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Sunday, June 19, 2011

What a Long Strange Trip Its Been.

I know it's a little unorthodox to write the "End" of the story in the middle, but I want to write about it while its still fresh in my memory.  The decision to make music not my number one priority has not been an easy one.  I have been struggling with it for about a year now.  I still love playing music, it is in my blood.  But life has a way of making you shuffle your priorities from time to time.  I recently finished school and landed a job in a great career field, I have a wonderful girlfriend with whom we now share a house and responsibilities.  It hit me like a ton of bricks that I woke up one morning and realized that i'm now in my mid thirties.  I was eighteen just yesterday.  Most of my life has been spent in a relentless, obsessive pursuit of fame and fortune in music.  I came perilously close at one point, only to fall very hard back down that mountain.  That fueled the obsession even more.  Fueled it to the point that I burned up all the gas that was left in the tank and now i'm running on empty.  I have sacrificed so much in my life for music.  I put higher education on the backburner, a career, and not to mention past relationships.  I have lived a charmed life.  I've experienced a lot of things that most musicians can only dream about, and for that I feel extremely lucky and satisfied.  I have built quite an impressive resume over the past twenty years.

Being  a part of the Gulf Coast scene for so long, I've seen a lot of trends come and go.  I've never been one to be a part of trends, I always tended to play whatever I felt like at the time, be it punk rock, indie rock, metal, funk and even a cover band here and there.  I was a teenager when the Gulf Coast punk rock scene took off and I was right in dead center of the Little House era.  When I got a little older and began playing bars, there were many more places for bands to play than there are now.  Hurricanes on the Beach (Deftones played there when they were just a little band no one ever heard of), Biloxi House of Rock, Kirk's House of Rock, Upstairs Downstairs, Studio 90, Orangutang's, Hammerheads, Pat & Nick's, The Dive...you get the idea.  The Crazy Horse anyone?  I even recorded an album at HollyHouse Studio's.  R.I.P. Clyde.  Some of the younger musicians from the Coast who may read this might be saying to themselves, "Damn J-Bob, how old are you?  Ive never heard of any of these places...and who the hell is Clyde Holly?"  Let's just put it this way,  it was the golden era and a great time to be a musician on the Coast.

Everyone tried to tell me that making it as a musician was a million to one chance, and I kind of knew it in the back of my head but life isn't worth living if you don't chase your dream.  When Fall As Well got signed to Universal Records, I had proved wrong the nay-sayers.  I did it.  I may not have a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but my music is in the archives and on the Billboard recordbooks.  I can actually have stuff pop up when you google my name.  I have royalty check stubs.  I got to open up for arguably one of the biggest rock bands of the late 20th century in stadiums across the country.  I did it and no one can take that away from me.  I wish I could download my memories to a computer database for safekeeping.

As I get older, that fire in my stomach to be a rockstar has started to fade, but in it's place is a fire for something else.  I want to put my creative energies into other things.  I always wanted to be a comic book artist growing up, I want to turn this blog into a podcast with my old bass player from Fall As Well, "Mickey",  I want to make music without the side effect of pushing everything else in my life aside.   The dream is still there, it's only being modified but first I need to get a little distance from it.  As of last night, June 18 2011, I played my final show with my band of the last three years "Falls From Grace."  It was a heartbreaking decision to leave the band but it needed to be done.  It's not fair to the other guys in the band that I don't have the same fire that they do.  They need to have those experiences that i've had, but as far as i'm concerned i've "been there, done that, bought the T-shirt."  I can't push aside what I have in my life right now for another one in a million shot.  I am just too happy with where I'm at and who I am.

Falls From Grace has been a great chapter in my music life.  We've played some really big shows, and shared a ton of laughs together.  I love those guys.  It was a band where there never was any drama.  I never despised anyone or wanted to plot someone else's death out of sheer frustration while they slept like I have in a certain other band.  I wish them all the luck in the world, because they deserve it.

As for me...I'm nowhere near done with music though, I still have a lot of creativity in the tank.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'll Take the Bipolar Disorder With a Side of Duct Tape Please.

Having a boss who is a bona-fide rock star, definitely has its ups and downs.  Especially if said rock star is an only child who never had to share his toys with anyone and is rarely ever in a "normal" state of mind.  One day he loved us, and the day after that he was ready to drop us from the label like a hot potato.  We never knew what to expect one day to the next.  There were literally days when we would get calls on the road from him, and he would be telling us how proud he was of us and that if we keep going the way we were going we would be huge.  Then the next day would come and we would get a call from the label manager and she would be freaking out and telling us that he wanted to dissolve the label, we were costing him too much money and that basically we sucked as human beings.  It was textbook bipolar disorder.

One constant with us on the road was the fact that our equipment was constantly breaking down.  Add on top of that we were broke and no musical instrument companies want to give you free things until you are rich and can actually afford them at that point.  We were only given $15 a day per diem so whenever we stopped into a music shop every few days to get things fixed or stock up on necessities (strings, sticks, drumheads, etc.) we had to call the label and literally beg them to put some money into our account to get the things we needed to actually play music.

Mickey, our bass player, had a rig that was literally held together with duct tape and hope.  His bass finally crapped out and our boss gave him one of his many, many bass guitars to use.  He had so many bass guitars in his house he had them lining the walls on more than one room in his palatial home.  After about 3 or 4 days he kept bugging Mickey about when he was going to get his bass back.  Mickey's shoes were quite literally held together by wrapping duct tape around them to hold them together.  He couldn't even afford a new pair of shoes.  Our boss who owned probably around 50 bass guitars, most of them given to him and he had never even played, was on Mickey's case nearly every day wanting his bass back.  To start the whole thing off Mickey had to borrow one of his many bass amps to go on the road with because his was falling apart and didn't work half the time.  Mickey thought he would never hear the end of that, but when he had to borrow the bass he was really in for it.  If it were me I would have taken the bass to his house and threw it through the glass in the front door with a note attached, "Here is the bass you have never even played before you rich jerk!"

I realize that this entry into my blog was a bit of a downer, but I am just trying to paint a very large picture.  Not all of them are going to be heartwarming tales of achieving a childhood dream.  Some of those childhood dreams turn out to be nightmares when they come true.  So be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

To be continued...

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Wear Pants and Don't Use Big Words"

Opening up for one of the biggest American rock bands definitely had its perks.  When our band headed out on the road, for the first few weeks we were bouncing back and forth between opening up for The Exies and of course "Four Floors Up".  Being on tour with the Exies was an excellent experience, those guys were really, really nice to us, let us hang out on their bus and shared many rounds with us.  It was a small venue tour, playing clubs and bars.  Opening up For "Four Floors" was a different animal altogether. Not only did we get our own dressing room, but it came fully loaded with anything we wanted.  If we'd have asked for peanut M&M's with the peanuts removed, we would have gotten it.  There was also a masseuse who travelled with the band that we had access to, our own roadies, a backstage buffet complete with a hibachi/wok chef and really important guys with walkie talkies who ushered us around and made sure we were where we were supposed to be.

The best show that we played with "Four Floors Up" was the Lloyd Noble Center in Oklahoma.  It is the stadium where the Oklahoma Sooners Basketball team plays and seats around 16,000.  That night it was sold out.  The line-up was us opening, Saliva after us and then "Four Floors".  We arrived at the stadium early in the day and were pretty nervous because the stadium was so big, but we told ourselves that no one shows up to see the opening band so we were probably only going to be playing to about a quarter of the expected crowd, which is still a lot of people.  We spent the afternoon before the show doing our soundcheck and hanging out in the dressing room.  "Carl" from "Four Floors" came to hang out with us in our dressing room.  He is definitely the coolest, nicest guy in that band.  He doesn't act like a rock star and genuinely gave us good advice when we hung out with him.    The two biggest bits of advice he gave to us about making it in the music industry and actually making money was:
#1-Don't put words people don't understand in your songs.
#2-Never wear shorts onstage.

The time drew near and we were ushered to the stage by a couple of official looking guys with headsets. Backstage we couldn't tell how many people were out there in the crowd but we could hear a LOT of people milling around.  "5 minutes guys."  The man in the headset told us.  I was feeling ok at this point, a little nervous but nothing I had never felt before.  I began doing my preshow stretches.  "3 minutes."  Starting to hear the crowd get louder.  Starting to feel a little more nervous and sweaty.  "2 minutes, move up."  Since I was the first to always walk out onstage, I was the first up the stairwell.  I stood there for what felt like an hour.  "OK guys, get ready"  The lights in the stadium go out...the crowd roared so loud it felt like the roof was gonna collapse.  "Go man, go"  A slight push on my shoulder by the man in the headset and I started the long, slow motion walk onto the stage and around the curtain.  I looked out to a sea of people and my legs began to wobble.  I had never had to walk out onstage in front of that many people.  The place was nearly full, and i walked out onto the stage getting blasted in the face by a deafening roar of people.  I made a conscious effort not to trip over anything as I readied myself behind my drumset.  Our singer did the usual "How you guys doing tonight?" over the microphone and I actually felt the skin on my face stretch back from the roar that came back at us.  We rolled into the first song and proceeded to destroy that stage with all the rock power we could muster.  In my memory, it lasted only a second, it was over before we knew it.   When we got offstage we were told that we played for 14,000 people.

Our Bass player Mickey jumped off the stage as the last note struck and proceeded to void the contents of his stomach onto the floor off the side of the stage.  I had a surge of adrenaline that lasted for the next 3 hours, I could have karate chopped a car in half.  We were immediately ushered to the merchandising area to sign autographs and meet and greet people.  The best part of that that sticks out in my mind was when a young kid, probably no older than 14 or 15 nervously walked up to me holding our cd out with his hands shaking and said, "You are the reason that I started playing drums, you are awesome!"  I knew at that moment I had accomplished what I set out to do when I was 13 and got my first drumset.  I had inspired someone to play an instrument and my music spoke to them.  I thanked him, shook his hand, signed his cd and talked to him for a few minutes before I had to cut our conversation short and begin signing things for other people.  That was one of the best moments of my life.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Table 7, Your Chicken Fingers Are Ready.

To say that being a musician in a touring band is like being on a roller coaster, that is an understatement.  One night you could be opening up for one of the biggest rock acts in the country and the next night you could be playing to 4 people in a town that isn't even on any maps.  Two of the most surreal experiences of my touring life was when we were scheduled to play in Atlanta while some A&R conference was in town, or something weird like that; and in New Orleans in a hotel ballroom for another A&R thing-a-majig.

The Atlanta gig started out bad because our van's engine completely locked up on us somewhere in southern Georgia earlier in the day.  Our road manager was about an hour ahead of us in his Ford Explorer and had to turn around and try to find us.  We had no idea where we were.  There were no road signs or mile markers anywhere around us.  It was over 100 degrees outside and we were in the heart of where mosquitos originate from apparently.  As we sat alongside the road waiting for our RM to save us, boredom began to set in.  Mickey then thought it would be a great idea to strip down bare-ass naked and run up and down the interstate on a dare since no one had come along in about 30 minutes.  As he is jogging back to the van wearing nothing but running sneakers, an old man on a tractor comes creeping along the other side of the highway,  he did his best not to look and we were dying with laughter.

A little while later a state trooper passes by us,  then turns around to check out why a bunch of characters like us are sitting on the side of the road.  After explaining our situation to him, we took a photo opportunity of all of us lined up against the van as if were being searched and the officer giving the thumbs up.  Assuring him that we had help on the way, he was off to fight some real crime.  Eventually our RM shows up and 9 of us have to pile into his modest Ford Explorer.  Im sure we took about 5 years off of his vehicles life because there was easily 1000+ pounds of man-meat in the front and a couple thousand pounds of equipment in the trailer that we had to hook up to it.  The poor 6-cylander engine was pushed to its limits over the next hundred miles or so to our destination.

When we arrived at the gig, we weren't sure if we were at the right place or not.  I can't recall the name of the place, but it was not a club or a bar.  It was a restaurant.  It was basically a Chili's, only by another name.  It was the place all right, complete with an 10-foot by 8-foot stage for us to play on in the middle of the dining room.  If you think I am joking, then you are sadly mistaken.  We had to cram my drumset, 3 quitar half-stacks, a bass amp and 5 guys onto this tiny little stage.  Every time I opened and closed my hi-hats I pinched Lonny's hip skin, leaving him wounded for about a week.  As we play the gig, literally there are people with family's eating dinner all around us.  Imagine sitting in Chili's trying to eat your sampler platter with your family and a loud ass rock band is blaring in your ear.  We made it through and vowed never to be talked into a gig like that ever again.

The other time was when we had to play for some A&R execs in a hotel ballroom in New Orleans.  We show up to the gig and there are about 20 or 30 other bands playing this thing too.  You only get to play a few songs for a panel of judges.  We had no idea what this thing was about or why we were even here, to this day I still have no idea what this whole thing was for or about.   Our manager was always kind of a vague guy.  He would book things that made no sense to us, but since he was the boss we didn't question it.

We arrive very early and spend about 6 or 7 hours walking around the Riverwalk and then drinking in the hotel bar.  We ended up being the last band to play, so we got to play a few extra songs.  We thought that maybe this was maybe a talent search for some record labels or something like that, so we brought our "A" game.  It was us playing on a stage, some of the other bands stuck around to watch us, and a table directly in front of the stage with about 5 or 6 people writing things down on pieces of paper.  This was well before American Idol came out, but this is what it felt like to me.  Basically, we played about 5 or 6 songs, then had to listen to people whom we had never met before, and didn't know from Adam tell us pretty much that we sucked and needed to improve if we ever wanted to go anywhere.  So it was pretty much a huge waste of our time and we gave an earfull to our manager about what a load of crap that whole thing was.

To be continued...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hey Desperado, I Don't Think That Was Beef.

One of the coolest experiences of being on the road was when we hit all the spring break hotspots along the gulf coast in the spring of '04.  We played everywhere from Panama City, Florida to Corpus Christi, Texas and everywhere in between.  One memory that will stay with me my entire life was when one night of overnight driving, I awoke in the passenger seat of our converted church van about 5:30 in the morning. Had a conversation with Clancey (who was driving and everyone else was asleep) and we talked about how cool it was to really be doing what we were doing.  As we drove we got to watch the sun rise in an empty stretch of Texas, which was so flat you could see at least 50 miles in any direction.  It hit me that morning that I had proved everyone wrong who had ever told me that being a musician was a waste of time.  I was living my dream.

Along the Spring Break stretch, we played in Acuna, Mexico.  It was strange as we were entering Mexico because we were the only vehicle going in and there was a 3 mile long line of cars on the other side of the highway waiting to get out.  We were given specific instructions to never go anywhere alone, there had been a rash of American kidnappings, and to keep some cash on us in case we got arrested and could bribe the Mexican police to let us go.

The club that we were playing at was the Corona Club.  To give you an idea of what the club looks like, just rent a copy of Desperado with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek.  The bar at the beginning of the movie where Quentin Tarantino tells the joke about the guy peeing on the bartender, is the front part of the Corona Club.  Of course studio magic made the bar look tiny, but its actually about 10 to 15 times that size.  It looks exactly the same,  but the back part of the bar is huge.  It also has an outside area that is enclosed where the bands play and about 200 people could easily fit in there.  There is a scene in the movie when Antonio grabs Salma out of the bar and walks down the street with her, and in the background you can see the door to the bar and a small alley that slopes downward.  That is where we parked our van and unloaded our equipment.  As soon as we walked in there were signed pictures and posters from all of the movie crew, it was definitely an awesome experience.

We arrived at the Club early in the day and had a lunch date with the promoter of the show.  We ate at a very nice restaurant and I had some authentic mexican tacos which were outstanding.  After the meal, our road manager and promoter went back to the club and we (the band) decided to walk back to the club which was about a mile away.  We leisurely made our way back over the next few hours, stopping to check out the small businesses along the way, trying to figure out the conversion rate of things we wanted to buy, hoping not to get ripped off.  As we neared the club, we realized all that walking made us hungry again and decided to stop at a quaint little deli that had about 4 tables with mismatched chairs.  It was quite the seedy little establishment.  I opted for a meatless chalupa, figuring that I couldn't go wrong with a tortilla and beans.  I can't quite remember what Clancey ordered, but it was a tortilla covered with what appeared to be ground beef.  We scarfed down our food and as we were walking back to the Corona Club, Clancey looked at me and said, "Dude, I don't think that was beef."  Luckily, he only turned green for a little while and seemed ok.

The whole day we were walking around, there was an American student following us around.  He was quite aggravating because he was obviously drunk and trying to score marijuana off of us.  Which even if we did have any we wouldn't have been stupid enough to carry it across the border.  Our subtle attempts at getting him to go away were not working and we kept running into him.  Later that evening after the show we were all chilling in the van, trying to get some naps in before we made our trek back across the border, he sticks his head in the window of the van and wakes us up.  Very drunk and barely able to stand up he exclaims, "Hey guys, I can't find my friends!"  To which Mickey replies, "Well you won't find any in here!"  He finally got the hint as we all howled with laughter.

We crossed the border back into America somewhere around midnight and drove across the desert into the night onto our next destination.

To be continued....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

That Voodoo That You Do....

I think most Rock bands have to contend with substance abuse at one point or another.  Every time I've ever seen a Behind the Music on VH1, It was all about how drugs and alcohol can tear a band apart.  If it doesn't tear them apart then they become whiny little sad, selfish overgrown children who feel the need to have a band therapist and make a movie of it, all the while attacking your fans for doing the same thing you did as a teenager by passing around mix tapes; only now it is in digital form.

Drugs and alcohol pretty much tore my band apart.  Our singer "Gerald" was known for going overboard on occasion.  I'd seen the guy on more than one occasion take enough pills to down a bull elephant, but it never really affected his playing until one of the most important shows of our lives.  It usually just made him not fun to be around.

We got invited to play Voodoo fest in 2004, sharing the stage with the likes of Velvet Revolver and Green Day amongst others.  Granted, we were playing at 11:00 in the morning on the second day when most people are sleeping off the first night.  It was still important for us nonetheless.  Since New Orleans is so close, we all decided to drive separately and meet up at the grounds.  I and my friend bigWALL were going to make the drive in my little two-seater Nissan Frontier.  So we left around 7 or 8 in the morning and were just about to be in Slidell when I got a call from our manager, who was already on the festival grounds with our gear,  telling me that I needed to turn around and pick up our singer whose car had broken down in Gulfport, MS.  Easily 30 minutes back the other way for us.

I did much protesting because I didn't want Gerald and his girlfriend to ride all the way to N.O. in the back of my truck.  I didn't want to get a ticket, but there was no other way.  As I made the U-turn I let out a string of curses that would have made Andrew Dice Clay proud, and reluctantly made my way back to Gulfport.

When we arrive, Gerald's car is parked on the side of a bridge and he is almost incoherent.  Apparently, the night before his girlfriend decided it would be a great idea to give him some pills that he had never taken before.   He claimed that he was just tired.  I don't remember the exact details of what happened, but I seem to remember that someone else came by to pick up Gerald and his girl so they wouldn't have to ride in the back of my truck, the events of that hour or two are kind of fuzzy in my memory.  I guess from my being so annoyed I blocked it out.  But we arrived in New Orleans an hour later and made our way to the backstage area of Voodoo Fest.  I was in heaven.  We had our very own tent right next to DeLa Soul,  a huge Kraft Services area complete with huge TV's hooked up with Playstation 2's, and we received gift bags stuffed with goodies.  On top of everything, our show was going to be recorded for a measly $150.  There was a semi next to the stage with probably a million dollars worth of recording equipment set up to record every second of the festival.  The guys doing the recording gave us a preview by recording our soundcheck and it sounded MASSIVE, but we also did soundcheck without our singer.  We were so psyched, we thought we would be able to put out an awesome sounding live album from Voodoo Fest.  How awesome would that be right?  Then the show started.

I will mark this show down as one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.  Our singer could not sing on key, he was singing the wrong lyrics over the wrong songs, stopped playing and singing and began tuning his guitar right in the middle of a song.  It was terrible.  He kept yelling and it sounded literally like Fozzie Bear.  I wish I had the live CD to prove it, but its floating out there in the world somewhere.  I kept turning around to our road manager who was hunkering down behind my drumset pleading for him to stop this attrocity and get me off the stage.  He kept telling me I had to tough it out for the full hour, which was the longest hour of my life.  It was one of those times that I was glad I am a drummer so I could hunch down as low as I could so no one could see me.  Only about 10 people remained by the end of our set.

I was off my drumset and running down the ramp before our last note even rang out and I was livid.  Of course as soon as we got offstage we had to do an interview and take pictures for the VooDoo website, and Im sure if you could find the pictures online you can see the anger in my face.  There was (and maybe still is) a video of us on the VooDoo site which I would give anything to make go away.

I packed up my drums as fast as I could, scooped up bigWALL out of the crowd and got back to the coast as fast as I could.  For some reason I felt the need to go to the movies to get my mind off of things, so me and WALL went to see TEAM AMERICA and I promptly fell asleep in the theater.

To be continued....

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The unofficial member of every band is Murphy...he gets around.

Before we went out on tour, our record label talked us into buying a van to tour in which was actually a good idea since every vehicle we ever rented broke down.  We broke down once in the middle of Georgia in the middle of summer with no road signs telling us where we were, but thats another story for another day.  This story focuses on the fact that I being the only member of the band with a great credit rating and the president of the LLC, I was chosen to be the one whose name was on everything that we purchased as a band.  Little did I know this would come back to not only bite me in the ass later on down the road, but nearly ruin me financially for all eternity.

We purchased ourselves a nice, shiny, slightly used 15 passenger church van in which to go on tour.  Not the most comfortable i've ever been, but the bench seats were a hell of a lot better than being cramped in a regular car.  Also, you tend to learn to sleep in any position about a week into the tour so it doesn't matter.  Along with the van, we purchased ourselves a very, very slightly used trailer to haul all of our equipment around.  The van was in tip top shape having had a complete tune-up, inspection, complete fluid change...the works.  We failed to inspect the trailer with the fine-toothed comb that we had with the van.

Our first leg of the tour, we were to spend the first two weeks opening up for Valejo in various clubs around Texas.  For those of you who don't know who Valejo is, they were pretty big in the late 90's, early 2000's.  It was a very exciting time for us.  We were chomping at the bit to get out on the road to support our burgeoning fame.  Our second single was beginning to light up the airways around the country and we had stars in our eyes.

We were heading to Odessa, Texas for our first show of the tour and we were driving overnight.  We were planning on reaching our destination early in the morning, getting into the hotel and resting most of the day before our show that night.  Since Clancey and I did most of the driving, each of us would sleep while the other drove to keep ourselves fresh.  It was my turn to do some sleeping so I took one of the middle bench seats to spread out and get my sleep on.  I quickly fell asleep thinking about one day being on tour in a bus, playing in front of thousands every night; as I did most nights.  This night I awoke to a nightmare.

Sometime around 5 o'clock in the morning, when night is at its darkest, I awoke to Clancey cursing and the feeling that the van was going out of control.  I sat bolt upright just in time to witness the right tire of the trailer bounce past the van, hit some concrete on the side of the road and bounce about 20 feet in the air, nearly coming down directly onto the windshield.  Lucky it was Clancey at the wheel and not me, his former Marine training kept him cool, calm and collected.  I would have screamed like a 5 year old with a skinned knee and dove out of the van, leaving it careening into the darkness.

When we came to a stop along the side of the road, we had no idea where we were.  It was very eerie out.  Dense fog, complete darkness in all directions and no road signs to be seen.  I had seen too many horror movies that began this way.  This was when we realized that AAA would have been a good idea,  but hindsight is always 20/20.  We decided to sleep until the sun came up and then try calling our manager and see if he could help us out.   Our manager, we'll call him "Byron", was a short, squirrely, no-necked cajun man who began every sentence with "Lemme askya sumpin."  Byron had a gift for taking a simple situation such as finding out who the closest towing company was and getting a tow, and turning it into a 9 hour phone tag session.  He was a guy who would call every single towing company in the state to see who would do it cheaper if it meant saving 3 dollars, even if it meant taking 5 hours longer.   But what did he care, he was sitting in a nice comfortable office while we sat on the side of the road.

But here is the best part of the story, when I awoke a few hours later at about 7 in the morning; I look up to see our singer Gerald's feet directly above my head and quite possibly one of the worst smells I had ever smelled up to that point.  I punched him on the bottom of the foot and told him that his feet smelled like a rotten corpse.  "That's not my feet, that's the asphalt factory across the road." He said.

Lucky us, we break down in the middle of nowhere Texas, about 30 miles from our destination and we do it in front of an asphalt factory who started up promptly at 7 in the morning.  If you have never smelled an asphalt factory in its full glory, let me paint the picture for you:  Rotten eggs, old gym socks, dog farts, and just a hint of hot garbage.  We were stuck there until 2 in the afternoon when a tow truck finally showed up after hours and hours of our manager haggling with AAA trying to get us an account.  The luckiest part of all of that was that there was actually a trailer repair place on the way to our destination.  They loaned us a replacement for the night and would have ours fixed by the next morning.  We made it to the show with about 2 hours to spare that evening, met Valejo and shared many drinks together over the next 2 weeks and we rocked the house.

To Be Continued.....

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spring Breakin' the Toilet

When they say that being in a band is like being a family, that is an understatement.  You can at least escape your family from time to time.  When you are on tour, you and your bandmates are attached at the hip 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The only privacy you get is when you train yourself to wake up an hour before anyone else so you can have an uninterrupted bowel movement while everyone else is still sleeping off the party from the night before.  On the road, I always insisted that we have 2 hotel rooms anytime we stayed anywhere.  One room was what I referred to as the "sleeping room" and the other I referred to as the "party room."  If you wanted some peace and quiet, you stayed in my room.  If you came to my room and bothered me or made a bunch of racket, that was your ass.  The reason being is because after about a week of being on the road you start to break off into sub-groups:  "Clancey" our rhythm guitarist and "Mickey" always hung out together because they had a long past being marines together.  It was not uncommon for in the early days of our going out on the road I would be awakened in the middle of the night to those two having gotten extremely drunk and started beating the absolute hell out of one another in the hotel room.  The melee wouldn't end until one knocked the other one out, or they both collapsed from exhaustion.  From that point on, I insisted on a separate room.


I remember a show that we had played at Club Lavilla in Florida on Spring Break in 2004.  It was the typical spring break, complete with MTV in town.  At the club there were skimpy bikini's, wet T-shirt contests and a few thousand "Situation" type douchebags all over the place.  The scent of bronzer and hair care products hung ever so gingerly in the evening air.  We had a great night after the show, people were partying in the backstage area and we felt like real rock stars.  Of course I went to sleep in the van around 2 in the morning because I tried to steal as much sleep whenever I could.  I awoke when we were on our way back to the posh hotel that Club Lavilla's management put us in for the night, and Lonnie was mysteriously absent from the van.  That was no big deal because it was not uncommon for bandmembers to find some groupie to hang out with and eventually have them bring them back to the hotel.  But this time he actually got left behind and had his own adventure making his way back to the hotel, which by the way, he could not remember the name of.  When we arrived, I made my way back to the "sleeping room" and curled up beneath the covers to enjoy being in a warm, comfy bed.

Somewhere around 5 in the morning I get awakened by frantic knocking on my hotel room door.  Brushing the crusties from my eyes I opened the door and was thrown backwards by Lonnie rushing into the room exclaiming "I had nothing to do with it!"  "I'm going to bed and no matter what they say, I had nothing to do with it!"  And with that he jumped into the other bed and immediately went to sleep.  Being no stranger to the usual drunk ramblings of my bandmates, I thought nothing of it.  I got woke up around 7 in the morning by our road manager grabbing me out of the bed and yelling at me to get my clothes on as fast as I can, no time for questions, we gotta go.

Once we got into the van and sped off like we just robbed a bank I finally found out what had happened.  Apparently, Clancey and Mickey met some girls who followed us to the hotel.  They were walking in the door of their hotel room when one of the girls said that she had to use the bathroom.  Clancey being the rowdy jackass that he was, tried to beat her to the toilet yelling that he was first and they both landed on the toilet seat.  The porcelain cracked like an eggshell right down the middle, flooding the bathroom.  They turned the water off and decided not to tell our road manager until the next morning, who then almost had a coronary.  Luckily, the manager of Club Lavilla liked us so much that he offered to pay the hotel for a new toilet.  Our home office at Export Records was still pretty pissed off nonetheless.  It pays to have friends in medium places.

To be continued....

Monday, February 7, 2011

Good Times, Bad Times

Being in a working band with two singles on the Rock Charts is a balance.  We were a "baby" band which meant people were beginning to hear our stuff and we were getting some name recognition, but we also had to have our regular lives too.  Bills still came in and we really weren't making any money with the band.  I was lucky enough to have a day job that let me take off whenever I needed, a couple of the other members had similar situations, but the other members just mooched off of us all the time.  While we were signed with Galaxy, we didn't have a steady tour schedule, we would work our usual jobs monday through thursday, then head out of town to play thursday, friday and saturday nights and occasionally sundays.  It got pretty tiresome.   It wasn't until we signed with Export that we hit the road full time.  We got to play a lot of festival type shows which are great fun, but I learned that very few musicians from the popular bands at the time were likeable people.  I remember once when we were playing a festival in Beaumont Texas,  I can't say the name of the band, but I was introduced to the singer and he gave me the impression that he thought that I was nothing more than gum on the pavement.  I took it upon myself to go into his dressing room and "help myself" to all the little extras that were put in his room that most higher up bands get when they play festivals.  Then we broke into their trailer and were watching their dvd's when they came in and promptly threw us out.

You get a lot of illusions shattered when you go out on the road as a "Rockstar."  First off, there were 6 of us riding in the van, but only two of us that had valid driver's licences.  Guess who one of those were.  For the first month it was me and one of the guitar players switching off driving duties.  In that situation, I pretty much only had about 12 hours of sleep that entire month.  I would usually be the one to drive after the show because the other driver would be passing out drunk.  Our road manager/soundman always needed his beauty sleep, so he never drove.  It wasn't until after the first month that we had an employee of Export Records join us on the road to split the managing and driving duties.  This is how a schedule would go:

-show ends, pack up, get on road to next show.
-arrive in town about 7 in the morning after driving for 5 hours and check into hotel.
-sleep til about 11 and then have to make an "in-store" appearance (i'll get to that in a minute)
-around 2 or 3, go back to hotel to take shower and get ready.
-around 5 head to the venue to unload and get promised a sound check, but the headlining band decides to show up an hour late and then spend 4 hours soundchecking.  So by the time you load your gear on the stage you have 15 minutes til doors open.
-hopefully you get a sandwich tray to ravage.
-about 8, set up merchandise table and be the only responsible band member to sit at it and don't get to party.
-show starts around 11.  play show
-after your set, you wait around for headlining band to finish their show so you can load up your equipment and head into the next town.  If you're lucky you get to enjoy the hotel room if the next show is within a 2 hour drive, if not then you get to check out by phone the next morning.
-repeat entire list.

Ah, the beauty of "In-Store Appearances."  When you are on the road all you want to do is sleep, but you have to do many things you don't want to do.  In-Stores are at the top of that list.  I'm sure if you are Aerosmith, or Metallica, in-stores are great.  But when you are a struggling baby band...they suck.  No one goes to them, you may get 5 people if you are lucky.  It is embarrassing.  You go to a store, they have your cd blaring, a table set up with all your merchandise, silver sharpies, you see your own face staring at you from posters plastered on the wall.  Yet there are no lines of adoring fans killing each other to see you.  I dreaded doing in-stores.  I used to pretend that I was just a regular customer and spend the entire two to three hours combing the same sad section of used cd's hoping I would find some hidden gem trying to blend in like I was.

To be continued...

Monday, January 31, 2011

It ain't easy being green.

I should back up just a bit.  The label we signed with after being let go from "Galaxy" records, (we'll call it "Export" Records) was an idea that was being thrown around before we even recorded the album in Seattle.  The "demo" record that we recorded, had all the artwork done and was ready for retail sale before we signed the single deal with "Galaxy."  It was really never meant to be distributed as an actual album, it was only for shopping to major label purposes.  Once we were dropped from "Galaxy", turning "Export" Records into a reality went into full effect.  We were pretty much tainted property at that point and getting another major label to bite was going to be hard.  Our band was literally in no man's land.  Our managers and boss didn't want the album to go to waste so they quickly printed up a contract.

I remember I was at "Lonnie's" (one of our guitar players) apartement when "Mickey" showed up with the "Export" contract.  This was about 4 or 5 in the afternoon on a friday.  We gave it a quick look over and decided that we wanted our lawyer to look at it first before we signed anything since we can't read "legaleze."  "Mickey" called the manager of Export Records (we will call her "Jessica" and she was also the wife of "Four Floors Up" bass player "Ted") and told her that we wanted to look at it over the weekend and turn it in on monday.  This is the exact moment in life when you make a life changing decision for the worst.  She told us that we had until 7 p.m. to sign it and give it back to her or we could kiss the contract goodbye.  My blood ran cold.

Every piece of my being was screaming to not sign it.  I knew in the pit of my soul that being forced into signing a contract is the worst thing we could ever do, but I was outnumbered.  They are our friends and friends don't screw each other over right?  They've been where we are at and know how much we want this, so it can't be bad right?  Wrong.  We were the donkeys pulling the cart with the carrot being dangled by a stick in front of our faces.  If there has ever been a number one rule in life it is this:  There are no such thing as friends in business.  Uneasy alliances at best.  So we will make that rule number one on the Musician's Survival List.

Rule #1:  There are no such things as friends when big money is involved.

It was a few months later when we started to realize what a bad contract we signed.

To be continued....

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Marathon Drumming and Seattle's Best.

The evening we arrived in Seattle, we ate and then went straight to the studio.  After the weight of it finally sank in, our engineer and I began to set up the drums and spent about 3 hours fine tuning and getting the mic's just right.  For those of you who are drummers know just how physically gruelling it can be to sit behind a drumset for a few hours every weekend giving it your all, feeling like someone is digging a screwdriver into your lower vertebrae.  That weekend I sat behind a drumset for around 6 hours the first night, 15 hours the next day and then another 14 hours the third day.  We were quite well prepared before we ever set foot into the studio and I nailed every song.  I completed the drumtracks for the entire album in one weekend.

Ever since I was a kid I have been a movie lover and proud sci fi "geek."  I was a member of a movie discussion website at the time and met a girl on the site who happened to live in Seattle.  As soon as I was done with my time at the studio I got to meet her in person and she gave me the tour of Seattle.  I got to see parts of Seattle my bandmates didn't get to see.  We went to Pike's Place Market, where the guys throw fish at one another.  I got to sample some of the Seattle nightlife.  Many a good time was had in Seattle and I will never forget it, especially when I went to the restaurant that was in the lobby of our hotel.  The first day I was there I was ecstatic to learn that they served "biscuits and gravy."  Being the good southern boy that I am, I ordered a plate.  It was definitely not my grandmother's biscuits or gravy.  I took it upon myself to school them on how to make it correctly, but I don't think they took my knowledge for good use.

The whole point for recording the entire cd was not for commercial release.  It was merely meant to be a full-length demo to shop around to major labels.  The major label that actually wanted to sign us (we'll call them Galaxy Records) gave us a pretty strange deal.  They signed us to a "single song" deal with the stipulation that we change the name of the band, citing that our original name would "alienate" a female fanbase.  If the single did well, then they were going to sign us to a full recording contract.

We signed the deal with "Galaxy"and re-recorded the single, and they released it with no marketing and absolutely no money behind it.  It reached #42 on the Billboard rock charts and we thought that it was all but certain that we were going to get a full record deal.   Over a month goes by and we hear nothing from "Galaxy."  Phone call after phone call, they finally tell us that we are not what the label is looking for and released the rights to the song back to us with a good luck pat on the head.  Now here we were with no record deal and a name that no one knows us by.  What to do next....

To be continued....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

In The Beginning cont'd...

I don't want people to think that all I play music for is to make money, that isn't it at all.  I love music.  I love creating and playing music.  I was surrounded by music when I was growing up.  My father and older brother were both guitar players and they both introduced me to music that still affects me to this day.  My dad loves all kinds of music; jazz, blues, "good" country (Willie, Waylon, Williams) and he loves 60's rock.  He is the biggest Beatles fan in the world.  My brother introduced me to Van Halen, Metallica and Led Zeppelin.  Even though they were both guitar players, I knew my path lay elsewhere.  I was a drummer long before I even owned a drumset.  Drums are just primal.  Not to mention that Animal was my favorite muppet.

When I first joined FAW, I was only supposed to be temporary until they found a permanent drummer as I was in another band at the time.  But something happened that first practice.  That rare instance when musicians play together and instantly have a connection, I knew I needed to be in this band.  Everything just clicked and two weeks later we had our first gig opening up for 12 Stones at the House of Blues in New Orleans.  It was a sold out crowd and I felt like a real rock star.  The crowd loved us, we had our own dressing room full of partiers and the booze was flowing.  The night was epic and I will never forget it as long as I live.

After a few months of quickly building a following along the gulf coast, we started to get some real attention.  Our future boss (we will call him 'Ted Hammond') married a good friend of our bass player "Mickey."  She was a fan of the band and wanted to do what she could to help us land a record deal.  "Ted" and "Carl" a guitar player from his band decided that they wanted to be producers and help us hone our songs and produce a full album demo which we could shop to major labels.  After a few months of pre-production we were sent to London Bridge Studios in Seattle Washington.  For those of you who don't know, London Bridge was where the "grunge" sound was pretty much born.  Alice In Chains "Dirt", Pearl Jam "Ten", and Soundgarden "Badmotorfinger" were all recorded there.  I was still in high school when those albums came out and if I could have gone back in time to tell my teenage self that I would be recording in the studio where those albums were made, I would have had a massive heart attack on the spot.

After arriving in Seattle, we immediately went to the closest pizza parlor we could find and gorged ourselves after being starved nearly to death over our ten hour flight on Southwest Airlines, whose idea of an inflight meal is a bag of gummy bears and a quarter can of Sam's Choice cola.  We left the pizzaria and arrived at London Bridge Studios.  You would never have known it was even there.  It just looked like a warehouse behind an office building.  As I walked inside and stood in the huge open room that I would spend pretty much the next 36 hours behind a drumset almost nonstop, I felt the weight of it all.  It was the feeling I had when I kissed a girl for the first time.  The world absolutely stopped for about 30 seconds and I knew I had done something that thousands of others dream of.  I walked into the lounge area and saw gold and platinum records all over the walls, drumheads with the signatures of all the members of those great Seattle bands.  It was amazing.  Next comes the marathon drum session.

To be Continued...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In The Beginning

The whole reason I am writing this is to not only serve as a warning to up and coming musicians, but to also drive out some of the demons that have been lurking in my skull for the past few years.  I feel the overwhelming urge to tell my story.  Even if no one reads this and no one cares, I will still get it off my chest and it will be out there in the world for someone to find and hopefully avoid the pitfalls that some of us have fallen into.  

Ever since I was a kid and saw the video for Motley Crue's "Wild Side" and saw Tommy Lee playing his drums upside down in a cage over the audience, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  No one believed I could pull it off.  "Its a one in a million shot."  "You need to think about college." "You need to think about the future."  Those are the usual sayings you hear when you tell your family that you want to play music for a living.  I had thoughts that being a musician was glamorous, with beautiful girls on both arms and more money than I knew what to do with.  The day I signed an actual record contract with a major label (I will change names and omit certain things to protect the not-so-innocent) I thought that reality was closer than I ever imagined.  I thought that as soon as I signed a record contract that Hugh Hefner would call me personally to invite me to the Playboy Mansion and would have a Viper sitting in my driveway when I got home.  Boy was I wrong.

First off, the music company is made up of two different types of people: Musicians and the leeches who make all the money.  Unless your name is Jay-Z or 50 Cent, you're pretty much signing a contract to live a life of poverty.  When you sign a record contract, you are signing away your basic human rights.   You officially become an indentured servant.  They see you as nothing more than a walking pile of money or they don't see you at all.  Most of the time you don't even register as a carbon based life form, much less a human being.  The only reason that musicians are still part of the music industry is because the soulless leeches haven't yet figured out a way to do it without us.

What people don't understand is is that most of the musicians they like, especially rock groups are dirt poor.  Unless you sell millions of albums, you have nothing.  When my band was signed and on the road, we were scraping by on $15 dollars a day per diem, driving across the country in a second hand church van with no a/c half the time, a trailer for our equipment that had a rusty axle and tires that liked to fly off in the middle of the night (we'll get into that later on) playing on third hand equipment held together with duct tape and spit.   At the time, we had a single out on the major label, signed a contract with a smaller label whose owner was the bass player for one of the biggest rock bands in the world at the time (lets call them "Four Floors Up").  We had nothing but that crappy van and ourselves, travelling across the country playing every shit-hole dive bar, singing for our supper, all the while our record company people and our boss sitting on the hill in their castles made of gold bricks telling us how much money we owed them while we were coasting into the next town on fumes eating what was left of the lunchmeat tray we ganked from a bar two nights before.

That is all for today, my tale will continue.....