Posts tagged ‘touring’

November 21, 2015

INTERWEAVING THREADS

Whisky marquee

I came across this picture of the marquee at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood and it reminded me of how people’s paths can cross over the years.

The story begins when I was still in college in San Diego, working part time as a live sound engineer at a concert club called Earth. The club was known for booking bands that were on their way up the charts.

The owner was helping a band that was being put together with some very talented and experienced musicians from Motown. They were pretty much guaranteed a record deal, but needed to bring the members together. They were going to rehearse at the club during off hours until they were ready to begin recording and touring.

One night, before their drummer arrived, they set up on stage and needed a drummer to fill in. The owner knew that I was a pretty good drummer and always carried my drum kit in my van. So I was invited to jam with the band that was to become Maxayn. It was a great experience for a college kid to play with such amazing musicians.

By the time I graduated from college, I was also playing keyboards and had designed and co-built my first synthesizer. After attempting to go it alone as a solo act, I joined the band Madame Beast as their keyboard player. We were based in Hollywood and toured the U.S. extensively, building a following that would appeal to record labels.

A couple of years in, we came back to Hollywood to do a showcase at the Whisky (as it was called then) for the record labels. Low and behold, we were sharing the billing with Maxayn. While we were both extremely busy focusing on our shows, I did drop by their dressing room for a minute. It was good to see them and I wished them a great set.

Several years passed and I had been in several different bands since then. My current band was Lois Lane. We were also touring to make a name for ourselves so that the record labels would sign us. By that time, the leader of the Maxayn group, Andre Lewis, was pioneering a new genre called techno-funk. He was playing as Mandré.

Unexpectedly, at an outdoor show somewhere in the prairie states, we shared the bill with Mandré. This meeting wasn’t quite what you might expect. And it was one of the few live shows that Andre ever performed as Mandré. Andre was dressed as a helmeted space man. (Note: Daft Punk wasn’t the first to be anonymous space men.) It was difficult to talk to him because of his helmet. But again, it was good to know that we were both still playing shows and exploring new music.

I eventually stopped playing in bands and returned to being a solo act. This time I was using the latest synthesizer technology. Because of the knowledge I acquired doing that, I then became a Product Specialist for synthesizer manufacturers Kurzweil Music Systems and then E-mu Systems. It’s uncanny that Andre became highly influential in synth and drum machine design for Roland around the same time.

While Andre and I were never best of friends, we shared a lot of the same passion for music and technology. It was always great to hear about Andre’s accomplishments and to remember that night that we shared a jam session at a place called Earth.

May you never forget the people you meet on your journey. You never know when you will cross paths with them again.

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August 30, 2012

LOUNGE ACT BLUES

When asked about the low points of my music career, I can’t forget the stint I did as keyboard player/singer with a boring lounge act called Jim, Bonnie and Duane. We had a steady gig at a restaurant/lounge called The Hungry Hunter in a Southern California beach town. The best thing I remember about the gig was that we got free food — and it was good food, too. The pay was also decent. But playing middle-of-the-road cover tunes by acts like The Captain and Tennille and Fleetwood Mac was painful, considering my preference for artists such as The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

It was also a very strange thing for me to be on a tiny stage playing background music for the dinner crowd, using a full-blown modular Moog and RMI Keyboard Computer. My equipment alone took up most of the stage and Bonnie would sing in front of this 6-inch-high stage. I could have (and probably should have) played this gig with one small electric piano.

At some point, Bonnie left the group due to medical problems. And so the act became the even-less-riveting duo of Jim and Duane. We shifted over to a regular gig in National City, California … and the boredom continued, but it was a source of income. When Bonnie recovered from her illness, she rejoined the act. One night, she set a beer on top of my amp and it spilled, ruining the amp. That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. “See ya later, Jim and Bonnie.”

Fortunately, I was then invited to join a successful Denver-based band named Reign. The musicians were very talented but a bit lazy. They didn’t practice much — and they focused on cover material. Their repertoire was much more challenging than the song list from the Jim, Bonnie and Duane days. Singing/playing hits by Journey, Kansas and Earth, Wind and Fire was tolerable, but whenever I’d suggest adding some original songs, I was shot down. As Reign’s line-up began to disintegrate, I was forced to look for another touring band and really hoping for a chance to “upgrade” to one that was more ambitious.

Timing was on my side. A band named Canary, which played the same Western U.S. circuit as Reign, had recently lost its drummer, Bill Gent, to a new band called Lois Lane. In turn, Lois Lane was looking for a keyboard player/backup singer. Bill, who had seen me with Reign, recommended me for the gig. I spent several years with Lois Lane, playing original material and developing new skills and increased confidence, which later paid off in a number of other great music jobs.

The take-away lesson is that anyone striving to be a musician or composer, or maybe anyone in any line of creative work, must be patient, flexible and confident that sometimes the least glamorous jobs will sustain you while you follow your true calling.