Posts Tagged ‘Musicians’

“It’s all American music.”

–Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown

I had a long talk this pm with my pal George, an old-pro and great drummer I still sometimes play with, an Italian guy from New Jersey, who was Frank Sinatra Jr.’s drummer for years; we talked about music, musicians, and racism. (George loved Frank Jr., says he was a great guy.)

He told me a story about one of the first things that happened after he moved here (Tucson) from New Jersey. George has the gift of gab, and he got a job working for one of the local Ford dealerships. On his first day, he all but sold a Lincoln to one of the ranchers from up Route 77 north of town, and the jerk came in the next day, spoke to the manager, and said he wanted the car but didn’t want to buy it from an Italian. The manager saw George, said “stay out of the way, I’ll sell the car, you’ll get the commission, and from now on your last name is Joseph.”

George was shocked by the anti-Italian prejudice, something he’d never run into on the East Coast.

But race prejudice and anti-semitism was something he well understood, from anti-black, anti-white, and anti-semitic prejudice in daily life and the band scene in NJ. (There were white-racist and also all-black clubs where they didn’t want mixed-race bands, which is what George always played in.)

It’s so fucking stupid as to be mind boggling.

But it’s there.

And it breeds in isolation. In isolation from people of different races and ethnicities.

That’s one of the great things about most types of American music, especially blues and jazz: you end up playing, often for long periods, with musicians of other races and ethnicities. And you become friends, you come to understand the brotherhood of man (at least the brotherhood of musicians).

In my case, I’ve for years played with black folks, white folks, Mexicans, Native Americans, and Jewish folks. That’s pretty much par for the course for a blues musician. After a while playing with someone, you simply stop thinking about race or ethnicity. You just take them for who they are: Cliff, my black pal the drummer, becomes simply Cliff, my pal the drummer.

About the only places where you’ll still find race prejudice in the American music scene is in (yes — shocking, I know) country and certain types of hard-core rock and roll.

Other than that, we all tend to get along. We have to. It just works that way.

It works out the same in neighborhoods. I live in the most densely populated, most integrated neighborhood in Tucson, which is the most integrated major city in the country. My neighborhood (Keeling — neighborhood motto, “It’s better than it looks”) is about 65% Mexican, 25% white, and 10% black (almost no Native Americans or Asians). And we mostly get along fine. We’re on top of each other, interact every day. And it’s fine, very relaxed.

As a middle-aged ex-gang banger neighbor from Cleveland (a self-described “retired Crip”), put it, “it’s paradise.” In other words, almost no racial tension and almost no overt race prejudice. I couldn’t agree more. This neighborhood is dirt poor, “hard scrabble” as the local paper put it a decade or two ago, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

If you want to get rid of race prejudice, get rid of race isolation. That’s the way it works in bands, and that’s the way it works in neighborhoods. Isolation breeds fear and hate.




This afternoon I was shooting the shit with a friend, swapping stories, and he related one of the better bar-gig tales I’ve ever heard:

In the early ’80s he was playing in a country band in Tucson, and they had a regular weekend job playing in a bar out in Avra Valley (west of the Tucson Mountains, and at the time still very much a part of the wild west). The clientele consisted of shitkickers and bikers, who of course didn’t mix.

As one would expect — what with the cost of a new Harley running to close to $30,000 — the bikers were a lot better off than the cowboys, and a lot of them held well paying jobs; their head honcho, for instance, owned a wrecking yard.

Anyway, there was a regular, a local who worked as a postman, who was enough of an alkie that he’d sometimes stop at the bar in his mail truck for a beer or two after completing his route before returning to the station.

That wasn’t so bad, but on weekends he’d drive his Cadillac to the bar, get tanked, and turn into all hands, harassing the waitresses.

This didn’t apparently didn’t sit well with at least some of the bikers, who didn’t like the guy anyway, but rather than resolve the situation in the normal manner (violence), they decided to teach the asshole a profitable (for them), expensive (for him) lesson.

One Saturday night, after the gig ended, my pal was packing up his drum kit, when he and the rest of the guys in the band heard a blood-curdling scream from outside. They ran out and found the drunk postman yelling his head off.

When he went out the door to weave his way home in his Cadillac, all he found was a chassis. What was left of the car was up on blocks, the wheels gone, as were the windshield, hood, doors, and rear window.

The bikers had done this with people going into and out of the bar all night. Evidently, people disliked the jerk sufficiently that they ignored the dismantling of the vehicle or were afraid of the bikers, or both. In either case, the bikers had taken a good hour or two to dismantle the car in public view — okay, in an unlit dirt parking lot — and no one reported them.

This incident likely cost the asshole a good two or three grand and likely netted the bikers at least several hundred bucks through sales of the parts at the wrecking yard.

I hope they threw a great party with the money.



“The public generally has poor taste . . . so it exercises its power to compel conformity, and the artist must be strong indeed to withstand the inducement of success on the one hand and the pressure of boycott on the other.”

Freedom and its Fundamentals

True Story (musical variety)

Posted: January 3, 2017 in Humor, Music
Tags: ,

A few days ago I was complaining about the breakup of my latest band (due to the flakiness of two of its members) to a friend who in recent years has turned from playing in bands to solo performing.

I mentioned that I consider other musicians a “necessary evil.”

His reply?

“I wouldn’t use the term ‘necessary.'”


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

A few weeks ago, I put up a post about what playing bar gigs is really like. In it, I described a no-problem gig. But of course there are always problems.

Earlier tonight I talked with a longtime friend and ex-bandmate who’s now playing in another band. He told me about doing two gigs in one night, both benefits, a couple of weeks ago. At the first one, there was an outdoor stage (yes, you can play outdoors at night in December in Tucson; it’s not pleasant, but you can do it). It was about 60 degrees when they took the stage, so it was already uncomfortably cool and getting cooler. The nonprofit for which they were doing the gig had a p.a. system, but according to my friend it was “shitty,” the people running it were incompetent, and it took them a while to get everything improperly set up.

So, when they took the stage my pal and his bandmates already weren’t  in the best of moods. They played their first set, increasingly uncomfortable as the temperature fell, still unhappy about the sound. Toward the end of the set a sick stray dog staggered across the stage, spraying bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea on everyting in sight–including their instrument cords, mike cables . . . . . and the vocalist’s shoes. Incredibly enough–they’re troupers–they finished the song, cleaned up the mess as best they could, and then, yes, did their second set amidst a somewhat diminished stench.

Following that, they packed up their (hopefully) cleaned-up gear and went and played another benefit, where an obnoxious drunk tried to pick a fight with my pal. (The drunk would have lost.)

So, for the night: bad sound, uncomfortable temperatures, a near-fight with a drunk, diarrhea-covered cords and cables, playing on a diarrhea-splattered stage, and no pay.

I still don’t know what the vocalist decided to do with her shoes.

* * *

If by chance anyone reading this will be in Tucson xmas week, we (Pinche Blues Band) will be playing two free (no-cover charge) gigs: Tuesday December 23 from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at Maker House, 283 North Stone, and Friday December 26 from 8:00 pm to midnight at The Boondocks, 3306 North First Avenue. Hope to see you at one or the other.

I can’t guarantee it, but I don’t think there will be any diarrhea-spewing dogs at either event.


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

Most people have no idea what’s actually involved in playing music in bars. Some even have the idea that it’s glamorous. It isn’t.

Here’s a timeline of what’s involved in playing an average 9:00 to 1:00 bar gig. (This assumes that the bar is within a few miles of your home; for gigs farther away, add more travel time.) What follows describes a gig that goes almost perfectly.

7:15 to 7:30 — Load gear into your van or pickup. There will typically be at least 20 pieces, including guitar(s), guitar amp(s), p.a. head, main speakers, monitor speakers, speaker stands, mike stands, and a large, heavy “tupperware” container for the mikes, mike cords, speaker cables, AC cords and strips, etc. This phase of the job will be just as odious for the drummer, who’ll typically have to pack up five drums (bass, snare, two mounted toms and a floor tom), hi-hat, ride, and crash cymbals, and the stands for the cymbals, plus other necessary hardware–and the drummer has to have the drums and cymbals in cases to avoid damage during transport. Those who aren’t hauling around drums or the p.a. system have comparatively cake jobs. Horn players in particular have a racket going–all they usually do is show up, flip open their cases, tune up, and they’re good to go–and they get paid as much as everyone else. (A handy hint for all you kids out there: there’s always a glut of guitar players, and to a lesser extent a glut of bassists and drummers, while horn players, keyboard players, and good vocalists–key word, “good”–are in short supply; this explains why guitarists and bassists are almost always the ones lugging around p.a. systems.)

7:45 — Arrive at the bar, unload your gear, carry it to the stage, and begin setup of the p.a., beginning with the main speakers. The drummer should arrive at about the same time, and will be setting up the trap set (from “contraption”–an apt term). Assuming that everyone else arrives shortly–not necessarily a good assumption–place all of the mike stands, amplifiers, and monitor speakers where they should go (you’ll have this worked out in advance), run mike cables to the mike stands, amps, and drum kit, and then attach the microphones.

8:30 to 8:45 — Assuming everyone has arrived, do a sound check — play a verse or three of some tune, while the person running the p.a. stands as far in front of the stage as he or she can get, and then adjusts levels accordingly. This can take two or three checks before you get everything right. If someone is late, this can become nerve wracking. (I played for a couple of years with a bass player and drummer who couldn’t stand each other, so the bass player would show up at gigs five to ten minutes before we were set to go on, simply to avoid being around the drummer. As a result, until the bassist showed up the rest of us would be sitting there drumming our fingers, and would then breath a sigh of relief when he finally walked in, and then do the world’s fastest sound check.) Then, maybe, have a beer before you go on. That’s not a good idea, but a lot of musicians do it anyway to deal with nerves.

9:00 to 9:45 — Play the first set. The general rule is “start strong, end strong,” with fast, recognizable cover songs to start and end the set. Audiences do not want to hear your original songs, no matter how good they are, so you’ll need to sneak them in in the middle of sets, unless you’re already well established and have a following who know your songs.

9:45 to 10:00 — Take a break. Keep it to 15 minutes or less. It’s unprofessional to take longer breaks, and if you take them people will leave. Maybe have a beer–again, not a good idea, but it’s a common practice. Talk to friends in the audience, and thank them for coming. Roust reluctant band mates to get them back on stage.

10:00 to 10:45 — Second set.

10:45 to 11:00 — Second break.

11:00 to 11:45 — Third set.

11:45 to 12:00 — Third break.

12:00 to 12:45 (or a bit longer if things are going well) — Fourth set.

1:00 to 1:30  — Tear everything down, pack it up into your vehicles, get paid by the bar manager, divide the take, and then stand around outside shooting the shit with other band members for 10 or 15 minutes after everything is loaded.

1:45 to 2:15 — Arrive home and unload everything.

2:15 to 2:45 — Finally have that beer you’ve been wanting all evening.

For all this, you’ll get paid $50 or $60, sometimes less. That works out to approximately minimum wage, and less than that if there’s significant travel time. And it doesn’t even count the hours upon hours you’ll spend practicing between gigs. (A couple of decades ago, before smoking in bars was outlawed, it was even worse–you’d unload all your gear, strip off your clothing, put it in a garbage bag, seal the bag, and then take a shower to rid yourself of the stench of tobacco smoke.)

Why would anyone do this? It’s simple: we love to play music, and it’s much more fun to play in front of an audience than it is to play at home.

Boondocks Lounge, TucsonBTW, if anyone reading this is in Tucson–center of the world for roadside giant sculptures–we (Pinche Blues Band) are playing on Friday, December 26, at our favorite bar, Boondocks Lounge (3306 North First Ave.) from 8:00 to 12:00. It’s a free show. If you feel like getting over your holiday blues by listening (or preferably dancing) to actual blues (plus latin rock, funk, jazz, and country), come on down.