Posts Tagged ‘Bar Bands’

No, I’m not going to name the band or the bar, which would give it away.

They were incidental to why I went up to the local dive to watch the ‘9ers game. Unfortunately, the band came on during half-time, so I had no choice but to listen to them.

All of them were good to very good players (the bassist), and I haven’t heard so much wrong with a band (maybe three bands combined) in ages.

Here’s what was wrong:

  • They were way late setting up, the earliest of them arriving half-an-hour before they were due on; (normally you want to be there at least an hour before);
  • The drummer didn’t arrive until 20 minutes before they were due on;
  • He was so late they didn’t do a sound check;
  • They didn’t have monitors;
  • All they were miking was the vocals;
  • And as a result, the mix was way off during the first set, with the snare way too loud during the first three or four numbers;
  • Because they didn’t do a sound check, the vocal mics were feeding back, sometimes painfully, for half the set, and they didn’t have anyone riding the board so they didn’t adjust for it;
  • Despite the feedback problems, the vocals were too far down in the mix (yes, it is possible);
  • It sounded like the vocals were dry (i.e., no reverb or other FX);
  • On the final two or three tunes, they had some idiot sitting in playing claves badly — think the clunk, clunk, clunk of “Magic Bus” rather than the
    clink, clink, clink that you want — and just enough off the beat, and irregularly so, that it was annoying as hell;
  • They had two — not one, but two, count ’em, two — keyboard players, and on many of the numbers the keyboard player playing lead was using a soul-sucking artificial synth sound a la The Cars that was abandoned for good reason back in the early ’80s;
  • I didn’t like the guitarist’s tone (too muted in an attempt to be pretty — but that’s just me);
  • And (a more general whine) they advertised themselves as a “soul” band, but they didn’t do soul — they did lounge, the closest thing to soul being their closing number, Al Green’s “I’ll Be There”;
  • And, of course, just covers, no originals — it ain’t that hard to write originals, but writing good ones is another matter; why most musicians don’t even try it is beyond me.

At the break, they finally did a sound check. I had to sit through their first couple of numbers in the second set before the ‘9ers kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds. (Go ‘9ers!)

What I noticed was:

  • The feedback was finally gone;
  • The balance was a bit better
  • The vocals were still too far down in the mix;
  • They were still dry;
  • And their material was almost as awful, non-soulful ands non-original as in the first set.

The lessons here are pretty obvious:

  • Get there early enough to do a sound check;
  • Do a sound check;
  • Use monitors;
  • Mic everything (and I mean everything);
  • If you’re not competent to do a good mix, have someone along who’s competent to do the sound;
  • And above all deliver what you promise: if you promise blues, play blues; and if you promise soul, play soul.






Cover tunes are the mainstay with bar bands. A lot of bar bands do nothing but cover tunes. There’s nothing wrong with that; a lot of bands, including the Beatles and Stones, started that way. But it’s limiting, especially if you slavishly copy the originals.

It’s more fun to play a mix of covers and originals, especially if you do the covers in a manner different from and preferably better than the original recordings. The prime example of this is Devo’s version of the Stones’ Satisfaction. Unless you listen to the lyrics, you’d never guess it’s the same song. It’s a masterpiece on both counts, probably the prime example of “making a song your own.”

And then there’s the problem that audiences do not want to hear your originals, and they’re really not thrilled with greatly differing versions of tunes they know. So pander. Play the covers that you love and they love, but don’t waste time playing them note for note: as long as the rhythms are right and you’re hitting the signature licks, they’ll applaud.

With the bands I’ve played with, that means playing a lot of Doors covers. They’re huge fun to play (I love playing them without keyboards — filling in everything on guitar), and you can improvise your ass off as long as you hit the signature licks.

Sometimes even that’s not necessary as long as you keep the lyrics right. Sometimes not.

If you’re playing in a bar band, are doing both covers and originals, the best way to go is to copy the signature licks on covers, and then play in the same style. Or not (Devo) if you can do better.

Then listen some more, and find other covers. Then listen some more and make more improvements.

The punters (sorry, I’ve been corrupted by Brits) will love it, and they might not even hate your originals, no matter how good and original they are. Play ’em if they’re fun; ditto with covers. Just have fun — don’t slavishly copy — and have fun with all of it.



For some unfathomable — which means “I don’t have a clue” — reason, “Mustang Sally” has been the most requested song in American live music venues for decades, far eclipsing such musical horrors as “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

A few years ago the now-defunct music site Guitar Squid did bar bands a favor by posting the following uncannily accurate “Mustang Sally” flow chart. Enjoy.

Mustang Sally flow chart

We put up our 1,000th post a few days ago. We’re now looking through everything we’ve posted, and are putting up “best of” lists in our most popular categories.

This is the fourth of our first-1,000 “best of” lists. We’ve already posted the Science FictionAddictions, and Interviews lists, and will shortly be putting up other “best ofs” in several other categories, including Anarchism, Atheism, Economics, Humor, Politics, Religion, Science, and Skepticism.

Best Music Posts

An Understandable Guide to Music Theory front cover

by Chaz Bufe, author of An Understandable Guide to Music Theory: The Most Useful Aspects of Theory for Rock, Jazz & Blues Musicians

Last night I went to one of the local dives to check out a band I hadn’t seen before. They did a lot of things right and several things wrong, so here ya go. (And, no, I’m not going to mention the band or the bar.)

Here’s what they did right. Most of these things are key to getting re-booked.

  • They started on time. They were all set up and had done their sound check 15 minutes before they were set to go on. In other words, everybody showed up on time and held up their end of things. (I once played in a band where the bass player couldn’t stand the drummer, and would typically show up at gigs five to ten minutes before we were set to go on, just to avoid him. It was maddening, and made doing the sound check hectic — when we had time to do a sound check.)
  • Their first set lasted over an hour, and they only took a 15-minute break between sets. Longer breaks are rude both to customers and bar owners/managers, and will contribute to your not being re-booked.
  • They didn’t play too loud. (Playing too loud is the most common bar band mistake.) I was able to carry on a conversation with a guy two bar stools away only 30 feet from the stage. The guitar players’ tone was fine despite the low volume.
  • They used monitors and miked everything. This usually results in a better mix (though not in this case — the sound was muddy) than you get if you lazily mike only the vocals for the monitors.
  • They tried to engage the audience with patter between songs. It was almost painful, but it’s a good idea if properly done.
  • They kept the tunes up-tempo and danceable.
  • They played a lot of recognizable tunes. Unfortunately, audiences love this. (Ages ago, I went with my pal Lefty Larry to check out a band we hadn’t seen. They played originals and unrecognizable covers, and got a tepid response, until they played “Hold Your Head Up,” by Argent — a tune that’s almost a dictionary definition of musical mediocrity; of course, the audience loved it.)
  • They dressed slightly better than the audience. Unless you’re playing in a punk band, you’ll want to dress better than your audience. This is more important in some genres than others, but it’s generally a good idea.
  • Their two guitarists had somewhat different tones. (They were both using Fender tube amps, but one was using a Les Paul and the other an ES-335. Neither, to their credit, was using effects.)

Most of the above are major virtues, and will get you asked back. Despite doing all of this right, they did a few things, including two important things (the first two listed), wrong.

  • All of the tunes were at close to the same tempo. This gets monotonous after a few songs. It’s better to vary tempos somewhat and keep it mostly uptempo to very uptempo, but throw in one or two medium-tempo or slow tunes per set.
  • Their volume level was pretty much the same on every song. They made no use whatsoever of dynamics. (This is a very, very common mistake.)
  • They had two pretty decent vocalists (one male, one female), but despite being obviously well rehearsed, they did no backup vocals whatsoever: the vocalists just switched off on the songs. Unless you’re playing punk or metal, backup vocals help.
  • They had two guitar players, but didn’t take advantage of it. They avoided the most common mistake bands with two guitarists make — playing the same chords in the same positions with the same rhythmic patterns while comping — but they did no parallel runs, no oblique runs (with one playing a more or less static pattern), no contrary motion runs. They didn’t even do any comping with interlocking patterns. They’d have been better off with only one guitar player: their mix would have been less muddy.
  • The one original they did was lame, because the chord pattern was deliberately odd — not good, just odd. This is common with bad songwriting — using gimmicky, oddball changes just to sound different.  The Doors were notorious for oddball changes (check out their wonderful “Love Her Madly”), but they mostly made musical sense. Here, the oddball changes didn’t make such sense.

The end result of all this? “Professional” but boring.

Anyway, there ya go. Follow all of the above advice and admonitions, spend several thousand hours practicing and rehearsing, and you too could be pulling in $50 or even $60 a night — per man! (sorry, per person)


Mustang Sally flow chart