Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cat Shelter Benefit Turns Into Long Night | Prog Rock Band Crawls Out Of The Basement

Cat shelter benefit
If it weren’t a benefit for a cat shelter, we would have walked away without performing that night. “I’m doing it for the kitties.” my bass player told me. It was 1:40am when we took the stage, and within twenty minutes, the sound engineer would give us the “one more song” sign and that was honestly a relief for all of us.

For the past two years, our guitar player had been hoping to get our band on the bill for an annual “no kill” cat shelter benefit. It was for a great cause, and we would get our band in front of some people that wouldn’t otherwise see us. This benefit featured mostly metal bands, but that didn’t automatically mean that we wouldn’t appeal to at least a few people in the crowd. Too bad the “crowd” consisted of our girlfriends, the sound engineer, four musicians from the opening bands, and the bartender.

If ever find yourself on a bill that features more than three bands in one night, you should expect the last band of the evening to get squeezed. And if you are the last band on the bill, that means you should be prepared to play a short, fast set. That is, if you get to play at all. I still don’t understand the idea of booking four or five bands for one night at any club.  That plan rarely works, unless you have a stage manager that will keep everyone on schedule, and shut any band down that tries to go past their allotted time. 

On most live music nights at a club, the first band will try their best to start late, because “Nobody comes out at 9:30.” If they truly were a good “opener” they would have brought in some of their own fans, and started their set on time, with no complaints. The second band will probably be just fine with starting a little late, for the same reason as the first band. At least one of the bands on the bill will take their sweet time getting their gear up on the stage. So that pushes the following band even further into the evening. Again, this can all be avoided, if the musicians just do their job, and stick to the plan.  When there are multiple bands on one bill, will the headline band play last in a situation like this? Not if they are wise. Here in Milwaukee, we seem to have created what is called the “Clean up slot.” That’s when the headline act plays second to last, and the very last band will play to a few hangers on, along with the band members of the previous acts waiting to get paid and pull their gear out of the club.

Back to this cat shelter show. The event started at 5:30, and it featured nine bands with raffles between the acts. We were scheduled to go on at 12:50pm, and that would take a miracle of efficiency for that to happen. We arrived nearly two hours early, as requested. We sat through an “operatic metal” band who’s singer was having a ton of trouble hitting the notes. They were the featured act for the night, and that poor singer just couldn’t find the notes. She brought up two more guest singers, and those two seemed to have no trouble singing in key.  So it wasn’t a fluke that the headline act had an issue with vocals, she just couldn’t sing. Still their fancy leather pants, long flowing hair, and very intricate songs were something to take in. When that band finished, there was one more act to play before us. That was my cue to go out to the van and start setting up my drums.  The show was running on time until the second to last band started to get ready to play. That band started late. They fiddled around with their gear for nearly 30 minutes, even though there was a backline (equipment on the stage that everyone shares,) and got started just ten minutes before we were supposed to go on.  

They label their style as a “progressive rock” band, but the few people watching them, they witnessed over playing, bombastic, and overly arranged songs that ran ten minutes in length. They had no singer.  On and on this band played, one ridiculous song after the other. They played their full set, cutting nothing short, and driving the remaining patrons out in the process.  I can’t tell you what they looked like on stage, because I had to stand outside the stage door and guard my drums. I can say this, as they played, I watched the patrons slowly file out. The band was a crowd killer, but ultimately we were going to be the victims. Finally, they announced their last song.  I looked at my phone, to time the song, and joked with my bass player that “This might go another ten minutes.” It went on for just under eleven minutes, including a 45 second rave-up finish that could be best described with a visual image.  It was like putting a jar of maraschino cherries on top of a melted sundae that nobody wanted to eat. Eleven minutes is basically three standard length, rock songs put together! Their last song was really three songs. Three really boring songs.  


When it was over the stage door flew open, and their drummer started to take his gear down.  It was a dust covered monstrosity of a drum set that required three people to lift and move. I bring up the dust, as it meant to me that this band rarely got out of the basement. Dust on your drums denotes too much time sitting in once place, without the benefit of stage lights to point out how dirty the kit actually is.  When I later checked this band online, I noticed that they play just two shows per year, so they obviously weren’t a professional band. No matter how well they played their instruments, the fact that they took too long to set up, played too long of a set, and then took too long to take their gear down, was poof to me that they were just “noodlers.” They were certainly talented.  If I had six months between shows to woodshed my music, I would think my music would be performed flawlessly. Even their band name told me that they have yet to learn some vital marketing skills. They named themselves after an insanely obscure mathematical term, created by some 11th century mathematician. “What was that band name?  You know, the band that played too long at the cat shelter benefit?” That’s what I hear in my head when I think of that night. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Do You Lend Out Drum Gear? | Do You Risk The Breakage?

Lending out drums
I had a drummer watch me play my entire set the other night.  This was at a rehearsal, and I have known this drummer for over 30 years.  Still, it can be a bit unnerving to have a colleague watch you work, staring at your every move.  We were kids when we met, and he didn’t play drums at the time.  Soon after, he started playing music, and that meant we would most likely never be in a band together.  After all, how many bands have two guys on the drums at the same time?  Watching him watch me, took me back to the night that he broke some of my drum gear. 

I do recall that night where I lent him my kit.  Their band opened for ours. When they finished their show, I noticed that he had broken my ride cymbal, and my drum pedal.  $400 dollars damage, to be exact, and there was no way he could afford to pay me back. That’s when I learned the lesson that most drummers should know without it costing them money.  “Do not lend out your snare, cymbals, or drum pedals.” Why? Because, those items are the ones that receive so much force and pounding from drummers.  You reduce the risk of that drummer breaking something when you eliminate those items from the “lend out” mix.  Rarely do I break that rule.  Sure, someone can ruin the skins on your toms, but that risk is pretty low.

My current Milwaukee band played a show last month in a very tiny club.  The place was so small that it was vital that both bands use one drum kit.  I lent the “opener” my drums, but kept my rule, mostly.  He used my drum pedal, and my sticks. (What drummer comes to a show without sticks? A bass player that was forced into playing drums for a few gigs, that's who.)
This guy was a light touch on the drums, and it was amusing to watch him play.  When he hit the skins, he looked “like someone doing a dog paddle, while sitting upright.”  He had obviously taught himself how to play. It almost worked.  Sadly, the band had some talented members, but the drummer dragged the whole thing down a notch or two. So did this guy break anything? No. What he did do was totally rearrange my drum kit, and that’s also a huge pain in the butt.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’m an open handed drummer. For me, that means my ride cymbals are placed in the opposite spots where most right handed drummers would have them. That also means that my second rack tom is usually taken down if another drummer uses my kit.  That’s where they tend to put the ride cymbal.  Not only did this “dog paddling drummer” put his ride over there, but he pulled apart the tom holders and repositioned the rest of the kit to his liking.  What does that mean to me? It means that it’s going to take just as long to get the kit back to the way I like it, as compared to having that drummer bring up his own drums and strike them after they are finished. I forgot about that, and it took 15 minutes for me to get my kit back in place, about 10 minutes longer than it should take to do a set change.

So that’s lesson number two. Avoid lending out a drum kit, if the first person using it is going to completely dismantle the darn thing! This brings me to another point.  If the opening band’s drummer plays a modified drum set, where half of the kit is set up for left hand drumming, and the other half is set for a right handed drummer, let that person use their own kit.  My old band opened for a (crappy) cover band back in 2009, and the club owner insisted that all the drummers on the bill use the house kit.  When I explained that it would take longer for me to rearrange that house kit to my liking, compared to letting me bring my kit up for our set, he said no.  So there I was, after my set, watching the next drummer fiddle with all the stands and toms.  He was not happy. I had no problems, because we were first on the bill, so the kit was a mess for the next guy, not me.


Finally, have you ever played someone else’s drums and that drummer told you that you couldn’t arrange them to your liking?  I did.  Way back in the 1980’s we were opening for a pretty big local act.  Their drummer didn’t want to break his kit down, and there was only room for one set on the riser, with no room in front.  He insisted that I use his kit, but I couldn’t change anything.  That meant that I couldn’t even move the stupid Roto-Toms that he had in place of rack toms! The ride was on the right, opposite of how I play, and the snare was nearly impossible to adjust to my desired height. It was possibly my worst night of drumming in a long time.  When it was over, he came up to me and gave me one of those “good show kid” compliments.  I often wonder if he did that just to make sure that he was the better sounding drummer for the evening. After all, the band took over 30 minutes to get up and play after we finished. What was the point of making me play his drums, if there was all the time in the world to strike my kit?  It was to make me look bad. (I’m kidding here.)  By the way, that drummer who watched me play, we did end up in a band together.  It was a “four drummer” band.    

Monday, October 28, 2013

Eating Good Food While On The Road | Digging Deeper To Avoid Junk Food

Eating on the Road
Our van pulled into the parking lot of the bar we were scheduled to play in.  We had just arrived in the teeming metropolis of Rockford Illinois. It was another band road trip, and it started with a show in northern Illinois. Actually the suburban Rockford outskirts were more "teeming" than the downtown club we just rolled up to.  It was warm for a mid October evening. We had the windows rolled down, so it was easy to hear the woman standing against the building when she said "Oh no, a van full of f-ing hippies!"  It's never good when the first patron of the club you are about to play in has something really bad to say about you. Still, we laughed it off and started to unload our instruments.

Rockford happens to be the home town of our guitar player, although he had not been back for many years.  He was surprised at the amount of development out in the suburbs, but not surprised to see that the metro area was dark and quiet. We got to the club with plenty of time. Once we unloaded our gear, we went off to find food. Once again, we found ourselves in a pizza joint. It's become the norm for our band to eat pizza. I wonder why that is? I must say that my other bands would find themselves in the same situation. What town doesn't have a thriving pizza restaurant downtown? Even the most desolate of city centers seem to support at least one Italian restaurant.

Our guitar player had been in this place before.  In fact, he remembered it well, and told us a few childhood stories as we waited for our food. But this post isn't so much about food, as it is about being on the road. One thing that I have come to realize is that the food you eat can dictate how you perform. Yes, pizza is just bread, cheese, meat, and a bit of sauce. It's not the best food for energy, but I have had far worse. These days, I actually bring along some cooked pasta. It can hold up pretty well for at least 12 hours without refrigeration.  It's got just what you need for energy too. When in doubt, boil some noodles! It may be boring food-wise, but the rest of the band will be jealous when you find yourself without enough time to find food in the neighborhood.

Avoid The Junk Food Before Performing

I had a drummer friend tell me to "Look for the second place" when it comes to food while on the road. What that meant was that it's easy to find the junk food.  It's very easy in fact. But it can be worth the effort to dig deeper, to take another 10 minutes to find a much healthier alternative.    

   

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Yes Without Jon Anderson On The Road In 2013

I was excited to see that Yes was coming to the Wisconsin State Fair this summer. Would this be the time that I finally see them perform live? After all, they aren't getting any younger.  Most of the band was born in the 1940's.  In fact, Jon Anderson will be 70 years old next year.  But wait, Jon Anderson isn't in the current lineup.  How could that be? The voice of Yes is sitting out this current tour? Is this another case of the band waiting for the singer to get around to playing live, like Journey did with Steve Perry? No, this is not the case. Let's take a moment to see why the band is on the road with another "Jon." This time it's Jon Davison taking the role of lead vocalist.

Davison is 41, and was singing in a Yes tribute band back in 2005. He has the vocal chops to pull off those high notes, and found his way into the "real" band without a true "tryout."  That was 2012, and the touring members of Yes were a hodgepodge of accomplished musicians, but only one true original member was on the list.  That was Chris Squire. This go round, Steve Howe and Alan White make up part of the band.  Having three original members on this tour will certainly bring out a few more die hard fans. Will they warm up to Mr. Davison?  Here is a clip of his handiwork. You decide.

 What happened to Jon Anderson?  Anderson suffered from a pretty serious respiratory illness starting in 2008.  The band just couldn't wait for Anderson to get well.  In their defense, Anderson was out of commission for nearly four years. Prior to that, Yes was on the road more than one would think.  Those aged rockers were keeping up a tour schedule better suited for musicians 25 years younger.  Anderson wasn't really thrilled with that.  His last project was a duo affair, featuring Rick Wakeman on keyboard. That was back in 2012.  Anderson hasn't completely shut the door on future reunions.  He would love to be standing on stage with Yes when (or if) they ever get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Until then, we Yes fans will have to make due with guys like Jon Davison, a man who can certainly hit the high notes.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vintage Ludwig Snare Drums | Painted Interiors And Dating The Drum

WFL Symphonic Snare Drum
For a few years, I got caught up in the vintage drum craze. Acquiring old Ludwig snare drums was my thing. It took me some time to learn about them, mostly through trial and error.  I should have gone right to this vintage drums book for starters. 

The book gives the reader a solid base of information on most of the larger or more popular drum companies of the 20th century. It was in that book where I found out about the WFL Symphonic snare, a drum that has been in my possession for nearly 20 years now.  I love that drum, and I try to take great care of it. When I took it on tour in 2000, I made sure to bring it in from the van every night. 

I have found just one other Symphonic, and that one was a couple years younger than my first, with extra holes drilled into it.  Someone had replaced the Ludwig Classic snare throw off with a cheap Japanese throw. The interior of that “newer” snare has a coat of interior paint. That was a common thing to see on the early 1960’s models. It was done at the factory. Some say that they were painted to hide the lower quality of wood in use at the time.   They sound very different from each other.  The painted snare produces fewer overall tones when compared to the 1959 Model.


I feel that I was one of the lucky ones who got into Ebay early enough to grab some pretty nice snare drums and parts before things got out of hand, and opening bids went through the roof.  Finding a good deal on a vintage drum on EBay seems to be a thing of the past. Prior to that change, it wasn’t unusual to find a Ludwig Supraphonic available for just over $100. At one point, I managed to snag a pair of vintage Supraphonics for $75 each. When I log on to an auction site now, it’s easy to see that the public at large has been educated. At least I made my splash early.