hundreds of thousands of people. They all seemed to enjoy it. I guess I can check that off as a success as well.

I spent 25 years working with folks with retardation (or whatever this week's buzz word is), autism, and assorted mental health issues. That was truly my passion. Especially when I worked in the vocational end of the field. I couldn't wait to get to work most mornings! I genuinely loved helping others find their talents, abilities, and strengths. They taught me every bit as much if not more. I don't get to do that anymore...but I did it for a long time...and I'd say I was pretty damned successful at it. I often run into former clients...and they remind me of my successes.

You can do whatever you want in life...but you have to actually DO it. Talking about it doesn't count. That's just talk. Dreaming about it doesn't count. Those are just dreams. If you want to BE it, you have to DO it. Not just when you have a chance to get around to it. If you want to DO it, you'll make the time!

So what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE MIKESMAS!

It's that time of year again kids!

Will the jolly aging fat man with the white beard and incredibly cool hat visit YOUR house this year? Better put out those donuts and beer...JUST IN CASE!!!!!!!!!!

And while you're waiting for the magic of Mikesmas...here's everyone's fave Mikemas classic...TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE MIKESMAS!

"Twas the night before Mikesmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even the cats;
The beercans were flung on the floor without care,
In hopes that a french maid soon would be there;
The cats were nestled all snug in the couch,
While each had visions of fricassied mouse;
some bimbo in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
were each taking turns giving the other the clap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen rain
Gave the lustre of Yuengling to objects near the drain,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a 94 Olds, and eight tiny cold beers,
With a little old driver, cute as a tyke,
I knew in a moment it must be Memphis Mike.
More rapid than eagles his curses they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called out crude names;
"Now listen here Fucker! now listen Y'ALL! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
To some crappy dive bar
The site of the ball!
And then I heard tinkling, up on the roof
Someone was pissing, some little goof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney Memphis Mike came with a bound.
He was dressed all in black, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of beers he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a ciggie he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And drank all the beers; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his Olds, to my bimbo gave a whistle,
And away they flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight,
"Happy Mikesmas to all, and to all a good-night."

A Few More Thoughts On Musicians & Contracts

As you may or may not know, I'm currently in the midst of having to sue a club owner for breach of contract. Long story short, we lived up to our end of the deal. I have no idea just what he expected...but he had people in his NEW, mostly unknown venue, with more walking in the door, when he decided it was in everyone's best interests to not let us perform...or to pay us.

This is one of the many reasons why contracts are a must. If a venue refuses to sign a contract, that tells you everything you need to know about them. It screams "DON'T TRUST ME! I WILL HAPPILY SCREW YOU OVER!" I'm not saying that every venue will do this. But there are lots that will. If the venue's representative is honest, they'll work out the details with you (even if it's a door gig) and happily sign a contract. It makes things easier for everyone. If the band shows up, deluding themselves that they're going to be treated to a gourmet buffet...but only find cold pizza...the contract will state which is the expected reality. Yes...some musicians can be delusional lunatics...just as some club owners can be.

Here's an unexpected perk of using a contract: Club owners tend to be more motivated to make sure there are asses in THEIR seats at show time - if there's a guarantee of 'something' involved. Somewhere along the line, club owners got this idea that every musician has an entourage that follows them everywhere. I blame the Deadheads for this. The reality is this: while Group X may have a loyal following every time they play a certain venue, it is not a guarantee that following will drive across town to see them. There's no guarantee that any of them will even cross the street to see them. The only guarantee is that Group X is going to show up and try to put on the best damned show they can. As entertainers, our job is to entertain. It doesn't matter if there are 2 people in the joint or 2000. Our job is to try to keep them entertained...which often results in them spending more money on drinks, food, tips, etc. It's really that simple.

Musicians like to make people happy...including club owners. So guess what? We'll throw in extras...usually at our own expense. We'll provide some extra promotion, on top of whatever the venue is (allegedly) doing. Anything from word of mouth to text blasts/emails/online promotion to posters/flyers. Most musicians LOSE money doing this...but we do it anyway. Those posters that you saw for Group X playing at Venue Q? Chances are the band designed them, printed them, and distributed them. Call up a graphic designer and ask them what they would charge to design a poster. Then add in the cost of printing 100+  11x17 posters. It gets pricey. Yet...bands do this for every show...and still have to eat that cost. A smart band will factor that cost into their fee and a contract will ensure that everything is done properly. It will also ensure that the venue receives the promotional materials and displays them correctly.

Contracts take the guess work out of the equation. If you've ever hired someone to work on your house...heck, even mowing your lawn, there's, at least, a verbal contract in place.

"I, (name) agree to pay $____ to (name) for the following services:

_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________
_____________________________________________________"

That's really all a contract is. The next time a club owner expects you (or anyone else) to perform for free, tell them you'll do so provided they give each band member a keg of beer or bottle of booze for free. It's the same principal. NO ONE WORKS FOR FREE! Yes, some venues will provide free or discount food or beverages. That's a professional courtesy. When I used to do roofing work, we often worked on KFC buildings. Every day, the manager would bring us up FREE buckets of chicken. He didn't have to. It wasn't in our contract. It was done out of PROFESSIONAL COURTESY.

Oh I see...you think that being a musician isn't work. Really? We do it just for fun? Well yes...in part, we do. No one would do this if they didn't love it! Sure, we get to play music. But we also have to deal with drunks, assholes, greedy club owners, we have to do physical labor (anyone who wants to lug my gear around for me is more than welcome to), we have to be business men, graphic designers, marketing execs, drivers, sound techs, lighting techs,etc. I could probably write out a 3 page job description of just what exactly a musician does, aside from simply playing music. Simply put...let me see YOU do YOUR job for what we get paid...and without a guarantee most times.

Don't be stupid. Use a contract. This benefits ALL parties involved. It takes out the guess work. It (should) motivate both parties to do their best. And guess what...some nights will be winners, some nights won't. That's just called reality. If a venue isn't attracting the customers it wants...how is that a musician's fault? We went into the music business...not the bar business. Know your job.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Are You Really Any Different?

Fred Phelps Sr. is, apparently, dying. And many of you are reveling in this. My question for you is, are you any different from him?

Sure, I think Fred Phelps' teaching of hate is awful. It doesn't jibe with the Gospels. That said, this is America and he has a right to say what he wants and has the right to believe what he wants and the right to pray how he wants. But because his views are unpopular (by today's standards) many of you feel it's OK to laugh at his current misery.

What many of you probably missed, in the many articles on his impending demise, is that he was excommunicated from his own church in August of 2013. Could it be that he saw the error of his ways? No one is saying...but the Westboro Baptist Church picketers are still out and about...and he's not. Do the math.

While done so in a twisted way, Phelps & Co. did a lot to bring to attention the plight of homosexuals in this country. They gave a face to the hatred and vitriol the LGBT community faces on a daily basis. But let me guess, you were too caught up in your outrage (or faux outrage) to notice that point of view...

Sometimes, extreme measures are needed to bring about change. This act is called revolution. While I question whether or not that was Phelps' original plan, it was the inevitable outcome. Many people are now pro-LGBT rights. Many of these people had probably never really thought about the subject before. The issue of same sex marriage is now a political hot topic. Yep...Fred Phelps Sr. and his congregation helped make that happen...whether they had planned to or not. It would be fair to call the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church "extreme".

And now Fred Phelps Sr.  is dying. Kicked out of his own church, he is dying in a hospice. His former followers are preventing many from seeing the man. You might be A-OK with that...but think about this:

Fred Phelps Sr. is a father. His son, Nathan Phelps turned his back on his father's church in 1980. He would like the chance to say good-bye to his father. Fred Phelps Sr. is a grandfather. I've read that his grandchildren are among those being kept from seeing him. They too would like the chance to see him, at least one last time, and say their good-byes. But rather than feel pity for this pitiable situation, many of you are too busy laughing. Reveling in his misery. Just like the people carrying pickets signs at those funerals. You're too busy carrying on to show any compassion or sympathy. You're no different at all.

Sure sure sure...many of you are probably thinking "Well, he brought it on himself". Could well be. But did he ask to die alone? Did he ask to be excommunicated from the church he founded? Perhaps his brain is so diseased that he couldn't see how wrong he was. Would you revel in the misery of a Alzheimer's patient, dying alone in a hospice? Probably not...but because he is who he is, many of you feel its OK to do so in his case. Will you carry a picket sign at HIS funeral? I bet many will. And those people are no different than Fred Phelps Sr. and the congregation of the WBC.

Many of you now consider yourselves advocates of the LGBT community. Well isn't that nice. You feel that having a gay friend or a transgendered neighbor and reposting & sharing your little bullshit articles online makes you special. You've missed the whole damned point. You should be an advocate for everyone. You should be an advocate for equal rights...you know, for EVERYONE. You should be an advocate for love rather than hate. Instead, you'll laugh at Phelps' misery and probably call me crazy for writing this. It's OK. I'm a big boy. Won't be the first time someone has called me crazy. Won't be the last.

Fred Phelps Sr. should be allowed to die with some level of dignity. Anyone should. He should be allowed to say good-bye to those who love him. (Yes, there are people who love him) When his time comes, he should be buried in peace. It's true; he denied many that right...but does that mean that we should sink to his level? If so, we're all no different than him.

Many of you could well be thinking "He's getting what he deserves!" Question: Just who placed you on a throne to cast judgement on anyone? For all the goofy stuff Phelps did in this life, I'd be willing to bet that he did some good as well. The media never bothers with that side of the story...because it doesn't sell. You buy up all the bad while forgetting any good. Sounds like....the Westboro Baptist Church. The reality is simple: Fred Phelps Sr. is dying because he is old and sick. If God  Almighty wanted him gone, he would be. But, like so many others, he's lingering on in misery.

There is a lesson to be learned here. The lesson is one of compassion...even for those we feel might not be deserving. This is not a case of Hammurabi's Code - there is no quid pro quo involved. Fred Phelps Sr. is just a man. A sinner like the rest of us; if you care to follow the Christian teachings. He will be forgiven his sins just as the rest of us will be. (To those non-Christians out there, we of the Christian faith believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins)

If you're reveling in his, or anyone else's misery, you're no different than Fred Phelps and the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church. You just might want to take a good long look in the mirror before you laugh at someone else. If you believe that bad is ever good, you're missing the point entirely.

I'm not pointing fingers. I'm no saint. But when anyone takes joy in the misery of others, it shows who that person is at heart. A life lived in kindness, love, and compassion is always a better life than one lived in hate.

I'll leave you with this, from the King James Bible. Matthew 5:44 says, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you"

Maybe Fred Phelps Sr. finally read that part and finally understood it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Monday Night Gas Money Gig

As I was the guy working the door, I know that the majority of you missed a GREAT show last night by J.B. Beverly (of The Wayward Drifters fame), newcomer Rory Kelly, and a solo set by Danny Kay (of The Nightlifers). Oh yeah...and a special guest.

Monday night gigs are rough. For starters...they're on Mondays. No one likes Mondays. Trying to get a crowd out on a Monday practically takes legislation from Congress. Everyone has an excuse. Last night was particularly tough as there was a hockey game.

Was I gigging? Nope. I won't do a Monday show without a decent guarantee. I don't like Mondays any more or less than you do. But...some musicians are so hardcore that they'll gig 7 nights a week...especially when they're on tour.

Sometimes, this is a matter of economics. The band knows they aren't gonna make a ton of money...but A) It's on the way to the next show and B) They might make gas money. I'll call last night's show a Gas Money Gig.

Sadly, I didn't hear about this show until the day of the show. Otherwise, I would've badgered all of you to go out and support these fine acts!

If you're not hip to J.B. Beverly, you have yourself to blame. He's been hitting the road and entertaining crowds all over for years. If you like REAL country music, you'd love him. Rory Kelly...imagine if Johnny Winter and Lemmy put together a Southern Rock band. Yeah...THAT GOOD! For a trio, Rory's band kicked some ass! His take on "16 Tons" floored me! Danny Kay...hey, I toured with the cat...I wouldn't have done that if I didn't believe in his music. Good, honest, honky tonkin' country music.

I volunteered to work the door last night...something I hate doing. But, I figured Jo needed a night off from having to do EVERYTHING, so I offered. I was going to be there anyway as I had to meet with Danny Kay to discuss some future projects, so sure...why not. Gave me a chance to check out some new, live music too. Always a good thing.

The crowd was sparse...but there were some die-hards there! You know an act is good when the die-hards show up for the opening act and stay for the whole show! And on a Monday night to boot! And going against a hockey game!

I sent out a mass text to about 50 people, trying to get some bodies through the door. Most folks didn't respond. But as the night went on, some folks did show up. I wish they could have seen the whole show! It was so worth it!

I could go into a detailed review...but why? If you weren't there, you're either kicking yourself for missing a good show or you just don't care. "Next time", right? Just a thought kids...when people don't support live music, the shows stop coming to town. Musicians, especially touring bands, network with each other. The venue is often less the topic than the town. Some towns still love live music. They get the shows. Towns where the crowds are a no-show...they don't get the shows. Why? Because it's too much of a gamble...for everyone involved.

I've personally played almost every major city in this country. One would think that a city the size of Pittsburgh could manage at least 50 people to come out to a good show on a Monday night. Guess again. Around here, people seem to look for excuses to NOT go to a show. If there's a sporting event, forget about it. The Rolling Stones backing Elvis and Howlin' Wolf would have to wait until the game was over before they'd get the average Pittsburgher away from the TV. Trust me...you get more from music than you do from any sporting event. Music stays with you. A sporting event is over when it's over. You might talk about it the next day...but then it's relegated to the land of forgotten memories. The athletes don't care if you enjoy the game or not. The musicians do. If you show up, they're playing for you and to you. They want you to remember their music. They want you to talk about it. They want you to share the experience. I used to hang out with one of the Steelers, who was also a novice guitar picker. His dream was to play music. His job was to play football. I remember the night he re-upped his contract, and got a $4 million bonus for doing so...he and I and another guy jammed at a bar, doing acoustic music. He admitted he was happier than he was playing a game. (He loved football too...don't get me wrong)

Does anyone expect everyone to come out for every show? Hell no. It's just not feasible. But...if you hear there's a good show, and it's an act you might not be familiar with, take 5 minutes, look them up online. It just might pique your interest enough to go out, spend that measly $5 (roughly the price of a decent drink) and check out something that will likely stay with you for a long time. Most bars will even have the game on the TV, so you won't miss that either. You CAN have the best of both worlds.

I mentioned a special guest. That's one of the bonuses of Monday night gigs. Fewer musicians are working and that's when we can make it out to see an act. Jayke Orvis (of The Broken Band) showed up. He's old friends with J.B. Beverly and Danny Kay. And like old friends do, they like to share with each other...so J.B. invited Jayke up to sing with him...and sing with him he did! Jayke was up and down from that stage a few times, each time more excited than the previous. He sang harmonies, a few lead lines, and looked like a kid on Christmas getting to sit in with his old buddy J.B. And you missed it.

Do yourself a favor, check these bands out. I think you'll dig them. If not...hey, no harm in looking, right? Hope to see YOU at a show sometime.