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May 1, 2015Bob Popyk - Member Local 78 (Syracuse, NY)
Over the past few columns I’ve talked about crazy, memorable, and terrible gigs. That’s life as a working musician. I appreciate all the letters, calls, and e-mails about out-of-the-ordinary playing jobs. They are too numerous to mention here, but I am retaining many of them for future columns.
Besides just mentioning a highlight or funny story of some careers, three AFM members sent me books they’ve written. They range from “riding the crest of a slump” to looking back on a wonderful career as a union musician.
Hank Doiron of Local 198-457 (Providence, RI) wrote a recap of his more than 70 years as a bass player/vocalist. In his book, Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey, he mentions the hundreds of local AFM buddies he worked with through the years. Doiron is a former secretary of his local, and has had an outstanding career. One of the more unique gigs he played was when he was asked to put together a Dixie trio of bass, banjo, and trumpet. He arrived to find they were playing for a wake and the deceased’s last request was to have live Dixie music play during his calling hours.
I received The Life and Times of a Honky Tonk Drummer (available on Amazon) from Troy “Skeet” Seaton of Local 71 (Memphis, TN). It’s his stories from 45 years as a drummer in a number of different bands throughout Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
One of his fun stories was about playing at a bar with a guy who didn’t drink. It was the guy’s first job with the band in a number of years, and Seaton had a tough time even getting him to play the gig. The band was on a break, and someone bought a whole tray of tequila shooters and sent them over to the band. Skeet told one of the guys at a table next to the band that they’d had enough, and that he could drink them all. He promptly grabbed them like they were diamonds and downed them all at once. The guy in the band who didn’t drink came over to see what was going on, and the tequila grabber promptly threw up all over the nondrinking musician’s new cowboy boots. Skeet said all he could say was “welcome to the band.”
Then there was Local 1000 (nongeographic) member Jamie Anderson’s Drive All Night. The liner notes say it’s “in the tradition of the second oldest profession.” She’s been a traveling singer, comic, songwriter, musician, and a few more things beyond that. These are her recollections of grungy lodging, shady producers, half-deaf sound engineers, and miles of highway weariness. She has a very unique niche, and you’ll have to get her book on Amazon to really get a good take on her adventures as a girl with a guitar. She’s opened for major and minor acts, closed a church coffeehouse by uttering names of female parts, and danced with a tornado.
The book is a delightful mix of horror road stories on the touring circuit for her unique audience. It’s very funny in parts, and will make you feel your worst gigs were nothing compared to what she went through—no matter where you played. Her life has always been gigging, writing, networking, recording, and laughing. It’s a not-so-glamorous look at her daily grind.
Once, after slogging through a too-long sound check at a gig in Baltimore, a sound guy groused, “You’ve just never worked with such great equipment before.” She was tempted to answer, “It sounds like you’ve never seen sound equipment before.” Nothing she could do would convince him that her guitar does not usually scream like a jet at O’Hare, and her voice shouldn’t sound like something from an ancient boom box. She says you learn to live with it.
Once she had to sit on the edge of a stage in a huge theater, singing without amplification because no one knew how to adjust the computerized sound system. There was a date in Ohio where the sound equipment was locked in a cabinet for which no one had the key. She still did the gig, but only the folks in the first few rows could really hear her. She still got paid.
You learn to deal with these times, because you know the next gig will be better. Anderson writes in her book: “As long as somebody wants to hear me, I’m there. I’m especially interested in any gig in Hawaii, but Burnt Corn, Alabama, will work too.” She goes on to say, “There is nothing more satisfying than hearing applause when you’ve done a good job.” (It’s really nice when you get well over scale too.) Anderson also says she could never be an accountant because “no one claps when you balance the books.” Amen to that.
Tough gigs are a fact of life. It’s part of what we do. You learn from it. That next gig could be the best one you’ve ever had!