Wednesday, October 06, 2010


One of my goals as a guitarst has been to get good enough to sit down with other musicians and play. To be able to jam well enough to keep up, and not feel the total fool for trying. While the years spent woodshedding, just me here in the office playing for the dogs and all, have given me some tools, these alone aren't sufficient for playing in a group. 

Just as shadowboxing helps you learn to punch, dodge, and weave, but not the distance and timing you need with a live opponent, so does solo playing and singing give you basics, but not the things you need for interaction with other musicians.

A couple reasons kept me from going down the road to find a band. 

First, nobody was calling me up and asking me to come sit in, and unless I put up a note on Craig's List or Facebook, I didn't know how I was going to contact local folks that might consider me. I wasn't interested in walking into a room and finding a bunch of twenty-somethings who wanted to play Lady Gaga.

Second, I'm fine with public speaking or singing, but insecure enough about my guitar chops that I was reluctant to jump the gun and find out that I didn't have enough skill.  (The term I'm looking for here, if precision must be served, is "big chicken ...")

I understand intellectually that in any new endeavor you attempt, there is a period during which, unless you are a natural at it, you aren't going to do it particularly well. You have to be willing to do it anyhow -- skill comes with practice. (If you have any ability in anything, there is a tendency to try and stretch that to cover everything -- I am an okay writer, so I should be able to do X -- whatever it is -- okay, too, and not suffer through the doing-it-badly phase. It ain't necessarily so.)

So I was happy enough plucking and strumming and singing for the dogs, and in no rush to step out into the bigger world with it. I got GarageBand, I can play and sing here, record it, add tracks, why go out?

All of that is to set up this: Last night, I sat in with some folks who get together each week and play for a few hours, and while I wasn't very good at it, I didn't suck so bad that they didn't invite me back.

How this came about was backhanded. My wife's company has an investment firm that handles part of their retirement fund, and as a service to the employees, the money managers offer free advice regarding such things as retirement. We went to talk to their guy, and in the course of the conversation, music came up. He is our age, an old hippie, and he invited me to drop round.

I was reluctant. ("Big chicken.") But I allowed as how I would like to maybe sit in the background and listen. 

Fine, he said. 

During a subsequent phone conversation, he convinced me to bring my guitar. Okay, but it's likely to stay in the case. 

Fine, he said.

Once there -- the session was a bit shorthanded, couple folks couldn't make it, and it was just one guitarist, who also plays harmonica, a keyboardist, and a mandolin player -- I was invited to play, but I demurred. 

Fine, he said. 

Over the course of a few songs, I was gently brought along to the point where I took the guitar out of the case and joined in to boom-chuck with some 12-bar blues. I didn't know the words, but I could manage three chords, and from then on, I was doing rhythm and when I could figure out the words, singing right along. Even played a couple of my own songs and some covers.

Not perfectly, I missed some changes and lost my place, and forgot lyrics. Almost none of what they did was stuff I knew. But it was a start. First ever jam, if you don't count the world record thing with five hundred other guitarists a few years back in Portland. (Full disclosure: I was in a folk trio back in my hippie days, but while two of us had guitars, we took turns playing, or played the same chords in unison, so I don't think that counts as jamming.)

Last night, I knew I'd get along okay with them when the guitar player told me they had come up with a name for the group: No Fuck Ups, they call themselves ...


Dave Huss said...

Well, you know, your not dead yet, and sometimes human beings get together and some of them play instruments. This is one of those things humans are capable of. Since you are a human being, and as I mentioned, your not dead yet, what the hell, go for it.
They can kill you, but they can't eat you,,,well, they CAN eat you, but you will be dead and won't give a shit.
So in the mean time, your only a chickenshit if you DON'T go.

"Don't Fuck Up!"
Sounds like a good label for life too.

Mike Byers said...

From what I've heard of your playing, you don't need to be too concerned about jamming. And one of the best things about music is playing it with others, particularly others who are better than you are. I should know about this: I've been playing for ten years with three other people who are far, far better than I am. It's a real challenge, and one that I think has increased my skills (at least to some degree). Don't worry about fucking up, just make sure you fuck up creatively. Then you're playing jazz.

Dojo Rat said...

How about going to an open mic at a local tavern?
Put six beers in my gullet and I get up there. Local crowds usually love it. Just take two or three of your best licks and give it a shot. Usually there is a house band to back you up if you want.
-- Last Saturday I got invited up to play a set at a party where my friends band was on stage. Pulled off Skynyrds "Simple Man", "Tuesday's Gone" and Hendrixs' "All Along the Watchtower".
With a full band behind me and six beers in me it wasn't half Bad.

heina said...

Have to agree with Mike, playing with other musicians is one of the best things about music. In some ways, it's really the beginning of the journey.

I understand the apprehension to join up or get up on stage, but I have observed a few things over the years.

1. Unless they are planning to go pro or have a snotty "band-leader", most people enjoy having you play along as much as you enjoy playing along with them. This is kind of the happy converse of they're just as afraid of you as you are of them.

2. Most people listening have no idea when you fuck up. If you keep going right along and get back in the pocket, most people are none the wiser. Remember, they are NOT musicians. If you start playing jazz it's even better. Oh, that odd flatted harmonic note...I, uh, meant to do that!

3. Garage Band is one of the single best tools for recording I've seen in a long time. Absolutely fantastic, and the guitar support in the new version blows me away. It's not professional grade, but close enough that you could probably pass it off to 99% of people. But mostly it lets you throw down practice and click tracks that supercharge your playing. All the best players I have ever seen did a lot of woodshedding with a click track or an old record.

Steve Perry said...

"Rubato," that's my word.

Nah, man, I didn't lose the beat. It was rubato!