Pictures and thoughts from a Memphis Musician's Wife

Posts tagged ‘music’

Almost Famous

What makes a musician famous? Is it their album sales? Is it the clothes they wear? It seems these days, that with all the new studio technology, you don’t even really have to know how to play an instrument or really even sing to make a hit. With pop culture, you don’t even really have to be saying anything in a song to have a hit and sell millions of records. On a daily basis, I see musicians who play LIVE music every day struggle to get by. I see a band of young “hip” stars touring with full police escorts who lip sync and have full bands of musicians pretending to play instruments to a click track. Someone said something to Jeremy the other day that really made a lot of sense. They told him he is a pianist, not a keyboardist. Keyboardists use their keyboards as machines, to make beats or use all kinds of crazy sounds. Pianists use their machine as nothing more than an instrument when they are in a live situation. Don’t get me wrong, the keyboardists are definitely skilled artists, but I truly believe that the people getting all the big money should be the ones who are actually doing all the work without all the technical help. Musicians years ago didn’t have the ability to transpose their pianos. They had to actually learn all of their scales and chords. It’s really sad to see how little respect the musicians who have actually learned how to play their instrument get and how much respect the people who have no clue as to what they are doing get. We need to bring back the days of real live music. Where there is feeling and passion in what the musicians are actually doing.

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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.

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. 

#88Bones @ the Center for Southern Folklore: Band Manager’s POV

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. 

 

Florida Road Trip: Part 3 Paradise Bar and Grill…and Inn

The rest of the ride to Pensacola was fairly uneventful. We hit a ton of traffic going through the tunnel in Mobile during rush hour on Saturday, of course. Jeremy was drove through to the other side of the I-10 bridge, and we stopped one last time. We had about 45 minutes on our GPS, and we had 40 minutes to make the gig. It was time to drive smart.

I made it through traffic and got us to Paradise Bar and Grill at 5:56 pm. The gig started at 6.We pulled into the Paradise Inn, which is not on the side of the Gulf that all of the waves wash up on. It was a pretty nice place, and the staff was very friendly. There was a small private beach area and swim area with a pier. A few boats were docked, and there was a pretty nice crowd of people there. While Jeremy changed clothes (he looked like a grease monkey…lol), Darren and Mike, the substitute bass player, helped me get all of Jeremy’s equipment out of the car and set up. At precisely 6:07 pm, the band started. It rained earlier in the day, so the band was set up on the patio instead of the big stage. The clouds were clearing, and the sun was warming the beach. It was an intimate setting, and the band sounded great. An autistic young man, maybe 21 or so, got up and began to dance. He really had the crowd going. Brian gave him a tambourine, and he was right on beat. It was so awesome! I walked out onto the beach and had a seat next to the ocean. I ran my feet through the sand and took a few pictures of the sky and of the band. I was at peace, finally. It felt so good to feel the sand in my toes again.

After the first set, Darren gave us our room key, and we went to take our stuff to the room. About half way through the second set, I went to the room to try to sit down and blog. Of course, the “free wifi” didn’t work in my room, so I went back out to listen for a little while and have a bite to eat. We ate in the room on Jeremy’s second break, and the exhaustion began to hit. I’d been up since the day before with only about two hours of sleep in the car in Little Rock. My time to sleep on the road was interrupted by our car situation. I decided to stay in the room for the last set, take a shower, and maybe get some sleep. Once my head hit the pillow, I was out. The next thing I knew, Jeremy was waking me up to tell me that the gig was over. He hopped in the shower, and cuddled up next to me in the softest bed we’d probably ever been in.

We woke up bright and early the next morning, actually feeling refreshed. We made our way to Mc Donald’s to grab a warm breakfast (the continental breakfast at the hotel really didn’t fill you up), and tried to figure out what we wanted to do. We were limited on funds due to the car trouble on the way down, but I was still determined to enjoy myself. We went back to the room and changed into beach wear.

We walked across the street to the ocean side of the beach, and when we hit the sand, it felt so cool and smooth between my toes. I hadn’t really been able to enjoy the beach since I was a kid, and I was excited to be with Jeremy on his first trip to the beach. It is truly another world. The people are all friendly and laid back. The weather is beautiful. The scenery is beautiful. Who wouldn’t love it? Unfortunately, I burned my leg pretty bad a week before, so I couldn’t get in the ocean. It was so nice just getting to spend time with Jeremy. We walked up the beach as the waves washed over our feet, sometimes pulling us toward the ocean. We would laugh and try to keep each other up. It was fun just being with each other without worrying about all the things we deal with when we are at home. If we had no responsibilities, we probably would have tried too stay. LOL. We didn’t have long before the next gig started at 3, so we went to the pool for a dip. It was so cold I couldn’t make it past the 2nd step. We were at the pool because Jeremy wanted to prove to me that he couldn’t float. He proved his point, and we quickly got out. It was time too get ready for the gig, anyway. It was time to see what a Sunday afternoon on the big stage at Paradise Bar and Grill would be like.

Florida Road Trip: Part 2 Getting to Florida

So, from the pictures you can see that the ride through Arkansas, Louisiana, and into Mississippi was pretty smooth. I made good time, got to see a beautiful sunrise over huge crops of corn and peppers, and Jeremy got some rest in. Soon after we got into Mississippi, we were going to have to stop for gas and switch out driving.

As I was pulling off the road to refill on gas, I heard a clanking noise. We were right by a construction site, so I thought it was all of the machinery until I rolled my window down and heard the noise was coming from under my hood. Jeremy thought the oil was low, so he added a little in, overfilling it enough to make my car start smoking on top of everything. We were now riding down Highway 49 in Richland, MS with a smoking, rattling car. We pulled off on a small country road, thinking we would just empty a little of the oil out. Of course, we didn’t have a wrench to undo the oil plug and let some of the oil drain off. After 5 or 6 cars passed by, asking us did we need a phone or any help, an older black gentleman in an old truck pulling a trailer of tree limbs drove up. He looked like one of those old men you see in the pictures drinking moonshine and playing his guitar to his dog, and he had almost no voice to speak. Jeremy asked him if he had a wrench, and he just happened too. He pulled his truck off to the side of the road, and while Jeremy let the oil drain into a bottle, the old man directed traffic, waving at everyone as they drove by. It was like a scene out of a movie. He walked over and warned Jeremy not to let too much oil out because he was on a hill. As he was walking off, I hear Jeremy scream. The oil plug slipped all the way out, and all of the oil was leaking out now. All I can do at this point is grab every bottle we have laying in the car and try to salvage as much oil as possible. Jeremy got the plug back on the oil tank, and I carefully put all of the oil we had (about 1 qt.) back in the car. The old man told us how to get to the nearest gas station, and followed us to the main road. The car stopped smoking, but it was still making that horrible noise. On top of that, I noticed that one of my belts was almost shredded to pieces.

I looked up the nearest AutoZone, which was a mere 4 miles away. I turned and headed down the highway, but we ran into an O’Reilly Auto Parts first, so I stopped there, thinking that they would probably be helpful. I got the oil, and walked up to the counter to wait on Jeremy. Once the guys figured out which belt I needed to replace, Jeremy and the customer rep came back in to finish ringing us up. We needed a new power steering belt, which we got, but the worker told us he didn’t know how to put it on. Just my luck, right? He referred us to his coworker, who came and took a look under the hood. He told us that he didn’t have the tool to remove the bolt and replace the power steering belt, and with a closer look he showed us why our car was clanking: the top ac pulley bolt fell off. The pulley and belt fell off, as well. The pulley got lodged between the power steering and the bottom ac pulley, and the guy said he didn’t know what to do. He sent us up the road to a mechanic, not knowing if the mechanic would be open since it was Saturday. I am really spoiled living in a city where mechanics are readily available any day of the week.

We drove on up the road, clanking as we rode the speed limit. We pulled into the mechanic’s and, of course, they were closed. Jeremy popped the hood, determined to get the pulley out. With a few strategic moves with a crow bar, we finally dislodged the pulley. The noise stopped, and we headed to AutoZone, hoping the shredded power steering belt would make it.

We pulled into AutoZone and asked for a tool that we could use to change the power steering belt. The gentleman inside was much more helpful than the guys at AutoZone. He told us how to change the belt and informed us that the ac belt was what was missing. So, now we were going to be without ac all the way to Florida, and we were almost 5 hours out with 5 hours to make it to the gig. Off down Highway 49 we went, on the way to Florida, praying we would make it on time.

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