Tag Archives: working musician

William Bell: Longtime Soul Man Creates New Legacy For Young Musicians

With a career spanning more than 50 years in the recording industry, Local 148-462 (Atlanta, GA) member William Bell received his first Grammy this year in the category Best Americana Album. The honor was fitting for This Is Where I Live, a retrospective album that also marks Bell’s return to Stax Records, where he began his career all those years earlier.

william bellWho knows what would have become of the Memphis native if not for the music emanating from 926 East McLemore Avenue. “Jim [Stewart] and Estelle [Axton] established Stax Records right in the heart of the deprived neighborhood we lived in,” explains Bell. “It kept us out of trouble. We went to the record shop and listened to songs. All the neighborhood kids had an outlet there.”

Aside from the music they heard hanging out at the record shop, he and friends like David Porter and Isaac Hayes, listened to disc jockey Rufus Thomas who worked for WDIA, the only black radio station at the time. “We heard everything on the radio—country and western, blues, and rhythm and blues. It was just an extension of our lives,” he says. “Music was everywhere—on the radio, in the clubs, and on the street corners.”

William Bell began singing in church, but by age 16 he’d moved on to singing “secular” music and won a Mid-South Talent contest and a trip to Chicago to perform with the Red Saunders Band. Upon return to Memphis, he spent the next five years working with and learning from the Phineas Newborn Orchestra.

Bell wrote his first hit song, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” in a New York City hotel room during a tour with the band. “We had a night off and it was raining. I’m sitting in the hotel room and missing the girl back home. This song just came to me,” he says. He recorded it with Stax, and even though it was the B side of the record, it ended up being one of the record company’s first hits.

Bell says many of his songs come from a personal place, while others are inspired by the people around him. “I’m a people watcher. I’ll go to a party and sit in the corner and watch the human factor take over. I write about life and things I think people can relate to. Other times I just come up with an idea and construct a song.”

That’s what happened when he wrote “Born Under a Bad Sign” with Booker T. Jones of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA). “It was back in the ’60s when everyone was talking about zodiac signs. I’d finished a bass line, one verse, and a chorus. I was at the studio doing an Albert King session. He didn’t have enough material. I sang it for him and he just fell in love with it, so Booker and I finished
it overnight.”

“We knew that we had something special. But we didn’t know it would become so iconic,” says Bell. One of the most covered blues tunes of all time, Bell wasn’t too keen on recording it for This Is Where I Live when producer John Leventhal of Local 802 (New York City) first suggested it.

Leventhal said he wanted to do a stripped down version, very “back porch-ish.” When Leventhal presented him with a track, the first thing Bell noticed was that the iconic bass line was gone. But after living with it a couple days, he found himself humming along. “The more I listened to it, the more I came to like it,” he says. “We captured it on the first take, so I guess it was meant to be.”

Such open-mindedness has been key to surviving in an industry that has seen tremendous change over Bell’s career. “Technology has changed the playing field. When you record something it’s for the world. You put it on the Internet and everybody hears it at once. You have to really do your homework and create a great product,” he says.

“Years ago, we went into the studio with eight or 10 people and created. That instilled discipline because you had to get it right the first time. Now you can keep going over a part until you get it just like you want it, but it’s a little sterile,” he says. “I’m still from the old school. I like the bodies in the studio so we can feed off each other.”

Bell says the union has helped him tremendously throughout his career. “And they are still fighting,” he says. “Technology has created some new problems for us to get paid. And the new generation thinks it should all be free. But creators have to make a living. We need that body to speak for us. The union kind of levels the playing field a little bit.”

Coming back to the Stax label brought back memories from the early days of Bell’s career. Somewhat of an oasis in the 1960s, Bell recalls that race and gender didn’t enter into the mix at Stax. “We accepted a person for what they could bring to the table in terms of creativity and musicianship,” he says.

Touring with Stax Revues in the early ’60s, the interracial tour was unusual. “We were like 50/50 with the band and the artists,” says Bell. “We caught a lot of flack, but we tore down a lot of barriers because we were a tight-knit organization. If we stopped somewhere to have lunch and they would not accept blacks in the restaurant, none of us went in.”

“We would go to little towns where it was horrible to even stop for gas,” he says. “We set our parameters. Some cities wanted to have two performances for blacks and whites and we insisted on one performance for everybody. They would put the blacks upstairs and whites downstairs, but at least they were all in the same building.”

The 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis brought the racial unrest from the rest of the country to the forefront. Behind the walls of Stax the music continued under the shadow of grief.

“Sadness hovered over the studio, over the city. We had also just lost Otis Redding [in a plane crash],” Bell recalls. “Outside of the studio the whole atmosphere had changed. It was a bad scene for a while in Memphis. There was burning and looting and practically every building in the neighborhood was touched except for Stax. They had a reverence for us. We would walk the white participants out to their cars and say, ‘Hey guys, they are a part of us.’ They would back off.”

Other things had begun to change at Stax. Longtime distributor Atlantic Records had been sold to Warner Bros. in 1967. When Stewart was unable to reach a distribution deal with Warner Bros., the company refused to return Stax’s master tapes.

When Estelle Axton left in 1969, new vice president Al Bell began rebuilding the catalog, recording 30 singles and 27 albums in eight months. Though it was a period of some success, the atmosphere had changed. “Our tight-knit family became a corporate structure,” recalls William Bell. “Some of the musicians were unhappy. Booker moved to L.A. and I moved to Atlanta.”

“But that’s not why it went under,” he continues. “It was systematically put out of business. It was one of the largest black-owned corporate structures; the year before it filed for bankruptcy it cleared more than $20 million in sales.” The company’s cash flow was affected by its inability to distribute the hit records it was recording, then the minute the company couldn’t pay its debts it was foreclosed upon. The unpaid debt totaled just $1,900 when the bank took everything in December 1975 and escorted the owners out at gunpoint.

“A lot of us artists hung in there until the very last, in lieu of getting our royalties. We wanted Stax to pull out of that downward spiral. Some artists lost homes and cars when it folded. Thank goodness I was in the creative end of it as well, so I could still write and produce for other labels,” says Bell who was so disenchanted with the music industry that he took up acting.

Bell never thought he would record for Stax again. But when Concord Records bought the label in 2004, it began reissuing the classics, as well as creating new records with Stax artists.

Despite the building being torn down in 1989, 926 East McLemore Avenue also saw a rebirth thanks to Bell and other former Stax musicians. “It was a vacant lot with beer bottles thrown about,” he says. “It was heartbreaking after we had spent 14 years, almost 24 hours a day, on that corner.” They just hoped to erect a monument, but once they got the ball rolling through fundraising concerts, community leaders and philanthropists also stepped in and together they formed the Soulsville Foundation.

They unearthed the original blueprints for the building and erected an exact replica, founding the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in 2003. Later they created the Stax Music Academy and Soulsville Charter School, which together cover a whole city block. The current generation of talented Memphis children now has a place to go to learn a craft just as Bell had in his youth.

Bell’s dedication to the next generation doesn’t end there. He is politically active, lobbying for music education through Grammys on the Hill.

He, along with a number of other Memphis artists, including Bobby Rush, Mavis Staples, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ben Cauley, and Charlie Musselwhite, shared their music legacy through the Take Me to the River film, tour, and an educational curriculum developed through Berklee College of Music. The 2014 documentary (available on Netflix) brought together iconic Memphis musicians, popular young musicians, and students to create music.

“We are working with a lot of organizations promoting and preserving the legacy and teaching the origin of the music. Kids have gotten into sampling so much. We are trying to teach them how to create their own sound,” says Bell, who continues to tour with Take Me to the River. “Teach kids the ground roots of the development of the music, and not only from the ’60s, but all the way back so they can get a good foundation. Once the get a good foundation, they can survive in it.”

Of the proceeds from the film, 75% goes to the Soulsville Foundation and organizations that support musician well-being.

Bell says they are now working on Take Me to the River Part 2 with New Orleans’ musicians. He is also active with the Notes for Notes, which gives kids access to instruments, recording studios, and mentors/educators to teach them about the music business.

Peter Cho

Peter Cho: Educating and Organizing in the Big Easy

Peter Cho

Peter Cho of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) is a pianist, educator, and union board member whose work runs the gamut, from advocacy for all musicians to mentoring a younger generation of music students.

At the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, where Peter Cho of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA) has taught for the last 20 years, he says, “We make sure music students are well-rounded. Part of that is making sure they understand their capacity for other things. If you’ve got an analytical mind, explore music composition or the music business, maybe as a booking agent or a talent buyer. It’s a holistic approach to education.” An educator and jazz pianist, Cho is the executive dean of Delgado Community College’s West Bank Campus.

For a much sought-after pianist, Cho admits he had a rather inauspicious start, learning piano as a kid—and hating it, he claims—because it required too much discipline. In high school in Auburn, Alabama, he played the clarinet in the jazz band and participated in music festivals around country.

Before he knew it, the kid who was heading to Auburn University for pre-med was getting scholarship offers for music. Cho says he owes his sudden change of heart to his father, a professor of veterinary medicine, who said, “I don’t want you to be an old man, wondering, ‘what if?’” Cho ended up at Loyola University on a scholarship as a jazz studies major. 

In New Orleans, he began playing gigs immediately. Cho would take the streetcar downtown to the Maison Bourbon, where he’d met an old piano player by the name of Ed Frank. Cho says “I’d hang out with him every day. He was my unofficial teacher and mentor.” By the time he was 19, Cho was playing piano professionally.

The cultural economy is the life force of New Orleans rooted in older musicians passing the mantle on to younger musicians. Like elder statesmen of the Marsalis and Batiste families, Cho sees his job as an extension of this, training younger generations of musicians. He says, “As a community we are doing what we need to do to make sure that engine of creativity continues.”

As a dean and a musician Cho has found what’s meaningful. “You understand how you fit into your community, how what you do matters to others,” he says. The college enlists musicians from the community, many of whom are retired, to teach classes and provide students with real-world ensemble experience. “They want to give back. Professional musicians are mentoring. It’s the internal program linking students to the actual music scene.”

Early on, Cho (who went on to earn a Ph.D. in Education Administration from the University of New Orleans), studied with Michael Pellara. He’s responsible for many of the city’s best musicians, including the younger Jon Batiste of Local 802 (New York City), who also came out of the Armstrong camp and is now the musical director of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Pianist Barry Doyle Harris of Local 802 served as an inspiration for Cho. Nearly every night, since 1990, the 48-year-old Cho has performed with James Rivers and his band, The James Rivers Movement, which has been a fixture in the city for nearly 50 years. He is also a pianist for the Victory Swing Orchestra of the WWII Museum. 

On stage, he’s performed with Willie Singleton of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), Jimmy Heath of Local 802, and Johnny Vidacovich, George Porter, and Delfeayo Marsalis, all of Local 174-496, to name only a few.

An executive board member of Local 174-496 since 2006, post Katrina, Cho knows firsthand the permanent shadow the storm cast over the city, where once-robust music neighborhoods have been forever altered. When Katrina struck, the natural musical traditions of individual areas were uprooted. “A lot of musical families were displaced. Musicians came back, but they weren’t able to settle in old neighborhoods. The actual engine that created this musical tradition and culture has been disrupted,” Cho explains.

Musician friends of Cho’s, who were forced to relocate, say one positive effect of displacement is that there now exists a fairly thriving New Orleans style jazz music scene in other cities, like Houston and Atlanta. He says, “These cities are seeing an influx or growing New Orleans musical and cultural heritage.”

The loss of neighborhoods and the corner clubs after Katrina created unexpected opportunities for musicians. But Cho says, “There are districts where a lot of musicians are willing to play for the door or tips, and aren’t necessarily compensated as professionals. The local has been trying to fight for musician’s rights, trying to organize and give all musicians a roadmap.” He’s encouraged, noting, “I’m seeing a lot of attitudes of nonunion musicians change; if we’re willing to undercut each other, everybody loses.”

“Right to work” laws obviously obstruct the aims of the local union, but with the present board and Deacon John Moore at the helm, Cho sees more solidarity among all musicians, union and nonunion alike. Moore’s efforts, in fact, have greatly improved working conditions for musicians.

“Once nonmembers understand the advocacy and how we as musicians fit into the cultural economy and how we, as raw materials of this economy, have more power. If musicians boycotted playing any type of music for one day, the ramifications would be tremendous,” he says.

“That’s how you mobilize and show what type of clout you have. It gives you more leverage and you’re better able to go to club owners and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to take these conditions anymore.’” In addition to highlighting the benefits of a pension, the local advocates financial literacy. Cho says, “One of the things we tell musicians is: pay yourself first, you’re worth it. And you’ll have something to fall back on.”

Further Your Career

What Words Helped Further Your Career?

We’re AFM members, and we are musicians helping musicians. When I got my start, teacher, mentor, friend, and AFM member Frank Mucedola’s words made a big impact on my life. Mucedola played on tour with the Mantovani Orchestra. I remember him saying to me: “When the parade passes, you’ve got to march.” You need to keep up with the times or get passed by. I think of those words quite often.

I don’t know about you, but there’s a bunch of quotes that I like to keep in mind. Sometimes they provide a motivational thought for the day. Here are a few:

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
—Walt Disney

“I wanted to create music that was so different that my mother could tell me from anyone else.”
—Les Paul

“One good thing about music:
when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
—Bob Marley

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art.”
—Charlie Parker

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words
and that which cannot remain silent.”
—Victor Hugo

“I still believe you reap what you sow on tour. If you are touring you are really planting personal seeds in fans.”

—Katy Perry

“The beautiful thing about learning is that
nobody can take it away from you.”
—B.B. King

“It’s taken me all my life to learn what not to play.”
—Dizzy Gillespie

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.”
—Robert Schumann 

“The wise musicians are those who play
what they can master.”

—Duke Ellington

“Music does bring people together. It allows us to
experience the same emotions. People everywhere are
the same in heart and spirit. No matter what language
we speak, what color we are, the form of our politics, or the expression of our love and our faith, music proves:
We are the same.”

—John Denver

“Hack away at the inessentials.”
—Bruce Lee

“Motivation gets you going and habit gets you there.”
—Zig Ziglar

“Wanting to be someone else is
a waste of the person you are.”
—Kurt Cobain

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a
musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams
in music. I see my life in terms of music.”
—Albert Einstein

“I mean, give me a guitar, give me a piano, give me a broom, and string, I wouldn’t get bored anywhere.”
—Keith Richard

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.”
—Bob Dylan

“Your talent determines what you can do.
Your motivation determines how much you are willing
to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.”
—Lou Holtz

All singers are method acting … The art of art is to be as real as you can within this artificial situation.
—Joni Mitchell

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
—Wayne Gretzky

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
—Leonard Bernstein

“Even if you’re on the right track,
you’ll get run over if you just stand there.”
—Mark Twain

“Everything comes to those who wait,
but only what’s left over by those who hustle.”
—Abe Lincoln

“The big win is when you refuse
to settle for average or mediocre.”
—Seth Godin

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
—Karen Lamb

“And, in the end, the love you take
is equal to the love you make.”

—Paul McCartney

“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you got.”
— Janis Joplin

“Whether you think you can, or whether
you think you can’t, you’re absolutely right.”


Do you have a few quotes that helped further your career and your life? If you’d like to e-mail them to me at RPopyk@aol.com, I’ll share them with our members.

Sometimes it just takes a few words to turn your career, your life, or maybe just your day around. Over the years, a lot of the best motivational words came from AFM members. Again, we’re musicians helping musicians. Those few great thoughts and words can last a lifetime.

Canadian Entry

Stress-Free Canadian Entry

My band, based in Houston, Texas, is booked to perform at a number of Canadian venues in early October. It’s our first time and we have been told that there are certain requirements for getting into the country, and we’re not sure what to expect. Can you help?

Some of us remember the “good old days” when all you needed to cross the border into Canada was a driver’s license and a birth certificate. Since 2009 this is no longer possible. Now, if you are traveling by air you need a US passport (or a NEXUS card) to enter Canada and you will need the same to get back into the US. If you are driving or coming by boat, you will need a US passport, passport card, or an enhanced driver’s license (available in Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Washington).

If you are a lawful permanent resident of the US, your Green Card will allow you to cross the border both ways, regardless of your mode of transportation. Canada requires a visa for holders of passports from certain countries. Check the Canada Government website: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/visas.asp, if you are unsure about your band members. Getting a visa online can take well over a month. Start the process early. Check to see if any members of your group require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) as well: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/visit/eta.asp.

Savvy border crossers traveling by car know that it is faster to cross at certain border crossings. Times can also vary depending upon the traffic flow and volume, time of day, and time of year. Check wait times in advance at: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/bwt-taf/menu-eng.html.

In order to avoid any complications while crossing borders with musical instruments, there are two options available: the ATA Carnet (http://www.atacarnet.com) or an inventory list. The list should include item descriptions; serial numbers; costs, dates, and places of purchase; and current resale values. Be sure to take this list into the border office of your home country and have it stamped by a border official. The border official will examine the instruments to verify the list, so it is best if the instruments are clearly marked with owner/group name (if applicable) and perhaps numbered to correspond with the list. You should also declare any CDs or
merch you are bringing into the country.

Having the required documents does not guarantee admission into Canada. All visitors to Canada have to also undergo an interview with a Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officer upon arrival to determine admissibility into the country. Be sure to have your passport or other documentation, including vehicle ownership and performance contracts, ready for inspection. Remove any sunglasses, and look the agent in the eye when answering. This is not the time for jokes or unseemly behavior. You want to impress upon the border officer that you are law-abiding and respectful of authority.

For most foreign artists, entry into Canada is relatively easy. A work permit is not required in most cases. Crossing the border can be as simple as answering a few questions about the purpose of your trip, where you are going, and what you will be doing there. To avoid delay, be prepared with simple straightforward answers to the questions the officer might ask, and voilà—welcome to Canada.

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: robert@bairdartists.com. While I cannot answer every question I receive in this column, I will feature as many as I can and I promise to answer each and every e-mail I receive.

You are what you believe

You Are the Prophet of Your Own Destiny

Every once in a while I hear someone complain about how bad things are. We all have bad days, sometimes bad weeks. Maybe the gigs aren’t coming in as fast as you want. Maybe your calendar is full, but the gigs suck. Maybe you feel your career should be at a higher level, but you’re still stuck playing for just over scale at a place that doesn’t appreciate you. If you believe it, it must be so.

C’mon, lighten up. You could be a Walmart greeter or be doing telemarketing from a Third World country. Success or a decent break could just be a couple of choruses away.

When you think you’re stuck in a rut and serving a sentence of playing at senior homes and performing scale work at one of the local saloons, you never know who’s going to hear you and help take you or your group to a higher level. You have to be on top of your game, if you have any aspirations of getting to a higher level.

Don’t make the mistake of playing less than your best, just because a gig is the pits. If you believe you’re going nowhere, who’s to argue with you? You are the prophet of your own destiny.

How many times have these negative words and weasel phrases come out of your mouth:

“Nobody wants to hire live music

“You can’t make a living playing music in this town.”

“I’ll quit before I have to pay-to-play.”

“We’re lucky to get scale.”

“I hate playing this crap.”

“Nobody wants to hear good music anymore.”

“Clubs can’t pay musicians what they’re worth.”

If this is starting to sound familiar, you have two options:

1) Quit

2) Do something about it

If quitting is your option, that’s your prerogative. If you’d rather do something about it, then just don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. Forget the self-pity, the negativity, and the whining. Get yourself a better website, a decent updated demo video, and a quality promotional package that you can post online.

Take your social media skills to another level. Start using the phone for a little outbound telemarketing and ask for referrals. Ask yourself how bad you want more or better work? What are you willing to give up for it? Nothing comes easy. You get what you give. Are you willing to play more cover songs, if you like just doing originals? Are you willing to travel a little more, or even move if it’s necessary? Are you networking with other people in your local? Have you done a recent recording that shows your best talents? Do you have a separate brochure just for corporate work? Have you made friends with the media? Are you getting PR from them regularly? Do the guys that do morning drive on your local radio stations know you, mention you once in a while, or even play your stuff? Do you add to your e-mail list regularly? Do you occasionally send out mailings by snail-mail?

What can you do this week to get you more work or better work next week? Do a little soul-searching. Are you using the Musicians Performance Trust Fund to your best advantage so you can get exposure and become a public service to your community as well? Are your chops as good as they can be? Do you run circles around most of the other musicians in your area, or could you stand a little woodshedding to polish up your talent? Is your library of tunes current, or do you rely on what you’ve already got in the can?

You are what you believe. Attitude is important. Keep trying something new until success starts to smack you in the face. Above all, don’t complain. If you think you’re going backwards, you are. You’re an AFM member, a professional musician, and you have the inside track. Maybe it’s time to reshuffle and expand your horizons beyond the next block. Remember, if you do what you’ve always done, nothing’s going to change. How badly do you want better work? Do you want to take your career to the next level badly enough to actually do something about it right away?

You are what you believe. Those big breaks don’t just come out of nowhere. You have to make them happen.

US Visa

Planning for a Successful US Visa

Getting a work permit (O or P visa) for the US as a foreign artist (or nonresident alien) requires a lot of advance planning and thoughtful consideration of the time required for the many steps involved, including the possibility of unavoidable delays.

It’s an unfortunate circumstance that artists are often unable to enter the US to perform because they simply run out of time for the visa process. Here are some suggestions:

First, an artist should start the process as soon as possible. Even beginning a year in advance of a proposed performance date or start date in the US is not too soon. Even if contracts have not yet been signed, you can apply for a nonimmigrant work permit (O or P visa) with deal memos, emails, or letters of intent, as long as they confirm that there are performance date(s). Of course, a foreign artist cannot apply for a non-immigrant work permit but needs to appoint a petitioner (a US-based individual or entity). Gathering this evidence and appointing a petitioner takes time.

Next, the required petition materials must be gathered and prepared to form part of the petition. These materials include passport photo pages from everyone who will be performing (passports need to be valid for six months beyond the proposed US dates), personal information, reviews, programs, biographies, letters of recommendation, lists of awards, a tour itinerary, etc. Although for the P-2 permit specifically, which for musical artists can only be obtained through the AFM, evidence of reviews, biographies, and other accomplishments are not required. It may take some time to gather this information, so start early.

Once completed, a formal petition is submitted to the USCIS office in either Vermont or California for regular or premium processing. Regular processing is less expensive than premium, but currently can take up to four months for an approval; in the case of a P-2 visa, these petitions have been taking 100 calendar days from the date of submission to the AFM. Premium Processing costs more, but USCIS guarantees a response in 15 days. However, even with premium processing, you must apply for the petition at least 25 days before entry to the US to ensure your Approval Notice will arrive in time. There is no guarantee of approval with either processing. At times, USCIS will require further evidence and this can cause unexpected delay in the process. All submitted petitions are issued a receipt number from USCIS, identifying the application.

Eventually, an approved petition will result in receipt of an I-797 form. USCIS will also send a copy of the petition to the Kentucky Consular Center for download to the Petitioner Information Management Service (PIMS). This can take a few days.

Canadian citizens, including Canadian members of the AFM, who are able to apply for P-2 visas, do not need to go to a consular interview, but can go directly to the Canada-US border with an approved I-797.

For non-Canadian citizens, once you have an approved I-797 in hand, you can schedule an appointment at your closest US Consulate. (Wait times for an interview vary from two to 40 days or more.) Go online to complete the required DS-160 Visa Application form, pay the required visa fee, and then arrive at the consulate for an interview with your DS-160 barcode page, proof of payment, and required photos. Once you have been approved for the visa, the consulate, will retain your passport, process the visa document (times vary from consulate to consulate), and make arrangements for these documents to get back to you.

Only after completing these steps are you able to go to the US with documents in hand and speak with a border official, at whose sole discretion you will be allowed into the country.

Take the time to determine the best timetable for getting through the process and ensuring that you will be able to be in the US for your performances.

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: robert@bairdartists.com.

Canadian Letter of Invitation and Border Considerations

My company is hosting an event in Whistler, B.C., and will be employing an American band as entertainment for the event. I understand that they will need a Letter of Invitation, but does the band need to show a contract for performance at customs? Do you see any other issues with them crossing?

Any border crossing is fraught with several “issues.” In order to facilitate the border crossing of an American band into Canada, the following issues should be considered:

  • Obviously, a passport or other acceptable form of travel document will be required at the border.
  • A Letter of Invitation from the employer in Canada is required because the band members will be considered as business visitors. The letter must include information about the person(s) being invited including full names, dates of birth (if known), purpose of the trip, and length of time in Canada. The Letter of Invitation should be on organizational letterhead and include a brief description of the event, as well as the employer, and be signed by a responsible person in the organization. If group members are not arriving together, everyone in the group should have a copy of the Letter of Invitation.
  • In addition to the Letter of Invitation, an American group coming into Canada should have with them a copy of their performance contract.
  • At the border, the group members will normally be asked the purpose of their trip, how long they will be in Canada, where they will be staying, what they do for a living, and if they have anything to declare. They may have to confirm that they will be returning to the US (showing a return flight reservation, for example).
  • If the group is bringing in equipment into the country, then they should, at the very least, have an itemized inventory of the gear. Also, get the list stamped at US Customs before entering Canada, so that when the group returns to the US, there will be no problems bringing the equipment back into the country.
  • If the group is bringing in CDs or other promotional items, they need to be declared at the border and properly labeled with country of manufacture. Having a copy of the manufacturing invoice is recommended. Customs duties may apply, based on the manufacturing price, not on the sale price. If the items are for promotional purposes they should be labeled: “For Promotion ONLY; Not for Sale.”
  • If anyone in the group has a criminal record (felony or misdemeanor), including past driving under the influence (DUI) violations, this may impede entry. If it has been less than five years since a charge or conviction, persons will be deemed “criminally inadmissible” to Canada and a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) is required, instead of a work permit. If five years have passed, the person may apply for “Individual Rehabilitation.” However, individuals from visa-exempt countries (e.g., the US) who have a single misdemeanor offense for which they were not sentenced to imprisonment, may be issued a TRP at the Canadian port of entry at the discretion of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). For more details about entering Canada with a criminal record visit: www.cfmusicians.org/services/work-permits.
  • A final consideration is the fact that there is a regulatory 15% withholding on fees to foreign artists in Canada. To avoid this withholding, artists can apply for an R-105 waiver at least 45 days before the performance date.

We welcome foreign artists in Canada and hope their border crossings are made easier by dealing with these considerations.

I welcome your questions and concerns. Please write to me at: robert@bairdartists.com.

Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease Diagnosis and Precautions

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Lyme disease is the fastest growing vector-borne infectious disease in the US. The number of cases has increased 25-fold since national surveillance began in 1982, now infecting some 300,000 people a year.

The disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick and the Western blacklegged tick whose range is spreading north. The most recent surveys by CDC biologists show that they are found in more than 45% of US counties, compared to only 30% in 1998.

Once only in Ontario, Canada, Lyme-carrying ticks are now found in almost all the Canadian provinces. The Public Health Agency reported 500 cases of Lyme disease in 2014 and 700 in 2015.


Chronic Lyme disease patients may face a long hard fight to recovery, but first it’s a battle to get the correct diagnosis. Songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson of Local 257 (Nashville, TN) faced a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, before he was tested and diagnosed with Lyme disease, according to recent interviews with his wife, Lisa. After many years of suffering with painful fibromyalgia, memory loss, and depression, he began aggressive treatment for Lyme disease and his health improved. Luckily, Lisa was an intuitive advocate who recognized that, cognitively, something did not add up.

The unfortunate reality is that Lyme disease often goes undiagnosed because doctors are not looking for it. Patients and physicians rely on telltale signs: a tick on the skin, the bull’s eye rash (Erythema Migrans (EM) rash), and joint pain. But research shows only 50%-60% of patients recall a tick bite, and the rash is reported in only 35%-60% of patients. Joint swelling typically occurs in only 20%-30%
of patients, and is easily masked by the prevalent use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.

Adding to the problem, people who have Lyme disease can test negative until their body builds up antibodies. Other patients can test false positive due to autoimmune disorders. The CDC recommends a two-tier testing process.

When Lyme disease is misdiagnosed during the early stages, it progresses to a chronic form that’s even more difficult to diagnose and treat. Symptoms can be debilitating, including severe fatigue, anxiety, headaches, and joint pain that mimic other conditions. Meanwhile, the disease causes complications involving the heart, nervous system, muscles, and joints. Patients may suffer through a complicated maze of specialists in search of appropriate treatment.


If you live in an endemic area for Lyme disease and suspect you may have been infected, prophylactic treatment for at least three weeks is advised. Early treatment will prevent the body from mounting an antibody response, and subsequent testing for Lyme will be negative.

Antibiotic choice presents another host of problems. Doxycycline also treats other tick-borne pathogens, including Q Fever, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. However, the parasites may carry bacteria not responsive to doxycycline. One side-effects are sun sensitivity and stomach problems. The typical 100mg twice daily dose may not reach therapeutic levels. Amoxicillin and Cefuroxime are better tolerated, but do not cover as wide a spectrum of infections.

Prevention and Precautions

Avoid tick-infested areas, especially in spring and early summer when nymph ticks feed. Adult ticks are more of a threat in fall. Ticks favor moist, shaded environments, especially leafy wooded areas and overgrown grassy habitats.

• Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks more easily.

• Walk in the middle of designated trails.

• Wear closed-toed shoes.

• Avoid low-lying brush or long grass.

• Tuck pant legs into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up your legs.

• Use insect repellents containing  DEET or Icaridin on skin and clothing.

• Check clothing for ticks often, then shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks.

While tick transmission is most common, new studies indicate that there may be other ways to contract Lyme, including blood transfusions or mosquito bites.

For a symptoms checklist go to:

Playing It Safe: The Importance of Documents

Q: My performing group had a gig in the United States and we thought we were prepared. We knew our work permit was in order; none of us had criminal records; we weren’t carrying any merchandise; we arrived at the border early; we all had passports; and our car insurance was current. But we still had trouble getting across the border. Apparently our visa approval had gotten lost in the system and the border officials could find no record of it. We had no paperwork with us and had to wait at the border until a colleague brought a copy of our I-797. We’ll always carry our paperwork from now on.

It’s always a good idea to carry your paperwork with you, especially when it comes to border crossings. You need an approved work visa to perform in the US. Although the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) uses Petition Information Management Service (PIMS) to inform a port of entry or pre-flight inspection facility of all approved visas, there can be errors and omissions. It’s always up to the border official to allow entry. Having your paperwork with you is imperative.

If you are applying for a visa at a consulate and your approved visa is not in the PIMS system, there will be a delay until it is. Having your approved I-797 with you can expedite the process. You might also consider having your complete visa application package with you, since it contains a complete itinerary and copies of contracts, as well as passport copies and beneficiary information.

Although the temporary work permit is perhaps the most important piece of paper to carry with you, there are other essential documents that will help facilitate border crossings. Obviously, your passport (or equivalent identification) is a must.

If you are bringing instruments or equipment with you, you should have an original purchase receipt for each item crossing the border, or at the very least, an inventory listing with particulars such as a description, serial numbers, purchase date, etc. Border officials need to know where and when you acquired an item or they may consider that you acquired it when travelling. It would then be subject to border crossing purchase restrictions and possibly duty and taxes.

If you are travelling with an instrument that contains any of the protected species listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), such as ivory, sea turtle shell, Brazilian rosewood, monitor lizard, or whale bone, you will need a CITES permit to get the instrument across the border. Without such a permit, you may have your instrument confiscated.

If you are travelling by air, have a copy of your particular airline’s musical instrument policy: www.airlines.org/blog/instrument-rated-air-travel-for-musicians/. Also bring a copy of the Federal Department of Transportation musical instrument rule: www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/Musical%20instruments_FR_final%20rule.pdf.

Other important documents to have with you are proof of vehicle ownership, proof of accommodation, receipt for a return ticket (if travelling by air), conference registration or letter of invitation, and written permission from the guardians or parents, if travelling with a child under 18.

Border officials need to be assured you are entering the country temporarily, that you will be returning to your own country, and that you are not engaged in any activities which might violate the law.

Play it safe by carrying essential documents with you that will ease your border crossings.

—I welcome your questions and concerns. Please send an email to: robert@bairdartists.com.

Federal Arts Connection

Federal Arts Connection: June 2016

This month’s Federal Arts Connection focuses on agency websites with leads for employment opportunities in the federal government. Jobs USA is the federal government’s primary employment announcement site and hosts civilian opportunities in the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Department of the Navy, the Endowments, the Veterans Administration, as well as federal performance facilities funded and managed by the US Department of the Interior. Agencies across the country are looking for music teachers and arts counselors for military base community family recreational programs and music therapists, to name just a few opportunities. Other jobs requiring a specialty in music also exist. Find out how to book yourself or your ensemble In the National Parks, for example. Military music programs not only need instrumentalists, vocalists, conductors, composers, and arrangers from every genre of music, but these units also have positions for audio-recording technicians and other workers whose skills are specific to keeping professional music units operational. All military band jobs require military enlistment and military service. More federal programs will be featured in the July International Musician. If you know of other performance or job opportunities through in federal facilities, drop me a line and we will feature it in this column. If you have photos of you or your ensemble performing at any of these federal facilities, send them to apollard@afm.org. We’ll get them posted.


Jobs USA
(Search music in US Location)

US Department of the Interior
(Search music. There are many of performance opportunities at venues in national parks.)

Carter Barron Amphitheater—Washington, DC

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

(Administrative employment 0pportunities)

Wolf Trap Foundation/Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
Administrative employment opportunities.)

National Endowment for the Arts
(Administrative employment opportunities.)


United States Army Bands

West Point Academy Band

United States Navy Bands

United States Naval Academy Band

United States Air Force Bands

United States Air Force Academy Band

United States Marine Band

United States Coast Guard Bands

United States Coast Guard Academy Band

MILITARY TALENT SHOWS (For enlisted personnel only)

US Army “Soldier Show”

US Air Force “Tops in Blue”

US Marines “Marines Got Talent” 29 Palms