A Living Entity or Brushing Up Against the Invisible Line

Keith, Kelly, and Tim

Me showing off my brother, Kelly, for Tim’s obligatory selfie. Photo courtesy of Tim Lovick.

There’s the band as a marriage metaphor, which works when all or most of the original band members are still in place; and then there’s the band as a living entity metaphor. I tend to go with the living entity metaphor personally. In my marriage, I have an equal say in things, and while I tend to take a back seat in decisions concerning things like how to decorate the house, my lovely Lady Fair knows my tastes and tries to keep that in mind when picking out colors and designs. As Paul likes to say, “I don’t run my house, but I have veto power.” That’s not the case with the band. I can make suggestions, I can ask questions, I can push for certain decisions, but I don’t actually make those decisions, and I certainly do not have veto power. That’s Paul. The band is Paul’s band. Now, Paul is smart enough and wise enough to take everybody else’s strengths and preferences into account when making decisions, but at the same time, the final Yay or Nay is always his. So no, the band is not a marriage – it is a benevolent dictatorship, and we are all free to leave if we don’t like Paul’s stewardship of the band.

This band is a living entity, though. Paul is the brains, Super Dave is the heart beat, JC is the back bone, Tim is the imagination, and I am the voice. And like a living being, the band has ups and downs, peaks and valleys. There are times when the band is on all cylinders and just unstoppable… and then there are days when the band cannot get it’s act together to save it’s damn life. Sometimes, the peak and the valley are on the same damn week.

10th Anniversary Cancerian poster

One of our favorite gigs of the year…

The band has never had a period where it could just cruise, rest on its laurels and enjoy the view – the band has always been in some kind of transition. Before Paul brought me onboard, the band experimented with having two female back up singers. This did not work, mainly because the females in question used a little too much liquid courage to psych themselves out enough to perform in front of a crowd. Not long after they ladies were cut loose, I arrived… so technically, I was brought on to be the ladies’ replacement, singing the pretty back up.

It was unthinkable that we would need to replace Patrick, the drummer… and then suddenly, we did. Seven kids with a vicious recession on was too much stress on Patrick and the entire family, so the band had to go. JC was brought in, and even though he was half the age of the rest of the crew, he got along great… until we had to replace JC, who had decided to move to Los Angeles. Patrick came back, life got too vicious again and he left, and then JC moved back to Texas and he rejoined the crew.

Jon co-founded the band with Paul. Jon is brilliant. Jon is an amazing bassist, with a jazzy kind of interpretation of classic songs. Jon also had very definite ideas about the direction he wanted to go with the music the band was doing; when that didn’t happen, he decided he just wanted to show up and play… but soon, he didn’t want to do that, either. After not returning phone calls or emails for weeks, Paul brought in Super Dave so the band could start booking dates again. Jon found out he’d been replaced by social media, and we haven’t heard from him since. Not our finest hour, and whether he admits it or not, it still haunts Paul.

When Gary’s carpal tunnel took him out of the band and Tim came on board, the only original member of the band Paul created 12 years ago… was Paul. The brain was intact, but everything else in the body had be replaced with a transplant.

The band at Chaser's

The crew and Little Brother, taking care of business. Photo courtesy of the wonderful Michele Moore.

It sucks when you lose a band member, even if it happens with a minimum of fuss, as in Patrick and Gary’s cases. The upside is, though, with the infusion of new blood comes new song ideas. When JC settled in and became THE drummer, the band got a lot better. When Super Dave came in and brought a new wealth of songs, the band got a lot better. When I discovered the meaning behind the songs and found my voice, the band got a lot better. Now that Tim is on board with his tenor harmonies and lead guitar licks, the band has gotten better once again.

With all the transplants in the band, with all the improvements the band has made over the years, The East Texas Garage Band is poised to make a big leap.

There’s a line no one can see, but everyone who deals with any kind of creative, artistic pursuit knows it is there and it is real: it is the line that separates amateurs from professionals. A lot of times, the division is really easy to see: go to a comic convention and take a walk around the art show, you will see a definite difference in quality between the amateur work and the working professional’s art. Some times, the division is almost impossible to see: go online and read some of the fan fiction out there, some of it is as good – if not better – than some of the published novels on book shelves. When you are really lucky, you catch an amateur actor or dancer just before they hit the big time, and you get to say “I saw them when no one knew who they were.” Well, a band faces that same line. It takes a certain amount of time and energy to get to the top of the amateur level, to be the best an amateur can be… and then you stall there. Because the difference between the “extremely gifted amateur” and the “working professional” is incredibly small, yet almost impossible to bridge. A lot of the time, it’s the X factor that separates the two categories, that indefinable ingredient that you know when you see it or hear it. The real bitch is it’s a band – nearly all the members have to have that X factor or be so close to having that X factor before the band as a whole is ready to make that leap to The Show.

With my singing, with Tim’s leads, with Super Dave’s playing, with Paul’s leadership and showmanship, and with JC’s outside the box syncopation, as of just a few weeks ago, The East Texas Garage Band was knocking on that line, poised to make the jump. Which, in our case, being a cover band in DFW, meant potentially leaving the B-level of acts and joining the A-level tribute bands. Also meant doubling our fee, and being able to get that. We’d need to have a serious conversation about where the band wanted to go at that point: being an A-level act in DFW means either being a tribute band (which we don’t want to be), adding dance and party music to the repertoire (a possibility, just not a strong one), or create some original tunes and try to go pro (my preferred choice).

JC wrecked his truck.

me at Chasers

Trying to see where the hell the guitarists are going with this song… Photo again courtesy of the lovely Michele Moore.

Just days after our last gig, just over a week until our next gig, and JC lost control of his vehicle while heading home from a concert down in Deep Ellum, woke up in ICU with two broken arms, two broken wrists, some broken ribs, and a cracked bone in his playing foot. One wrist required surgery, his playing foot required surgery. He is laid up for weeks, possibly months, and until he heals up enough for physical therapy, JC has no idea what effect this will have on his ability to drum: could have no effect at all, which is the hope; could be done drumming for the rest of his life, which is a panicky worst case scenario, but is still a possibility.

I took JC flowers from the band a couple of days after they moved him from ICU into a private room. His foot was still swollen like a grapefruit then, the doctors hadn’t gone in after that bone they were worried about. It was the first time I had been to a hospital since Sherry had died almost two years ago, and I was not digging the sensation at all. As his singer, I’m pissed as hell that JC has done this to himself… but as his friend… damn it all… I am just so grateful he’s still alive. Had he been going just a little faster, had the wall he hit been just a little taller, and that might not have been the case. When I couldn’t force out any more words of encouragement, I got the hell out of there… I was wiping away tears by the time I got back out to my car.

I’ve just buried too many people lately. This cut it a little to close for comfort for me.

My brother, Kelly, drums for a local cover band and knows most of our songs; more importantly, he’s all about the playing and doesn’t have time for any drama, his real life is dramatic enough as it is. Paul quickly gave him a call, we scheduled an emergency Friday night rehearsal, and we went out to the middle of nowhere to play the private gig that had been on the calendar for months. We weren’t as tight as we’d been the couple of weeks before, but Kelly is a pro, Paul and Time are pros, and with Super Dave keeping everybody in the mix, we were still pretty dang good. Two weeks later, we showed up at Chasers and did it all over again with the same result.

We just don’t know what’s going to happen with JC, so Paul made the executive decision to go on hiatus for the foreseeable future, which means Chaser’s gig was probably our last of 2016. He and Tim have been getting together to mesh their guitar grooves; hopefully, I’ll get a call soon saying they guitarists are ready for a vocal rehearsal, work on some harmonies. As for what I’m going to do to get my performance fix, I haven’ decided yet. Upside to all the drama the last month? Lost ten pounds. Say what you want about the stress diet – it works.

It also means that invisible line we were just brushing up against has retreating out of reach again.

April is POPPING

Things are FINALLY popping, and they are popping quick:

Popping #1: Birthday-Palooza, as we like to call it, was over the weekend. My birthday was Sunday, and for the last few years the one and only thing I’ve asked for is to sing with my band. Just so happens that my new manager’s birthday is a few days before mine; the band’s volunteer roadie is a couple of days after; Pauly’s mom’s birthday is within a couple of days of mine; our adopted sister’s birthday is the week before; and my mom’s is at the end of the month – so my birthday gig turns into Birthday-Palooza, and it is usually one of my favorite gigs of the year. This year was no exception, it was off the chain, and I’ll have a big write-up if a few days once my lovely Lady Fair gets done going through all of her photos of the festivities.

Sarah Jo Marrs

The amazing Sarah Jo Marrs

Popping #2: A few weeks ago, I went out to one of my little brother’s gigs, a Sunday show in the early afternoon at a wonderful bar named Tavern on Main Street. As per usual, Kelly’s band Rock Theory was phenomenal – not as per usual, they had a special guest singer join them for a few songs, the very talented Sarah Jo Marrs.

I met Sarah Jo briefly about four years ago – Kelly’s then band was playing out in Sachse, and I’d been asked to come out and sing “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the one song the band had learned strictly for me. I’d been with my new band just a few weeks, so I happily snagged up Paul and his lovely bride, Margaret, and the Lady Fair and I went out to Monkey’s Pub n Grub for some cold beer and rock n roll. I sang my song early, got a huge round of applause, went back to my beer pumped up and ready to take on the world; a couple of songs later, and Sarah Jo joined Kelly’s crew on stage, plugged in her electric acoustic, and started belting out “Me and Bobby McGee” like there was no tomorrow. When she was done, my first thought was: “Oh my God – I must sing with this girl!” Which was quickly replaced with by my second thought: “Oh my God – I’m not good enough to sing with this girl!” And truth be told, I wasn’t – where I was just under the line between Gifted Amateur and True Professional, Sarah Jo was strictly over the top in the Pro realm. I got her name, friended her on MySpace, kept track of her gigs, and then proceeded to get to work with my new band learning how to perform. Then one day, Sarah Jo just kind of fell off the radar – when she popped back up at Rock Theory’s gig, I hadn’t seen her in years.

Sarah Jo sang with the band, I sang with the band, Sarah Jo and I together sang with the band – it was glorious. When she, Rock and I sang the harmony on “The Weight” and our voices completed the chord, we looked at each other and grinned like school kids playing hooky – I could tell that shiver that ran done my spine had run down hers, as well. In my best creepy stalker fashion, I cornered Sarah Jo and told her in no uncertain terms she was incredible, she had to get back to performing regularly, and I would consider it an amazing honor if she’d sing a duet with me – my heart did cartwheels when she said “Yes.” So sometime in the near future, I hope to report my singing crush and I are slaying audiences with some Lady Antebellum and Kid Rock/Sheryl Crow – just got to see which band is behind us.

Popping #3: If you haven’t done so, check out Amanda Palmer’s TED talk “The Art of Asking,” it is simply amazing, if for no other reason than the discussions it has generated. I fall firmly in the AFP camp – I got what she was trying to convey, felt it in my bones, and was inspired to action: I want to sing, I want to sing more often than my band now performs, I need some kind of accompaniment if I’m to perform without my band, trying to accompany myself is going to take months (if not years) of practicing, but I want to sing NOW. So I did what Amanda suggested: I swallowed down my anxiety, screwed up my courage, and I asked my friend David Fox if he’d consider doing a two-man show with me – David said “Yes” so fast, it stunned and humbled me. So David and I are now partners, and we’re doing our first show this weekend at the Landon Winery and Bistro in Greenville, TX, about 45 minutes East of Dallas. David and I both love ballads, harmonizing, and singing back-up, so I’m expecting amazing things from this show – if nothing else, it will be a lot of fun just getting the chance to sing some of the tunes that just wouldn’t work with my band. I’m also hoping this leads to more work for David and I – I’d love to do some hotel and corporate work.

Keith Craker and David Fox at Landon Winery & Bistro

Keith and David kicking out the slow jams…

Since I’m now officially working with David, I’m hoping if my band can’t get the songs worked up for Sarah Jo and I, maybe David’s band can. Or both bands – that would be awesome.

Popping #4: The mighty East Texas Garage Band is appearing at the Buzzards Roost Run for Homeless Veterans out in Marietta TX April 20th. Half of my crew are bikers and most of my crew are veterans: anything we can do to help our own, we’re there. That’s how I like to roll – I’m proud that’s how my band likes to roll. Way looking forward to this gig, I’m pretty sure we the feature entertainment that Saturday night.

Sarah Jo, David, Birthday-Palooza, my first sans-band gig, and a biker benefit – I am a very happy wannabe rock star!

Behind Schedule

The bad thing about having a blog that is about a specific topic (as opposed to just being an online journal) is sometimes the stuff you’re supposed to be writing about decides to take more time to germinate than expected. Got some stuff percolating behind the scenes, didn’t want to address them until I had something concrete to report – it’s now the start of March and that stuff still hasn’t gelled, so I still can’t write about them.

Grrrr.

In the meantime, my lovely Lady Fair bought me a very good microphone for my computer – after reinstalling GarageBand, I now have a new toy.

Please enjoy my unexpected turn on The House of The Rising Sun.

Midnight Thunder

Midnight Thunder

Midnight Thunder at Billy Bob’s, Fort Worth

I had the distinction of only attending one school from 7th to 12th grades. West Mesquite was originally built to be a high school, but for the first years of its existence it housed junior high grades: 7th, 8th, and 9th. It was a junior high because the damn place was still under construction, and therefore lacked the facilities needed for what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art high school (a high school student deserves a fresh lunch, but a junior high kid can make due with food trucked in from another campus, for example).  If you had an older sibling, you could elect to go to Mesquite High with them for 9th grade, otherwise you stayed at West Mesquite for your freshman year. No one knows why the superintendent did this, but somebody thought it was a good enough idea that it stayed the norm for years. My compadres and I started West Mesquite in 7th grade, and sometime during our 9th grade year, it was decided that West Mesquite was far enough along in construction that it could finally grow into a high school – the following year, instead of being bussed into downtown Old Mesquite, I just kept trekking across two major thoroughfares to West Mesquite. My classmates and I became the first ever graduating class with a mere 144 out of a possible 160 walking across the stage at Reunion Arena to receive the first ever West Mesquite diplomas.

Trust me: that sounded way cooler than it actually was. As a result of some school bureaucrat’s decision, I spent most of six years with the same kids I’d already spent most of five years with – most of those kids I didn’t like, and most of those kids didn’t like me. If school is a prison, then imagine my time at West Mesquite as having been given the maximum sentence for a really petty crime; in my case, not having enough money to purchase a house on the north end of town. A few of my closest friends and my first love were at West Mesquite, so it wasn’t all bad; but it does say something that most of my closest friends and the love of my life weren’t at West Mesquite. And if I hadn’t married into one of the first families of Mesquite and inherited a lovely home just a few blocks from the original high school, I sure as hell wouldn’t be living in Mesquite now.

Jimmy on drums

Jimmy making it look soooooooo easy…

Jimmy moved into our neighborhood in the 3rd grade and did what most of my friends at the time thought was impossible – he hit it off with the cool kids.  Jimmy could speak Spanish before he ever took a Spanish class, could play drums though he never took band, and loved Elvis when everyone around him was into KISS – he was also tall, good-looking, and played football in a town that worshiped football. While the rest of us arrived as the wretched refuse, Jimmy came into an atrociously cliquish elementary school as a visiting prince who just never returned home. Jimmy played football with Paul and another friend, Michael; Jimmy’s long-time girlfriend was the best friend of one of my best friends, Felisha; so Jimmy and I knew who each other were, but we weren’t friends ourselves. Even after I was asked to join Paul, Michael and Jimmy’s band as a singer, I still never really got to know Jimmy – friends of friends was as close as we ever got.

When my brother decided to go after his musical dreams, I supported him all I could: designing his band logos, creating band flyers, and showing up at his gigs (I’d have given my left testicle to sing with his crew, but his lead guitarist didn’t want a fifth member dividing the paycheck). One of the earliest gigs for his then-named band, Dick Whiskey, was way the hell out in Fort Worth at the Harley Davidson dealership. The Lady Fair and I hopped into the Mustang and scooted out to the South side of Cowtown to find my brother’s four-piece band was a five-piece for the day: Dick Whiskey was now sporting a keyboard player. When Pauly, Margaret and their Harley showed up, Pauly grinned and said, “I’ll be damned – I know him!” I trotted up behind my guitarist as he shook hands with David Fox, keyboard wizard.

Diamond Dave Fox has been a mainstay of the Dallas music scene for decades, flying solo and filling in with professional bands all over the metroplex. David can do it all: sing leads, sing back-up harmonies, write and arrange songs, perform Rock, perform Country, and make anyone look and sound good – and if that wasn’t enough, he’s just one hell of a nice guy. When my band got asked to perform at a benefit for my brother, Kelly’s lead singer’s son a couple of years ago, Fox was one of the first calls Pauly made after telling Kelly “Yes.” David showed up, set up, and without any prior rehearsing proceeded to help make The East Texas Garage Band the hit of the show. The last couple of years, David’s spent his time getting an online radio show up and running when he’s not out touring with Doug Stone and Sonny Burgess.

David Fox performs alone, in a two-piece, and with a five-piece Country Band named Midnight Thunder; the drummer for Midnight Thunder is my old classmate, Jimmy Bell.

Tell me it’s not a small world.

With two buddies in the band, I needed to go see and support Midnight Thunder – wasn’t happening. Nearly every time the band had a show, I was tied up with my own gig or down for the count sick or saddled with some kind of family obligation. The temp job I was holding down in far South Arlington was maybe 20 minutes from Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, where the house band that week was Midnight Thunder – this would be my best and easiest chance to see the band ever. I sent Jimmy a Facebook message asking when the band went on – if I could get out of Fort Worth at a decent hour, even better.

Jimmy didn’t answer, though that wasn’t his fault – he was working a day job before doing the band gig that night, and burning the candle at both ends didn’t include checking his Facebook account. I got the word the next day Billy Bob’s house bands start at a very nice 8 pm; I also got a phone call from Jimmy asking if I could come see him at his day job, and would I bring my song list. I had plans to meet up with Paul and Margaret that Saturday, but I could swing by before joining my peeps for lunch – I grabbed Kristi, my lyric books and the set list from my last gig and went to visit Jimmy.

Jimmy smiles easily and often; he also talks a mile a minute when he gets excited, so it’s hard to word in edgewise sometimes. Jimmy was very excited this particular Saturday morning: Friday night’s show had not gone as well as he would have liked, our friend David Fox had lost his voice – would I mind coming to the show tonight prepared to do some emergency singing?

Oh, Baby. Twist my arm.

John and Diamond Dave, getting it done...

John and Diamond Dave, getting it done…

The only time Jimmy stopped smiling was when he stressed nothing was written in stone – he’d need to talk to David and the other guys in the band, and even then I might not sing; I assured Jimmy I was coming to the show period – getting to sing would be a bonus, but I was coming to hear my two buddies perform in one of the best venues in town. Jimmy’s smile got even bigger, then he promised my Lady Fair and I would be on the guest list for the show. Kristi and I then headed to meet Paul and Margaret for a day of books, guitars, microphones and Margharitas, not necessarily in that order.

Fort Worth is 45 minutes to an hour from the ancestral home of my wife’s people, so we got gussied up and heading for Billy Bob’s a good 90 minutes before showtime. Normally, this probably would have been far more time than necessary – I hadn’t taken in to consideration it was the first day of the Fort Worth Stockshow, a three-week long Cowtown institution that fills the stockyards with hundreds of out-of-towners and literally brings in millions of dollars to the Fort Worth economy, especially the night life. Getting to Fort Worth was a breeze – getting to the stockyards was going to take a machine turret mounted on the hood of my Mustang. Thankfully, Billy Bob’s is the first thing you hit when you finally pull into Rodeo Drive, so our odyssey ended with less fuss than it began.

Jimmy’s girlfriend is another high school classmate of ours, the very sweet and very lovely Jamie – sweet and lovely Jamie was at the will-call window making sure my tickets were in place when Krist and I arrived, a nice bit of serendipity. Jamie was in choir with Pauly and me back in the day, and again, while we knew a lot of the same people, we weren’t what you would call friends; unlike some people I knew in high school, though, Jamie had always been sweet and generous whenever I was around, so I had nothing but warm feelings towards her. I was thrilled to see Jamie.

Jamie helped escort us back to where the band would be playing and ended up introducing me to Mike McConathy, Jr. Mike was a former member of Midnight Thunder who’d gotten the call David was under the weather, could he come lend a hand? So he put in a full day at his day job, took a quick shower, put on his do-rags, grabbed his guitar and headed to the stockyards without a second thought. I’d only just met the man and already I knew he was my kind of guy. I got Kristi a beer, and then Jamie took us to see Jimmy, who was waiting on his stage shirt to arrive. Just as Jimmy was headed back to the stage, David came around the corner to say “Hi.” Diamond Dave had been gargling since he woke up that morning, had downed about a pint of cold medicine that afternoon, and drank a couple of cups of coffee just before meeting me and the Lady Fair – he wasn’t 100%, but he was good enough to handle the show with Mike there backing him up. I wasn’t going to be needed – I reminded him of what I’d told Jimmy hours earlier: I was there to see the band and support my friends. Singing would have been just a bonus, it had never been the motivation. David smiled and gave me the same bear hug I’d gotten from his drummer.

Jamie took us to where the rest of the band wives, girlfriends and family members were seated, directly across the dance floor from the bandstand. Then the show began.

Country is not my preferred genre of music – I’m definitely a Rocker. I dig me some Pop, I dig me some Alternative, I’ve been known to lose it to some Dance tracks, but my first love is Corporate Rock: Journey, Foreigner, Loverboy, and all the stuff my guitarists listened to while waiting for Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd tunes to come on KZEW. The Country tunes I do like tend to either be more towards Southern Rock, a la Garth Brooks, or Rockabilly, a la Hank Williams, Sr. Whatever the genre, though, what I really appreciate is just flat-out musicianship: good playing, good singing, good harmonizing, good intros and good outros; and without a doubt, Midnight Thunder is one fantastic band.

Dancing at Billy Bob's

Boot scootin’ at Billy Bob’s…

The bass player is David Norris, whose family owns Norris Family Music in Mesquite. David started out as a drummer, which in my opinion is a leading factor in why is bass playing is so excellent – rhythm is in his blood. I heard bass notes with the drums, countering the drums, a half-beat behind the drums but in time with the vocals – just an amazing display of musical dexterity, made even more impressive because he never broke a sweat. David also sings well enough to front his own band if he chose.

Mike McConathy, Jr. plays rhythm acoustic, a nice addition to the lead guitar and keyboards, helping fill in the cracks of their great wall of sound. His high, sweet vocals would be reminiscent of an Irish tenor if it wasn’t for the Country twang, a twang that instantly brought authenticity and credibility to the Classic Country tunes he was singing, tunes he was singing well enough to front his own band if he chose.

Jimmy Bell makes drumming look so effortless, it’s easy to overlook he’s doing more than just keeping basic 4/4 time – he’s drumming Blues and Swing, Southern Rock and Country, and he’s bringing just the right amount of fills and flourishes to accent what the vocalists are doing up front without distracting from the overall sound. Jimmy may be the perfect drummer.

The lead guitarist, John Allen, is the damndest thing I’ve ever seen. As David explained, John was just days away from attending college on a Quarterback scholarship when he accidentally grabbed an electrical line and literally blew his right arm clean off. His friends refused to let him get depressed about his situation, going so far as to fashion John a prosthetic arm with a built-n guitar pick. You read that right – a prosthetic guitar pick. He’s a one-armed guitarist, and one of the best damn guitarists I’ve ever heard. If I hadn’t had seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it – as it is, I did see it and I still have to keep pinching myself to remind me it was real. Simply amazing.

Put those four men on stage with David Fox’s already excellent keyboard and vocals, and they could do no wrong. When the three tenors launched into The Gatlin Brothers “Broken Lady,” I literally got goose bumps. Any thought of Kristi and I leaving after the second set went out the window – we stayed the entire night, spending the third set just off stage, where my Lady Fair took pictures of the band and I waited to see if I’d get called up to sing a tune with my friends. I had so much fun, I didn’t even mind when that call never came – that is how good Midnight Thunder is.

Looking forward to seeing the band again soon. And hopefully David and Jimmy now know they can call me if they need an extra voice anytime, anywhere – I would consider it an honor and a privilege to sing with Midnight Thunder.

Here’s John and David doing my favorite original tune, David’s Lime Twisted Gin:

Hallelujah

I hate being wrong.

Anybody who’s performed live, be it in a band or as a solo act, suffers through this one universal truth: sooner or later, everybody you know comes to you as says, “I’ve got the perfect song for you to do.” Usually, it’s their favorite song; if you’re lucky, it’s a song you know and like; and if you’re a vocalist and you’re supremely lucky, it’ll be a song in your range (I’ve lost track of how many times someone’s suggested a tune I’d need to take a pair of pliers to my scrotum to reach the high note) – more often than not, however, it’s a song you either can’t stand, can’t sing, or have major reservations about.

My lovely mother brought me such a song, and I didn’t want to sing it.

There are dozens of this song out on the Web. Everyone’s heard it at one time or another – it was in The Watchmen and the Shrek movies; on the singing competition shows, some contestant will pull this out in the later rounds; and much like Memory back in the 80’s, sooner or later every singer of any note performs this tune. I didn’t want to be just another in the crowd.

I also avoided the song because on the surface it sounds religious – the first two verses make direct biblical references, chorus comes straight out of the Bible, and the song itself is written in the AAA style of a church hymn; that is, just like Amazing Grace, it’s just one melody repeated over and over again, telling a story. Anyone who’s sat at my table and had a beer with me knows that’s not the guy I am. I think your relationship with the Almighty is between you, the Almighty, and nobody else – no reason to wear your religious beliefs on your sleeve, and I don’t. If you catch me standing in line at the Post Office and I singing a hymn, I’m performing said hymn at a wedding or funeral in a day or two.

I gave a close listen to the song not too long ago, then I downloaded the lyrics and read the poetry without the music getting in the way – I very quickly realized this song has nothing to do with religion. The song is about making a physical connection with someone you care about that is so intense, it feels like a religious experience; it’s also about not being able to hold on to that intensity because you never learned to express that love and desire in any way other than physical. The simplicity of the melody masks the complexity of the emotional content, and I knew, I KNEW I had to sing this song. The sooner, the better.

While my band took a break between the first and second set, with my mother in the audience and my lovely Lady Fair looking on, I sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah a capella in a biker dive bar. And I’m making plans to do it again for my birthday.

Thank you, Mom, for bringing this song to my attention and not letting up… so sorry I didn’t pay closer attention.

Please enjoy kd lang’s interpretation of Hallelujah. As soon as I get a version recorded, I’ll post it, as well.

How Not to Make a First Impression

ETGB with a NO symbol across the band

No Band Allowed

One of the things I wanted to do in the New Year was take in more live shows. Just like I need air to breathe, I need music to live; and just like the best beer is at a bar fresh out of a tap, the best music is performed live. I don’t care where – big arenas, large concert halls, bars, dives, someone’s back yard, doesn’t matter – there’s an alchemy that happens when you put musicians together that when done well and good just can’t be matched by anything off the radio, CD or TV. Checking out new venues and helping support other bands is just gravy.

Went out to see one of my favorite bands, the night was over, and I’d had a great time – I’d also got a look at the venue and the clientele, thought it might be a good place for my band. Made my way over to who I thought was the owner and gave her my one and only business card – the lovely lady took it and promised to give it to the booking manager. That’s when the hot blonde at the bar started interrogating about my band – either she was the actual owner or she had a vested interest in the bar. Whatever the case, she was asking very pointed questions about my band and what we charge; when she didn’t hear what she wanted to hear, she started asking me about assurances:

“What if I book you and you don’t bring people? What if you don’t advertise the show? Am I still expected to pay you even if you play an empty house? And why should I have to pay your going rate if I’ve never heard of you? What if I don’t want to book a cheaper opening show, then another at your full rate? What if you can’t get your people to the opening show and I’m still on the hook for the second show?”

2 am on what was now a Sunday morning, and I’ve got who I think is the bar owner of a venue my crew is absolutely perfect for doing her level best to convince me I don’t ever want my band to grace her damn stage. She hadn’t seen the band or our website, hadn’t watched any of our videos or listened to our mp3’s – all I’d done was handed over our business card, and she was already low-balling me.

I know owning and running a bar is rough work; I know the profit margins are slim with not a lot of money left over to hire entertainment. I know a good band with a strong following on a Saturday night can mean the difference between making payroll and chaining up the front doors come Monday. I also know if the band plays for cheap, venues think we’re a cheap band – you get only as much respect as your fee dictates. Business people respect money – the more money you have or the more money you charge, the more respect you get. You also lose gigs, so it’s a god damn balancing act, that’s for sure. I’m willing to compromise, the band is willing to compromise, but if the bar is essentially trying to get something for nothing… ? Sorry. We’re not interested in your venue, after all.

I drove home in the wee hours of the morning pissed off, one sour-ass taste in my mouth after having a great time all night. If I’m going to go to these live shows with business cards in hand, I’m going to have to develop a thicker skin.

Na na na na… Na na na na… Hey hey hey… Good-Bye… 2012!

Bringing in the New Year Blowout poster

Good looking poster… wonder who designed that?

The plan was 2012 would end with an explosion of kick-booty rock and roll done right in front of a large crowd of raucous party hounds.

Unlike our last gig, I’d pulled out all the stops graphically, had two dozen flyers and a custom poster printed on photo-grade paper no less at the venue November 1st – the day after Halloween and the first official day of the quote-unquote Holiday Season: free food, prizes, cheap drinks and live, hella-loud classic rock on New Year’s Eve courtesy of the best band out of Terrell, Texas, the mighty East Texas Garage Band. Had the gig up on Facebook with invites sent out; had the event listed on the local news website; and had the show updated on Reverbnation.com.

Our fill-in drummer for the show was an old friend and former band mate of Dave’s, a nice guy named Randy, and Randy was/is simply amazing. He was great on Patrick’s kit, and then when he brought out his own rig, he kicked it up yet another notch. Basically, if he heard the song, he could play the song – just what the doctor ordered on such short notice. Drumming wasn’t going to be a problem.

The month off was a problem. As a vocalist, when I don’t rehearse I tend to forget or change the words – once I’ve got the melody down, though, it stays remembered. Not so with guitarists – not only do their heads have to remember the tune, their hands have to remember the tune, as well. If someone’s been burning the candle at both ends for a solid month, if someone’s been dealing with family/work drama for days and weeks with no reprieve on the horizon, they are going to end up with a disconnect between their memory and their motor reflexes. Both of our guitarists had been working their narrow tails off, both of our guitarists had been dealing with family issues – both our guitarists had some difficulty getting back into the swing of things once rehearsals started back up. By our last rehearsal before the show, songs were being dropped from the set list, lead vocals were being swapped out, and the band was struggling with certain tunes. No one was immune – as often as Paul or Gary were forgetting their solos, Dave and I were forgetting lyrics. The time off had not been our friend.

ETGB at Chasers Lounge NYE

Doing what we do best…

The last rehearsal, the band decided to try tuning down a half-step. Not every vocalist has Bruce Dickinson’s or Steve Perry’s range – tuning down just a half-step makes all the high notes easier to sing while the band doesn’t have to relearn those songs in a different key; and because it’s just a half-step, the melody sounds pretty much the same to the singer’s ear, so they don’t have to relearn the song. It does feel different when the vocalist sings the song, though – the singer is using different muscles and placing the note in a different place than what they were accustomed to. My brother’s band tunes down and I had sung with them before, so the half-step didn’t throw me – I actually embraced it. I could hit the high note on Tush without needing to go into my head voice, I could sing Fortunate Son without screaming out my voice, and I was still singing strong at the end of the night. Dave loved the change as well – his high harmonies on Take It Easy were stronger, he wasn’t screaming his voice out on Tush, and he still had something in the tank after The Cowboy Song.

Paul playing guitar

Paul, untethered and unleashed…

The guitarists, Paul and Gary, weren’t so lucky. While technically the song is the same, acoustically everything sounds just a wee bit different. One rehearsal over a week before the gig was not enough to instill the new melodies into memory: Paul and Gary would hit a chord, not hear what they were expecting, and their first instinct was that they were playing the chord wrong – when they went to correct, they’d slide out of tune. A couple of our best songs had issues.

The night of the show, the band starting getting emails, texts, and Facebook messages from friends and family members: “So sorry, can’t make it. Got to work/just got sick.” RSVP after RSVP started falling by the wayside. My six guarantees and two maybes never arrived. Most of Paul’s hardcore folks never arrived. My brother sent out a Facebook message to his band’s fans, directed them to my gig – none of them arrived. It was a Monday night, it was cold, it was wet, a lot of folks had the creeping crud, so a lot of folks decided staying home with the rugrats was the way to bring in the New Year. Even my lovely Lady Fair was down for the count – I made her stay home after she’d been home sick with the flu since Christmas night.

God bless Joe and Laurie – you two have no idea how much the band appreciates your continuous support.

The venue did have some regulars, and as I’d hoped more folks showed up after the 10 o’clock hour (why? No idea); the place never filled to capacity, though, and that disappointed me – I’d been looking forward to this gig for months. The best New Year’s Eve I ever spent was working as a DJ for a dance – just like my birthday, if given my druthers I’d pick performing with the band over attending a party or staying at home any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I was hoping for a huge crowd of shiny, happy people for our last show of the year – just didn’t happen that way.

As far as the last show of 2012 was concerned, I could’ve used another rehearsal – I stumbled over some lyrics we hadn’t performed in a while, and we were still just winging the new tune. Vocally, I’ve never sounded better – I had strangers hunt me down to specifically compliment my voice, both at my show and Kelly’s show a couple of nights before. I wasn’t singing this well in college. A couple of the songs were off to races rhythmically – to be expected when you’ve got a new drummer sitting in – and a couple of the songs went into wonky keys – also to be expected if you’re still unaccustomed to tuning down. Overall, a pretty decent show, nothing to be ashamed of.

While the first twelve months of this blog was officially over in November, I’m still counting this as the end of first year; and if you grade these last fifty-two weeks by the blog’s mission statement, I failed miserably. I ended the year with no weight lost and no instruments learned. If you grade the year by how I feel about how the process went, however, the year was a big success: I performed a capella, I fronted my brother’s band at the last minute, I sang two shows in one week, I drove hundreds of miles to do three shows in one month, and I auditioned for a national televised program. I’m singing my best ever, with still room for improvement, and I’m more confident than ever I can actually do this. I can become a Rock Star.

Good-Bye 2012. Hello 2013! Grand things on the horizon!