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Musically Speaking: A musician: His story of independence

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JJ Rocks Article # 22 :
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 4, January, 2007
Once upon a time, there was a musician who arrived at a point in his life where he realized that he wasn’t like most of the other musicians that he knew. After playing in bar blues and rock bands when he was very young (using fake ID’s), and he even found himself playing in jam bands at rock festivals doing opening acts for so many bands like the Doors, Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin. But all of a sudden times changed and the only “full time” work that would support himself and his family was in bands that “mimicked” the songs on the radio. After awhile he set out to find his musical independence even if it was at the cost of working only part time gigs. But the two trains of thought just kept colliding for many years. Finding your independence and paying the bills. I can just see some of you out there right now holding your hands in the air and saying “Yes! I can relate to that!” Well, everybody is looking for their own solution to that one, because we all have different circumstances. And for this musician, after almost a lifetime, in his heart the cards fell just right.

Now even though he is no different than anyone else who tries their best to keep up with the bills, he has been blessed with the ability to aim his accomplishments at goals that are set within his heart, and not at the goals of the material world that surrounds him. And his decisions were reached through already having tasted that most popular side of the human pleasures, and not by giving up because of never “being there”. Because at one time, in the middle of being a top 40 musical prostitute traveling the country, he actually was asked to go to Hollywood and be a producer at Gold Star studios (A+M Records) and use his talents to direct the recordings of some up and coming bands from the far east. Now I know to some people that may not seem like something big, but Hollywood just wanted to see how he would handle new artist from other countries before they gave him any other assignments. But after seeing how there was a little too much kneeling down in the music industry, he walked away from a situation that most people only dream about, even at the cost of going back home to the top 40 racket. Well, at least he was respected for his playing ability and had a somewhat of a steady income without having to kiss you know what.

At least at that time the music that was on the radio was fun to play. And when you were with one of the top bands in the local circuit, you always knew that the audience would make up for any songs that you did not enjoy playing. So this musician was at a stage in his life where even though he didn’t know where life would take him, he knew that he was satisfied and looked forward to going to work each night of the six nights a week that he played. And that’s when tragedy struck. That’s when his entire life changed overnight. It’s hard for this writer to even type out the words that describes the perils that came next into the life of a musician who was dedicated, involved and in love with his day to day musical life. That’s when he and all the people around him became infected with that dreaded 70’s disease, DISCO!

It seemed out of nowhere but everything started to change! This was during a time when there were always two bands playing at each club doing 50 minutes on and 50 minutes off. But the next thing you know the local agents were coming around once a week checking every bands song list to see if they were playing the top ten disco songs. And sometimes we were taking cues from DJs on when to start playing a song. It was not good. Now I don’t think that any musicians were jumping off of bridges, but if they were I’m sure that the agents were covering it up. And this musician that I’m writing about tried his best to get his mind off of all that mess by taking his one night off and driving 100 miles to a basement 4 track studio and trying to express himself by recording demos of his own music. But that still didn’t relieve the pain.

There was a short time when he tried to bypass DD (disco disease) and joined a band that leaned more towards funk. Now there were almost enough funk songs mixed in the top 40 charts (at least for awhile) to distract him away from the Bee Gees and other disabling afflictions. But even though that band took him into the studio to record his original songs, in the long run they still tried to rip him off by not telling him that the sessions were paid for by certain mob members and that they ran off with the masters. Oh yeah, they also stole a car that the keyboard player rented for them and the band was charging this musician with part of the cost. Of course being in fear of loosing some of his major body parts he went along with the scam, even though it was directed at him.

So on and on went the musical merry go round. People would often ask this musician what kind of band that he played in and his response was always the same, “The kind that pays the rent”. And as he would drive great distances to get to a gig where most of the people were eating and not paying attention to the band, he would dream about having a band that would play his original songs. But it was only in vain because that only paid the bills if you were signed to a record label. And after already experiencing that life style of the rich and rip offs in Hollywood, he became very frustrated. He could either use the connections that he still had and try to become a gear in a machine operated by musical dictators, or just sit and wait for the one in a million shot that someone who was somebody would walk into one of these little stuck up restaurants where he was playing and say “you are just what I was looking for”. Well, in a small way it almost happened.

There was this band (and still is) from the town where this musician was from that was very popular. Somehow they managed to be on the rock radio stations every day. Everyone was under the impression that they were known worldwide. One day he got a phone call from the leader of this band and the guy asked if he knew a few of their songs. Well, the musician was already playing one of their simple songs but didn’t know any of their more “rock fusion” songs that they were known for. So the guy said that he had to learn four of the hardest songs on their album by the next morning and meet them out at the concert hall where they rehearsed. So the musician stayed up all night and learned the songs. He even asked a friend to drive him there so he could keep playing along with a plastic cassette player in the back seat. So after playing the songs and making them happy, they gave him a demo for their up coming album. Well, that whole week the musician worked on this material. Even at night on his six nights a week restaurant gig people were saying “I can’t wait to see you in concert with (so and so). But one day a week later the musician got a phone again from the leader of this band and he said “something doesn’t feel right” we’re going to try someone else”. So without any real explanation for being canned, the musician had to go back to his BS gig and face the music. To say the least, he was not happy.

You can only imagine what he was going through. When he thought of the band that he should be playing in, it pissed him off. When he listened to the music that he had to play to pay the rent, it pissed him off. He was somewhere between a hard rock and a kidney stone. But one night in the middle of the crowd laughing at some bar joke while not paying attention to the band, and the clanging of knives and forks, he came up with an idea. You see, not only was he disgusted with his situation, but he had just found out through a reliable source that the reason he did not get that gig with the rock band was because he was a practitioner of “Kenpo”, an efficient and sometimes (if necessary) a deadly martial art. Now as all you martial artist out there already know, this marital art as all martial arts are not designed for someone to be a threat. On the contrary, they are just as much of an art form as music. But as fate has it, the little wimpy keyboard player in that rock band thought that if the musician got mad he might just be a threat to them and maybe bust up their equipment, so as the great Paul Harvey always says, now you know the rest of the story.

So, like I said before, in the middle of all this turmoil, the musician had a brainchild. You see, a few months before, the top 40 band he was in went to the Virgin Islands to play a gig. Well, that didn’t turn out so well because the drummer wimped out and cried to go home. Then his backstabbing keyboard buddy decided the same thing. But we were under contract! So the bass playing leader, who by the way was a great person, came up with an escape plan by changing the dates on the return tickets. So there we were back in the same BS club playing for the same people. So, while on stage one night the musician came up with the idea of contacting the same guy that booked that top 40 band down in the islands. It turns out that the same guy that booked us also owned the club. Now you can imagine what balls the musician had to gather up just to make that call. But he had a back up plan. Before he called he wrote a jingle for the guy who owned the club! Well, the guy loved it, but at the same time did not forget the previous experience with that top 40 band. But as it turned out, the musician booked his band down in the islands but he knew he was walking on eggs. Because not only did he have to prove himself to the club owner but he had no idea who the members of the band would be. None of the pros that he knew would travel so far for so little (250.00 a week). So he asked his music students that occasionally came to his house if they wanted to be in a band. It was tough going but the musician kept working them very hard and within a few months they were off to paradise.

So this was one of the first steps towards being independent from the main music scene because not only did he build his band from scratch, he was doing music like classic rock and reggae that was only being played in small weekend bars in the states. It was still mostly cover music but he, his band and their new audience loved it! In fact even to this day no band has ever packed a place like his band. Even on weekdays the joint was jumping! And when they started to play the musicians originals it just put the icing on the cake. Even a major record company executive loved the songs and went to see them in Manhattan when they started to tour. But again the musician was faced with the powers that be and they were again, trying to manipulate him.

The original songs of his that they were playing didn’t just make it to an A+R guy; they made it all the way to a major board meeting with record company vice presidents. And when the votes came in the musician was told that they loved the songs but he needed a different band. At that time bands like Journey and Rush were out and rock bands had heavy hitters. But there were also bands like that “The Cars” that focused on formula and not individual playing ability. But I guess since the musician was some what of a flashy guitarist, the record company felt he needed to have a backup band that was also flashy. So that’s when the musician made one of his biggest mistakes. Instead of sticking to his guns, he let the bright lights of fame sway him from his true gut feelings.

So he went and got fancy playing musicians who were ready to play and tour with him because by that time the doors were already open. So back down to the islands he went, expecting to make even a bigger splash. Even though the band was well received, people kept asking about the previous members and it never was the same. For one thing, along with the great playing ability of his new players, came some attitudes that he never expected. Not only did they consider themselves high and mighty, but most of them (except his drummer and friend Tim) were not anywhere as social as his previous members, who if you recall were his students. So after not being able to deal with his mistake, the musician ended the band and his tours in the Virgin Islands.

Upon returning home he found himself in the same spot as before. Even though there were some good things like taking up the drums and playing five hundred and forty five Broadway review shows on a local cruise ship, he was still back to playing covers that were basically top 40 crap. So one day out of the blue he called a friend in the islands and found out that there was a new club opening and they needed someone to play. So he wound up back in the islands playing the music that he wanted to play and mixing originals into the list. He would also occasionally visit other islands when he toured on Carnival Cruise Lines which went right by his home. Right about then is when he made the biggest decision off his life. He knew that he loved being back there and never wanted to leave, but he also knew that if he called his contacts and bowed down to the almighty record companies that they would ship him off on tour somewhere and he would be living out of a suitcase.

Now to many of our readers that’s just part of success. But success has different meanings to different people. So seeing how he now has a small cottage in a beautiful valley in the Virgin Islands, found the love of his life along with changing peoples lives by teaching music in his home, publishing the first free independent international music magazine from paradise, and is writing a musical play that has been gaining interest by several theater companies, he simply laughs when ever he hears someone tell him how he’s wasting his talents. It’s a shame that so many people think of success only as a direct connection with fortune and fame. Maybe they just don’t realize that material pleasures were put in this world for one reason. And that’s to fill the wholes in someone’s life that their own talents can not fill.

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