August 22, 2004
playing in a band
I once played in a band called "Snake and the Reptiles." I was 17 years old at the time. I realize now that we weren't very good, but I thought we rocked at the time. Hell, we had a steady job and actually GOT PAID for playing music.
I went on to play in a lot of other bands and spent five years or so as a solo "artist." I grew my hair long, saw some places I never would have seen otherwise and I bedded a lot of wimmen. But I still don't like the term "artist" applied to a musician. A real artist writes poetry, sculpts from rock or paints beautiful pictures. I just played guitar. I wasn't no got-dam artist.
If you are a musician, you know what it's like to start a new band. Everybody can play, but it takes a while to get tight. You can HEAR IT when the music comes around just right, and that's a feeling I wouldn't trade for a winning lottery ticket. Money can't buy me that kind of feeling.
I'm soliciting comments here from musicians: Have you every played in a band with someone you just COULD NOT get along with? You know, the good guitar player or the drummer that simply believed that they were "special" instead of wanting a solid sound. I have, and I've never been able to stand that kind of shit for very long.
A band is a lot like a family. Either everybody pulls together and agrees on what they want to do, or the damn thing is going to fall apart. I ask you musicians--- am I WRONG about that observation?
I don't think so. I've seen it too many times.
I think that is a pretty accurate description. I've worked with a few guitarists, one of which knows music inside and out, can tell you modes, scales, inversions, etc, out the wazoo. But for some reason are never was able to sit solidly in a group setting. On the flip side, I’ve had drummers sit in on a session who just could read every cue you gave them, and could INSTANTLY lock in, as if you’d played with them forever. I think it’s a sign of a seasoned musician vs. a newbie.
That feeling when the drum & bass lock in (I play bass -- electric, or upright) is electric. That's half the equation. But the other half is getting the lead instruments to lock into that and set into that foundational layer – groove – that the drums and bass (or in the case of Bluegrass, the Bass and Mandolin) set down.
Now for whatever reason, I’ve played with guitarists, very experienced, and knowledgeable musically, who just couldn't do that, or at least not consistently. I think too often inexperienced musicians (not necessarily ‘inexperienced’ as in playing, but inexperienced as in being in a musical family – the group setting), be it a drummer, bassist, or guitarist, don't listen well enough in a group setting.
I think that tends to denote musical immaturity for the most part. I’ve gotten to the point in my playing that I know there is no ‘best’ at anything really. Every time I run across someone I think is the best player I’ve ever heard or seen, I run across someone who just blows my mind all over again. People who think they are ‘special’ or whatnot just tend to be musical babies, even if the CAN play incredibly. That or they are just egotistical jerks, and there certainly seems to be a lot of those types of personalities in the music business.
In a group setting, there is no room for ‘my way or the highway’ unless you are paying the group to support YOU. Then you can say ‘do x y z this way’ because you are paying the tab. But if you are in a collective group, there must be give and take; otherwise you end up with crap music, and a bunch of irritated musicians.
I heard someone say once that being in a band is like being married to four people!? We've been together for 4 years and the reason we do it is because we love to play music!! We're also on our 3rd bass player. First guy was in it for money and the "cool" factor. He was new to this type of music, but he practiced constantly, and this is when the band was the tightest. He basically "bitched" himself right out. Always not enough money, too far, blah blah blah. Next bass player couldn't get over having a dick. NEVER practiced. Made all the same mistakes in all the same places. Goodbye.
Our newest guy seems to working out. He's been going through a whole bunch of shit not that different than you A Man!! He's hung in there though.
Everybody LIKES to play music. For the last 30 years, it seems to me that you need to hook up with the people who are doing it for the same PURPOSE as you. Self gratification, middle-age crazy, whatever. We're lucky. Three out of four agree on what it's all about, maybe four, but not sure.
Artist? Nah. Musician? Maybe, I'm a drummer. Older dude that LOVES to play rock music? Hell yeah.
When everything comes together it grabs me somewhere around my diaphragm. It's a visceral thing that is impossible to miss, once it hits.
As for the guy who refuses to work five minutes on getting something right, or the guy who plays too loud all the time, I've worked with them both.
Around here, if you've been around for a long time and can instantly lay it in, and instinctively know when NOT to play, you are referred to as a "player."
I always liked it when I heard others refer to me as a "player." Sounds like you're a "player" too, Rob.
I sang with a group once that had melodies so tight we made people cry. We had our timing down perfect, all of us. We had our notes down pat. When we got together on a song, people shut up, sat down and LISTENED. We'd hit the last note, and I would realize that I had goosebumps, and the audience would sit there slackjawed for a few seconds before they got up and roared their approval.
And then our soprano moved to a different state, and it all fell to shit. But for a while, we were ON!
You're absolutely right....been there many times.
I've experienced both ends of the spectrum, and that was in the same church. Our youth group had a band, and the little sister of one of the trumpet players wanted to sing with us. She sucked! About 1/8 note off on every song. We couldn't get rid of her because her grandfather was the pastor.
On the other hand, my mom, dad, sister and I used to sing together. We were darned good, if I do say so myself. We travelled from church to church for a while, also did a couple of concerts at a local prison. Didn't make much money, but we weren't in it for the money. I still sing with my sister when we get the chance. She can sing like an angel.
Got kicked out of the last band I was in because of LSD: Lead Singer Disease.
Seemed like everything he wanted to do just went against everything I knew was right:
Playing songs during a gig which we had never played before (or only once or twice), at practice.
Rushing thru recording an album, not going back & fixing mistakes, not over-dubbing, mixing it as quickly as possible and not mastering it so that you can start selling it.
Great... can't waste any time in getting that piece of crap to market.
Is it any wonder that his bands have high turnover rates? But he still gets gigs.
And I've spent 6 months just trying to find a drummer.
Buddy, you offer some great observations about what makes a rhythm section work. I've been the guitar player in a very good wedding/corporate band based in Atlanta for over 10 years. I'm fortunate to play with some outstanding musicians. I drive 4 hours one way to play on the weekends. :-) I take extra pride in my rhythm guitar playing. In an 8 piece band, it's all about finding a groove and giving others their space. Too many (right handed) guitar players overlook the importance of their right hand. They live for the solo, and give little thought to the timing and voicing of their chord work. Perhaps more important than *what* notes you play is *when* you play them. What works for me is to listen to and lock in with the high hat and snare while the bass player is locked to the kick. And don't over-play.
Rob, I've been in many bands over the years, and I've discovered a way to avoid the clashing of ego vs. musicianship: I don't play in bands named after one of the members. Simple and effective.
Beyond that though, working in a band is like working at a day job. It doesn't take long to spot bullshit, and you either fire the offending party, or fire yourself and move on. It takes a special combination of personalities to make a band click, and a lot of work to maintain it even when it's sounding good. Common vision, common work ethic, and a high degree of mutual respect and professionalism are required for any musical group to be sucessful.
Must take issue with naming the band after one of the members. After having 8 x 10's made of the whole band, then having someone quit, thus having to have ANOTHER made (and you have to buy them in lots of 500!), it became clear that I was going to be the only constant in my musical career. Saves alot of headaches with pictures, coming up with the hokey name, etc.
Other Mike, what you're describing is valid self promotion. No problem. It's just that in my experience, the person naming a band after himself is doing it for reasons other than saving coin on 8x10s. The few I've worked with wanted to call all the shots, and generally treated other band members as hired guns rather than creative partners. If they are the front man, own the P/A, handle all the booking and management, then I say that's their right. It's just not the gig for me, and I can afford to be choosy. :-) After all, at 46, I'm only doing it for the love of playing the guitar and singing my butt off to an appreciative crowd.
No doubt, rhythm guitar is a VERY hard part to play, unless you are of the mindset to play it correctly. Too many rhythm players overplay, too many bass players over play, and too many drummers don't know how to play anything but wide open. In a group setting players like that all suck because everything gets too cluttered and you have no room for lead instruments or vocals because everyone is essentially trying to 'play lead.’ Having a great rhythm guitarist makes a bassist happy. Heck in an 8 piece, I’m sure everyone has to be VERY careful in order to allow plenty of room. It's often what you don't play, or the timing you play what you do play that makes things work, not necessarily playing a bunch of notes.
Whether it’s rock with that in-your-face, dead-on-the-beat presence, swing/Jazz with the ‘egg rolling end to end pendulum’ push-the-beat-like-ray-brown feel, Cubano/Latin music, which are in that vein sometimes but really a totally different animal all together and some of the hardest music to get RIGHT: sometimes laid back, sometimes crazy aggressive, but ALWAYS driving, and pushing the beat, or if it’s bluegrass which has that train-driving-down-the-track drive punching the beat hard and perhaps pushing a little bit, or country which often contains aspects of all of these, its all good, and that’s why I like bass, because the rhythm section lays the foundation for all those grooves to happen. It’s such a killer feeling to be locked together like that, everyone weaving around that groove that fills the air with electricity.
Once you’ve experienced the ‘feeling in the pocket’, its one of the things you always try to recapture, sometimes its hard sometimes, it just comes as easy as pie… The more I play with guys that ‘have a clue’ the easier it gets, really. Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting a clue finally.
Oh and on the ‘name the band after one of the members’ that’s fine as long as he is hiring the band, I don’t generally have an issue with it one way or another. However if you’ve been part of a group for a while and one member starts up to wanting to name it after him, I’d be dang wary, myself. Sounds like someone's gettin the big-head.