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polara

Playing with players who are just at the next level

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Posted (edited)

I don't know why this popped into my had, but our Office365 is bunged up at work, so I'll ask ya'll your thoughts because it's a good Friday afternoon BS topic.

I was thinking about a very few guys I've played with who had bumped around the major label scene, or were serious session players. What made them special. It was never the ability to shred - I can walk into a Guitar Center and hear five guys playing fast arpeggios - but some other quality. Timing? Sort of. Tone? Well, that's part of it. Phrasing? Close...

I think it was for want of a better word, "musicality." They all had this ability to know what was needed, and deliver it. Might be with one note or fifty, but in any situation they'd perceive the musical need, and play - or refrain from playing (vitally important) - in a way that made it all better. Examples:

  1. Looking for a second guitarist, a guy come in with a Hamer Monaco in one hand and Matchless in the other. Only pedals were a tuner and an OCD. We start playing a couple of our songs, which he has never heard, and after 8 bars he's contributing really cool, tasteful parts, with immaculate technique. He's been in some band that was signed to Roadrunner at the same time as Nickelback, but when the Nickelback album took off, they told his band they could keep the masters, don't bother paying them back, they were gonna go all-in on Nickelback.
  2. Got together with a guy who shows up with some beat-up rattle-can partscaster, a huge board, and a Super Reverb. Same thing, original material, and he's just on it, anticipating the chord changes, laying back at right time, going full J Mascis at the right time. He'd had a band called Crossfire Choir on Geffen.
  3. Starting a band with a woman I knew, she says her favorite drummer is available to join us. Because he just finished a world with Nick Oliveri (Queens of the Stone Age). This guy, Josh, was so deep in the pocket his fingernails probably hit his knees digging change out. Later I was talking to Troy Van Leewen, who said "Oh yeah, Hoss. He's a really good drummer."
  4. Chris Robinson singing with us at a rehearsal. 'Nuff said.

It's humbling but educational. Make some think it really ain't worth a thing if it ain't got that swing. These players who can really cut it on the big stages bring... something that isn't just a bunch of notes. What do you think? Similar experiences? Did you learn from it? 

Edited by polara
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I had been in a workshop with Carl Verheyen last year. He essentially told the same stories from his decades long business life. 

In essence, you’ve got to know your tools and focus on the tasks rather than the other way round. This is not music specific. It’s what’s called professionalism.

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Posted (edited)

As far as what they have that others don’t, I’d have to say it starts with natural talent and it ends with the desire to be the best!! When I visit my son in Nashville his house party’s are always a jam and a who’s who of studio owners/engineers, and session guys. I got invited to a session to meet Brent Mason, now that’s cool!!! 

Edited by Dutchman

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I've played with names. Some I cannot say, actually. Always casually, and I'm a BAD player. Worse singer. I get very intimidated, knowing that I'm a definite step down after being on stage with Clapton at the crossroads festival. but it has always gone well. Anyone willing to play with me in the first place isn't an asshole, and if they are I don't care how good they are I don't want to be around them, I guess. But a lot of pros I've encountered are super generous and you learn a ton from them just by doing your best to keep up or fit in.

I was at a studio party a while back. Someone handed me an original 50s junior to compare with my hamer, plugged into one of his amps. Everyone was staring at me. Four of them toured with massive monster acts in their heyday (that I know of), one was a hot shot studio guy, one was a pretty impressive singer...  it was remarkably intimidating. I know hundreds of songs, I couldn't think of a single thing to play for a second.

I cranked out the worst GuitarCenter 14 year old version of Smoke on the Water that I could muster, everyone laughed, then  just sort of ignored  me and I got on with having some fun and seeing what his amp could do. They were all quite kind and fun. I spent a couple of hours playing, most of it on bass through one of James Jamerson's B15s behind a guitarist who'd played stadiums. I learned a ton, and everyone ignored that I was the idiot neophyte in the room.

Another time I was working at a songwriter festival. My job wasn't sound or PA, I was just setting up video cameras and recording the discussions, mostly tapping the board feeds for the panel's mics and running it into the DAW, which we did the first morning. After we set it up it was literally a case of "hit record, and leave" level of interaction. But Nathan East was there doing a keynote and asked "Do you want to record the bass? It might make better videos."   It wasn't my sound board, the sound guys had set it up (wrong) and split, but I said "I could take a DI I guess."

He stood up, handed me his bass, pointed to the amp, and said "Whatever you need, just let me know" then stepped out of the way.  The other sound guy (not official, he was like me) and I broke down the board to get a couple of cables, stole the mics off the discussion panel's table an set up board feeds to go DI, mic Nathan, and mic his amp. We ended up with a live mic and DI to go with the video and great sound on his talking and asking questions.  Afterwards he thanked me, shook my hand, and said it was really cool what I did.

He KNEW I was an idiot scrambling to do something just because I thought it would be cool. The guy has literally done thousands of studio sessions and knows real engineers from dolts like us. It's extremely intimidating, but he has met all kinds, I'm sure. And treats everyone with kindness and respect.

Most people who are better but have been jerks about playing with me are just locals with no social skills so they woodsheded some style as teenagers, not real pros.

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This guy was in a peer band back in the day. By no means was I or am I the greatest guitarist but I was pretty confident about what I was doing and wasn't intimidated by or hesitant to follow anyone else on the Chicago scene...except Greg. Nice guy and an amazing player who's had quite a career.

 

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Yeah I've played with a few guys.  Both great players.  Ex drummer for King Diamond playing in a Black Label Society tribute band.  Great player, huge diva, was constantly at odds with our Zakk.  We actually fired him, LOL. Another pretty famous local guy, played with Cher & others, dated Cher.  We had a big local festival and he didn't show up. One of the crew guys had to pick up him at his Mothers house. Had a real bad coke habit but could play everything perfectly regardless of his condition. 

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Posted (edited)

The Greats are more than great players!!! Here’s a get well from Johnny Hiland after my spinal surgery. The guy with him is one of my pickin buddies, a monster player in his own right!

 

Edited by Dutchman

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Posted (edited)

The G4 Experience had a fun but maddening after-hours jam/open mic session every night in the resort's pub. I dutifully lugged my Hamer Cali LE up every night with the hopes of jamming  but getting on the list was an exercise in aggravation along with timing/patience. Then there was finding some musical common ground (what song we gonna do?) and hoping you didn't get up there with a dooosh. Or worse, become one yourself. It was pretty humbling and there was oodles of infinitely far better players than myself, including some noteworthies like Alex Skolnick and some of his band buddies. Sadly, Satch, Johnson and Vai did not sit in. Satch's drummer and bassist did stop up.

I managed only 2 appearances  w/ utterly forgettable performances at that, given the libations consumed beforehand. Never the less, it was instructional, if nothing else, from the standpoint of solid jam decorum and etiquette and economizing your solo time lest you become the Dooosh. I give props to some of the really skilled dudes who likely didn't care or need the admiration or cock fights that something like that could devolve into. I learned a bit from watching them and listening to their phrasing. They navigated the hopeless tangle of mismatched, unfamiliar and poorly engineered (Sound guy? What sound guy?) cobbled stage gear and were happy to share the stage with noobs, wanna-be's and nobodies alike.

Edited by diablo175
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Clyde Stubblefield was a pretty good drummer. I got to sit in with him a few times.

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Polara, I think you identified it in the OP.....musicality. The best players just ooze music. I’ve played with a few signed names and I love to support them and see what makes them better than me. I find that they are always playing for the song....it’s all about the song and not them.

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A casual “weekend warrior” band I was in through the mid-1980’s got a last minute (Wednesday) call to open for some “national act” that Friday and Saturday at a popular local club. Pretty certain that the booking agent had exhausted his list of bands to call - LOL. We had never heard of the band but of course we took the gig – most likely for the free food and drinks that were always part of the package!

Turns out it was The Bluesbusters, a short-lived blues-rock quintet consisting of Paul Barrere (guitarist/singer from Little Feat), T Lavitz (keyboardist from The Dixie Dregs), Freebo (longtime bass player with Bonnie Raitt), guitarist/singer Catfish Hodge and a drummer named Larry Zack who would go on to play with Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Robby Krieger and Bobby Womack.

I was first of our gang to arrive (a couple hours early) and I walked in, set most of my gear on the stage and then headed downstairs to the green room with my guitar case in hand. I opened the door to see Paul sitting on a couch with a beer in one hand and guitar in the other. My jaw must have dropped a foot and I think I said something like “holy shit, I can’t be on the same stage as you.” Paul then said “c’mon now, grab a beer and a sandwich and show me what’s in that case.”

We hung out for an hour or so before anyone else arrived. He turned out to be one of the nicest, most humble people I have ever met. We talked a lot about guitars and things like riffs that we had each screwed up over the years, Little Feat stuff that I had never quite been able to master, etc. In the end he said “stick around when you guys finish your set and we’ll all get on stage and make some hideous noises for the encore!”

We did just that and even though it was intimidating as hell, it is something that I’ll remember forever.

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On 7/19/2019 at 4:37 PM, Dutchman said:

The Greats are more than great players!!! Here’s a get well from Johnny Hiland after my spinal surgery. The guy with him is one of my pickin buddies, a monster player in his own right!

 

So, have you taken him up on his offer yet?

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, Bloozguy said:

So, have you taken him up on his offer yet?

I plan on visiting Johnny after I fully recover!! Blaine and I get together about once a week. I lost all the sensation in my left ring finger and pinky after they scraped  the cancer off my spinal chord but I’m starting to get some back!! 👍

Edited by Dutchman
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