I’m Pacing Myself, Sergeant

So it’s the day before my next band gig at our new favorite hangout, Chasers Lounge (a big gig, it’s their annual Cancer/Crab Birthday celebration for Teresa, the owner, and about forty of her fellow Cancerians), and I’m studying Ozzy Osbourne lyrics like you do before a big gig (well, at least that’s what I do before a big gig – I don’t know what you do), trying to find the emotional resonance in Crazy Train, when my cell phone rings – it’s my little brother, Kelly, and he’s got a problem: his lead singer is four hours out of town and they have a show in a few hours.

Kelly Craker

Baby brother, Kelly, doing what he does best. Can you see the resemblance?

Now, before anybody goes off and gets the wrong impression, let me explain a couple of three things about Kelly’s lead singer, the completely awesome Reverend Rock Kitchens: first off, Rock is a consummate showman; he doesn’t care if the band is getting half-pay, double-pay or no-pay – he’s going to give the folks a show no matter what; second, he is one damn fine vocalist, with a whiskey baritone and meaty delivery most singers would give their left testicle to possess; and lastly, he is one of the most darlin’ men I’ve had the pleasure to meet – big-hearted, easy-going, and generous to a fault, the kind of guy women want to love and men want to be around. Rock is the real deal, and I’m fortunate to be considered his buddy.

It’s that third quality of his – big-hearted, easy-going, generous to a fault – that caused the trouble: Rock had plans to go visit his home town of Strawn out west of DFW on that particular Friday, had a head and heart full of friends and family, and just didn’t realize his gig and his travel agenda were on the same day until it was too late. With anyone else, that would seem a little flakey – with Rock, though, it’s completely reasonable.

So while it was never Rock’s intention to leave his band in a lurch, a lurch they were in nonetheless. Kelly’s band, Rock Theory, actually had two shows that weekend, the Friday show at a new location and a Saturday show at one of their usual locales – since it was a new place, the band didn’t want to just up and cancel the show if they could avoid it. Cue the drummer’s older brother.

Rock Theory has two of the best musicians I’ve ever met in the crew; Tony Rios on guitar and Al Mead on bass, two men with years of performing experience under their belts; I’ve also sung with Kelly’s crew a couple of times before when family obligations kept Rock out of the mix, so joining them for a night wasn’t that crazy of a proposition – Tony, Al and Kelly are so good together, almost anyone could get on stage with them and sound professional. The only real problem would be not ruining myself so I’d have something left in the tank for my own show the next night – the one request I made to Kelly was to be sure my microphone was turned up loud enough that I didn’t have to scream to hear myself over the music. I grabbed my songbooks and off to Used To Be Sharkey’s I went.

Used To Be Sharky’s is exactly that – once upon a time, the bar was called Sharky’s; bar closed, was re-opened, new owner didn’t want to spring for a new sign, so the new bar became know as Used To Be Sharky’s. Personally, I find that just a little bit brilliant. The joint is off of Greenville Avenue, a major road in Dallas for restaurants and bars – that’s the good news; the bad news is it’s located under a bunch of trees at the back of that particular parking lot facing away from the major intersection – you can’t see it from the road, so if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll never find it. From what I gathered from the band and patronage, the place had been remodeled since the old days, with a ton of space and a nice band stage for us to go play on. Al had brought a music stand for my song books, the guys had the sound system up and running in no time flat, we did a quick sound check, I grabbed a soda, we twiddled our thumbs for an hour, and away we went.

Everyone looks like a rock star singing into a fog machine…

As far as the music is concerned, I feel the show went great – you’d have never known the band was trying to keep track of a replacement singer, with a few of the songs (Two Tickets to Paradise, Midnight Rider especially) coming off like we’d been practicing them for a year, they went so smooth and sounding so good. The performance could have gone more smoothly – the music stand had the lyrics right where I needed them, but the stage lights were shining behind the stand, leaving the books in a deep, impenetrable shadow; to see the lyrics, I had to take the sheets out of the books and hold them in my hand, not the best way to handle the situation. Also, the band had gotten accustomed to following Rock’s lead instead of coming up with a set list – I didn’t know what songs the band and I both knew, so a bit more discussion about what was being sung next occurred than I would have liked. The biggest upside was I impressed the guys, my brother included. It had been over a year since I’d sung with them, a year I’d spent actively trying to improve my delivery and stage presence – it was nice to hear the work was starting to pay off.

The downside? The bar never really filled up. The owners had expected the band to bring their steady fans to the gig to help pad the bar numbers, and with the band’s main draw four hours away playing with the kids, Rock’s posse took the night off. By the end of the night, the bars regulars were loving them some Rock Theory, especially after the crew let the owner’s son sit in on the drums for a few songs the last set (dude nailed it), so there’s reason to believe the night wasn’t a loss.

I got paid for singing. It was a good night.

I got up at the butt-crack of dawn Saturday – the dogs just didn’t care it was after 2 am when I got to bed, they wanted me up and drinking coffee in the living room around 7 am and they weren’t taking “No” for an answer. I was a little hoarse – not totally shredded, but still more fatigued and gravelly than I wanted – so my attempts at holding back had not be entirely successful. I gargled with hot water during my shower, gargled with cold apple cider vinegar afterwards (not for the faint of heart, I might add), then did my best to speak as little as possible the rest of the day… a day that quickly got away from me, as the club nap I’d planned for that afternoon somehow never coming to fruition. My second night of singing and I was functioning on five hours of sleep – I don’t care what anyone says, Red Bull is a gift from the Baby Jesus.

Trying to make the magic happen.

Chasers Lounge was full of patrons when the band showed up for load in, had just as many folks when we finished setting up – the night promised to be crowded, a promise the night kept. The place stayed full from start to finish of our gig. Musically, I didn’t think it was our best show: our good friend, keyboardist David Fox, joined us for the evening, and while his work was as outstanding as always, the change in the way the music sounded kept throwing the rest of the crew off their game a bit – cues were missed, songs were started in wrong keys, endings were forgotten… just amateur mistakes we don’t usually make. I was certainly not at my best: still tired from the night before, didn’t have the new songs memorized liked I’d planned, and while I had all of my chest voice and soothed away most of the gravel, I was still missing my highest notes from my vocal arsenal and straining more than usual to sing the easy songs. I didn’t do bad, especially earlier in the night when I still had some juice in me; but I didn’t do as well as the night prior, and I certainly didn’t perform as well as I had the Chasers gig before. With my adrenaline and caffeine spent, the last set was pure force of will, with volume compensating for fatigue – I practically shouted my last songs.

Whether he looks like it or not, that there is a Lead Singer.

While it wasn’t our best show in my estimation, you wouldn’t know it from the owner or the crowd – from the looks and sounds of things, they all enjoyed the hell out of the night. Things got a little more rambunctious a time or two than the band would have liked, but it was a party at a full-fledged biker bar so that kind of thing is sort of to be expected. People danced, sung along with the songs, and bought many, many drinks – they did, however, forget to leave a little something in the band’s tip jar; so while the night was fun and I enjoyed myself despite not being at my best, it wasn’t a lucrative gig.

This was the first time in a long time I had back-to-back paying singing gigs, and the weekend was an eye-opener. If I want to sing multiple nights a week (which is my ultimate goal), I need more songs in my key played at a volume I can sing over without straining, using proper technique – if I want to “rock out,” scream songs that are out of my best key at the top of my range, I’ve got one good night and maybe one half-assed night tops – after that, I’m shredded and in need of at least two days complete rest, more if I want those pretty, pretty falsetto notes for Journey tunes and high harmonies. I need to get more rest, and if that means putting certain chores and errands off so I can get a two-hour nap, so be it. And while I never thought I’d be thinking this, a good voice coach may be in order, as well. Opera singers and Broadway types sing five, six days a week, usually without electric amplification and usually without missing a day of work – getting back in touch with those fundamentals may be necessary if I want to do this as an actual profession.

Oo… and do I want to do this as an actual profession.

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