Pictures and thoughts from a Memphis Musician's Wife

Long Days

Most days as a full time Memphis musician can be very long. Yesterday, we were out of our home at 11:30 to be at Handy Park at 12. The rest of the band did not show up until after 1. My husband played until 10 pm last night with five 15-20 minute breaks. This was outside, very hot and humid. Most days are not like that, now, but Jeremy is still on Beale Street 12 hours out of most days. People think being a musician is so easy, that all you have to do is play an instrument. That is not true. You have to worry about making sure you have gigs booked, which can be difficult in a city FULL of musicians competing for the same spots. You have to make up for lost gigs sometimes by doing gigs that are well beneath what you should be playing for. It’s funny to me that the “paid touring musicians” for quite a few major artists don’t even really have to play their instruments on the stage and still get paid. My husband, and several other musicians, would feel insulted if you asked them to pretend to do what they have put all of their hard work and energy into doing. No, people may not realize it, but normal musicians work hard to gain the love and respect of their fans, too.  Most of them have to do all of the legwork themselves, doing their own promotions, booking, and sales. It is almost a 24 hour a day job. I wish there was more respect for the every day musicians, who are just as talented as those world famous superstars’ musicians.

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My Guys with Sweet Angel

So, you always hear all sorts of things about singers these days. Some are total divas. Some are self-centered, rude, and hard to work with. Some are just particular about what they like. Last year, Jeremy got a call from Mike Dobbins, husband and manager of Sweet Angel, “the Redbone with the Saxophone of Blues.” Due to scheduling difficulties, we were not able to work with her. In that year, Sweet Angel had another band or two, and the Bones started to take off on their own.

About a month or two ago, we got a call from Mike Dobbins. Jeremy was asked to put a band together for a Sweet Angel show. This time, the band was ready. All they needed was a guitar player. Moe, our bass player, suggested someone. He came to two rehearsals (there were only 3) and backed out on the day of the event. Moe called a guitarist named Adam. Jeremy has played with him a lot of times on Beale Street. I was sure if anyone could do the music he could. But that story comes a little later. Jeremy booked the gig for the Bones, and the Bones began rehearsing the music.

Now, I should explain something before I go any further. All of the musicians I work with are able to listen to a song and normally play it back just like the CD. You will rarely ever see chord charts, drum charts, or sheet music around them. A majority of them are self taught. I don’t mean, they only play by ear. If you gave 3/4 of them sheet music to sight read, they could. There is just something different about these musicians.

I was emailed all of the music and made sure my band got it. The first rehearsal lasted an hour or so. They seemed to breeze right through the music. The second rehearsal was a little rough. Of course, there was a different added element, the guitarist. I was not personally at that rehearsal, but I know it tool almost 3 hours. I also heard stories about the guitarist arguing and whining throughout the rehearsal with Sweet Angel. I was at the third and last rehearsal. The energy through the first run was low. When the second run was played, Sweet Angel sounded pretty satisfied, although still skeptical of if they could pull the show off with the energy she needed.

The day of the show rolled around, and we all rode together to Tunica, MS. We were performing at the Tunica Expo Center and Arena, opening up for Avant and Keke Wyatt, as well as Mr. Bobby Rush. Avant’s band was on stage doing a sound check when we walked in the door.  Jeremy thought he would be able to use the keyboard in the backline, and there was a backline for everyone else, so nobody brought their amps or big equipment in. They took a very long time to finish their sound check. Sweet Angel and 88Bones were going on stage at 7, but when the band finally got to step foot on stage, it was 7. Of course, Jeremy couldn’t use the other Motif on the stage. We had to run out and get his equipment and set it up. We did that in about 5 minutes time, and the band got started.

#88Bones

The first song was so full of energy.  Adam, the guitar player, fit right in with the band, even though his first time hearing her music was in his car on the way to Tunica. Sweet Angel was sweating by the 2nd verse! She told the guys during rehearsal that she wasn’t satisfied until she started sweating.  After the first song, I went to sit beside the stage.  The show went of without a hitch. When Sweet Angel came off stage, she told me I’d whipped them into shape. I didn’t do anything. That’s just my guys. They may not be perfect during rehearsal, but when the lights are shining and people are cheering, these guys give their best.

We got in the van for the ride home, all feeling somewhat satisfied. It looks like this could be a new path for #88Bones. Stay tuned for this adventure. Oh, and Sweet Angel has proved not to be anything more than a professional lady. She was kind, generous, encouraging, and wants the best band she can get because she puts on a show that needs just that. We truly appreciate her professionalism. I am very proud to say I am the manager of Suavo J. feat. Mr. 88 and the Bones. They are an amazingly talented group of professional musicians, and I am honored to be able to work with them. I’m so glad that they entrusted me with their future as a band.

A Day in Our Shoes

For three years now, I have been a part of a unique world of people. I was raised in Memphis, but I was never really aware of the live music scene around town. When I was younger, I sang in the choir, played piano, and taught myself how to play the clarinet. My mom always had several genres of music playing around the house, so I was exposed to all types of music. Classical always had a very special place in my heart, though. I loved the sound of a full orchestra, how that orchestra came together to make one song a magical experience for the audience. The right piece could invoke so many types of emotions without a word ever being sung.  It was not until I met my husband that I got exposed to the true life of the everyday professional musician. 

When Jeremy and I began dating, he played at a few different venues on Beale Street. Most of these venues (smaller bars and outside venues) pay the musicians a small percentage of nightly bar sales and the musicians are responsible for gathering tips to pay themselves. When you think about Beale Street, you think, “It shouldn’t be that hard to make money down there. Thousands of people pass through Beale Street every week.” Well, when you are relying on those tourists to pay you on their own, combined with the competition for money from the other 16 venues on the street, it can be hard to make a living. Many tourists come to Memphis because they are trying to save money. They want an affordable vacation. Keep in mind, whatever tips are made are split 3-6 ways, depending on the size of the band. Tipping $1 to a 4 piece band gives each of them .25 cents. So, in order to make a decent living as a musician in Memphis, it is a must that you play with more than one band.  Jeremy has played with the Juke Joint Allstars, Vince Johnson and the Plantation Allstars, the Memphis Bluesmasters, Darrell Wilson and the Soul Outsiders, the Eric Hughes Band, Carl Sims, the Ghost Town Blues Band, and Darren Jay and the Delta Souls, just to name a few. He also fronts of his own band with Suavo, which is taking off now.  You may think that is a lot of music to learn, and you would be correct, but it is a must if you are striving to make it doing nothing but playing music.

It is a rough life. That is for sure. There are late nights and long days. Sometimes Jeremy will have 3 gigs in one day, starting around lunch time and playing until 1 or 2 am. If I was not as involved with his career as I am, I would probably never see him.  On weeks when his daughter is with us, it is even more stressful. We wake up around 8-9 am when she is home and 10 am or later when she is not.  We usually grab breakfast, get dressed for the day, and are out of our house by 1-2 pm. On some days, Jeremy starts playing one gig at 1 pm, breaks his equipment down to go to the next gig at 3, and will have another gig around 8 or 9 pm. We don’t leave Beale Street most nights until 1 or 2 am. Some nights it has been 3 or 4 am. Some gigs give a guarantee pay to the bands, although that gets split and is normally barely enough to cover daily expenses. It is almost impossible to save money with what you make on one gig. You have to play several to pad the rest of the income you have coming in. Several times out of the week, a band will call Jeremy to fill in for someone who couldn’t make it to the gig. Normally, there is no refusing a gig. We can’t afford not to go, although some days and nights I have seen musicians play for 4-5 hours and walk out with less than $5 in their pocket. It can be rough. They are right when they say you truly have to love music and have a passion for it to do what the musicians I know do. I wish everyone who came to Beale Street could see just one day in the life of one of the young musicians trying to earn a living on Beale Street through their eyes. It would open so many eyes. 

Race wars

Ok. So I kept up with the Trayvon Martin case. I, as many others, do not agree with a not guilty verdict. However, I do agree that the media circus has done nothing but promote a horrible cycle in this country. The media feeds us all of this information, making it all some people will talk about or think about. They encourage and promote all the drama so there will be more news and more money for them. Are we so blind that we do not see this? We have turned a certain group of people into villains, and now people are hurting innocent people in retaliation. Violence will not solve anything. We need to get together as human beings, not black or white or Hispanic or whatever race, and stop this tragic trend. We need to come together and change unfair laws. We need to encourage community activities so we can get to know our neighbors. We used to look out for each other. Why did this stop? Peace can happen, but it will take a community effort. Stop the divisions and stop what will surely turn into a race war if we don’t stop.

I was discussing with my husband all of the things that he can do with his Yamaha Motif XF8 as we were going over some material he is supposed to be learning. It is amazing how you can do so much without even really learning to play the piano. This machine does it all for you. However, my husband does all of those things without having to “cheat” using all of his keyboard’s accessories. This is what makes Jeremy unique in my eyes. Instead of using all of the different arpeggios on his keyboard, he listens to them and mimics them. He plays everything that the keyboard does manually. I hang out with a group of musicians who have taught themselves how to play their instruments. They take pride in their skills, and it shows during their live performances. I almost hate to hear an album that was completely done digital. Live instruments are where that quality is that people want to hear. Most people who get a workstation (keyboard) use it to make beats and do studio work, making all of the digital albums you hear today. My husband uses his workstation to actually play music. I love that about him. 

Most of us think that we are grown up when we turn 18. Some say it is 21, others at 25. I don’t think there is actually an age when you are all the way “grown up.” Some people go through experiences at earlier ages than other people that may give them different perspectives on life. Everybody lives life in a different way. Jobs are different, skills are different, tastes are different. Different is just a part of today’s society. Some experiences make you leave childish ways behind. Parenthood can be one of those experiences, although not for all people. Going to jail will make some grow up, and for others, it is getting a job. For some, it is graduation from high school or college. Whatever it is, we always seem to have something childish still in us. For me, it is my parents. I am still very much a daddy and mama’s girl. I admit it. For some it is video games, and that is mostly men. We all struggle in some way with a childish tendency or two as we age. At some point in time, though, most of us have too grow up all the way. We have families, get jobs, get bills. We have to pay our way through life with little pieces of paper and metal that people put value into. For some, money is their downfall. Those who don’t know how to manage their money find that the pursuit of that money will be their goal for the rest of their lives. There will be no retirement, no fun; just work for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to be able to live life. I am no longer a child. I am now helping raise one. I want to be able to experience the world, taste new things, hear new sounds, see new sights. I don’t want to be stuck in the never ending cycle that goes on day after day. Sometimes I wish money would just lose all its value. Then, maybe people would come to their senses and realize we are all just humans. We all deserve the same rights and abilities as all the other people. This is just a rant today. It doesn’t really pertain to the music life I live, although it does indirectly.

Suavo J. featuring Mr. 88 and the Bones is the band that I manage. Most of the time when Jeremy plays, I take a supportive wife role. I setup equipment and play waitress and mom to most of the bands that he plays with. My momma didn’t raise a lazy woman. On occasions with my band, I get to play more of a role than band wife and mom. I get to manage the Bones. I run their website, Facebook, promote, book, and do crowd management at the shows. I am the one everyone turns too when the band is on the stage and something is needed from them. 

For the past 10 months, I have been trying to get the band booked at venues other than the cigar shop, where they play when needed. This has been in nights when the Grizzlies had home games at the Forum or when a band is not already booked on Thursdays (ladies’ night). I appreciate having a venue to play in so the band would have a regular showing. It has had its ups and downs, and we will probably be back there soon.

Tonight was different. Tonight the Bones played at the Center for Southern Folklore. This is a vastly different crowd. Tonight, my moms were there and the first time they would see Jeremy and his band play live. Tonight was the first gig with a cover charge ($10). Tonight was their time to shine and be seen. That is exactly what they did. As they began their first set, my moms and their friends took their seats. Another friend of ours came in. I walked outside, and the manager asked if I thought the guys would draw a crowd. I just kinda shrugged my shoulders and said we would see. 

As they played the first of two sets, people began piling in. These were people who were just walking by and had too stop and listen. Most of them stayed most of the night. My band had the house PACKED! The employees of the Center were wowed by the Bones. They lived up to their motto of putting some of their Memphis Soul in the bones of their listeners. The set ended with a packed house. My moms and their friends left, and a few of the others stayed around. 

The second set started with “Extravaganza.” They absolutely rocked the house with their rendition of this song, and by the second part of the song, the room was beginning to fill again. People who couldn’t come in gathered at the door to see this amazing band. By the end of the night, the crowd was begging for more. The played the longest instrumental version of “Let’s Straighten It Out” I have ever heard. but it was so appropriately wonderful. The crowd erupted when they finished. I could just imagine them on a giant stage with thousands of people in front of them. I can’t wait. 

The people filed out, and we began to break down the equipment, all feeling very satisfied. All of the money was counted and distributed. Everyone was even more satisfied. We sealed another gig at the Center, and we will hopefully be appearing at the Memphis Music Heritage Festival on Main Street in Memphis, TN on Sept. 1, 2013. I would call today an all around success. 

 

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