I’ve noticed that in my Tuesday Gibson chats, I often get questions about nervousness during performing or recording. Obviously, for many of you, especially the un-initiated, nerves can be a problem when first starting to perform live, or even when sometimes going into the recording studio.
I can recall many times in the beginning of my performing days when a bad case of nerves would take over, and really impede my performing abilities. What an awful feeling! Especially when I was young, and totally feeling sure and confident about my playing, it was really terrible to suddenly realize that some unexpected nervousness was taking me over. I also recall the time when I was able to finally hit the stage and overcome the problem, and Artie Traum’s comment that I played so well, and that I was no longer “the same old nervous Arlen!” Well, that was quite a triumphant moment for me, as I felt that I had truly overcome the nerves that had so controlled me for what seemed like so long! I feel that there were several factors at play in terms of what was making me nervous. Number one, I was new to the role of being a “backup”, or “sideman” musician, and playing with folks who I viewed as much older, more experienced musicians than myself…..people who actually “made records!” Number two, I was still only 18 years old, and literally everything was new to me. I mean, I had been performing for 2 years prior to that, fronting my own bands in many situations, but I had more control of those situations, and only had to live up to my own expectations at that point. In this case, I was now thrust into the real “professional” world of playing in front of more sophisticated audiences, and playing with more sophisticated and experienced musicians who expected a lot of me.
Of course, I was only 18, and had now left school and moved to Woodstock, another first for me, even though I had lived in Philadelphia before that when I was at school, living with my band, Steel, and trying to play any kind of gig we could possibly get. But now, in a new, more established world and community such as Woodstock, I was now a part of a whole new musical community that had a different feel to it. Eventually, things totally evened out, and I was able to channel that nervous energy into totally positive performing energy, something I have maintained to this day!
It’s a very common situation, to be nervous and to have an “edge” before a show; it’s up to you to be able to learn to re-direct that energy into pure drive and power once you hit that stage! I guarantee that any very experienced, veteran professional will tell you that even to this day, they have the pre-performance jitters, and that they can re-channel that problem into pure positive energy when they hit that stage! Remember, no matter what you may go through, the stage can be a “refuge” from the reality of everyday life, and it can really start to feel like home, which is what it always should be if you want to be a real musician!