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Do Cover Bands Play the Same Songs?

For your drinking and dancing pleasure

I know the graphics are always left-justified, but that ruined the bulleted list of songs. As they say in the old country, “Atsa the way it goes.”

Here’s a (fun?) project: Go see a set or two from few local cover bands, which is something I recommend you do, anyway. Next time, take note of which songs they play. Chances are good you’ll hear a few of the following:

  • “Brown Eyed Girl”
  • “Hard to Handle”
  • “Sweet Home Alabama” (a/k/a “All Summer Long”)
  • “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
  • “Midnight Hour”
  • “Mustang Sally”
  • “Don’t Stop Believin'”
  • “American Girl”
  • “Walk This Way”
  • “Sweet Caroline” (at least in Red Sox Nation)

I would’ve listed the artists and linked to the songs, but you already know all of them.

That’s not to say those are lousy songs–except Kid Rock should spend an evening with Jack Bauer, a tub full of water, jumper cables, and a car battery. The fact is that many people like to go out to hear songs they already know. If that gets them on the dance floor, well, that’s what we’re aiming for, innit? When people dance, they get thirsty. When they get thirsty, the bar makes money. When the bar makes money, they’re happy. And when the bar is happy, the band will be asked back.

The trick is to play just a few of the above standards at a gig. And of course, two bands probably won’t sound exactly the same playing the same song. In fact, sometimes a band will have their own interpretation of a song. For example, we boosted the tempo on most of the painfully slow ballad “Say Something” and it went over well. We did a similar rhythm adjustment on Alex Clare’s “Too Close” with similar results (the original was used in an Internet Explorer ad). We also do “Jessie’s Girl” without the synth, because sometimes playing bass is more fun.

About 5 years ago, I was in The Skinny Ties, which covered tunes from the New Wave era. When MTV began, it actually played Music, kids. Good music, too. So we played a lot of Cars, Cheap Trick, some Pretenders, etc. In addition to the hits, we did songs like “I Ran” (Flock of Seagulls), “Major Tom” (Peter Schilling), and “Whip It” (Devo), and “My Sharona” (The Knack; “I’ve practiced the solo for 30 years and I’ve just about got it”). Not a “Brown Eyed Girl” in that bunch.

So get out there and support live music…and see how many of the above songs you hear.

Why You Should Arrive Early to a Gig

No time for a Simpson friend...

No time for a Simpson friend…

It’s a sad truth that the world doesn’t always work as smoothly as we’d like (just wait until I’m finally in charge!). There’s normal traffic, accident-induced traffic, weather-related traffic, TGIF-batsh!t-crazy traffic, and even some non-traffic related concerns. Heck, you may even forget an important item (e.g., batteries for your wireless). So it’s not a bad idea to double the estimated amount of drive time and use that.

The worst thing that can happen is that you arrive early, with lots of time to leisurely:

  • unload & setup your gear (“They only have 2 electrical outlets?!!”)
  • do a thorough sound check (“It doesn’t feedback like this at home!”)
  • change clothes (especially important in summer, or if your band has a uniform or similar clothing style not conducive to schlepping)
  • attend to personal hygiene, makeup, hair, bodily functions…
  • visit a local store for equipment you either forgot or just thought of (“Hmm, a $20 electric fan on a 100-degree day is a damn bargain!”)
  • eat semi-real food that wasn’t ordered at a drive-through (no judgement)

Actually, probably the worst thing that can happen here is that there’s an accident, hopefully not involving you, and you arrive closer to showtime than you’d thought. In that case, it’s business as usual.

Almost nothing will tick off your bandmates, crowd, and/or employer than someone arriving too late to properly set up and help with unloading, unless you have roadies. And yes, as much fun as gigging is, it is work, if only for a few hours. [Hmm, that might make a good potential blog topic…]

What about you? How early do you typically arrive before a gig? How much earlier for a new venue?

Some Musicians’ Thoughts on Ear Plugs

One of the poster, grandfathers of musicians with hearing loss.

One of the poster childr…er, grandfathers of musicians with hearing loss.

I offer this discussion thread from the Talk Bass forum as an insight into the thoughts of what my fellow bassists think about protecting their ears. Happy reading.

Farewell, MM6

Damn, these modern synths are harder to fix than what I had as a kid!

OK, here’s the sustain, but WTH is an LCD display?

Alas, my old, second-hand Yamaha MM6 is essentially on life support, at least as a reliable piece of gig equipment. Half its LCD display had the habit of taking unplanned vacations, making it difficult to do just about anything new. Sometimes it would come back; sometimes not. I dealt with that for the past 2 years, given that I had saved about 10 sounds that were quite suitable for our gigs: pianos, synths, accordion (Shipping Up to Boston and various other Irish tunes) and even a nice split with piano on the left and synth on the right (no more button pushing for Don’t Stop Believin’). So I got by okay with the MM6 for several years, more than justifying my $250 price…

…UNTIL its sustain function bit the dust. (It’s fun to learn these types of things when you’re setting up at a gig, too far from home.) To quote Clint Eastwood, “I know what you’re thinking…” The obvious diagnosis was that the sustain pedal died, and the fairly painless treatment was to get a new one for under $50. Unfortunately, the pedal worked fine on another keyboard at home, and a known-good pedal would not sustain on the MM6. Thanks for your years of service, old friend…

At the gig, I compensated with the Release control knob, but it was kludgy for most songs, especially ones that called for sustained chords. Oddly enough, it might have been my best rendition of the solo in Scandal’s Goodbye to You.

Time for some shopping. Brand new this time, if possible.

Gear Note: My Pedalboard

NOT my pedalboard

NOT my pedalboard

Now is the winter of our discontent, indeed. Here in Massachusetts, we’ll substitute “wicked pissa bad mood” for “discontent,” though. Hope you and yours are staying warm and dry. (By the way, “yours” refers to family and loved ones, not body parts, unless you want it to, of course.)

Someone sent me a PM asking what I have in my pedalboard, which sounds way more suggestive than it actually is. Unlike my guitarist friends, mine is pretty simple, consisting of:

The Line 6 wireless system is fairly new (bought several months ago, but finally put into use recently). So far, it has performed well. Sounds nice, but the transmitter’s form factor means it either clips to my belt, sits in my pocket, or clips to my strap. I tried the 3rd option and quickly modified that by putting the transmitter inside a neoprene pouch that has “hook and loop” [rhymes with “Hell Crow”] straps that wrap securely to my guitar strap. Getting to the transmitter’s power switch is a bit awkward, but I don’t have to worry about the transmitter’s clip sliding off my strap, or worse yet, down to damage the finish of one of my basses. The transmitter’s battery door seems somewhat flimsy, so the pouch is definitely the way to go.

The Boss TU-2 tuner has been around for years. Boss now sells the TU-3 which they say is better in bright sunlight. Unless you do something silly (e.g., inadvertently press a button to put it into an alternative tuning mode), this workhorse will perform well. After growing up listening to bands tune, this tuner, which allows guitarists to tune silently, deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

My SansAmp is one of my favorite possessions of all time. Instead of schlepping a bass amp, run an XLR (or 1/4″) cable from this textbook-sized unit into the mains. Your back will thank you the next day. Even better, you don’t sacrifice sound for convenience. The manufacturer has setting notes that emulate different amp configurations, but most musicians will likely want to experiment. The previous model, which I used and liked for several years, had 1 channel (i.e., you adjusted the knobs and that was your tone). This model has 3 foot-switchable channels, so you can have, for example, a normal sound, a fuzz sound, and a high treble sound. Very neat!

The above are all powered by a 1 SPOT from Visual Sound. Normally, a power supply sounds about as dull as the past few decades of Woody Allen movies. The nice thing about the 1 SPOT and similar products is that the days of 1 power supply per component are HISTORY! Not only does this make for a slightly neater pedalboard, but much more importantly, you only need 1 outlet on your power strip. Gigging musicians know how valuable that is.

So that’s my stuff. As a bassist, I don’t need that much. How about you?

Gear Note: Clip-on Tuner

click for manufacturer's Web site

I’m gettin’ in tune…

I hope your year is off to a good start. Today I’m discussing something I originally bought after my old reliable stompbox-type, chromatic tuner did the electronic version of “speaking in tongues” right before a gig. Of course, that was almost certainly due to me accidentally hitting one of its buttons, perhaps the Yoko Ono one.

Fortunately, my guitarist had a clip-on tuner which worked intuitively and accurately. Of course I immediately wanted one just because of its ooh, ahh quality. It works on vibration, so you don’t even need your instrument to be plugged in, much less connected to the tuner via a guitar cable. It’s lightweight and very small, so you can simply leave it on your instrument during a gig. Instead of tapping the pedal of a stompbox-type tuner, just turn the volume to zero and tune. The tuner not only has a center-align needle but–and this is the best part–turns color from red to green when the string is tuned properly.

These are available from several manufacturers. Mine is the Intellitouch PT10 from OnBoard Research (click the image to go to their site). They’re available at the usual places for about $30. The only problem I’ve had with mine is that it sometimes takes a while to identify my bass’ low E.

Thanks to downloadable user manuals, I’ve since reset my stompbox-type tuner. Still, it’s nice to have the clip-on tuner, as lets me leave my pedalboard (with the stompbox-type tuner) at home or in the car when I’m plugged directly into an amp.

The tuner’s pitch can be reset to something other than the standard A440, but I’m highly likely to use this feature.

Do you use one? What do you think?

What a Drag It Is Getting Old…or IS It?

It was either Mick or Keith (or Steven Tyler for our Redbook version).

The pic was going to be either Mick or Keith (or Steven Tyler for our Redbook version).

Rock songs aren’t always about sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, or…baseball. Sometimes, they’re about age. It seems like a few decades since Jay Leno joked about The Who’s farewell tour (one of the first ones) and how the lyrics to My Generation should become “I hope I die before I get really, really old.” With the New Year upon us, let’s consider some physical issues involved with gigging as a local part-time musician over age 40-ish (i.e., no roadies).

Physical limitations are the–pardon the term–granddaddy of concerns. Some become more likely in midlife. Hands and fingers can get slower, making it difficult to play as quickly as before. Bones and muscles in general can get sore earlier, so even if your hands are in good shape, your back can tighten, or knees, elbows, shoulders, can make it difficult to support your playing.

One thing about the wear and tear of middle age: they can be great motivators to change your lifestyle. In addition to making (small) changes in diet, I’m in the gym a few times a week these days. The big difference is that my workouts now are largely done to maintain function and/or protect against further degradation, whereas in the past they were more improvement oriented. I’ve found that strengthening exercises have helped a bit with the tight back that I typically get standing after 3 sets.

In addition to musculoskeletal issues, if you haven’t protected your ears from decades of standing too close to amps, drums, and PA speakers, your hearing might be impaired. I’m somewhat surprised that I’m the only one in my two bands who regularly wears ear protection. Depending on your rehearsal space’s configuration, you might not want to save them for gigs. If so, consider keeping a pair in your instrument case, rather than thinking of them as something you pack only for a gig. (One of my bands rehearses in a rather small room, with a a PA speaker in back of me.)

If you read from charts and have less than perfect vision, you might notice a change in your eyesight. This may require the use or adjustment of corrective lenses. Ditto if you need to watch your fingers or if you often adjust effects/pedals on the floor or on an equipment rack.

Sleep habits can also change with age. You may find that that pre-gig nap you once considered a luxury has become a necessity. Also, you may notice an interaction between lack of sleep and muscle soreness, especially after 1:00am load-out.

What issues have you encountered that I didn’t cover? Maybe a future post will discuss the non-physical aspects of the older musician.

Have a happy and healthy 2014!