Band Thoughts, Banjo Thoughts, and Line 6 Thoughts

Hey everybody –

There have been three things bouncing around in my head lately, and only the last two subjects are related, but I figured I could combine them into one post.

Band Thoughts:

I recently watched “The History of the Eagles” on Showtime.  This 3 hour long documentary is also available to rent on Netflix.  It covers the time from Glenn Frey’s and Don Henley’s childhoods, to how they met up in California, how the Eagles formed in the early 1970’s, how they broke up in 1980, solo careers, their reunion in the early 90’s and subsequent line-up changes.

I’m not a huge Eagles fan, though I really like “Hotel California” and teach the two lead solos, which impressed me for they’re melodic content. Same thing with “One of These Nights”.  But beyond that, I didn’t know much about them.

So why waste 3 hours of your precious time to watch this documentary?  To me it’s always interesting how bands form.  I’ve formed a few myself and they are fragile things.  But nothing keeps a band going like success, even if you have to change a member or two.  And the Eagles were one of the all time most successful hit makers.  I didn’t realize just how many songs they had that I was familiar with, even though I never bought an album from them.

If you’re looking at this as in how to get tips to “make it”, well, it’s still a chance combination of talent, chemistry between band members, and some good old fashioned luck. You can work on the first part, but the second two are hard.  I’ve often said, and it is repeated in this documentary, that being in a band is like being in a marriage – more so for these guys who travelled, slept, and ate together for years.  You’re going to get on each other’s nerves, it’s inevitable.

I think what saddened me was the end piece.  The Eagles reunited, and it seemed like all bad fights had been forgotten.  But a new one emerged: Glenn Frey and Don Henley wanted to draw up legal contracts insisting they get paid more than the other members of the band.  Their guitarist Don Felder didn’t agree, but went along with it for some time and was finally kicked out for his disagreements and his questions.

Frey’s and Henley’s argument was that after the band broke up, they both had hit singles throughout the 1980’s, keeping the Eagles name out there (according to them).  Felder’s argument was just because those two had better solo careers has nothing to do with the Eagles.

I tend to side with Felder on this.  First, with all their hits (and don’t forget royalties are paid for hit songs every time they are broadcasted or used – it can be a lot of money) – Frey and Henley were already rich.

Also, the Eagles had a very collaborative song writing method.  Everybody contributed.  Everybody sang.  Everybody wrote.  Everybody had sang lead vocals on some hit tunes.  Their band members carry a heavier load than most other band members.  Don Felder claimed “The whole band was greater than the sum of it’s parts”.  I agree and wish Felder well.  (Felder does the first guitar lead on Hotel California which is pretty darn good).

Banjo

As I am now in the Turbo Fuegos band, and the line up is complete, we’ve been digging into the material and trying to get ready for our first gig.  On some of our tunes, the banjo is really featured.  I never thought much about banjo, but it’s effect is undeniable in some songs (like “Save a Horse” by Big And Rich).  So I began looking into owning one.

They aren’t terribly expensive – at least not the introductory ones.  $200 will land you one.  But I found out, there’s about 3 different models of banjo – 4 string, 5 string and 6 string.  And more tunings too just to make it fun.  For someone who just wanted to add it to some particular songs, I had to know what I would be getting into.

Which brings me to Line 6….

Line 6

If you’ve been reading my posts from the last year, you might think I love Line 6 more than any other amp maker out there.  I don’t.  It’s just that I never know what style of music I’ll be playing.  Last year I was in a top 40 band that needed straight and distorted tones, wah effects, delay, reverb, and compression.  I even used an octave harmonizer on one song.  Now I’m in a country/country rock/classic rock band.  So the straight tones have gone from a “funk” sound to more twangy.  I’m not using quite as many effects, but I am playing different distortions.

Line 6 is versatile.  I can model a lot of different amps from Fender to Marshall to Mesa Boogie.  Is it perfect? No.  If I decided to specialize – say I was going to go heavy metal, I’d start looking at Eddie Van Halen’s (EVH) brand, maybe Soldano.  Bogner is great but way expensive.

So for versatility – I have the Line 6 50W DT50 head/cabinet, and the Line 6 HD500.  I normally play my Ibanez Prestige.

Line 6 also makes a line of guitars called the Variax.  So now they model guitars like strats, telecasters, les pauls, etc.  That’s nice but it also models acoustic guitars and…..banjo!  As I want banjo for an effect on certain songs and not wanting to be a killer banjo player, this might be worth it.

However, I still wanted 24 frets and a locking vibrato bar.  At the NAMM show this year, line 6 introduced the Variax JTV 89F guitar.  They must have heard my mental messages to them.  24 Frets, Floyd rose, all the models including banjo.  They must have not have heard my mental message about price – they hiked it to $1499.

I will be keeping it in mind as the Turbo Fuegos ramp up our playing and I have a full grip on the material.  The artist side of me wants it now, the business side of me reminds me I haven’t made a dime yet from this band.  If this is going to be an investment, it needs to make sense.

I’ll keep y’all informed 🙂

Spencer

 

 

The Ancient Art of Weaving

Hi all – Happy March….

Last month I blogged about my 2 auditions and reasonably good showing at “R Place” in Livermore.  With the three of us in place – Singer, Drummer, and myself – we needed to add a bassist.

A bit surprisingly, though, the singer next had in line to try out a rhythm guitarist.  I approached this with some caution.  In the past, I’ve had rhythm guitarist try out for the band, then try to undermine me to get the lead spot.  However, at the same time, I was fine with sharing some lead guitar duties – especially if he had a different style as me.  I didn’t think we needed 2 “me’s” in the band.

I should explain the title of the blog – I recently read Keith Richard’s autobiography Life and he mentions the ancient art of weaving as two guitars that listening to each other and playing around each other and complimenting each other.  Keith has always worked with another guitar player, so I decided to pay special attention to this approach.

They guy we tried out had a very good attitude.  No real ego here, just wanting to play in a working band like the rest of us.  He corrected me on a song (Honey Bee) in a respectful way.  He had a tube amp and a Fender Strat.  We sounded good together but I also realized this increased my work load a bit.  In most songs I didn’t want to play exactly what he was playing.  For example, if he’s playing an open E chord, I will probably play the bar E on the 7th fret.  Why?  Because with two guitarist we can stretch the range.  He plays low, I go high.  And we have to pay close attention to our rhythms to make sure they don’t clash.  The new guy has more of a country background and I don’t and I think that’s a plus.

We still needed a bassist.  Luckily for us, the idea of playing out at “R Place” to put the word out that we needed a bassist bought us an audition.  We auditioned him last week and his playing was just right on.  Nice tone, not too loud, rock solid bass lines and he had the signature bass parts down cold in the 10 songs he brought.

As I’ve done with everybody on the band, I brought up commitment and goals.  Two gigs a month on average, one rehearsal a week unless there is a gig that week.  Everybody agreed.

The Turbo Fuegos was complete.

We then talked about next steps.  Three out of the five members of the band, including me, needed to learn the song list.  I had come in with 10 songs, so did the rhythm guitarist and the bassist.  We now needed to learn the Fuegos’ set list, starting with set one.  There was a lot of talk about throwing out older songs, replacing them with new ones, but for now we will keep the first set as is, and everybody come next week prepared to play through 13 songs.

We are booked at Ollies on May 24th, and we might be playing a rodeo event on April 27th.  Nothing motivates as much as having a live gig to go on.

More next blog…

Spencer

The Audition – Part 2

Hi,

Well last post we had me overextended on my audition, playing a guitar I didn’t practice on, and not enough time to prepare.  But they liked me enough to want to check me out one more time.

So I reduced the number of songs from 21 to 10.  I pracitced on my #1 guitar – my Ibanez Prestiege, and worked on my presets/tones on my amp.

The difference was huge.  They liked me so much I got the job on the spot.

Then they had the idea of us playing at a local jam night at a club called “R Place” in Livermore.  We worked up two sets of 4 songs each, with 2 extra, just in case.

When we arrived, the “House” band was setting up and played a blues set that lasted about an hour and half.  I was….not nervous, but antsy.  I wanted to play, but instead I have to listen to these guys play!  I have some serious gear – I kept thinking about where it would go, what is the most effecient way to get it set up to save time, etc.

Finally we got the green light.  With the “house” bassist to fill in, we got setup to play.  I got my gear up and ready to play in under 10 minutes.  We started off with

1)  Born to be Wild

2)  Can’t Get Enough

3) China Grove

4) Gimme Three Steps

We originally were going to play only 4 but they let us do one more so…we played Jumpin Jack Flash.

We then stepped down, dragged our gear off (well I did, the drum set didn’t move), and took a breather.  Our friends and family were supportive, and we sounded quite different than the standard blues fare that had been played thus far.  We were also pretty loud.  50 watts with a tube amp is pretty darn loud.

Eventually we were asked back up.  Up goes the amp, the effects, the guitar, and me.  We ran through:

1) Honky Tonk Women

2) Feel Like Makin’ Love

3) Highway to Hell

4) Sweet Home Alabama

Again, they wanted another song wo we threw in Johnny B Goode, the old Chuck Berry Classic.

After that, we were “done” in the sense that we had prepared 10 songs, and we had played them.  People loved us, and our lead singer was a natrural as he worked the crowd – talking to them and getting them fired up.  Then we were asked to play one more.

“Uh, what do we want to do?”

I said “Ok, let’d do Long Train Runnin'”.  I’d played that song every time last year when I played out, I knew it backwards and forwards so we knocked that out.

We were done.  Once again, dragged my stuff off the stage, wrapped the cords, put it in the car and was done for the night.  No money, but it was a nice “testing ground” for how we’re going to be on stage.  They guys liked what I did.

There were mistakes.  Oh yeah there were mistakes – but we played through them.  This was our third time playing together and the crowed loved us.

We were building a new band…..

More next blog

Spencer