Monday, October 13, 2014

And yet more rambling thoughts on music...

Feeling inspired to write today, so this is what you're getting...

My mind has been, as I'm sure you've already guessed, on music today. Same as any other day. It's my raison d'etre, if you will. A wiser man would have walked away from it by now, but luckily, I'm not a wiser man. I find too much joy in it to simply walk away because I'm not earning great Mammonian piles of cash from it. Every day in music is, to me, a new adventure. No matter what the weather is like outside, or how my body feels, or what is going on around me, my head is filled with music. New ideas, new spins on old ideas, a different arrangement, different voicings, there's always something to keep me happily occupied.

I'm working on putting together a new trio. This one might make some money...then again, it might not. Either way, it's giving me a lot to do; coming up with arrangements, plotting the course I want this venture to take, exploring potential venues, etc. Always something!

This gets me to thinking just how long I've been doing this. Damn, have I really been enveloped in the world of guitar for 36-37 years? I honestly can't recall if I was 11 or 12 when I started. It's been so damned long. This leads me to a question I've been asked, easily, 1000 times or more: Is it easy to learn to play guitar?

Quick answer: NO. At least it wasn't for me or most of the guitarists I know. While I'm sure there are a select few out there who just happened to pick up a guitar one day and were magically gifted, for most it doesn't work that way.

What it takes is a level of dedication bordering on fanatic obsession. Once you start, you just can't stop. There are hurdles. The fingers aren't accustomed to doing the things necessary to play an instrument. You develop calluses. Muscles and tendons that you rarely use are awakened...and they will hurt at times. Sometimes you'll play until your fingers bleed...and then keep on playing. You'll often fall asleep with the guitar. My girlfriend often tells me that I play in my sleep. We've been together long enough that she can tell if I'm playing guitar, slide guitar, or bass in my sleep!

 For a kid as young as I was, and playing the type of guitar I was (an old Silvertone classical...which had a very wide, flat neck/fingerboard), some chords seemed damned near impossible. I still vividly recall the old Learn To Play Folk Guitar book that dad had. The chord charts and fingerings were damned near sadistic in my estimation. To a young kid, they seemed impossible...but that just pushed me harder! "I WILL master the G chord, dammit!", I often thought and even shouted out loud. "A barre chord? Who am I? The Incredible Hulk? How am I supposed to hold all of these strings down with one finger while making a chord under it with the other fingers???" "I don't WANT to use my pinky!" Yeah...that's what it's like. But a budding guitarist does this...because it's all he/she wants to do. They've opened Pandora's music box. They know what could be...what can be...if only they push harder and go farther. There is no end to the learning. No one ever learns all of it. Why?

Because There Are No Rules!

Ask 10 guitarists who they think the best guitarist is, and chances are you'll get 10 different answers for 10 different reasons. It might be a matter of their skill or technique or tone or a combination of all of the above.

There is no right way or wrong way to play. There are basic guidelines...but even those aren't necessarily 'rules'. I've seen people play guitar on their lap. I've seen a guitar played with a spoon. Keith Richards often only uses 5 strings, instead of 6. I did a show in upstate New York once with a guy who only used 4 strings, and a capo. Big Joe Williams used a 9 string guitar! There are 6 stringed guitars. There are 12 stringed guitars. There are 10 stringed guitars. There are baritone and tenor guitars. There are nearly limitless different tunings. There's fingerstyle, slide, picking, tapping, chord melodies, single line playing, claw style...and every decent guitarist at least tries different ways to do things. At least they used to. I hear too many kids today say things like, "That's not how it's done!", thinking there is only one way to do it. It's sad. It says a lot about the mindset these kids are brought up with. A bunch of little future corporate slaves. (Yeah...you knew I was gonna work that in somewhere.)

My question to all musicians anymore is this: Why do you play?

Knowing that your chances of making it "big" are slim, and the financial rewards that used to exist no longer do...why do it at all? Is it a matter of ego? Instant gratification? Some inner need to feel special? Or is it something more?

For me, it's simple. It's a never-ending race to get these ever-accumulating ideas OUT of my head. I've often said that creativity is a form of psychosis. I hear things that don't yet exist outside of my mind. At any given point in time, I have a multitude of symphonies playing in my head. I'm, luckily, able to weed through them and focus on one or two things at a time, as well as temporarily mute them when I have other things to do...like work, or pay bills, or any number of every day things we all do. But give me a minute to myself...and I let them all come flooding back to full volume in my head. It's beyond wonderful!

Some people enjoy the music I make. Some don't. Some couldn't care less either way. Yet, I still do it. I feel compelled to make music. I know how I react to music. I'm pretty sure that most people have an innate reaction to it. There have been studies done as to how and why...but the point is, we do react to music. Even the deaf can react to vibrations. That's one of the reasons I enjoy playing loudly. I know that I enjoy the vibrations from it...and I've seen deaf people have a positive reaction to it. If it's too loud...you're probably too old. Get some ear plugs. You'll be better off in the long run.

If you're a parent, make sure your kids learn music. Don't make it a hassle. It's not like they have to be Beethoven. Just open that door to them. If your kids' school doesn't offer music (sadly...some don't), buy them an instrument. Expose them to all different types of music. You might be surprised what moves them. You might learn something yourself.

It's never too late to learn to make music.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Door Gigs N'at

For those of you not in or familiar with the glamorous life of show biz, a door gig is where the act gets paid whatever is collected at the door (or a portion of it), aka the cover charge. In a large venue with a built in crowd, this can be a nice payday for the act. The reality though, is less wonderful.

20 or so years ago, I used to play a joint called Kangaroo's. It was a large venue and there were easily 400-500 people there on any given weekend night. When we discussed our deal with the manager, I suggested giving us a buck a head. He was more than happy with that. We usually made at least $500 a night out of the deal, it was close to my house, the drinks were free, and all was well in the universe. Mind you, this was one of 4 or 5 shows we'd do every week. We actually made some decent jack for making music.

Things have changed. A lot of venues now go for the 'showcase' type show. This means 3 or 4 acts sharing the bill for one night. I understand the idea - it will, ideally, bring in more people. More people equates to more money, right? Wrong.

The showcase show is almost always done wrong. All this leads to is one group of patrons coming in to see their friends while the others are leaving. It also leads to long lags between bands while they switch over gear. If you're going to do a showcase, set up a backline. All of the acts get there early, set up the gear they're going to need. Share some gear. It ain't that hard. If you really know how to play, your sound will be the same as if you're playing through your own oh-so-unique amp. The trick to these showcases is fast turnover. If you can't do that, don't play a showcase. Get there early, stay the whole night.

A bigger problem for bands, with these type of gigs, is the pay. There won't be much of it. The average bar will hold 50-70 people comfortably. If there's a $5 cover charge, which is really pretty low considering how many need to be paid from it, this means $250-$350 coming in, minus whatever you're paying the door man, security, sound man, etc. This equates to little more than gas money. Is it worth it? Are you that much of an attention whore? Is this really the best way to promote your new and exciting sounds?

It is what it is. If you expect to make any kind of living as a musician, you have to ask yourself if it's worth doing these shows or these venues. They're a great way to get your name out there, provided anyone sticks around to actually hear you and pay attention to what you're doing. You have to be even better when doing these shows. You have to catch everyone's attention and get them excited. If you don't, you probably won't be back...and you probably won't be getting many other gigs in the area.

If you're a musician, here's a few tips for doing the door gig/showcase gig. Come in with the realistic knowledge that you're not going to make money. Be there on time, or better yet, early, for load in. If there are 3 bands on the bill, EVERYONE should be there at least 2 hours prior to show time. This gives you time to figure out the backline, how long each set will be, and what order every one is going on. None of you are rock stars. If you were, you wouldn't be playing these gigs. Leave your ego at home. Act like a professional. Be polite and courteous to the other acts, as well as the venue staff. Especially the venue staff! They will remember you. Act like a douche, and that will be your reputation. Act like a civil, professional musician, and that will be your reputation. Once you have a bad reputation, good luck getting rid of it. The people in this industry all know each other. They talk. They network.

So you say these are the only gigs available to you. It looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you then. No one, especially in this day and age, is going to hand you gigs. You have to search for them and work hard for them. Each show has to be better than the last one. You like to be a drunken smart ass onstage? Dandy! Some places are OK with that. Some ain't. A lot ain't. Treat this like your job. If you're lucky, it will be. Do you get drunk at work? Probably not. If you do, you probably won't be working there for long. That said, it's OK to have a drink or two...just don't get hammered. Don't go get high. Trust me, you might THINK you play better then...but you don't.

Unless you want to do nothing but play these types of door/showcase gigs, you better have your shit together. You better be able to play at least 4 hours, nonstop. You're not guaranteed a break. Think about the last major concert you went to. Do the bands onstage take a 'pause for the cause'? No. They keep on playing. I've seen a lot of acts do nonstop 3 hour shows. If you can't, stay home until you can. Stay in shape. Keep your energy level up. The audience will be infected by your energy and they will groove right along with you.

Here's some things you shouldn't do: Do not show up late. Showing up during another act's set is disrespectful. If you can't bother to be on time, just don't bother. Sure, things happen sometimes...but do your best to not let it happen. Once you're there, don't leave! Stay the whole night. Get to know the other acts - network a bit! You just might even enjoy their music. If you can't do that, don't bother. Here's a biggy - do NOT try to cut out early and ask if you can get your band's cut of the door. Ain't gonna happen. That money has to be counted and accounted for. If the door man, security, and/or sound man is getting paid out of it, they're getting paid first. Unless you have a contract that states how much you're being paid, when, and in what form (cash, check, etc.), you're just going to have to wait. Balking at the money that came in the door won't win you any friends either. As a musician, you should know what's going on. If the cover charge is $X and there are only XX number of people in the room, you should be able to figure out how much money you're going to make, if any. No one cares how much you made last night, or how much you made the last time you played here. Seriously...as a door man, I'm forced to endure these conversations. As a musician, I'm appalled at how unprofessional a lot of acts are. It's that type of behavior that makes us all look bad.

Want to know why your band isn't making any money or any progress? Think how many things you're doing wrong. What have YOU done to pack the house? Oh sure...you've written some amazing, mind-blowing songs that will change the course of mankind as we know it. Who hasn't? How much promotion have you done? How much time and effort have you put into the show? If you're counting on the venue to do it all...think again. If you're lucky, the venue MIGHT have a person who is dedicated to good shows at their venue. Most joints, though, do not have such a person. Music is merely an added bonus to bring in warm bodies that they can sell booze to. If your crowd of 300 friends/fans shows up and only drinks water...you probably won't be back. If your crowd of 50 shows up, and they each spend $25 or more, you will. It's economics.

 If you're planning a tour, and you have a bunch of door gigs, I hope your piggy bank is full...because kid, you're gonna need it. Door gigs, as I said, equate to little more than gas money. If you're on the road, you need to eat, pay for motel rooms, do laundry, AND buy fuel and maintain your vehicle. Plan for it.

Lastly, tip the servers/bartenders. That's how they make their money. They are busting their humps to serve YOUR friends/fans. Their prompt, excellent service will often be a deciding factor in just how good a time your fanbase has at your show. Make it worth their time and show them your gratitude. A decent tip plus some free merch is always a nice touch. Give them a CD and a t-shirt. They'll remember it. They'll wear that shirt. They'll be more likely to say, "Hey! THESE GUYS are coming back. They were awesome last time! You should come check them out!" Treat them with anything less than respect, you've just lost a big chunk of your PR frontline. Years ago, I used to give shirts to the bartenders BEFORE the show. A lot of them would wear them during the show...MORE PUBLICITY! Then the patrons would ask where they can get one of those cool shirts...CH-CHING! Merch sales!

Yeah...show biz is harder than ever...but it IS do-able. Approach it professionally. Leave your ego at home. Don't be greedy. Don't be an ass. Play your ass off. Push yourself. Promote your shows. Promote your merch. Need help? Ask someone. If you see a band doing better than yours, ask them what, if anything, they're doing that maybe you're not. Ask the staff at the venue. They'll tell you. Most importantly, use a contract. Always. It takes out any and all guess work.

Bottom line: In the words of Dave Courtney, OBE: "It's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

WBS

What does these 3 guys have in common?



I went for what I thought was routine blood work a week or so ago. I figured, "No biggy". I get this done once a year, as I'm on regular medication for my heart condition and high blood pressure. Doc wants to make sure we're not wrecking my liver in the process of keeping my ticker working.

Well, the next day I heard from my doc. She had some news that I didn't particularly want to hear. Bottom line, I now have Wilford Brimley Syndrome (WBS), aka Type 2 Diabetes. OK...no one calls it that but me...just remember - humor is how I deal with things. On a more positive note, the rest of my blood work was amazingly good!

I really shouldn't be too surprised. I'm 48, overweight, and while I try to take care of myself, I can do better. Also, I had a few episodes of dizzy spells over the summer. I attributed them to the weather. The first one, I was painting a house and thought I had heat stroke. The second time, it had been particularly warm, and as I was getting up from the couch, I got pretty light-headed and had to sit right back down. I've also been pissing a lot more than usual lately...but honestly, I attributed that to being a prostate cancer survivor and to drinking as much coffee as I do. I had a few other very minor episodes, and I just attributed those to my lifelong habit of forgetting to eat. As big as I am, you'd be surprised at how infrequently I eat a meal.

Along with the WBS, I have a mild blood condition, polycythemia, common among diabetics. Long story short, I have sludgy blood. Needless to say, the past week has been a pain in the ass for me. I've been working on booking 2 tours for next year; Europe and Australia. I've been feeling very positive about life in general, so I should've known it was all going too smoothly! LOL Needless to say, I'm cancelling the tours. I need to work on my health more than I need to tour. I've seen a lot of musicians wreck their bodies just to keep playing music. I don't want to be that guy any more.

Being told that I'm now a card carrying member of the Wilford Brimley Dia-beetuss Society just didn't sit well with me. It doesn't run rampant in my family. In fact, I can only think of 2 blood relations who had it; my paternal great grandmother, and a great aunt. Neither of my parents are/were diabetic...to my knowledge, no one on mum's side had it...so, just my luck! I got it. It looks like I'll finally be slowing down a bit. Damn it. I'm not happy about that. But...a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, right?

I'm now in the process of making some significant lifestyle changes. Sure, diet and exercise...but for me, it's a lot more. I've been in show biz for decades. I'm used to late nights, smokey bars, partying, living it up...you know, all the fun stuff that is really bad for you. I've never been good at moderation. But I'm working on it! I've already lost a couple of pounds just by making some diet changes and walking a bit more. Time to take this bull by the horns and get it under control.

My goal now is to attempt to reverse this. While I'll never be a non-diabetic again (barring a miracle of modern medicine), it is possible to get myself off of the medication I am now on. It's going to take a lot of work on my part...mostly behavioral. Lucky for me, behavior is what I spent 25 years doing for a living! I know that I can do this and that the end result will be positive and beneficial to all aspects of my life. What it's also going to mean is changing more than just my diet and exercise regimen.

I am going to have to take a few healthy steps away from the rock and roll lifestyle. Let's face it; there are a lot of negative influences and temptations there. In my case, it's the booze. I can outdrink almost any human, and have on many occasions. I don't drink all of the time, and haven't for years...but I can still hold my own. That's got to stop...and spending too much time in that environment would make it tricky. I also work door at a bar. Last weekend was tough...but proved to not be impossible. I worked both nights and instead of my usual 3-5 beers while working, I had 3 over the course of 2 nights. I would've only had 2....but ran into an old friend, so I cheated. I paid for it.

A few of you already know about this, and now the rest of you do. To those that already know, thank you for the kind words and support! I can do this! I don't want attention about it, don't really care to discuss it, and unless you're a diabetic or an endocrinologist, don't really care to hear your two cents worth on the subject. I'm working very closely with my doc (a great gal!) and we've caught this early and are getting things under control. Like I said, I'm already working on the dietary changes and getting more exercise. I'm now on medication and monitoring my glucose levels and following the doc's orders. I had a few more tests done this morning, and all in all, I feel fine. My biggest battle is going to be behavioral. I have 48 years worth of bad habits to undo. But like I keep reminding myself, I can do this. I have a lot of reasons to want to stay healthy for a long, long time.

Don't worry...I'll still be making music every chance I get, albeit maybe not performing it live. I'll still be the same cantankerous old smart ass you've come to know and love. I'll just be even better looking...I almost feel bad for y'all! Clean, sober, talented, AND good-looking! Can you handle all of that?

Little chocolate donuts...I think I'll miss you most of all!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Ello! Ello! (Ain't no free lunch)

So the masses are cheesed off at Facebook and threatening a mass exodus...again. Remember when everyone was going to leave and use Google +? Yeah...didn't work out as planned. Twitter may have gained a few more users...but remember kids, Machete don't Tweet...and neither will I.

The list of complaints is long and varied. Facebook really has screwed up in a number of ways...but, it's free to the user, so who are we to bitch? Sure...we have ads to ignore. All of our posts might not reach all of our friends...who, chances are, were ignoring them in the first place. Facebook wants bands and other business to pay to promote or boost posts. (From what I've witnessed, that hasn't really worked well either) Now Facebook wants to insist on people using their REAL names! GASP! SHOCK! HORROR! SHUDDER!

If you have to hide behind a fake persona...I have to wonder why. I've heard many reasonable claims as to why, many based on 'safety' issues. Well guess what kids...if EVERYONE is using their legal name, the so-called stalkers and cyber bullies will be using theirs too...and less likely to do stupid things. But...no one thinks about that. It's easier to whine.

Now, a new social networking site has appeared out of nowhere: Ello! And...they claim to be FREE and AD FREE! They claim to be pro user and anti-corporation. These claims will attract a lot of people.

Everything you wanted to hear!
Sounds too good to be true. Like all things that sound too good to be true, it's because it is. Unless someone has found a way to invest the Hughs fortune to maintain the site, some has to pay for it.

Ello, on their own site, claim "Ello is a simple, beautiful, and ad-free social network created by a small group of artists and designers.

We originally built Ello as a private social network. Over time, so many people wanted to join Ello that we built a public version of Ello for everyone to use.

Ello doesn't sell ads. Nor do we sell data about you to third parties.

Virtually every other social network is run by advertisers. Behind the scenes they employ armies of ad salesmen and data miners to record every move you make. Data about you is then auctioned off to advertisers and data brokers. You're the product that's being bought and sold.

Collecting and selling your personal data, reading your posts to your friends, and mapping your social connections for profit is both creepy and unethical. Under the guise of offering a "free" service, users pay a high price in intrusive advertising and lack of privacy.

We also think ads are tacky, that they insult our intelligence and that we're better without them."

Wow. Just wow. These folks are gooooood! They know just how to reel you in, don't they. They're telling you everything YOU want to hear! It's FREE! You're SPECIAL! You're SMARTER for using their product! 

(source: https://ello.co/wtf/post/about-ello)

But wait...there's more. While Ello repeatedly states "Ello is completely free to use.", there's a catch. They're going to ask YOU, the user, to pay for it. How? Simple. Some of their features will be 'pay to play', so to speak. Don't believe me? It says so right on their site!

"We occasionally offer special features to our users. If we create a special feature that you really like, you may choose to support Ello by paying a very small amount of money to add that feature to your Ello account.

You never have to pay anything, and you can keep using Ello forever, for free. By choosing to buy a feature now and then for a very small amount of money you support our work and help us make Ello better and better."

Now wait just a doggone minute. It's free...but they suggest we might want to give them money? Which is it? Is it free or pay as you go? Suggested donation? They haven't even bothered to show prices, and anyone with a measurable IQ knows that is always a red flag.

So let's look at the features they currently have on their free beta version:

Simple Commenting
@mention pre-population on user profiles
Improved error handling
Enhanced user Discovery
Fluid grid Noise view
Views per post
Drag users between Friends & Noise (still buggy)
Email notifications (Following/Invite Accepted/Mentions)
Invitation system & ability to invite Friends
Network-wide in-stream announcement system
Javascript refactor = One Page Application (OPA)
In-Stream notifications (Following/Invite Accepted)
In-line Emoji integration
View Followers & Following lists
Welcome post & brief tutorial
Re-order fields within Omnibar
WTF section (Help, About & Policies)
Post #, Follower # & Following #
@mentions (update: autocompleter now works!)
Arrow keys hide and reveal drawer & access full-screen publishing mode
Ability to make profile visible on Ello network only (on/off)
Image compression
Follow (Friends/Noise)
Unfollow (Friends/Noise)
Omnibar post text (basic)
Omnibar post text advanced (bold, italic, urls)
Omnibar post images
Omnibar post animated GIFs
Omnibar post Emoji
Omnibar delete posts
Omnibar edit posts
Time stamp displays post detail/permalink
Option to toggle Google Analytics on/off
Respect DNT browsers settings

Sounds pretty good, right? Really basic...but it'll get better, right? So, you'll be able to say HI to your friends...an that's about it. Some basic text and picture sharing, and of course, tagging. Might as well just text your friends are send emails.

Here's what they have coming soon...and these just might be what they'll ask YOU to pay for:

User blocking
Inappropriate content flagging
Audio integration (Soundcloud)
Private Accounts
Rich (multimedia) commenting
Mobile web refinements
Repost w/ author attribution
Notification Center
Online/offline user designation
Love + Love bookmarking stream
Emoji index
Video integration (Youtube, Vimeo, Instagram & Vine)
@@ Private Messaging
Auto-push posts to other networks
iOS & Android mobile apps

Want to do anything fun with it? Pay them. Want to block that asshole who keeps bugging you? Pay them. Want to share a video of your new favorite band? Pay them.  I can't say for a fact that's the case...but that's how it looks to me. All Ello has done is remove the middle man...the advertiser. Ello is coming straight for YOUR wallet. Without money coming in, the site will close. Without profit, these "seven well-known artists and programmers" (wait a minute...I thought they said they were artists and designers! Now they're programmers?) will have no motivation to keep up the site. They've seen the success of the old MySpace and Facebook, and have made note of the failures of each. They have researched the best way to sell YOU their product...without even proving that it works.

I was sent an invite (the beta phase is currently invite-only). When I went to set up my profile, I got this message:

"We will invite you as soon as we can. Ello is currently in beta, and we are inviting new users in small groups as we roll out new features.

In the meantime, please share our Manifesto — and help us spread the word."

WTF? I already received an invite! Sounds pretty buggy already. A couple of friends who managed to get on all stated they had problems with the site. Do I really want to switch one set of bugs and problems (that I can work through in seconds) for another? Time will tell, I guess...but I think that once people are asked to 'donate', over and over, it will get old quick. And this whole "share our Manifesto" biz...sure, it's a viral grass roots approach designed to make the user feel part of some subversive uprising...but in short, Ello is too cheap to advertise. Probably spending their meager start up funds on new and improved ways to ask for your money. Remember...nothing is free.

 Facebook just might be a more ruthless giant than we realize. I don't see it crumbling any time soon, with the possible exception of crumbling under its own weight. There are loads of smaller and/or lesser used social networking sites...but we all want to be connected to everyone! Right? Ask yourself this...why?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rock Ain't Dead...But The Industry Is

Gene Simmons (from the band Kiss) has opened his mouth again and managed to stir the turd. One has to credit him with his amazing ability to do so.

This time round, it's less what he said or how he said it, that's the problem. The problem is with the average person's inability to read past the headline. People are banging their proverbial drums because they THINK he said Rock & Roll Is Dead. What he was talking about is the industry. The music industry in general. And guess what...he's correct.

The tone of the Esquire interview between Simmons and his son, was actually that of an old man looking back on what he tried to create and the current reality. It's actually somewhat sad. Simmons knows that he earned more than most. He's not stupid. He also knows that there are people who don't like his music...and he's OK with that too. He points out that back in the good ol' days the public voted with their money. If they liked a band, they bought the records. Not the case any more. As soon as a song is released, it's bootlegged. Good-bye money. While that may not be as much of an issue for a multimillionaire like Simmons, the exact same thing happens to every musician, all across the spectrum. The big names to the no names. And the no names can't exist on dreams for long.

Simmons makes some valid points, which I will happily share here:

"ROCK DID NOT DIE OF OLD AGE. IT WAS MURDERED."

And guess what? He's right. It was killed by it's so-called fans who feel that music should be free. Except...it costs money to record those songs. There's a big difference between something recorded at home on a computer and something recorded in a studio. I can always hear it. Sometimes I like the home-recorded stuff. Sometimes I like the studio stuff. But...I can always tell the difference. And besides...it's just one copy of one song, right? Wrong. It's the majority of copies of every song.

Simmons points out the difference between the old days when record labels could and would spend the time and money to groom an act with potential. Those days are looooooong gone.

"I am so sad that the next 15-year-old kid in a garage someplace in Saint Paul, that plugs into his Marshall and wants to turn it up to ten, will not have anywhere near the same opportunity that I did. He will most likely, no matter what he does, fail miserably. There is no industry for that anymore."

"Some brilliance, somewhere, was going to be expressed, and now it won't, because it's that much harder to earn a living playing and writing songs. No one will pay you to do it."

Like I've publicly opined about for years...where's the next big thing? It's still out there...and still rocking and rolling...but most of us will NEVER get to hear it. And that's sad. Why won't we get to hear it? Because there's only so much these kids can do. There are millions and millions of songs online...millions more added every day. If you're lucky, you might know some whacko like me who believes so much in music, that he/she has dedicated their life to it. I'm lucky to have the occasional opportunity to do PR for a few labels, majors and indies alike. These folks come to me because they know I'm honest and will do what I can to get that ol' word of mouth going. It just keeps getting harder and harder.

Seriously...where is the next big thing? Simmons made yet another excellent point:

"Here's a frightening thought: from 1958 to 1983, name 100 musical anythings that are iconic, that seem to last beyond their time...Now from '84 until today, name some. Just give me a few — artists that, even after their passing, are or will be inescapable. Artists on the same level as the ones I just mentioned. Even if you don't like them, they will be impossible to avoid, or deny, even after they've stopped making music and maybe passed on. In fact, they become bigger when they stop."

The real giants are either gone or still making music. There aren't any new ones coming along. The one hit wonder is nothing new. The industry thrives on it. But...where are the new giants? They might be out there...somewhere...but they'll never become giants. Not like we're used to. They're too busy trying to find ways to not starve, to keep their phones, electric, water, and heat on. They're too busy making sure they have transportation. They're too busing being lost in the sea of others just like them.

I stated that the fans killed the music industry. That is partly true. The other part of the problem lies with the music industry itself. Like any large industry, it's a bunch of folks with MBAs, looking at the bottom line. They're busy making sure the money comes in so the company's expenses are met, plus a tidy profit margin. As long as there has been a music industry, it has tried to act like any other business. Give the people what they want, and if at all possible, pre-guess what they want and give them that. There is no room for creativity in the corporate world. Creativity involves risk. Business doesn't like risk. Risk costs money with no guarantee of return. This lack of risk has also killed the music industry.

Does this mean that rock and roll itself is dead? Yes and no. There will always be people making music, much of which will rock (some might even roll!). But will the average person ever hear it? No. People don't go out to experience live music like they used to. You can blame that on whatever your like...the fact remains, people aren't filling the bars to see bands. They want FREE. They want NO COVER CHARGE, cheap drinks, and a good time. Bands cannot tour for free. There are just too many expenses. Venues often cannot afford to pay bands. Each venue has it's own expenses. A lot of venues have gone to the showcase format, which is to say having 3-4 (and sometimes more) bands per night, in hopes that more bands will translate to more asses in seats drinking beer. This only works on rare occasions. There is too much down time between bands, one bands crowd (usually friends and family) will leave when the band they came to see is finished. Money isn't being made. After a while, the venue can no longer support having live music...because, again, the so-called fans no longer support it.

No, rock and roll is not dead...but the industry is. The music will always be made...but YOU will probably never get the chance to hear it. There is no NEXT BIG THING on the horizon. All that's left is a rehash of yesterday's music. At my age, I already know what I like and I have a large (and ever-growing) music collection. But...I know I would like to hear something new and mind-blowing. Once in a blue moon I get to...because I actively look for it. Sadly, most of what I hear is the same old thing being played to a smaller and smaller audience.

NOTE: To those of you who don't know me, I'm a musician, a composer, a writer/reviewer/journalist, sometime PR guy, sometime door man, sometime session musician. I have been blessed in this life...but I too am starving. I get to see the side of the music industry that you don't. I get to see performers/venues/labels scrambling trying to figure out where the crowds and the money are. I'm also the guy who used to make a nice living...and now is keeping busy trying to keep the lights on. I've been doing this for so long that I don't know what else I can do. I also know how important music is...and that I'll keep on doing what I can to keep it going.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Reverend, Monsters, And A Case Of Vertigogo

Last night, I got to witness a band I've waited a few years to see: The Monsters.

If you're not hip to them, that's OK. You will be...eventually. You might not dig them...and I don't really care if you do. I do. These cats, especially their front man, have had a profound effect on me and my music.

A couple of years ago, I had become increasingly bored with music. I had spent a couple of years indulging my lifelong love of country blues. I had all but stopped playing electric music. I watched as the local music scene continued to crumble, and really wasn't hearing much from anywhere else that really moved me. My health and finances prevented me from touring (still the case), which is where I've long found new ideas and new music.

It's always out there...it's a matter of finding it.

Around that time, Dave Alvin had posted a video online of some great old RAW gospel blues. I mean it was primitive as anything...but extremely powerful. I found it invigorating! A few days later, like the music junkie I am, I went in search of my next fix. I went back to YouTube, looking for more raw, primitive, trashy blues.

What I found instead was Reverend Beat Man and The Monsters.

Long story short, I followed that YouTube rabbit hole and came across some stuff that I liked, and a lot more that just sat there. I eventually came across a trailer for a documentary on Voodoo Rhythm Records...owned and run by the Swiss madman, Reverend Beat Man.  This seriously piqued my interest. This cat sees music very much like I do. He gets what it's about. He understands that rock and roll is raw, primitive, loud, scary, beautifully ugly...and often "don't sell shit". Yet, he keeps pressing these records. He's an admitted rock & roll junkie.

When I first watched the video for "More You Talk Less I Hear" by his band The Monsters, I was hooked! I can liken it best to the first time I heard Link Wray (and that was a long, long time ago). It was loud, it was noisy, it was everything it should be and more. I checked out every video I could find (and spent what I could downloading songs). Each song was, at least to me, mind blowing. Even my girlfriend was digging it...and we rarely agree on music.



I saw a video by Reverend Beat Man, minus his Monsters, called "I See The Light". I was wondering if it was his take on Hank Sr. Um...no, I don't think so. This was closer to Hasil Adkins (who's music I love!). But it was nastier....trashier. "BLOOZ TRASH!" The lyrics were insane! This is notable as English is not the man's native language...yet he has a better grasp of it than most Americans. I'm always impressed when someone can write lyrics in a different language...especially good lyrics! And damn...dude has a sense of humor too! It's not always easy to convey humor through music...but the Reverend can.



This music moved me! It's raw and primitive intensity is what true rock and roll is about. It's more punk than punk, more real backwoods hillbilly than any rockabilly band, and trashier than any garage band would ever dare to be. I played it for my band mates in The Bessemers, and posted Beat Man and Monsters videos all over my Facebooger page. A few friends picked up on it...but surprisingly, nowhere near as many as I thought would. Oh well...no accounting for taste.

Like I said, this music had a profound effect on me. I plugged the guitar back in, turned up the volume, and stripped my sound down to the bare essentials. I was moved to write and record a song, "Voodoo Cockatoo", which I think contains some of my most inventive lyrics ever. A friend recently likened it to a twisted novel. I took it into the studio and recorded a great version...which remains unfinished. A friend was going to come in from LA to play on it...but his career has taken a wonderful upswing as of late, so the song waits....for now.

For the past two years I've been waiting for Reverend Beat Man, with or without The Monsters, to come somewhere close enough to get to. Finances have been non-existent, but I can usually find my way into a good show. I lucked out on this one! Get Hip Records brought them in for a small show...and did I mention it was a FREE show? There was a donation box for those who felt so-compelled. The suggestion donation? Five measly bucks. If these cats had only played for 15 minutes, it would have been worth it. I took my girlfriend as an early birthday present, and I happily stuffed a few fives into the donation box. Sadly, I noticed many who did not.

Also on the bill were my friends Vertigo Go...a great instrumental band. I hate to use the term "surf band"...because no, these ain't all surfing songs....and I doubt any of these guys are surfers. Not many crankin' waves on our three rivers. The gal and I got there early. Early enough, in fact, to spend some time hanging out with my buddy Gary (Vertigo Go's drummer) out front, and caught a smoke or two.

It always pays to be early, especially for a small show. You get your choice of the best spot in the house (I prefer to hear the stage sound, rather than the PA), you're usually treated to some excellent music by a local or lesser known band, and in this case, we got to meet Reverend Beat Man and The Monsters as they arrived back at the venue.

We spent about 20 minutes just hanging out, introducing ourselves, talking shop, etc. Beat Man is a truly nice guy and has a wickedly dark sense of humor. He joked about playing his song "Jesus", down south. He introduced the song as "about the love for a man". Down in the Bible belt...this can get you shot at. His introduction caught people's attention though, and when they realized what the song was about, there was a collective sigh of relief...Jethro and the good ol' boys didn't have to whoop some foreigner queermosexshul ass. Like I said, dude is hilarious.

I can safely announce that both bands kicked ass last night. Vertigo Go put on an amazing show, and The Monsters left the crowd begging for more. They even let one of The Knox Boys sit in, briefly, on a song, while the bass player danced.  If you've never been to Get Hip...to say the show was in 'an intimate setting' would be the most polite way to put it. The place should have been wall to wall people. But it wasn't. We've all heard the excuses: "I didn't know about it!", "I had to work!", and my fave, "I'm broke" (it was a FREE show!).  Pittsburghers just don't care that much about music anymore. I hate to say it, but this just proves it. If you don't hand deliver exactly what they think they want, when they want, and do it for free, you'll have a limited turnout. I hope this doesn't dissuade Beat Man and The Monsters from making a return trip. I'll happily do as much promo as I can. These cats are worth it!

A great big THANK YOU goes out to the folks at Get Hip for bringing this show to town. These guys are only doing 4-5 US shows this tour. If we're really lucky, they'll come back. If not...at least I can say I was there for this one! And seriously...this was one of the best shows I've experienced in a long, long time.