.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
SBC Yahoo Internet Access Provider

Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

My Photo
Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

26 December 2007

Bass Player for Hire

Friday, 21 December 2007
It’s been a long time since I wrote a blog.
Can’t count the tears of a life with no blog


All Zeppelin bastardizations aside, though, I haven’t written one of these since June of this year. The reason for this is simple: I haven’t actually done anything notably entertaining since then. As the sole purpose of the existence of this blog is to recount the entertaining moments of my musical life for your viewing pleasure, there was really no reason to waste the time or the space for the events of the last six months.

I’ve really just lead my normal, boring life; eat too much, sleep too much, work too much, spend not nearly enough time with my painfully beautiful girlfriend. Even my pursuit of personal musical growth has been severely limited. While I have spent a moderate amount of time with my cello this year and a small amount with my guitar and my keyboards, I did not actually even touch my bass from the first week of June to sometime in early December. After the last gig with Just Mr., I put it in the case and there it stayed. I have done this often over the years, but rarely for this long. I just had no overwhelming desire to play it.

That’s not to say I have been musically dormant. On the contrary, I feel I have accomplished much. My cello playing has grown nicely, I’ve written loads of stuff for my various original music projects, and I’ve completed string arrangements of Antonio Soler’s Keyboard Sonatas #1-7, the first five of which are already available on my website as free PDF downloads.

I have not been slacking, I assure you.

I did start to hear some rumblings a few months ago about some trouble within the ranks of BenWahBob. Their new bass player (well, not really new anymore) Chris Ashley and I had traded some messages on MySpace regarding a growing rift between Dale and Bobby. This was later confirmed for me by Carlos, who also confirmed that they were rehearsing in BenWahBobless-mode once again. We did this once before when I was still with the band on the premise that Dale seemed to be having more and more trouble getting through a whole night without severe coughing fits, and we wanted to be able to cover essentially everything between the remaining three of us. Now they were doing the same thing, but under a different premise; Bobby had refused to do any more shows with Dale. He told them they had to find another drummer.

When I spoke with Carlos, he expressed his concerns that they wouldn’t be able to learn enough of the songs as a trio before their looming gigs at the beginning of the year. Chris apparently doesn’t sing as much as he and Bobby, so he asked if I might be interested in filling in with the ‘Bobless project in the event that Dale was unable to find another drummer. As I have always had a preference for the trio format and was intrigued by the challenge, I agreed that it might be fun to give it a shot. We divided up the BWB songlist and came up with a little over 50 songs that we could do – more that enough to get us through the pending January gig at Baha Rock Club. We’ve rehearsed together a couple of times, and everything looks like it will work just fine. Should be interesting, though.

Another development of interest occurred in the last couple of weeks as well. My good friends in Röck Böttöm encountered a bit of internal strife for themselves. I have very little knowledge of the exact details of what lead up to it (it supposedly involves a Rush song...?), but bass player Chuck Mann apparently became angry enough one night to walk off of the stage during a gig. At break time, he packed his gear and left. He sent out a notice the next day on MySpace announcing his departure from the band. As the rest of the band was uncertain of his long-term intentions, Deron asked if I might help them get through their remaining gigs through the end of the year.

I actually had to think about this one...for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I had no intentions of stepping in and taking anyone else’s gig. I like Chuck, and didn’t want to give the impression that I was swooping in like a vulture at a moment of weakness. Deron assured me, though, that this definitely was not the case. Chuck had disassociated himself from the band in every way, and appeared to have no intentions of returning. Second, and no less compelling, was my recent re-association with the BWB-less project. I checked the schedules and found no immediate conflicts (here we go with that again), so I agreed to play their remaining gigs with them.

One of the interesting ironies of this is the Knucklehead angle. When Deron, Steve, and I were looking to put together a band in 1993, Robin Crattles (he went by a different name back then) was one of the drummers we considered. We were even leaning towards him until we found that Steve Wenos was available and interested. Such was the founding of the original Knucklehead...version 1.0. Now, it seemed, we would be gigging with that lineup afterall...albeit 14 years later.

As a matter of trivia, the working name for that band in ’93 was Walrus Gumboot (don’t ask).

So, that brings us to the events of this past weekend, as noted by the date way up at the beginning of this novella. I got home after work, loaded my gear, and headed to Belleville, IL to a place called Schatze’s. I played there back in 2002 with Those1Guys, and had been there once since then to see Jägertÿme. I still lived in Granite City then, and found that it is much easier now to get into the east side of Belleville coming from St. Jacob. It’s all highway.

Amazingly, I arrived before anyone else in the band. Jeff was putting the finishing touches on the PA and lights, but that was it. Deron rolled in shortly after me and expressed his surprise that Boozy hadn’t yet set up his massive drum kit. He did arrive shortly thereafter with a smaller kit, though, and we were able to start a mere half-hour late. Not so bad for a Friday night really. In the intervening time, I was able to fix the broken solder joints in Deron’s wah pedal. I like the easy stuff.

One frighteningly familiar aspect of this gig is the notable absence of any written setlists. Not unlike Knucklehead, they have something of a regular show that they play. The setlists, though, as Deron had told me on the phone a few days earlier, were somewhere in his head. He had nothing to give me beyond verbal queues on stage and the occasional wry smile and nod that the next song would indeed be what I thought it might be (some communication is beyond words). This works just fine in this arrangement as, unlike in KH, I didn’t have to plan ahead for keyboard patch changes and MIDI pedal setups.

I just had to play bass and occasionally sing some harmonies. The bass playing part wasn’t so bad, as I knew most of their stuff anyway. The few songs that I didn’t know I have heard enough to bluff my way through. Deron went over a couple of chord changes with me before we started, and we were off. Nothing like playing off the cuff, as it were.

Everything seemed to be going along just swimmingly for the most part. Boozy and I finally locked in together at some point, and I thought we actually started to sound OK...all things considered anyway. They complained that I wasn’t loud enough (read: not as loud as they have become accustomed to), so Jeff pumped a little bass through the monitors and everyone was fine. We did on occasion throw in some old KH stuff just for yucks (or is that nyucks?). Someone even asked for some Iron Maiden, which we eventually obliged. This went against every tenet set out for us, which was to remain a Röck Böttöm show and not become Knucklehead. The people dug it, but we kept that to a bare minimum.

At some point in the last set, my throat started to give. I had been trying to battle off a sore throat/cold since about Wednesday, and thought I was winning. My voice told me otherwise. I eventually just stopped singing completely. At one point, as I was standing there watching the other guys play (that’s sometimes more entertaining than the drunks in the crowd), I felt something brush past my arm and whack me in the side of the face. I flinched quickly enough to see my mic stand thump against the stage floor. I looked over just in time to watch a drunk guy roll up against my right leg. He had apparently fallen backwards over the floor monitor and onto the stage. One of the bouncers helped him go somewhere else, I know not where. I didn’t see him the rest of the night.

We finished the night with some putrid, moldy, cheesy stuff that everyone loved (AC/DC, I think), and called it a night. We made it through, in spite of ourselves. It really wasn’t so bad, I guess. There were a few moments that were obviously lacking in luster, but for the most part it went fine.

I did notice that not playing for six months can affect your technique in a decidedly negative manner. At several points, I found myself playing wrong notes for no apparent reason. G to D was coming out as G to D#. It was silly the first time, and curious the second time. After that, it was becoming somewhat alarming. I started to put some thought into it as we played, and came to the revelation that the fingerings on a bass guitar are not exactly the same as those on a cello. In practicing with my cello and ignoring my bass for six months, I had altered my feel for the fretboard. I spent the rest of the gig that night practicing my bass technique on stage.

Boozy, his lovely wife, and I spent a little time talking in the parking lot before heading home. I stopped at the White Castle on IL-161 on the way out of town, and thoroughly polluted my system. Man, I love those damned things. The drive back to St. Jacob was fairly quiet, as the roads were mostly deserted. I listened to the second Circus Maximus CD Isolate for my musical accompaniment. I certainly hope that the rumors come true of a US tour for them.

Saturday, 22 December 2007
I awoke to the raging sound of telephones ringing Saturday morning. A small but mighty storm had blown through the area Friday night while we played, and I arrived home to find I had no power. I guessed limbs were blown onto power lines somewhere, as half of St. Jacob had power and about half didn’t...my half, of course. I plugged in a corded phone to call Dawna and hadn’t unplugged it when the power was restored right before I fell asleep, so they were ringing all around me when she called. It was a good thing, though, as I needed to get my derriere moving to finish some last minute Xmas shopping. That was an adventure unto itself. It seemed that a certain “spirit of the season” was noticeably absent on this day. I opted to not participate in the smash-em-up derby going on all around me. (I know...it’s easy for a Buddhist to take shots from the outside looking in.) The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully once I got away from the commerce centers.

Dawna was going to go with me to Schatze’s, but elected at the last minute to stay home. She, too, was a bit under the weather. So, I tossed my bass in the truck and headed to Belleville. I arrived around 20:00, fully an hour before the “scheduled” start time. I had planned to either grab something in town or just eat at the bar. I recalled that they used to have pretty good food, so that became the plan. I was not disappointed. I had one of the best burgers I’ve eaten in a long time.

While I ate, I occasionally chuckled at the loud-mouthed 50-something guy sitting at the bar screaming at the Missouri-Illinois basketball game on one of the TVs. He might as well have been saying, “LOOK AT ME! I’M A DRUNK IDIOT!” Every bar has one. I could tell when the game was over, because his attention turned to me. I had worn my Pittsburgh Steelers jersey the night before, and my Detroit Red Wings sweater this night in honor of both teams having been in town that week. He started out making disparaging comments about the city of Detroit (as if it were any worse than north St. Louis) and all their Russian players. When that didn’t garner my attention, he started in on my hair. The bar employees tried to calm him, but he was on a roll and not to be stopped. Everyone seemed to be awaiting some kind of response from me. I thought about walking over to him and asking him how many Stanley Cup Championship banners hang in the rafters of the Scott Trade Center, or what kind of season the Blues had in 1929, but I figured that would be lost on him. In the end, I simply turned half around on my stool, put my finger to my lips, and gave him a quiet “Shhhhhhhhh.” He wasn’t amused at that either. One of the bouncers came in shortly after that. I don’t know what he said to the guy, but he was pretty quiet after that. Jeff had arrived during the entertainment, and we sat there watching the water dripping off of one of the ceiling tiles and into a dish bucket on the dance floor in front of the stage.

Steve actually arrived before Deron...quite a rarity...and Boozy was the last one in. We started pretty close to on-time. I approached Deron and stated that I hoped they hadn’t hired me for my singing voice...or at least that’s what I attempted to say. What actually squeaked out was altogether different. My voice was almost completely gone, and the cough had become worse. I was eating cough drops like candy. Steve offered me some Mucinex, but I was hesitant. I’m not much on taking medication, especially the over-the-counter variety. They generally do nothing but mask the symptoms, and I’m never sure how they will affect me for the drive home. So, there would be no three-part harmonies this night.

We rolled through the first set with little trouble that I can recall. As Boozy and I were standing on the stage at break discussing the virtues of Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, we heard a loud WHOOSH followed by a SPLASH. The tile gave up in its battle with the leaking roof and collapsed onto the stage where I was standing and playing just moments before. In the process, it had also dumped a couple gallons of water all over the dance floor. When the bouncer came over to assess the scene, I leaned over and asked him if perchance they didn’t like me there. When he gave me a curious look, I recounted that they had thrown drunks at me the previous night...now they were chucking chunks of the building at me.

After that, the rest of the night seemed relatively uneventful. We made an effort not to stray off the RB path. These guys have a good following, and for good reason. Although there weren’t many of their regulars who made the trip to Belleville, there was a good crowd there and they stayed all night. They even insisted on “ONE MORE!” several times. We finally quit after three of those.

Teardown went pretty quickly at the end of the night. We got paid fairly quickly (by bar standards, anyway), chatted a bit, and went our separate ways. There doesn’t seem to be any RockStar attitude in the band, and the band “wives” are all pleasant women. It’s a pretty good gig. I don’t mind at all helping these guys. They are good friends, and I’m honored that they had the confidence in me to call.

I stopped to pollute myself again on the way home. This night, though, I opted to listen to a disc of Vivaldi string concerti for the drive home. Whiteys and baroque string music...life doesn’t get much better than that, eh?