Category Archives: Band

Music I’m making

The Blue Collar Bass Player.

This post is mainly aimed at my bass playing friends but also other types of musicians might enjoy it. I just got through reading the latest revision of Ted Gould‘s book and felt compelled to share this review.

With his new book (iTunes link), Ted skillfully bridges the gap between the living room and the global stage. In between these two extremes is where most working bassists live and learn — often the hard way — the important lessons of making a good impression, doing homework, getting and keeping gigs, and much more.

Unlike a lot of professional or self-help books, this one isn’t “fluffed up” with vague, useless concepts that up the page count but waste your time. Instead, Ted packs it with value, pulling zero punches with dead-on advice to help bassists avoid common pitfalls and bring their best to their job as musicians. Whether you’re trying to get from basement to bar, from local venues to regional or beyond, or simply expand your work to other types of gigs, “The Blue Collar Bass Player” is the book for you.

No joke, this book is packed with practical, awesome information. Definitely worth a read if you want to up your game!

It ain’t always what it’s supposed to be.

Lately I’ve found that I really miss playing music regularly. When I first joined Red Hat in 2008, the plan was for me to move up to New England so I could join most of my coworkers in the Westford office. As a result, I gracefully exited the musical projects I was involved in at the time, so they wouldn’t be hampered by my sudden move. However, a plummeting housing market in the DC area and my mother’s struggles with her spinal problems put the kibosh on my move, and circumstances led to me basically just working from home. That has continued to work out pretty well for both me and Red Hat, so I don’t see it changing any time in the near future.

The unfortunate result, though, is that I haven’t been playing music regularly now for several years. And that gets me right where it hurts — in my work/life balance. Anyone who knows me knows I put a high value on that balance. I’ve been better at achieving it over the past couple of years. But the question I’ve asked myself lately is “to what end?”. Sure, I get to spend more time with my family, but it’s not like we are busy every second of every night or weekend. So the question is, am I doing the best with that non-work time that I could? And the answer to myself was no. I was missing the fun of being creative, and that’s what music does for me.

So I decided to challenge myself to get back into the music scene in the local area. I wouldn’t say that Fredericksburg, Virginia is a bustling music marketplace, but we do have our share of venues and bands. There are some limitations: most of what people are playing around here is bar music, i.e. classic rock, country, and/or blues (or hard metal, which is just not my bag, baby). That means I have to do away somewhat with my predisposition, which is singer/songwriter stuff in the folk/rock/pop genre. Because when you’re playing professionally, you are working in a marketplace, and rule number one is, the customer is always right. And if the customer wants to hear “Gimme Three Steps” for the eight thousandth frickin’ time, then I’m going to do my best to chew it up — dig?

Letting go of my personal feelings about tunes I like (or don’t), though, has been easier to solve than another issue: finding great people to play with. I’ve done auditions for a while now, and I’ve discovered — or maybe rediscovered, since I probably knew this long ago the last time I was auditioning — that auditions are a two-way street. When I show up for an audition with a group, they’re not just seeing whether I’m good for them, I’m determining whether they’re good for me. So far the second half of that equation has been missing. So I’m trying to branch out beyond just answering ads, and try to meet other musicians who maybe aren’t actively looking. It stands to reason that many great musicians in the area are already hooked up with a group, simply because they’re great and everyone knows it.

Fortunately I’ve found there are worthwhile open mic sessions in the area. I’ve never done these before — I found all my previous work through referrals and recommendations, working with a series of steadily excellent musicians. Not being a born extrovert, I also found that I had some trepidation about attending an open mic. What if I didn’t know the tunes? What if no one wanted me on stage? What if none of the other players was any good? Then I realized all these what-if’s were basically killing any positive outcome before it even had a chance. If I went, sure, there was a chance it might not end up having value. But if I didn’t, then there was a 100% chance it wouldn’t have any value. So it’s pretty simple — just go, already!

It’s turned out pretty well so far — I’ve found that there are some truly great musicians around this area. Sure, they may all be in good bands already, but they also tend to know each other, and the way I look at it, if they start to know who I am, they’ll be able to give me or someone else a heads-up for a situation that might be good for me. The open mic is just as much a networking opportunity as a musical one. So by embracing that opportunity my hope is to get more wired into the local scene, make some new friends, and maybe find a referral to play with some great musicians again. I think the key is not just to go, but to keep going. That’s reinvigorated me, so that I’m practicing more on my own again — and it’s helped me shake the rust and dust off.

So today, I’m going out again to an open mic that was fun last Sunday, after which I’m headed off to another audition. And while the other guys are certainly going to audition me, I’m also going to audition them. So don’t just wish me luck — wish them luck too!

What I’ve been missing.

There hasn’t been a lot of music in my life lately, other than listening. Work has been very demanding lately, and between that and traveling to do fun things with the family, not much time has been left over for playing. Today I have a day of glorious playing ahead, though, with some good friends up the road in Reston, VA. It’s nice to have a hobby that gives out such a positive vibe and that you can share with other people.

You can also really connect with your tools as well when you play music. This morning I took out a couple of my basses to make sure they were ready to rock’n’roll, and I enjoyed getting reaccustomed to a couple of my favorites. One of the basses I’m bringing with me is a 1953 Fender Precision issue. I believe it’s the Sting signature model, but I can’t be completely sure. I bought it used for a little under $700, and it’s Japanese made as I would expect from that model. (Typically the Japanese made instruments these days are second only to American built Fenders, and only by a slim margin in my opinion.) The serial number seems to support it.

But unlike the mother of pearl signature marker at the octave fret which you see on the Sting model, this one has a black bar. On very close inspection it seems like the previous owner actually painted carefully over the inset, and then refinished the neck. He did a fine job, though, so I had no qualms about buying it. It did make me wonder why you would go to so much trouble to cover up the signature on a signature model bass. Maybe the guy played in a honky tonk band and the Sting signature gave the other band members the willies.

All I know is that one of the other mods he made was to add a Lindy Fraling hand-wound pickup that, when combined with the strings passing through the body at the bridge, gives this axe the sonic nuts. The neck is pretty round and kind of like playing a baseball bat compared to a couple of my other basses, so playing this bass for long stretches can be a little like a wrestling match — you have to muscle it into submission. But the reward is a big fat P-bass sound that’s shaded just differently enough from a stock 1960’s style Precision to give it a unique vibe. Definitely looking forward to playing it today!

They try to make him go to rehab, he says no no no.

I could spend a lot of this blog talking about how incredibly insane it is for our government to be spending another $700B bailing out the greedy, the stupid, and the clueless. I could rail equally against both sides of the aisle for acting as if this wasn’t the exact outcome predicted by the last several years of credit overextensions, lack of oversight, and blind investor greed. Anyone who thinks that somehow either the Dems or the GOP have the answer to this problem, after the blithering idiocy and pandering of the last several days, needs to have their head removed, scrubbed with a Brillo, and reattached right side up. But no, I’d rather spend this blog talking about how I avoided thinking about this stuff too hard for the last few days.

Saturday we had a lovely Software Freedom Day 2008 celebration in beautiful downtown Fredericksburg, complete with balloons, freebies, and of course lots of free software for everyone. We had many, many people stop by — I was shocked at the turnout for a small town. Many of the attendees wanted to talk about their horrible experiences with specific proprietary software companies, which made it very difficult to keep the conversation positive, but we did our best. We gave out copies of the Open Disc, minus the USA-illegal bits, and lots of Ubuntu and Fedora discs (the latter preferred by most of the attendees). A respectable number of attendees followed up with memberships to our LUG and its mailing list.

Sunday I went to the National Rehabilitation Hospital to visit my friend, ace guitarist Arch Alcantara. A few weeks ago, Arch had a subarachnoid hemmorhage — a ruptured aneurysm in his brain. He survived not only the event, the subsequent cracking of his head when he fell over on his face, the coiling surgery to make the bleeding clot, and the risk of vasospasm the week afterward, but also the medical staff who weren’t used to someone with such an advanced case of biting sarcasm in the ICU, nor his tendency to burst into song. (There’s something to be said for a guy who sings “Head Like a Hole” the day after being extubated.)

Arch looked, as I told him, pretty fantastic for a guy whose head basically exploded three weeks ago. My friend Rich and I hung out for about an hour or so with him and Christina, basically just being happy that Arch was doing so well. We went out with him to the garden and sat for a bit to just soak up some fresh air, and commiserated on the hospital’s showing of 27 Dresses and the unlikelihood that it would be followed up by a Tarantino double feature. Arch has weeks of physical therapy in front of him, but I’m sure he’ll be able to conquer that with only occasional added grumpiness. On the way home, I appreciated relative good health and hoped that, in the same shoes, people would visit me to bring good cheer. A well spent day away from the computer, all told.

Paul and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Bumpy ride.

To continue today’s epic streak of bad luck:

  • My softphone gave out on me right before I was supposed to speak on an agenda item at a meeting this afternoon. My landline was in use by the wife, and when she got off, the conference system wouldn’t let me enter the room, claiming there was no such conference, which might have been pretty funny in other circumstances, considering I had just come from there.
  • Mad rush to finish some marketing work put me at the dinner table just as everyone was getting done. Then they had to rush off to a school function where my daughter had some creations on display, while I went to a LUG meeting.
  • On the way to the LUG meeting, alone in the car, I was poking a finger around one of my teeth to clean off a speck of something, when the car hit a bump and I basically abraded my gum all the way down to the soft furrow at its base, guaranteeing myself about a week of annoying pain.

I think I’m going to go pull the bedcovers over my head and wait for next week. In better news…

Crowdsourcing design.

I’m probably superlate to this party, but I hadn’t seen 99designs until today. Pretty cool.

Musical mayhem.

This past weekend, for the first time in months, I was able to get together with some fellow musicians. This particular soiree was an 80’s cover band a friend of mine is putting together, which is at the same time horrifying and a huge amount of fun. He’s more of a traditionalist so there’s not as much New Wave in it as I’d probably prefer. I’ll probably harass him until we can play Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” with big chunking guitars.

Unfortunately our keyboard player had to bail at the last minute so we had three guitars, bass, and drums. I hadn’t brought my keyboard with me, so I played sound engineer, song compiler, and the extra guitar guy really rich bands bring along to play ostinato figures through a delay unit for texture. It was fun getting away from the bass for a while, and my Variax really came through with some sweet tone.

Spring cleaning, either early or late.

Finally Eleya and I are getting our plan on the road for rearranging our house. Now the kids are older, and we don’t have to worry so much about where they are — now it’s usually about why they can’t be quieter wherever that is.

We kicked off The Big Plan this weekend by finally getting rid of a bed we took off a friend’s hands years ago and put in our finished basement to make a somewhat sparse guest room. Suddenly the room looked so spacious, yet filled with the promise of new purpose!

Phase Two had me buying a used music studio desk at a great price from a Craigslist seller who’s a musician, producer, engineer, and business manager in Arlington. Nice guy, by the way. What was a Spartan guest room will soon become a beautifully appointed music studio and work area for me.

Phase Three is to get a small computer desk for our living room/library (not the same as the family room), and move the main computer workstation to that floor. Incidentally, this makes it easier for us to keep an eye on the kids as they use the computer, since our house has a pretty open design on the main floor.

Phase Four is to remove the enormous office desk and (possibly) repaint in the great room in the basement. Our main server — a repurposed secondhand desktop — will stay…

…And reside next to the home theater that is moving in Phase Five from the main floor to the basement great room. We are looking forward to having a warmer family room on the main floor, no longer dominated by a 50″ HDTV, instead to be used for (gasp!) actual conversation, reading, and playing games.

We’re not sure how much longer we’re going to be in this house, but we’ve been talking about this kind of rearrangement for the better part of 2007, and the New Year is a great time to resolve to make a more comfortable and useful home space.

Circus of Dreams comes to town.

The gig last night at IOTA went great. A little wrung out this morning as a result, but the price must be paid to Bring the Rawk. Our crowd was very large and (thankfully) a little less chatty than the last show there, at which it was sometimes even hard to hear ourselves! The important thing is that they really got into the show, which made it so much more enjoyable from the stage.

The earlier half of the double-bill show was the simply incredible Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams. I don’t know how to describe them except as maybe Loudon Wainwright III meets The Who, or maybe Sufjan Stevens meets Pink Floyd. They were AMAZING.

And as a bonus, they were the nicest folks imaginable. Three of the band members are family members (mom, dad, and son), which I think is as cool as it gets. And it is somewhat circus-like, the very unpretentious family atmosphere they create. We chatted with them for a while between sets and they were thrilled to have finally found a DC-area club that really seemed to get what they were doing. We loved them, and they said they would love to get together with us for another show. Any time!

I’m in ur phone booth changin my guise.

Stayed up late catching up on a little work and email. Woke up late this morning, sped out the door with daughter in tow to do some Christmas shopping for bandmates. Overspent and hope no one is shamed.

Now I need to move my amp and cab (ugh) up to the car, change my clothes, and become the rockstar I was meant to be. You know, the kind that drives a late-model Honda.