Thursday, August 13, 2015

About the singer-songwriter format…

For most of my almost 40-year relationship with music, whenever I have done live presentations, it has been in the context of a band, where I was NOT the front person.  Since I re-started my live performance career this year, for the first time in my life I’m not only fronting, I am the single performer.  I come out with my guitar in hand, stand in the middle of the stage, and sing songs that I penned.  So why is it that I resist the term singer-songwriter?
Full disclosure: I have absolutely nothing against the singer-songwriter format.  I happen to not only like, but treasure certain albums in the format, such as James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James.  But I don’t believe that what I do live properly falls under the label singer songwriter, and here’s why…
Singer-songwriters, as defined, are musicians who write, compose and perform their own material, and most often provide the sole accompaniment to an entire composition, typically with a guitar or piano.  So far it is spot on what I am doing.  But the key difference, I think, is that the singer-songwriter generally composed the song within the framework of that format, whereas I wrote a fully orchestrated song that I then adapted for the purpose of performing it solo.  Therefore, the live song is going to be materially different from the recorded version.  Artists that come to mind that are more associated with my approach are Chris Whitely, Rocco Delucca, and Warren Zevon, all of who have rocking albums that they subsequently break down to their essence, and perform them solo with a guitar or piano.  Another example was the original acoustic frenzy that overtook the industry in the late 80’s and early 90s with the MTV show Unplugged.  Granted, it eventually lost the essence of the “naked” songs on which it was premised, but in its inception, it was exactly what I am suggesting here.  In fact, I clearly remember being floored by Stevie Ray Vaughn’s presentation of his rocking blues on an acoustic 12-string guitar.  But nobody would label him a singer-songwriter, right?
So while a folk artist may be presenting a fairly faithful representation of their recorded product, focusing on the beauty of the lyric, the melody and the message, I am more concerned with presenting the song in a way that captures the energy of the original in a radically different format.  I am not suggesting it is better or worse, simply different.
But at the end of the day I am reminded of what a fellow musician told me before a gig when I was questioning my place in a lineup of heavy metal bands.  He said: “music is music, so just do your thing.”  Wise words…




Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Gig Report: August 7 @ Luna’s Café and August 8 @ Clubhouse 24

I really like Luna’s Café.  It feels like playing at home for me.  I think it has something to do with the fact that it’s cozy, that it is a Café rather than a pub, and that Art Luna is such a cool guy.  The night opened with singer-songwriter OLIVIA AWBREY.  She described her music as punk folk, which I think really nails it.  She plays with a very percussive strumming approach that is just short of aggressive, and delivers her thoughtful lyrics with a fantastic voice that I am sure can go beyond the range she pushes it in her performance.  I really enjoyed her set and invited her to join me the next night at a different venue, but she didn’t make it.  I hope our paths cross gain in the future.  I followed Olivia, and had a pretty good set.  I tried out a couple of new songs, one which I was not sure would go over well acoustically (The Guilt Trip), but I received very good feedback form the audience, both right after the song, and after the gig.  I had a really solid turnout, but unfortunately, Olivia was from out of town (Portland), so she had no local followers, and the headlining act never showed, and neither did their fans.  So the 12 headcount that was there were my friends and followers, which is cool, but for Art’s sake I would have liked to see a fuller room.

The next night, at Clubhouse 24, I played with Charles Gunn, and it was one of those nights… I was curious about this gig as it was an exploratory event for me.  I was playing at a gallery on Second Saturday (a once a month event where galleries stay open late and host passers-by.  My goal was to gauge what a Second Saturday gig would be like, if I could live with being little more than wallpaper in return for a significant exposure.  But as it turned out, there was no exposure.  This particular gallery had not promoted and their geographical situation is such that there are not a whole lot of walk-ins.  We did get one couple who peaked in and stayed for a couple of songs, and we had three friends show up.  But other than that, we basically played for ourselves.  The redeeming factor of the evening was that Mr. John Lowry, harmonica player with the Cash Cartell Band, sat in for the majority of my set and I had a blast listening to him improvise over my songs.  Charles was solid, as always, with his laid back approach and excellent songs.  I really enjoy working with him and I believe we complement each other well.  Thanks to Chris Whetstone for the use of the PA, it sounded great in this room!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gig Report: August 1 @ Press Club

This was an eclectic and interesting show from its inception… the lineup was a roots rock band, a punk band, a modern hard rock band, and me.  Let me first off express my gratitude to Jessica Burke (J. Burke Productions), the promoter of the show.  She has been nothing but supportive and is quickly becoming a close friend.  There is nobody in the Sacramento scene that is more active, and more present than she is.  Hats off to my friend Jessica!

Back to the gig… I was up first and I had a pretty good set in spite of a couple of technical glitches.  I was told after the show that my set organization has improved tremendously and it is becoming a more dynamic set.  This makes me happy because this is something I had purposely set out to accomplish.  I opened with Snowy Mountain and finished with Sin Again, and I think both worked brilliantly.  The way I inserted my more up-tempo songs also worked well.  I will keep improving upon this in my two gigs coming up this weekend. 
The second band, Super Mega Everything, played a solid set of hard rocking numbers.  As I told the guitarist at the end of their set, I paid them the highest compliment I can pay a hard rock band: they were tight as brothers.  After them came The Losing Kind, a straight p punk rock band from Vacaville, CA.  As could be expected, they brought the energy and the attitude.  I personally liked them a whole bunch, but I think they were a little much for some in the audience. 

The show was headlined by the Cash Cartell who is my new favorite local band.  They are a roots based rock band in the best way possible.  They have a seasoned sound that is young enough to keep its energy and urgency, but exuding confidence and proficiency.  Each member of the quintet fulfills their role completely and never gets in the way of the other musicians in the band.  The harmonica player adds a fantastic dimension to the band that, combined with the rhythm section, often left me envious and wanting to put a band together.  And the front man, Chuck Schubert, has attitude, swagger, chops (both singing and playing guitar), and also happens to be a kind and generous soul.  Chuck shares guitar duties with a second guitarist and they trade licks, leads and rhythm effortlessly and seamlessly.  The songwriting is first rate and the showmanship… well let’s just say I was never compelled to go outside for fresh air.  Chuck and I exchanged pleasantries at the end of the show and he opened the door to doing some collaboration as he also dug my set.  I really hope we follow up on that as the possibilities are very cool. 
Peace out Boneheads!