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The Safety of the Stage!

The safety of the stage? What the heck could I mean by that? Well, those of you who understand true performing, should know exactly what I mean! Basically, I am talking about what it really means to feel comfortable as a performer, so much so that the very act of climbing up on that stage now puts you into a better state of mind, and puts you into a mode where you actually feel safer than being in the “real” world, down there, off the stage!

Think about it….when I can think back to my days of heavy road touring, you must log hundreds of hours on the road, in buses, hotels, restaurants, airports you name it, all for just a tiny amount of intense, yet rewarding time on that stage. And this has always held true for me, whether as a backup player, or as a front man. In the early days, I used to have a fair amount of nervousness before going onstage, and even while still onstage, but later on, I began to be able to channel that nervousness into positive energy that ended up really helping the overall performance I had to give.

This is fundamental as a performer, because many artists, no matter how veteran they may be, still experience this “positive anxiety” prior to playing onstage, and then are always ready to channel those nerves into their performance, making their show even more intense.

I can only offer to you that this surely gets better with time and experience, and really that we must all go through it, no matter how much of a natural performer we may be. I used to love to say to folks that I felt more comfortable in front of a crowd of thousands, compared to a living room of four people staring at me! Most performer types have always agreed with me when I bring this up, and it seems to be a real common denominator among all of us!

So, don’t be afraid of that natural anxiety you may feel before playing, because you’ll eventually be able to turn it into pure, positive energy that you can plug right into your show! You’ll be better for it, I guarantee it! The “safety of the stage” beckons you!

Posted: 11/12/2009 8:45:36 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Thanking the Fans!

I was fortunate to do a really nice acoustic concert last week with my daughter, Lexie Roth, and though she had to leave early from the show, I stuck around at the end to do the old “meet and greet” with the fans who came, and who wanted to talk and also buy some cds.

It’s so great to get that immediate reaction from the folks, and to feel their enthusiasm, and to trade fun stories etc.. Let’s face it, you really never know who is actually there at your show, and who you may see after a long, long time. The hardest thing for me is that since I really put a lot into my shows both physically and emotionally, I need some real time to “come down” from that higher place I need to get to when I play live. Unfortunately this necessary time is greatly shortened by this new “meet and greet” time, so I must rapidly sort of put “myself back together” before coming out of the dressing room to see everyone, sometimes meaning changing out of a sweat-drenched shirt, as well!

Still, it is so important to meet the fans, and get their reations, and to be sure that they are left with a good impression of you. After all, it’s all really them who make it all possible! I used to love touring the world doing clinics and meeting the fans, as it was a great way of keeping my finger on the pulse of what folks were thinking about, and I have always likened it to being on the “campaign trail”, si milar to what politicians do before an election!

The world of Country Music really “gets it” when it comes to this fan/artist relationship with their annual “Fan Fair,” in which many of the artists get to meet their fans first hand for photographs, autographs, and just general connection. It’s a great thing to do, and Country music has always understood the closeness the fans feel with the artists, and the closeness and unification of their mutual roots. This is something I also never want to lose or forget, so thanks to all those fans I see at my shows, and I hope to come to your town soon!

Posted: 11/9/2009 4:03:19 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

The Sheer Madness of Doing "Saturday Night Live"

I must admit, a true “notch on one’s belt” occurs when you’re actually been through the experience of playing on the historic television show, “Saturday Night Live”! I did it, back in 1978, when I was touring with Art Garfunkel, and he was the host for that week’s show. What an experience!

The madness that leads up to the final crescendo of the “live” show on Saturday begins on the Wednesday of that week, and just never lets up until the show is finally done! To give you an idea, I happened to arrive early on that Wednesday, and while sitting in my dressing room, just quietly playing the piano, the door suddenly swings open, and it’s none other than Dan Akyroyd, holding a microphone and a small tape recorder, saying “I’m going to record sounds in the girls bathroom!” It was then I knew I was in for some kind of crazy ride!

The show back then had most of the original cast members, and was 90 minutes long, as opposed to today’s 60 minutes, so the show had much more time for music as well as having longer skits. For example, I played 4 songs with Garfunkel, who was hosting, yet we STILL had a musical guest, Steven Bishop, who also got to do 2 songs on the show! That’s a lot of music ...

Later on, the great Andy Kaufman arrived, who was about to read “The Great Gatsby” to the audience, and I got to watch Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Dan Akyroyd, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and of course, John Belushi in action! Belushi was a wildman backstage, and on the night of the final run-through and live broadcast show, we decided to put on funny Blues outfits and warm up the crowd with “Rocket 88”, which was a song on my first album that I had to teach Belushi the words to just prior to hitting the stage! This was of course, the birth of “The Blues Brothers”, but they had not even named it that yet, nor had they ever played it on a broadcast. This was just to warm up the crowd before the real show began!

And even right up to the last moment, routines kept getting changed or eliminated, based on audience reaction! We actually did the show 3 times on Saturday…..the final run-through, the dress rehearsal (in front of an audience), and then the final “real” live show! I think the idea was to keep you in such constant motion that by the time the real show happened, you almost didn’t know where you were anymore! It certainly worked……Yes, those were great memories made that week, and something I’l never ever forget!

Posted: 11/4/2009 10:07:56 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Working in Film and TV, Musically Speaking

Today I got a request to create and perform some music for a wonderful documentary film about the South in the 1960s, and I conjured up all kinds of memories and images from my previous days of creating music for films such as “Crossroads,” as well as my work on other films and certain TV show episodes.

One of the greatest aspects of playing music in films is that it is often the “finishing touch” that gets put onto the film as a kind of creative finale to the process. This is great, because the movie can be watched, and then “played to.” There are certain challenges involved, such as length of time, and when you want certain emotional moments to be emphasized, but overall, it is still a relatively “wide open” and clean slate you have to work with.

There are also times when the director, producer, or even the film’s writer already have a particular piece of music in mind even before the film is shot, and then the scene is based on, and created around the actual piece of music. This was certainly true of many of the scenes I had to shoot and play to in “Crossroads”, as well as other films such as the wonderful “O Brother, Where Art thou.” That was a movie that the Coen Brothers already knew was going to contain certain key songs, and they were able to tailor the scenes, and even some of the screenplay writing to those very pieces of music. Invariably, this has an effect on the final outcome of the film itself, and how the music and the visuals relate to each other.

It’s a fascinating topic, and I’m really pumped up about this new development of someone wanting me to create the music for this new documentary film! Stay tuned ...

Posted: 11/2/2009 9:17:54 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Performing Live with Lexie Tonight!

Today (Oct. 30) is my birthday, and I am getting to do an all-acoustic performance with my daughter, Lexie Roth. So far, every time we have played this particular venue it has sold out, and this time, doing an all acoustic performance should be very interesting. Most folks expect to always see me with my band, but I happen to love, more and more, the solo-acoustic route. It’s an extremely expressive approach, that enables me to paint with broad brush strokes over the crowd, and the art of keeping them interested and “drawn in” becomes much finer, since there is only one, sometimes “hushed” guitar playing.

It’s also great because the rhythm of the piece, and even the changes themselves can be implanted and heard in the heads of the listeners, while I get a chance to “riff” over that “imaginary band” they are hearing! SO, normally what we do, is I come out and play an an-acoustic set on my own, and then my daughter comes up and joins me for about 10 of her own songs. We then finish the show with a group of tunes that jump back and forth from me solo to her, either solo, or accompanied by me.

I guess after all those years of being a sideman and an accompanist, I still have a great love for that particular art, and what it taught me over so many rewarding nights of performing. I sure do love when I can put that to the greatest use of all….making my daughter’s music sound as good as it can! Looking forward to a great show tonight…..reports will follow!

Posted: 10/30/2009 7:21:38 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Success in the Studio!

I am currently working on an instrumental guitar album with the giant Nashville songwriter, Michael Garvin, and we just completed many successful evening sessions that went well into the night to create some truly memorable guitar moments! I brought what I usually call “the enire Pawn shop” with me, for these dates; old Gibsons, Mosrites, a Danelectro Baritone, National lap steels, Rickenbacker 12-strings, Guilds ….you name it! It’s so much fun to have all of your tools of the trade at your disposal in the studio, because you never really know which is “the one” that will truly speak for what you are going for!

I can tell you that we feel very happy with what we’ve got so far, and we are truly on the quest for the guitarist’s “Holy Grail”…a big instrumental “hit” record! It’s something I have been wanting to make happen for a long time now, and these are all original compositions. Some of them I brought to the table, and in fact may have been songs I’ve had for 27 years, while others are ones that Michael brought to the table, and that I am helping him “tweak”. All in all, it’s a wonderful experience collaborating, as long as both parties allow the other party to truly be “heard”. It’s only then that the idea of collaborating really works, otherwise, you may as well go it alone!

I’ll be keeping you up to date on the progress of this wonderful, musical venture that we are embarking on as it develops, but I can tell you it’s off to a very exciting and musically interesting start!

Posted: 10/28/2009 7:47:07 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

More on the 1st Woodstock Anniversary, 1970

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since the Woodstock festival, and 39 years since I put on and played the first Woodstock Festival anniversary with my band, Steel. We were a 3 man group, and two of us, myself and drummer Roy Faber were actually longtime summer residents of White Lake, NY, actual site of the festival at Yasgur’s Farm. (I grew up drinking Yasgur’s milk, and loved waiting for their trucks to come around for great desserts, baked goods, and other fresh local farm products.) By the time I had reached the age of 16, I started the group with my college roommate, Sandy Berman, who played keyboards in the band, and who also covered the necessary bass parts with his left hand, and the benefit of some enormous amps! He actually got one of those Ampeg SVT amps, with the two cabinets containing 16 ten-inch speakers, and a warning on the back about potential damage to your hearing that could happen at loud volumes! I would play through 3 to 4 amps at a time, including two of those padded Kustom amps that I used to borrow from someone, usually flanking 2 Fender amps in the middle, and all four of them turned up to ten!

My ’52 Les Paul was my only guitar at that time, and it was a true soldier that stood by me for many, many intense performances where I really pushed it to the limit! We used to specialize in songs that would sometimes stretch into endless jams. In fact, we would somehow make a set of only 8 songs or so, stretch into one and a half hours!

What I remember most about those early years was simply how purely creative I was able to be, and how every day seemed to bring new innovations forward that I’d try out on the guitar, and in my compositions. We all love taking it to new limits, and Steel started to really amass some serious fans in upstate New York, as well as in Philadelphia, where we all lived while I went to the Philadelphia College of Art. Philly was also a great time of creativity and experimentation for me, as we used to be able to get these city permits that enabled us to throw “block party” concerts in certain neighborhoods of Philadelphia, where we would sometimes have a thousand people or more crowded into a block. It was so exciting, and all kinds of local characters would come up onstage with us and sit in. I can recall one time when a guy simply named “spoons” came up onstage and performed the most amazing display of spoon playing I have ever seen to this day! Also, that neighborhood, near South Street in Philly had blues players who would come up and play with us too!

But there was nothing like that incredible Woodstock Anniversary concert we threw! And we were the only band, and we must’ve played for what seemed like 8 hours over a 2-day period. I actually have located the tape of it, and hope to release it as a cd someday!

Posted: 10/27/2009 3:58:27 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Farewell, Soupy!

Soupy Sales was one of my true childhood heroes, and his wonderful, zany and unpredictable show was a daily joy for so many kids, AND adults of that era during the early to mid-sixties. He had a great love for music, which was always interwoven somehow into his show, with skits by “Pookie the Lion” singing songs like “Mumbles” by Clark Terry, or some Sinatra song, for example! He was an absolute scream, and the show always seemed like you were being brought in on one of his “in” jokes, with the crew always cracking up on the other side of the camera! The show had become so hip, that anyone who was anyone was showing up to get hit with a pie in the face!

The one time I got to meet Soupy Sales was at a Gibson party that was thrown for Les Paul’s birthday at either the Iridium or Fat Tuesday’s, can’t remember which! But I was so excited to be at the table with Soupy, Bernard Purdie (the drummer), the former Mayor of New York, David Dinkins and Jeff Beck! What a crew! But my favorite and most memorable moment was be able to crack Soupy up when I related the story to him about thinking it was so funny when he had Trini Lopez, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. on, and that when Soupy hit Sinatra with a pie, Trini said “you can’t do that to my leader!”, and then threw a pie at Soupy! I thanked him for making me laugh my whole childhood and beyond, and he truly thanked me and acknowledged it with lots of class and dignity. It was a great highlight for me, and I’ll never forget making Soupy laugh! It was the least I could do in return for all the joy he brought me and countless other folks during his great TV days! Farewell, Soupy my friend, you were, and always will be the best!

Posted: 10/26/2009 6:33:40 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Writing and Recording Decisions

There is no question that making the right choices when recording are critical, and numerous, for sure! Every step of the way will have an effect on the final product, and it’s amazing how time-consuming it all can be, especially if you’re writing as well as trying to record at the same time!

This new instrumental album I’m recording and writing with Mike Garvin is a beautiful project, and deserves not only our undivided attention, but will be something the likes of which has not been heard in a long time! But during all this work, and I might add, with many long spans of time between, we fight to remain as focused as much as we can. Yet, it’s been quite a challenge to stay on track as far as making all the right decisions is concerned.

The writing, as you can well imagine, it absolutely “king”, and of course, can change at the drop of a hat! And that is totally fine, since the recording of it, so immediate, literally keeps it fresh, and always listened to with the most critical ear! The proof will of course, be in the final product, and the choices are so important, and still being made as we speak…..such as, what musicians are best for cutting the tracks with, what chord changes do we “keep” after endless trial and error, and on and on.

In the end, it’s always going to be up to you in terms of the decisions you must make as a writer and as a recording artist, and remember, this time, I am talking about a “collaboration”, where all sides must be heard, and considered! Stay tuned….

Posted: 10/23/2009 8:24:26 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink

Loving the Semi-Hollow Guitar!

The semi-hollow guitar, which has always been a specialty of Gibson’s, is a very easy kind of guitar to fall in love with! Its sensual lines are one reason for sure, but the kind of tone they create, along with their unique shape, really makes them stand out as another of the true “classic” guitar types. This was no easy feat to accomplish, as these guitars came along a good deal of time after the large hollow bodies were around, and even well after the first classic solid body electrics were introduced.

I love the ES 335, as well as the Epiphone Sheraton, but also the fully hollow, yet double-cutaway and thin ES 330 has always been a simple, yet fascinating guitar to me. There is an unquestionably more “woody” tone to these instruments that is almost totally lost with solid body electric guitars, and their choice is an obvious one for players who want a rich and thick Blues/Jazz kind of tone.

I know that in the early days, for example, B.B. King had played solid body guitars, but since the late ‘50s, he’s been and exclusive user of semi-hollow beauties such as the ES 355 that became his famous “Lucille”. Chuck Berry, always a hollow-body guitar man, eventually decided to go with the semi-hollow guitars such as the 335, 345 and the 355. I’m sure their flashy looks didn’t hurt with his selection, either! Even Dave Edmunds, a definitive English Rock n’ Roller and Rockabilly artist, made the presence of his famous blond ES 335 always felt in his music, exploiting the fatness of tone those humbuckers allow!

Later on, certain great Jazz/Blues players such as Robben Ford, Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour helped define a newer generation of semi-hollow appreciators, and in a way, they helped to show another, perhaps more “sensitive” side of these instruments.

No matter what you’re into playing, it’s hard to beat the allure both physically as well as musically of these fine and unique instruments. I know they’ve got ME hooked, for sure!

Posted: 10/21/2009 4:34:24 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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