Big amps

big amps

Why are amplifiers still so big and heavy? Everything else has gotten way small and really portable, but we musicians are still lugging around 60 pounds of amplification equipment all over hell just like we did 50 years ago. You can put your music and your videos and the tracks from your last 500 sessions in your pocket, but you still need something bigger than a Peel (the world’s smallest car) to wag your stuff to a gig. This might have been on Steve Jobs’ bucket list, I dunno.

Another reason not to listen to 40 country radio stations

We all know there’s very little real country music on top 40 country radio stations

We all know there’s very little real country music on top 40 country radio stations; y’all bitch about it all the time. Over-produced, compressed, pro-tooled, re-cycled 70’s rock’n’roll that passes for country music and that’s marketed to a certain demographic that’s supposed to buy the stuff they pitch on the commercials between the songs.

Well, there’s something thing else that really pisses me off, and that’s the traffic updates, weather reports, station ID’s and DJ banter that overrides the intros. I’m not necessarily a Reba fan, but I heard “Where Were You” today on WSM AM, and I couldn’t hear the intro. It didn’t really matter to me, but if I were a Reba fan I’d like to hear the whole damn recording from the beginning, and if I had been on the session doing the intro I’d be doubly pissed off.

No big news here; DJ’s have been doing that forever, but it still sucks. Radio’s on the way out anyway, what with iPods, Sirius and the rest of the internet, and you’d think they’d have a clue by now.

Learn your damn part, damnit

I worked with a guitar player who sang great, but didn’t really know how to play guitar.

I worked with a guitar player who sang great, but didn’t really know how to play guitar. He couldn’t play the intro to “Mama Tried”, “Workin’ Man Blues”, “Satin Sheets’… and the list goes on. He’d tune before the first set and never even look at his tuner the rest of the night. He had 4 or 5 licks and played them in every song. He was a lazy bastard.

Good country drummers are hard to come by. Country drumming can be kinda boring, but, damn, if you’re hired for the gig and getting paid, please try to play something appropriate, if you possibly can. One drummer I worked with, who sang one song, didn’t know the ending on “Neon Moon”, where there’s this little thing that cues the band. He never did learn it. I put a picture of Buddy Harman on his snare one night and he went around asking everyone who it was.

Bass players – holy shit, some of em’ think they’re lead players, especially if they play with a pick. Have they ever really listened to what the bass is doing on “The Other Woman” or “Swinging’ Doors”? Bass players almost always sing.

I worked with a piano player who would show up 5 minutes before the downbeat and then complain about the PA during the 1st set, and how his mike was set. Duh, he coulda got there a little sooner in time for a sound check. He liked to play between songs, too, just diddling around, while someone was announcing the next song or a birthday on the mike. He also made faces when someone hit a bad note, and complained between songs about the drummer and the bass player – the audience could see and hear all this. This was a guy who’d worked a lot of big time gigs, and I don’t get how he could be so unprofessional. He did know the piano parts on our set list, so he at least had that going for him.

Many years ago a singer got up and called “Night Life” and introduced me as this great steel guitar player who was going to kick it off. Well, I didn’t know it. My excuse was that I’d only been playing a couple of years and I couldn’t know every damn intro yet. But I learned it as quick as I could, actually from a guitar player, Lonnie Atkinson, who got it from Jimmy Day. It was the only thing Lonnie knew on steel guitar.

If I’m on a gig and the band does a song I don’t know I’ll learn it when I get home and be ready the next time. I’m not gonna get caught again. I don’t know how some of these guys can go for years in public without learning their parts. Seems like they would be embarrassed or something. But I guess not. I guess they’re just fucking slugs.

I don’t sing, because I can’t, but maybe if I did I’d be able to get away with this kind of unprofessional shit, too, although I wouldn’t want to.

Why some of us are terrible singers

Do you go to Karaoke bars or watch some of those TV singing shows like “American Idol”, “The Voice”, “The X Factor”, “The Sing Off” or “Glee”? A new study has found that most people can’t sing. Wow! Wake the kids and call the neighbors!

Do you go to Karaoke bars or watch some of those TV singing shows like “American Idol”, “The Voice”, “The X Factor”, “The Sing Off” or “Glee”? A new study has found that most people, as many as 62%, can’t sing. Wow! Wake the kids and call the neighbors!

This might be news to researchers who studied this phenomenon, but it’s hardly a revelation to guys like me who’ve been backing up this 62% for years in bars, on shows and in studios. No, you don’t have to naturally be in the coveted 38% to get a record deal because ProTools can put you there. Makes you wish Shure would get restraining orders against 100% of the 62% to keep them from abusing any more innocent microphones.

An excerpt from the article on MSNBC:

In a series of five experiments, researchers compared small groups of people with or without musical training. They tested participants’ accuracy at matching their voices to various pitches, to a target vocal or musical tone, or to other singers.

The study found that anywhere from 40 to 62 percent of non-musicians were poor singers, a rate much higher than shown in previous research.

It also found that roughly 20 percent of people can’t sing accurately because they don’t have good control of their vocal muscles. Another 35 percent of poor singers have trouble matching the pitch of their own voice to the same sound heard in other timbres, such as when it’s coming from a trumpet, piano, or a person of the opposite sex. And 5 percent of lousy singers lack the ability to hear differences in pitch or discriminate between two different sounds.

To be sure, some aspects of singing are influenced by genetics. “There are certainly people who are more natural singers, and the physiological shape of their vocal tracts can give a more or less pleasing natural sound to the voice,” Hutchins points out. But he says, the best singers just like the best athletes will be those who are blessed with natural talent and have devoted a large amount of practice to their craft.

However, it’s the poor singers of the world who are the least likely to practice. And that’s what’s necessary to get better at it.

What monKey are we in?

Playing live with unrehearsed bands and sit-ins, which I’ve done a lot for 39 years, can be dangerous and can make a monkey out of you if you don’t play with circumspection. It can drive you bananas.

monkeyfacePlaying live with unrehearsed bands and sit-ins, which I’ve done a lot for the last 39 years, can be dangerous and can make a monkey out of you if you don’t play with circumspection. It can drive you bananas.

Most of the bands I’ve worked with do the same songs – country standards and whatever’s hot at the time – and the musicians usually know what they’re doing, but arrangements and keys can vary, especially when a sit-in or a chick singer or a big ego is involved.

I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked a song off in D when it it was supposed to be in G. Well, I thought the singer said D. The drummer’s banging around on his kit, the bass player’s hollering at some girl, the piano player’s practicing “Last Date”. It’s noisy on the bandstand; hard to hear. If anyone knew the sharps and flats they could just flash one finger up when they want to perform in G. Hell, most Nashville musicians don’t even know this, let alone singers.

“Big City” can be an adventure sometimes. The turnaround in the middle is the same as the intro on the record, but sometimes a guitar player will want to play a ride in the middle, which always confuses the bass player.

You never know if you’re going to modulate in “Look At Us”. If you do it like the record, the band probably won’t. So you’re hanging out there like a big matza ball.

The 4m in the tag on “Farewell Party” can be fraught with peril, and I usually play just the root and 5th of the 4 until I hear what kind of a 3rd everybody else is playing.

Some symphony in Nashville was doing a piece a couple years ago and someone missed a cue, and the whole thing ground to a halt and they had to regroup and start up again. And they were rehearsed, and reading their parts. Obviously not bar band musicians.

But it’s all good experience, and it makes a better musician out of you eventually, I tell myself as I contemplate the infinite monkey theorem that states something about an infinite number of moneys plucking away on a steel guitar for an infinite amount of time and coming up with something better than “Steel Guitar Rag”.

Darrell McCall

But this fucking drummer who let me down, this piece of shit who canceled at the last minute… I’d worked with him many times, he was a great drummer, he had a good resume and he still works on Broadway. But I wouldn’t hire him again to piss on the Ryman if it were on fire.

Now here’s a great country singer, true to the roots of classic country. So of course he doesn’t get played on the radio. His “Lilly Dale” album was one of the ones I wore out learning Buddy’s licks. I backed him up a few times here and there when I was with Faron, and it was always fun.

I was playing a sit-down gig at a club in Camden, TN, and management wanted to get Darrell in there, and I said, sure, good idea, I can put a great band together to back him up. So, a month in advance I got a bunch of real good pickers to do the gig. Redd Volkaert on guitar, Ronnie Dale on bass and a fine drummer, who shall remain anonymous.

I checked on everybody a week or two before the downbeat to make sure they hadn’t forgotten, or been arrested, and everybody was cool. But a day or two before the gig the drummer canceled. He couldn’t supply a sub, and I had to find somebody. This was back when I knew every musician in town, but I couldn’t find a good drummer. Everybody was booked. Everybody, no shit. All I could find was a guy who who turned out to be really new at drumming and had apparently never heard of Buddy Harman. So new and clueless that Ronnie had to tell him what drums to hit on every song. The poor guy just couldn’t play a shuffle, although he did the best he could.

Darrell was a trouper, and went on and did his show and didn’t raise any hell with the bandleader (me). He even told me after the show that he could tell I really liked his kind of music, whatever that meant.

But this fucking drummer who let me down, this piece of drek who canceled at the last minute… Geez, I’d worked with him many times, he was a great drummer, he had a good resume and he still works on Broadway. It blew me away, how unprofessional this guy turned out to be. I never woulda suspected it. But, that’s the kind of shit you have to deal with when you’re a bandleader, I guess. I wouldn’t hire this motherfucker now to piss on the Ryman if it were on fire; he’d probably tell me at the last minute he had prostate trouble, and I’d have to get some derelict from Robert’s to handle the job.

Some Singers

I’m playing some club in Nashville and some guy gets up to sit in. He wants to do some song that’s like number 89 on some chart somewhere that he recorded at a custom session with some sweet-talking producer and he thinks we oughta know it, and he gives us all the skunk eye when we ask if he’s got a chart because we’ve never heard his fucking song.

I’m playing some club in Nashville and some guy gets up to sit in. He wants to do some song that’s like number 89 on some chart somewhere that he recorded at a custom session with some sweet-talking producer who charged him as much as he thought the traffic would bear and he thinks we oughta know it, and he gives us all the skunk eye when we ask if he’s got a chart because we’ve never heard his fucking song. (And, oh, I’d know the song if I’d been on the session, but he doesn’t want to hear that.) He’s thinking he should be a priority in our lives while we’re just an option in his. Huh. These guys kill me; they’re not musicians (unless they actually are), and a couple years later they’re gonna be back home working at Quickie Lube while we musicians are still gonna be doing what we do, working with other singers (who actually had some hit records), playing sessions and the Opry, and developing our craft.

CMA Petition

If you’re tired of country music that’s not country any more, you should sign the CMA Petition.

If you’re tired of country music that’s not country any more, you should sign the CMA Petition. Dave Burley writes: “Murder On Music Row now Murder At The CMA(Country Music Assn). Steve Moore, CEO of the CMA, is doing a good job of murdering our beloved country and bluegrass music. Under his watch he has changed the name of the Fan Fair to the Music Festival.”

A couple non gigs

I always made it a practice to never turn down any gigs. I was glad to get called for any gig, living in the same town with Buddy, Hal, Weldon and so many other monsters.

I always made it a practice to never turn down any gigs. I was glad to get called for any gig, living in the same town with Buddy, Hal, Weldon and so many other monsters. So over the years I played with great bands, mediocre bands, bad bands, and with guys who should have had their guitars confiscated by the County Music Police. But I had to draw the line somewhere, I really did, no matter how desperate I was for free beer or the experience or just the practice time.

So I did turn down two gigs. You might not want to work them, either.

I got a call form a guy I didn’t know (can be risky) to play a little bar in East Nashville, and I said, sure, I’ll do it. It was summer, the temperature was in the 90’s, and I drove down to the gig that evening and cruised past the bar. The door was open. Oh, shit, I thought, no A/C. I could see the bandstand, such as it was, just a small raised square of wood about 10′ x 10′ on which were perched a singer with a flat top and a spoon player. A goddamn spoon player! Holy shit, I’d never worried with a spoon player, I guess he was in lieu of a drummer. So I just kept driving.

Another time I got an email from a guy who told me that he couldn’t really afford a steel, since they were working for the door, and he mentioned all the great steel players he could get if he wanted to but that I was welcome to drop by if I wanted to. I did drop by, and I watched him bitch at the sound man for half an hour and just generally make an ass of himself. Three people left because they didn’t like his attitude. I didn’t, either. I had a beer and left, too.

Musicians get more respect than cubicle drones, sometimes

I’ve had only four day jobs as an adult – and that was after I’d made a living as a steel guitar player for 30 years or so – and I noticed, among a few other things, that I didn’t get near the approbation that I’d been used to as a musician.

I’ve had only four day jobs as an adult – and that was after I’d made a living as a steel guitar player for 30 years or so – and I noticed, among a few other things, that I didn’t get near the approbation that I’d been used to as a musician. Nowhere near. I could be doing my job just fine, but nobody bought me a beer or gave me a tip or watched me work and marveled at my expertise and said they wished they could do what I could do, or sat in and did my job for an hour because it was just so much fucking fun. In fact, I got fired from two of those jobs. Heh, I’ve had hundreds of steel guitar gigs and only got fired from one of them.

As a musician I could work up a new lick or an instrumental and usually get a little positive input from the band or from an interested onlooker, but when I put in a little extra effort at a day job all I was likely to get were suspicious glares from management because they thought I might have a better idea than they did or some sneaky-ass-behind-my-back activity from sniveling underlings who just wanted to steal my shit so they could impress someone and get a promotion or a bonus or a better parking place.

Not to say that this kind of behavior doesn’t occur in the music business, because it certainly does, but from my experience it seems to be more rife in the Dilbert world, and talent and a sense of humor go a lot further in the music world than in cubicle land.

I don’t plan on having any more day jobs, because of the above, and because you have to drive in rush hour traffic and wear a seat belt and not drink anything stronger than coffee and dodge other cubicle drones and drunken illegals, and you rarely have to do that when you’re a musician – well, there might be some crazy Messicans out at 3am in Nashville when you’re trying to get home from a gig without getting a DUI. And, damn, it’s such a bitch driving anywhere when you’ve been used to professional smooth-ass ex-musician bus drivers who can get you to Oregon or Florida without throwing you out of your bunk or spilling your beer even once.