I recently heard a local band who are quite good at the style of music they play and obviously love what they’re doing. Unfortunately their performance (and this was not the first time I’d heard them) was seriously marred by two very basic things. First, their PA system. The sound was muddy and it was virtually impossible to understand their lyrics. Now, I know that replacing equipment involves some expense but with this band in particular who play lots of area gigs that is not a valid excuse, in my opinion anyway. We are in a great period of time related to both guitars and sound reinforcement equipment. Many superior sounding PA’s that can handle decent sized crowds can be had for a very reasonable price. Decent mics, too. Plus – and I don’t know if the guitar player just likes the one he plays and accepts its thin, nasty sound – reasonably priced guitars with excellent pick-ups are readily available. These things are easy fixes and the audience will appreciate the big improvement in sound. Invest in the best sounding gear you can afford, that’s all I’m saying.
An even easier fix is something I’ve mentioned here many times in the past. Don’t….waste….time….between….songs. In the case of this band the total amount of time between songs was often as long as the songs themselves! I can’t think of a better way to lose whatever connection to an audience that may have been established. Yes, it means there will need to be more songs in the set list (and DO use a set list) but short breaks between songs tells an audience that you love playing and they will be much more responsive. One of the best bands I’ve heard over the last few years was a blues band from Mississippi at the Green Parrot in Key West. They didn’t break between songs at all and the energy level was intoxicating. Their audience was a happy, sweaty mess by the end of their hour-long first set, and after a short break they did it all over again. Just a superb show and I’m sure many, many beers were sold so the management must have been happy.
I’m not advocating such a ramped up performance for most of us; certainly a few moments between songs is fine, especially if the performer says a few words to the audience. But total disregard and long spaces between songs is just unprofessional and quite frankly kind of implies you don’t really know what you’re doing.
Enough with the negativity, Gene!
Want to hear a great performance? Go to You Tube and search “three girls and their buddy.” You will find a wonderful segment from a PBS concert program from a few years ago that features Emmy Lou Harris, Patti Griffin, Shawn Colvin and the great Buddy Miller on lead instruments. Each of the “girls” play one of their well-known songs while Buddy fills in some leads. Stunning performance and sound, and the mutual admiration is plain to see. Check it out!
OK, true confession time. I am always fascinated by the back stories of musicians I like. Even the dirt! For example, I’ve been using a couple songs by Sara Watkins with my students and those songs are a bit on the bitter side, lyrically, and it leads me to wonder if they are pointed at one of her former bandmates in the now defunct but great band Nickel Creek. Sara is a terrific musician in her own right but I can’t help but wonder just where those songs came from.
Another example: the Civil Wars. They burst on the Americana scene a few years ago but only released a couple albums, the last one being a bold-faced “break-up” album. Pretty much everyone was left to wonder why this duo who sang together in such a breathtakingly beautiful style quit at the moment of wide recognition. Neither party has been willing to explain and of course they are under no obligation to do so, but it just seems so tragic….. I’m just nosey, I guess!
Here’s one that I found hard to answer or more accurately, to justify. One of my newer students asked me: why do you have so many guitars? An innocent and total valid question. My current line-up includes a Martin OM-28, Eastman AC-422ce and a Gibson J-45. That J-45 kind of landed back in my lap. It belonged to a former student who bought it from me a few years ago, then decided to go with a Martin 000-18. I had the J-45 here on consignment for a while and one of my other students decided he wanted it. I paid the owner but then, the one who said he wanted it backed out at the last minute. Not wanting to burden my former student with giving it back it now resides with me, which is not a bad thing and hopefully I will be able to move it for a better price and send the former owner some more money before too long. An awkward situation, for sure, but the fact is I like that Gibson – for certain things.
This gets me back to the original question. Why do I have so many guitars? Well, the fact is each one serves a purpose. The Martin OM-28 sounds terrific acoustically but not quite as good amplified. The Eastman sounds fantastic amplified (deep and resonant but with nice sparkly trebles, too) but doesn’t have the complexity of tone the Martin does when played without amplification. That J-45 is classic Gibson all the way. That is to say, woody and dry sounding with plenty of volume that is perfect for strumming both when amplified or not plugged in. It is particularly good on country and blues tunes, which is not surprising as many country and blues artists loved that sound; many still do. It doesn’t have nearly the complexity of tone or responsiveness of the other two when finger-picked however.
But hey, I know I’m very fortunate to be able to have “special purpose” guitars. Most people have just one that has to cover many bases. I’ve been playing with a guy recently who has the most impressive collection of high-end recent acoustic guitars I’ve ever seen. I’m not close to being in his league and most likely never will be unless I win Power Ball!
Or maybe (probably?) both he and I are simply justifying a simple and unavoidable fact. We love guitars!
Peace & good music,