Please allow me to begin this one by GIVING THANKS to be in somewhat of a position to where I don’t have to take every single gig (show) that is offered to me. Because *begin Slick Rick voice* once upon a time not long ago… I wasn’t giving a rat’s ass about the type of show I was involving myself in… I guess you could say in some instances that I was the Clifton Powell of live music. Getting consistent work……But not always the best work. The booking conversations usually went something like this…
Them: “Ayo, you good to do a gig on Friday”
Me: “Is there money involved?”
Me: “When and where?”
Seems pretty ridiculous, right?… Maaan, let me tell y’all som’n. When you’re just out there taking any and every gig thrown at you, you become highly susceptible to what I and many others love to refer to as “that bullshit”. Most of the musicians I’m close to have an extremely over-the-top sense of humor and could probably find a career in comedic writing if they chose to pursue it. Why? Because we encounter so much of….. you guessed it – “That bullshit.” You wanna test it out? Ok… Do this RIGHT NOW…..or uhhh, soon after read this. Hit up someone who you know who is a working musician and ask them to tell you about some of the worst gigs they’ve ever played. You will probably hear tales of monetary trickery that leads to violence, gigs in the middle of nowhere with very questionable crowds, or stories involving overly demanding non-singin’ ass singers OR non-rappin’ ass rappety rap dudes who request to “rock with the band”, but then tell the band to stop playing because they wanna “do this one a capello” – Yeah, you read that correctly, “A CAPELLO”. I’ve witnessed promoters get their asses whooped after shows, artists meltdown on stage, drunk folks in the crowd lose their damn minds… Maaaaan, it has been an ADVENTURE so far.
Now, there are some issues that are just completely out of anyone’s control. For example, I can remember playing a show with Stacy Epps in 2006 at Bohemian Caverns while battling food poisoning as a result of some bad Chinese food from the night before. Being on the verge of regurgitation the entire time you’re on stage isn’t exactly the greatest feeling in the world, but I managed pulled on through that one – head down on the keyboard during some parts of the night and all. Oh, and uhhh… I don’t think I touched Chinese food again for another 3 or 4 years after that either. On the other hand, there are instances where the control was placed in the hands of the ‘artist’ and they just kinda blew it. I was playing in the house band down at Bar Nun in D.C. during one of their Monday night open mic joints in 2007 and one kat came up ready to do a poem over whatever it was we were playing at the time…. But he couldn’t just do his poem, that wasn’t extra enough. Dude proceeded to reach up and unscrew the lightbulb above his head so that he could as he put it, “set the vibe”. There was NO way ANY of us could keep a straight face on our instruments after witnessing this dude damn near burn his hand off trying to handle a lightbulb that had to have been on most of the day. He turned around to us pissed off… “Y’all are fuckin’ up the vibe!! Maaaan, y’all fuckin’ up the vibe!!” To which we responded, “No… YOU’RE fuckin’ up the vibe!!” After thoroughly berating his antics in front of the crowd …He ended up exiting stage right, promptly.
But one of the most “special” gigs I’ve ever played was one I agreed to maybe a few months after I moved to Maryland back in 2006. I was told that there would be one rehearsal before the actual show and was then given a dollar amount that was low, but as explained earlier my mentality at that time was simply, “What would Clifton do?” I was sent about 30-35 songs, all covers, to learn for the next day’s rehearsal. Some of the songs were even live show performance clips recorded directly from a television speaker. Rehearsal was damn near 45 minutes away from me, as was the actual show. When I arrived to the rehearsal, I discovered that there was ANOTHER keyboard player there… Ok cool, no one told me this… BUT, it was actually to my advantage because apparently he had played with the vocalist before and knew most, if not all of the music. So I made it work by suggesting that I play synth bass instead of the keyboard parts on the show. No problem… I wasted time learning all of that music, but instead of loading my Yamaha Motif keyboard in, I was able to pack away and take my much smaller Nord Lead II board to the show. Advantage: Zo! …Or so I thought. During soundcheck for the show, the keyboardist decided that it would be a good idea to transpose his keyboard a half step UP in order to play whatever song it was we were running at the time. For those who aren’t familiar with the term “transpose”, this basically means to switch your keyboard to a totally different key WITHOUT having to play different notes. For example, if I’m playing a “C” and transpose the keyboard a half step up… that same “C” now becomes “C sharp (C#)”. It’s a very lazy way of playing. I mean, what’s wrong with simply learning the song in a different key! Anyway…. The plan was to begin the show with an opening “jam session” in F minor. We were to play, take solos, whatever… very simple, right? Well, after getting into position to play, the curtain opened up to…………………..*silence*
The drummer FROZE………………
………….. The other keyboard player was looking directly at me talkin’bout, “Should we start NOW?!!???”
…..I was pissed.
…………… I looked at the drummer and in a yell/whisper said, “Count it off!! GO!! Count. The. Song. OFF.”
…… Drummer still had not moved post-curtain opening.
………… I seriously began to debate on requesting them to close the curtain so that I could fight the drummer.
……………… FINALLY. Drummer: “One, two, three!” *snare hit*
We started to play after what seemed like 10 minutes on stage of unnecessary silence. But as we played, I could hear that something seemed, I don’t know… “off”, but I couldn’t really tell what it was as the monitors weren’t the greatest. My suspicions were soon confirmed on the next song when the keyboardist started to play some of it and realized he was playing in the wrong key. Why was he in the wrong key, you ask?! Because his keyboard was still transposed a half step up from soundcheck!! He stopped playing……….transposed his keyboard BACK to normal, and proceeded to start again.
Did I just witness what I thought I………..??!!
I don’t think you understand what I just said. He STOPPED in the middle of what he was playing, clicked around on his keyboard to bring the transpose setting back to “0” and THEN started the song again. I have never seen any shit like this before or since. At this point, I wanted to walk the hell off of the stage because, #1… Who DOES that?! and more importantly #2… THAT meant that he and I were jamming on the opening song in TWO DIFFERENT KEYS. I was in F minor…. and he was in F# minor!! No WONDER the shit sounded off. And I bet it sounded TERRIBLE in the house speakers. I just remember thinking to myself, “MAN, I wish I wore a disguise to this punk ass show.” Fortunately, the performance didn’t get any worse that night but I will NEVER forget how it started off. When it was over, I acted as if I was going to receive a monetary bonus for packing everything up in less than 2 minutes. I got my money and RACED outta that spot.
In this business, you gig and you learn verrrry quickly.