Have you ever played a gig that seemed to go on forever? I’m not talking about your typical three to four hour bar band performance that occasionally might drag a little in the middle, or some uninspired club gig full of “T n’ A” (tables and ashtrays). No, I’m talking about a gig that goes on for hours and hours, eight hours to be exact, by the end of which you felt like you aged 10 years. A few years back I did a few gigs like this, and lived to tell about it.
With thousands of singers and musicians trying to break into the Nashville nightclub scene and only so many potential gigs, the scene here can be quite competitive. And if you’ve been in Nashville for a while, you know all too well that these clubs are not known for their “great pay”. These two facts combined might cause some players to take on gigs that, in another part of the country, would be laughed out the door.
Don’t get me wrong; there are some club gigs around town that can be lucrative, a few even providing a guarantee of $100 or more per player. But most club gigs in Nashville are tips only, or provide a minimal base pay (usually $20-$50 per player), plus tips. So if you want to make some decent money, you really have to hustle.
Relying on tips causes many club bands to play a three to four hour shift without taking a break, and if a player needs to go to the bathroom the singer might do a few acoustic numbers to provide the band with at least one “pee break”. Relying so greatly on the tip jar for income also causes some singers and bands to exclusively cater to the tourists, choosing worn out dance floor classics like “Margaritaville”, “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Mustang Sally” to keep them happily bopping along.
Several years back I was working pretty steadily downtown, playing a lot of shifts at Tootsies, the Second Fiddle, and a few others on the strip. Around the same time there was another club just a few streets off of Broadway at which I also began performing (to save face, this club will remain anonymous, although its identity will be obvious to anyone who has ever worked this gig). For the purposes of this blog, I will refer to the club owner as “Harry” and the club as “Harry Houdini’s”.
I got to know Harry by hanging out at his club and sitting in on occasion. He liked my playing, and when the guitarist in his weekend house band quit, he offered me the spot. I was hungry for good paying work, and he offered to pay me $125 a night – straight pay with no tips. By Nashville standards, this was great pay for an in-town club gig. There was just one catch – the band was required to play from 7 PM to 3 AM. What?
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you plenty of breaks” Harry assured me. “You can even play sitting on a stool when you get tired”.
Like I said, good paying gigs are hard to find in Nashville, and at this point in time I really needed the dough. Besides, I had already experienced playing some “doubles” on Broadway (for those of you not in the know, this is two shifts back to back, with about a 30 minute break in between shows for change over). The doubles were hard work, but I had built up the necessary stamina, and the extra pay was helping. So what the hell, it can’t be much worse than a double, why not give it a shot?
The day of my first gig at this fine establishment I arrived about 20 minutes early, loaded in my gear, and anxiously awaited downbeat. The group consisted of drums, bass, me on guitar, and a singer who also played acoustic. The song list was typical of downtown cover music – classic and new country, pop and rock, and for the first couple of hours, it seemed like just another typical bar gig in Nashville. I even got to take a short break around nine.
Then the dynamic of the night began to change. Harry, the club owner, was also a musician, and he came up and sang a set with the band. Some of the songs we played were the previously mentioned classics of “Margaritaville”, “Sweet Home”, and “Mustang Sally”, but we also added to the mix other worn-out wonders like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Family Tradition”, and the often dreaded “You Never Even Called Me by My Name”.
It was a warm Friday night and the crowd, which seemed to be mainly tourists, seemed happy with what we were doing, we even got a dance floor going. The singer/owner finished his set and went back to work behind the bar, and the other singer came back to take over for a while. Another 45 minutes or so and we got our next pee break while the singer sang a couple tunes solo with his acoustic.
It was now after 11 o’clock, about the average length of a typical bar gig, and Harry again returned to the stage. To my surprise, this next set contained several of the same songs that we played in his first set, most of them being the aforementioned “classics”, a couple of which had also been covered by the other singer.
On our next pee break, sometime around 12:30 AM, I mentioned to the drummer something like “Boy he really likes those oldies. Does he always repeat those songs so much?”
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, we’re just getting started. Typically, he wants us to play Margaritaville, Sweet Home, Mustang Sally and Family Tradition about once an hour.” he said to my amazement. “His theory is that the tourists love these songs, and that with the high turnover, it doesn’t really matter how many times we play them.”
Moments later I resumed my perch on the stage to continue my birds-eye view of this top 40 adventure, one that seemed to be entering some kind of classic-hit time warp. I remember looking up at the clock behind the bar a little while later and it reading something like 12:48. Except for the three or four 10 minute pee breaks, I had been playing this gig for about six hours, with two more hours to go, and it began to feel like I had been on the stage for days.
The crowd was now pretty thin, but we marched on. With Harry back on the mic, he asked the crowd “do we have any Lynyrds Skynyrd fans in the house?” With a couple of random cheers forthcoming, we launched into Sweet home Alabama again, now for the fifth time. The same thing happened with some of the other classics. I looked up at the clock a little while later and it was around 1:30. The more we kept repeating songs, the slower the clock seemed to move. At one point my mind flashed to the scene in the movie “Risky Business”, where the character played by Tom Cruise witnesses the clock going backwards right before the bell was supposed to ring.
By the end of the night, I was drenched in sweat and physically and mentally exhausted. My back was sore, my fingers shredded, and my mind numb. We had played Sweet Home Alabama, Mustang Sally, and Family Tradition seven times each throughout the night. Some of the other songs we played four to five times a piece. The funny thing was, the patrons never seemed to notice or care. Harry was right; there was a high turnover, and whatever crowd we had at any given moment seemed to enjoy the songs.
I collected my pay and went home, returning the next evening to do it all over again. As lucrative for an in-town gig as this was, I only lasted a few short weekends before moving onto something else. After a few years I was able to get over my “classic hits overdose”, but for the months following this episode, I suffered severe flashbacks every time somebody called out Sweet Home Alabama and Mustang Sally.
It was a warm summer afternoon in a small town in southern New Hampshire, back in the summer of ’79, and it had finally arrived. Summer vacation had just begun, and for this group of friends gathered around the family pool, the air was ripe with the kind of optimism and mystery that only a teenager can have – you know, that “anything can happen” feeling that occupies the youthful soul. Staring at the pool in cheerful content, they basked in the warmth of the sun while listening to the “Woodstock” soundtrack booming out a bedroom window. The youngest in this pack, a couple of eleven year old boys who were a few months away from starting junior high, seemed more than intrigued by some of these “new” electric sounds permeating this virgin summer air.
“What’s the name of this band?” asked one of the youths.
“That’s ‘Sly and the Family Stone”, answered Dave, the boyfriend of one of the younger lads’ older sisters.
“Wow, this is really cool!” the excited boy answered.
Up until this moment, these youngsters, like most pre-teens from this era, had been mostly hearing the corporate radio music of the day – a post-disco fallout period with bands and artists like E.L.O., Michael Jackson, and The Eagles providing a daily dose of saccharine for the masses – “Don’t bring me down…..Brrrruuucccce!”
“If you like Sly, you’re really going to love the last side of this record!” he confidently announced, and a short while later, everything changed.
It was as if a bomb had gone off – suddenly, the music coming out of the speakers sounded more like a science fiction movie soundtrack than it did the groovy “freedom rock” that had played just minutes before. Sounds that seemed to begin as single guitar notes ended as explosions – harmonic cascades and otherworldly sounds swirling into the stratosphere – “sheets of sound”. This music spoke of the epic joys and tragedies of the human struggle – war, hunger, love, peace, poverty, anarchy, inequality – it was all there, yet not a single lyric had been sung.
Near speechless, one of the 11 year olds turned to his friend and managed to say “this is amazing!”
“I thought you might like this” was the response, and they continued to marvel in the sonic wonderment, this new discovery rendering a near out of body experience.
With each passing moment came a new level of heightened awareness for the one boy in particular. It wasn’t as if he had never heard great music; many years before, his dad had turned him on to Santana, John Lee Hooker, and many other greats from the golden era of blues and rock. But this was different. This music transcended all of the traditional music forms that he had heard before. Melodically, it was free from the constraints of the pop song, or even blues format, yet it was bluesy. Rhythmically, it seemed connected to the earth in an intangible way, kind of tribal, with roots going deep into the African jungle. It was as if these sounds came right out of the sky, from the heavens, not a speaker in a window.
This music “spoke” to the young boy with a clarity he had not yet experienced in life, rendering this otherwise insignificant summer day the birth of the universe for him. It felt like a calling, like this was the day his life really began, the birth of an endless pursuit to the new sense of self and spirituality that permeated his being on that warm day in the sun long ago – like ocean waves meeting a sandcastle at high tide.
That was the day I first heard the music of Jimi Hendrix.
Have you ever experienced hand or arm pain, or pain in your joints when playing a musical instrument? Perhaps you experience this pain while working at a computer or a mixing console? How about weakness or numbness in your hands or fingers? If you have, or do experience any of these symptoms on a regular basis you are not alone, you, like me, are one of many who live with repetitive motion injuries.
Several years ago, while working on the Toby Keith tour, I was helping the crew load some heavy cases onto a truck. Everything was going fine until one particularly hard-to-maneuver case began to fall off the ramp, with my hand still holding one of the handles. The case didn’t fall completely off the ramp and we were able to pull it back up, but not without my right elbow becoming engulfed in pain. My first thought was that maybe I had sprained something, but I had sprained joints before and they didn’t feel like this. This pain seemed to be centered on my right elbow, and was an intense, burning sensation, like my elbow was on fire. I also felt pain if I squeezed or gripped anything in my right hand. I was instructed by the road manager to get it checked out by a doctor as soon as we returned to Nashville.
At the time of this incident I had already been playing guitar for over 20 years, I had previously worked in construction for several years, and was currently performing a fairly physical job as a guitar tech. All of those years of daily, repetitive hand and arm motions suddenly caught up with me, hurling me full speed into the world of “repetitive motion injuries”. According to the doctors, I had developed tendinitis, and while this incident with the road case may have acted as a trigger, “it had likely been a long time in the making”, they explained. “So how do we heal this?” I asked.
The approach that the doctors chose for me was a regular course of anti-inflammatories, a steroid shot, an arm brace, and the recommendation to “do your best to avoid lifting or gripping anything heavy”, the last piece of advice being somewhat unrealistic for a guitar tech. Although I did follow these recommendations, even adapting some of the physical elements of my job, several weeks later I was still experiencing a lot of pain on a daily basis. It still hurt to grip things with my right hand, and I was beginning to have wrist pain and numbness down my arm. With my situation worsening, the doctors now recommended physical therapy, and this is where I finally began to see some results.
The physical therapist took an entirely different approach. He showed me several hand and arm stretches, which I was instructed to perform daily, he massaged the area of inflammation, and iced it. He showed me how to do the massages myself, and instructed me to do them every morning and night after the stretches, the application of ice always being at the end of the routine. He told me to “listen to my body” and that to perform my regular physical activities as long as they didn’t cause pain. “If an action begins to cause pain, try not to do it.” Making great improvements over the following weeks, I couldn’t understand why the doctors hadn’t recommended any of these approaches. In fact, the doctors did very little to explain the finer points of my affliction, most of what I learned about what causes tendinitis and how to deal with it, I learned from the physical therapist.
Over the following months I was able to get an upper hand on my tendinitis, and through regular stretching, didn’t have any more problems for several years. Then I had a setback. One day I was making a homemade pedal board and spent several hours tightly gripping and squeezing a rivet gun. The end result was a resurgence of the pain in my right elbow as intense as that caused by the Toby Keith road case incident. I paid a couple more visits to a physical therapist who was able to help with some soft tissue manipulation, but the biggest thing he did to help me long term was to introduce me to a whole new way of stretching. The following, which I quoted from my book “The Nashville Musicians Survival Guide”, is part of what I learned.
“The muscles in your arms are actually a series of overlapping interconnected muscles, tendons, and ligaments that run from your fingers all the way to your shoulder. It is because of this fact that it is important to also stretch areas of the arm that might not have any pain or problems. Performing stretches that work your wrists, triceps, and shoulders will ultimately help stretch all the muscles and tendons in between.
Stretching an arm with tendinitis is not the same as stretching a healthy arm and requires some caution. Listen to your body. The stretching should cause some sensation but should not be painful. The more you stretch, the more results you will experience. Stretch at regular intervals throughout the day, always making it a point to warm up with some light cardio before your first stretching sequence. (Stretching cold muscles can cause further injury.) If you are gigging, try to stretch before the performance, after the performance, and even in between songs if you have a chance”…
Taken a step further, it only makes sense to stretch and exercise your entire body, as everything is truly connected… the hip bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the…
I was able to eventually get my recent tendinitis flare up under control, but this affliction still haunts me to this day, with a constant effort required to keep it at bay. If I don’t stretch regularly, the pain comes back, and as the body ages it seems like we are more predisposed to injury – gravity is not on our side. That being said, something that has helped me greatly has been an investment in overall physical fitness, health and well-being. I’ve tried a lot of different exercise programs in recent years, my favorite being the “P90X series” of which I have done several rounds. But I must say that yoga seems to be the one exercise that has helped my overall situation the most, it’s absolutely outstanding for overall flexibility.
Eating healthy food doesn’t hurt either. In fact, there are certain foods that increase inflammation, and others that help to decrease inflammation.
Foods that help decrease inflammation:
Foods containing Omega-3 fatty acids like cold water fish, canola oil, and pumpkin seeds; Olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, lean poultry, legumes, tofu, ginger, and some herbal teas
Foods to Avoid
Junk foods, high-fat meats, sugar, and highly processed foods are at the top of this list. Avoid anything that contains high amounts of trans fats and saturated fats like red meat and high-fat processed meats such as bacon and sausage.
For more info on what foods to eat or avoid, follow this link to read the article from which much of this nutritional information was taken, or visit the website, Do It the Hard Way, to learn some nutrition basics and find healthy recipes.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that tends to address problems only as they occur, rather than focusing on prevention. When I think back to all my years of guitar lessons, even my years of music college, no instructor ever told me that repetitive motion injuries exist, let alone how to prevent or deal with them. If you’re a musician and don’t yet have any of these afflictions, it’s obvious that physical fitness and overall health and well-being will reduce your chances of ever having these problems. And if you are “playing with pain”, you’re not alone, there are many of us. But the good news is that most problems are treatable, there are solutions – they just require a little knowledge, a consistent effort, and some self-investment.
“Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.”
— the Buddha
To gain some more perspective on repetitive motion injuries, as well as some of their common misconceptions, follow this link and read “A Cure for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?” by Jennie Hoeft, as it was reposted on Nashville drummer, Stephen Taylor’s blog.
When we first began planning our New England visit, sometime late last year, I had the idea to put together a special reunion show, one at which we could reconnect with our dearest friends and musician buddies from days gone past. My initial thought was to throw together a band of players from my New England nightclub days, have a few guests sit in, and that a few of our old friends might turn up too. To my delight, all that happened, and then some.
Sometime around February I began putting this all together. The first thing I had to do was pick a place. Hmmm, early August in New England? What better place to do this sort of thing than Hampton Beach! And why not pick a venue in which I used to perform regularly back in my New England heyday, Wally’s Pub, which turned out turned to be the perfect spot. I would need a core band of players, so I contacted drummer, John Medeiros; and bassist, Keith Foley; both whom I once played with in my old band, Electric Blue. I wanted to have another guitar player involved as well, so I called up my friend, and former guitar student, Charles Cormier, who was a junior in high school when I left New England. Charles now plays with the seacoast jam band “Superfrog” from which I also recruited percussionist, Adams Viciguerra.
Once I had the place and the players, it was time to invite some special guests, and I began putting out some feelers months in advance. Putting together a reunion show from afar takes a lot of work, and I spent a lot of time e-mailing, talking on the phone, and sending mp3’s across cyberspace. It was all well worth the effort. On a warm Sunday afternoon a few days before the show, we had one rehearsal with the core band and, thanks to everyone doing their homework, things came together pretty quickly.
So Wednesday finally arrived, and the band guys arrived around 5:00 PM to set up and sound check. Our five piece ensemble was joined by, Jeff Bissonnette, a sound engineer that I knew from the “Jet City era”. We got everything dialed in and then our friends and guests began to trickle in. I hired a local videographer, Mike Maleszyk, to document the evening and he showed up about an hour before the show with one of his cohorts and three video cameras. A lot of friends that Kelly and I hadn’t seen in ages started arriving and I did my best to make some rounds before showtime. Some of these friends I hadn’t even seen since high school, some 25 years ago. There were so many people I wanted to talk to but so little time.
Eight o’clock came around and it was time to get down and boogie. “The Eric Normand and Friends Band” felt good right off the bat and I was excited about the vibe we were putting forth. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played with any of these guys in a decade, and most of the players had never played together before, the group had a real synergy and maturity, almost as if we had been playing together for years. We played an hour-long set of my favorite tunes, blues-rock music born of another era. Songs by Freddy King, Delbert McClinton, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers, got a good dance floor going by mid-set. A couple of high points came during our rendition of the classic “Sweet Melissa” and an extended version of “Little Wing”, the former turning out to be a particularly proud moment for me when Charles took a beautiful and emotive solo. This all crescendoed with the set’s climax of “Black Magic Woman”, complete with full blown Santana-style percussion and an extended outro jam that nobody wanted to end.
We took a break and I made a few rounds, trying to catch up with as many of my friends and musician buddies as I could. I didn’t get to talk to everybody (not for lack of trying) and I wish I could have had more time. It was time to kick off the second half of the night, and this began with a couple of songs with the core band plus friend and former Electric Blue member, Tom Martin sitting in on bass. Next would come a “Jupiter’s Ghost” reunion, and this was comprised of Doug Hinton on drums, Mark Gagnon on bass, Keith Bowen on vocals, and me on guitar. We played two songs in what felt like a literal time machine, a packed dance floor from the get-go. Keith stepped down and Brandon LePere joined us on vocals for the next onslaught. Once again it was “Sherman set the way-back machine”, and when I looked across the stage it felt like 1995 again. Once upon a time a lifetime ago, four guys had a little rock band called “Shockwave”, and we played, and played, and played. We went through a lot together, and many great memories and feelings came rushing back during this part of the night.
Next it was time for one last reunion grouping and the crowd heard the announcement “Will Stan Jackson and George Bisson please come to the stage”. Yes, that’s right a partial “Jet City” reunion was about to unfold. A little “Alice in Chains” followed by some “Bad Company” kept the dance floor hopping. Sadly, the night was drawing to a close, and I had the core band return for one final number, “Whipping Post”.
Have you ever experienced a moment in time that was so full of positive energy and wonderment that you hoped it would never end? An experience so pure and magical that you wish you could just live inside of that moment for eternity? For me, and maybe a few others on this particular night, this was one such moment. Life is whizzing by, and the perception of time seems to be changing, literally speeding up exponentially. This fact has recently clarified some things for me. Friends and family are of the best things in life, and to me, friends are family. The times we spend together make us who we are, and on this trip, reconnecting with the friends of our past was a powerful experience. So many people made this special night happen. People drove from as far away as Brattleboro, Vermont and Portland, Maine; Stan Jackson drove all the way up from Cape Cod to participate in this night. Thanks everybody for making it all come together!
The night did have to end, but the memories we made will last a lifetime. And besides, I don’t see any reason we can’t make this an annual event. Meanwhile, Kelly and I have adopted a new theme song, one from which I would like to appropriately quote for the end of this writing –
“Meanwhile I, ain’t wastin’ time no more,
Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and much faster things,
Don’t forget the pouring rain.”
I would like to send out a special thanks to Mike Maleszyk, Catherine Fraser-Dery, Athena Erickson, and Curt Comeau for the use of these photos.
It’s now Saturday morning and we’re in Waukegan, Illinois, just north of Chicago, and back on the Rhett Akins tour. It’s early, I’m the only one up, and the view out the bus window is not unlike many I’ve seen before – a hotel, a highway, and some retail. Several Canadian geese are foraging for their breakfast on a big plane of grass in front of the hotel. I can’t believe that this trip is almost over; it went by at warp speed!
We had been planning our trip to New England since last fall, with my 25th high school reunion tugging at me to return to my homeland for a brief visit. And even though it ended up turning into a working vacation, with several workshops and book signings taking up much of our time, it ended up being one of the most soul-enriching vacations Kelly and I have ever had. It had been seven years since our last trip home, way too long, and although we had often talked about how much we missed everybody, we didn’t realize just how much until we got there.
We set out Monday morning and did the 1240 mile drive over two days, sleeping overnight in a hotel in Pennsylvania. Although the trip was long, our excitement grew as we neared the northeastern states. We spent the first few days of our New England visit in southern Maine, first at Kelly’s sister’s house in Kennebunk, and then at one of our friends homes in Portland. Crammed into the middle of a couple of hectic days centered around music store clinics and a local TV interview, were family reunions, a breakfast with friends, and a wonderful walk on Kennebunk beach on a warm summer day. Some friends hosted a special jam night for me in Dover, NH and it was great to reconnect with old friends there as well.
By the time the weekend rolled around it was time for my high school reunion. It was great to see so many of my old classmates – I can’t believe it’s been 25 years; ‘Father Time’ is so mean! After the reunion we stopped In to Wally’s on Hampton Beach, a club I had played frequently in the late 90s and the place we would be having our reunion show a couple of days later. Living in Tennessee we are a bit landlocked, and we basked in the salty night air of the ocean-side resort town, something we likely took for granted just a few years ago.
Sunday afternoon would bring another reunion of sorts, this one in the form of a rehearsal in my hometown of Kingston, NH with some old band mates. Members of my old band, Electric Blue, plus one of my former guitar students and one of his friends would comprise the core band for the Wally’s reunion show. We rehearsed in a garage belonging to one of my oldest friends, a place in which I used to rehearse with many of my first bands many years ago. The rehearsal went great and was followed by another family reunion, this one at my parent’s house, the place where I grew up right down the street.
On this night I slept in my old bedroom, it kind of made me feel like a kid again. I woke up real early Monday morning and just lied in bed for a while, reflecting on the amazing journey I have had in the years since I left this place. It was 6 AM, just before sunrise, and the house was quiet, my folks still asleep, and I’m not sure why, but I suddenly had the urge to set out on foot and visit the places of my youth.
I walked out the front door, around the side of our barn, and cut through the neighbor’s yard. I walked past the old cemetery and out onto Main Street, following the beautiful plains past the bandstand, the town hall, the general store, and the library. I came to my old high school “Sanborn Regional”, and just stood there for a moment, transfixed by the memories that came flooding back. I walked through the school grounds, and experienced several moments of déjà vu, remembering different pinpoints in time from decades ago. Coming out of the backside of the high school, I walked down to Greenwood Lake, a place where I used to go fishing as a boy, and parking as a teenager. I walked another mile or so down to Kingston State Park and sat on the shore for a few before visiting the place where Kelly and I got married – a beautiful little spot on the shore of Kingston Lake on the backside of the park. I walked up the trail that comes up behind Clark’s Oil and received a few mosquito bites along the way. Back out onto Main Street, I walked past the old Sadowski residence, the place where the sounds of Jimi Hendrix blaring out a bedroom window on a warm summer day long ago inspired me to take up the electric guitar.
After spending a great day with my family I was off to Hampton for another clinic, after which I went to bed early, exhausted as the pace of this trip was starting to catch up with me. We took it easy on Tuesday, trying to have a few still moments to catch our breath at a friend’s house in Hampton. The trip had been great so far, seeing so many friends and family members in such a short period of time, but our heads were literally spinning as a result of the hectic schedule we were keeping. Wednesday morning we managed to squeak in one more walk on a beautiful private beach just north of Hampton Beach, reminiscing about the trip.
We had one last thing to do before this exciting trip would come to an end, and that was the reunion show at Wally’s. This night turned out to be such an exciting, action-packed adventure in and of itself that it deserves its own story, one that I’ll post a little later. But as far as this brief nine-day stay, it was truly awesome! Kelly and I have relished every moment of our Nashville journey, we wouldn’t be who we are today if we had not embarked on it. We have met and become friends with many wonderful people in middle Tennessee, and other parts of the country as well. But reconnecting with our friends and family in New England was an emotional and powerful experience; you all have a special place in our hearts and we miss you already. See y’all next year!
We’ve done a handful of shows with Georgia native, Corey Smith over the years, and Saturday’s performance at the packed Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta, Georgia was another blockbuster. It was a warm summer day when we pulled into the backstage area just after noon, although not quite as over-the-top as the heat and humidity we’ve been experiencing in Nashville this summer. Who would have thought that we would have to travel further south to experience a cooler day! We loaded in and sound checked just after 2 PM and then chilled for a couple of hours while we waited for showtime.
A little while later it was catering, showers, and a quick changeover after opener, Rachel Farley’s set. We hit the stage hard and fast at 7:45, the crowd quickly showing some love for Rhett and band. 40 minutes later, after blazing through a mixture of Rhett’s classic hits and some of his newer charttoppers, and we were putting the final touches on our closer, Kiss My Country Ass, the crowd now on its feet and singing along. The stagehands helped us strike our gear, and it was packed up under the bus in minutes. The guys hung out by the bus enjoying a few cold ones while Corey finished out the night.
Over the years I’ve played many amphitheaters and concert halls across the land, and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta is perhaps one of the nicest of them all. Kelly took some great photos throughout the day and during the show. Here’s a few to give you a taste. (Nashville photographer, Dan Harr, also photographed the night and was kind enough to donate some photos, a few of which are also shown below. Dan’s photos are credited accordingly). Left click on a photo to view it full size:
I can’t tell you how excited we are to be finally about to embark on our first trip to our native homeland of New England in seven years. I’m sorry we haven’t gotten back sooner, it’s not because we haven’t wanted to, it just seems that whenever we’ve had the time we didn’t have the money (we call this Nashville winter), and when we’ve had the money, we didn’t have the time (Nashville summer). So this year, with my 25th high school reunion taking place at the end of July, we decided this was the perfect excuse we needed to block out a week in the middle of the summer and pay our old friends a visit.
Somewhere in the middle of planning this trip I got the idea to do a clinic at “The Music Workshop,” a music store in Salem, NH that I used to frequent in my younger days. My idea was that this would be a great way to share some of my Nashville experiences with my peers in New England, while, of course, promoting my new book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide.” I’m not sure how this happened, but before I knew it, I was booked at four different workshops throughout New England (some of you may have noticed my recent series of Facebook event invitations). With all this activity evolving I thought it would be cool to throw in a special show with some of my musical comrades from back in the day, and this has led to the Eric Normand and Friends Reunion Concert at Wally’s Pub on Hampton Beach, on Wednesday, August 3rd at 8:00 PM.
There is a complete listing of all these workshops and events with addresses and weblinks on the new events page of my survival guide website. Here is the longhand version plus some info that’s not on the website:
During this workshop I will talk about what it has been like to work as a “hired gun” in the Nashville music scene, what it’s like to work on a national level tour, and some of the key differences and similarities between being a working musician in New England versus Nashville. There will also be a “Nashville guitar rig and style demonstration” and question and answer period followed by a book signing immediately afterwards.
Jam at the Station House in Dover
After the workshop, (which is free to the public) I will be attending a jam at The Station House Restaurant and Pub right down the street. The Station House usually has a jam on Thursdays, but when I contacted my old friend, Rick Landry, inquiring about any area jams on Wednesdays, he decided to put together this special jam just for this occasion, and I must say that I am quite honored. This jam will serve to be a kind of after party for the workshop and should be a great chance to catch up with some old friends and share a little music. Thanks Rick!
This workshop will be like the one in Dover, only in Portland (also a free event). Before our move to Nashville in 2002, Kelly and I lived in Kennebunk, Maine, and at that time I played many shows throughout southern Maine with my band, Electric Blue. One highpoint during that period was our regular Sunday night jams at Chancery Lane in Sanford, ME, a truly magical musical moment that occurred weekly, and one that gave birth to many friendships and even a couple of bands. We hope to see some familiar faces in Portland on this night.
This multifaceted workshop will be a little different than the previous two, and while I will share some of my Nashville experiences here as well, I will also spend some time talking about some practical aspects about being a lifelong musician. The second half of this clinic will be an “interactive rhythm section workshop,” during which students will have the option to explore some fundamental basics of rhythm section performance with me and Music Makers instructors, Mark Davenport and Tom Martin. Music Maker’s is a seacoast area music school that offers private lessons on a wide range of instruments and the place in which I first began teaching guitar in the mid-90s. I’m excited to be returning to share some of what I have learned since that time with their next generation of students. This event is open to the public: cost: $20 per person – $15 for current Music Maker’s students.
Jam night at Whippersnappers in Londonderry, NH
After the workshop, we are planning on attending the Monday night jam at Whippersnappers in Londonderry, NH, hosted by Gardner Berry of Mama Kicks. I used to jam with Gardner and other members of Mama Kicks back in the late 80’s/early 90’s when he hosted a Sunday night jam at Classics in Manchester, one of my first jam night experiences. Should be a lot of fun so come on out!
This will be the final workshop of this trip and similar to my clinics in Dover and Portland the week before. Salem used to be a big part of my stomping grounds back in the day and I used to frequent the Music Workshop regularly, constantly “experimenting” with new music gear, occasionally buying some. I also used to perform regularly at the old LJ’s in the Rockingham Mall, remember that place?
Blues Jam at the Roma in Haverhill, MA
After this workshop we are planning on attending a blues jam at The Roma in Haverhill, MA. My good friend and drummer extraordinaire, John Medeiros is part of the host band at this jam (John is also a former member of Electric Blue and will be part of my core band at Wally’s on the third.)
Wednesday, August 3, 8:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Eric Normand and Friends Reunion Concert
Wally’s Pub, Hampton, NH
This will be the last stop of our New England book tour/vacation and a very special night of music and reconnecting with old friends. It’s been seven years since we last set foot on Hampton Beach, and more than ten since I last performed their regularly. When we first started planning this trip I had the idea about doing a reunion concert of sorts and I called up and presented the idea to my old friend, Kenny Gaudet from The Bars, who fast became instrumental in making this happen. The first set will consist of me on vocals and guitar, John Medeiros on drums, Keith Foley on bass, and some friends from seacoast area jam band, Superfrog – Charles Cormier on guitar and Adam Vinciguerra on percussion. A little later into the night there will be a brief reunion of my old band “Shockwave” with Doug Hinton on drums, Mark Gagnon on bass, and Keith Bowen on vocals (also possibly Brandon Lepere). Other guests will include Kenny Gaudet, Devin Cordero from Last Laugh, and possibly a partial “Jet City” reunion.
This night will mark the end of our week in New England and we are really looking forward to reconnecting with so many of our old friends and musician buddies. We are hoping to make this reunion concert an annual event, so if you like this idea at all, please come out and show some support. And for anyone who is interested in purchasing my new book, this will be your last chance before we head out of town, so if you have it in your heart to help us out with a little gas money for the ride home, pick one up, they’re only $20.
While we will be leaving Thursday morning to rejoin the Rhett Akins tour for shows in Ohio and Chicago, we will be back, and next time we won’t wait seven years! In the meantime, go ahead and make some plans to come out to the Wally’s show and a workshop or two, we would love to see you all again! See y’all real soon!
This past week in Nashville brought some new experiences to the table for me, and today I would like to share a few quick thoughts on these events.
Indie Connect and the “New to Nashville” Monthly Meeting
There is a Nashville-based music industry organization called “Indie Connect,” and once a month they have a “New to Nashville” meeting at The Red Rooster. I first discovered this organization last year when I stumbled across their website, a fairly elaborate site with all sorts of interesting and useful articles. Upon signing up for their newsletter I began to receive notifications about different meetings and workshops held monthly, themes ranging from “New to Nashville” to Songwriting, and “Singing in the Studio ” to PR Campaigns. While I’m certainly not new to Nashville, I have wanted to check out these meetings for a while as I have been asked to be a guest speaker at one of their luncheons next month.
The meeting, hosted by longtime Nashville songwriter Marc-Allen Barnette, was very laid back and began with each person in attendance sharing a little bit about their background, as well as their Nashville goals. After the introductions Marc began sharing his thoughts and views about being a songwriter in Nashville as well as some other perspectives about the scene. Several valid points were made regarding songwriter nights.
After hearing some of us Marc’s ideas and advice, a back-and-forth conversation ensued with everybody participating and offering their thoughts and ideas. Also in attendance was Vinny Ribas, the founder of Indie Connect, and he also interjected his thoughts on different subjects. All in all the meeting was up tempo and informative and certainly worth checking out if you are “New to Nashville.”
Derek St. Holmes at The Red Rooster
Have you ever listened to the music of Ted Nugent? I have. I used to love hearing his song “Stranglehold” as it blared out of FM radios during my teenage years, back in the 80s. As distinctive as the guitar parts are to that song, the vocals are almost even more mesmerizing – a high and emotive rock and roll lyric belted out with power and conviction, by a distinctive and colorful voice. So maybe that’s why during our “New to Nashville” meeting on the outside patio of The Red Rooster last week it became difficult to focus on the discussion after the band began playing. Little did I know at that moment that the voice in the band that was booming out onto the patio was none other than that of Ted’s original lead singer, Derek St. Holmes. As I would later learn after the meeting let out, Derek lives in Nashville, and when he’s not on the road with Nugent, he can be found performing on Tuesday nights from 7 to 9 at The Red Rooster on Demonbreun Street.
Even though I couldn’t see the band from where we were sitting on the club’s outside patio, I knew they were quite good from the moment they began playing. By the time they performed a blistering version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” midway through the set it was obvious that this was not your typical Nashville bar-band. As I was firmly committed to the conversations at hand, I did my best to not be sidetracked by the music. But by the time they played the last song of their first set, which just happened to be the anthem “Stranglehold,” it was almost impossible to not become completely drawn in. This music is rock ‘n roll at its finest, and their performance was fit for a stadium crowd, let alone the 30 or 40 Nashvillians that had gathered on this cool spring night!
I left during their break as I already had commitments elsewhere, but as this is a regular Tuesday outing for this rock ‘n roll legend and his band, I’ll be back for sure.
Later on the next day, another significance of the Derek St. Holmes show occurred to me. The folks at this “New to Nashville” meeting were just that, new to Nashville. And the one thing most Nashville newcomers are lacking is contacts. The only reason I knew Derek St. Holmes was the performer inside was because I asked, mostly out of curiosity because it was so good. There were obviously some heavy hitters in his band too, all whom are likely connected to many other important avenues within the Nashville music industry and beyond. I recognized some players that work for national acts in the audience as well.
I guess it just goes to show that you never know who you might see or hear in a Nashville club. Next time you hear some great music by an unsuspecting bar band, stick around and listen a little, maybe chat with a few folks on the break. You never know what you might learn or hear. If you’re lucky, you might even hear “Stranglehold!”
Have you ever found yourself in a situation which required you to play a song you did not know? Perhaps you’ve had to play unfamiliar material while sitting in at a blues jam or open mic. Or maybe when an audience member shouts out a request and your band attempts it even though none of you have ever played it before. I have been in these situations countless times. I’ve even been in situations where an artist decides to attempt an unfamiliar tune with the band hanging on for dear life, in front of thousands of people.
In these unnerving situations I have learned to embrace some great advice from my mentor “D” – “When in doubt, lay out.” That’s right; if you don’t know what chord or note is coming next, don’t play anything. Sometimes it’s better to leave some gaping holes in the music than it is to take a chance on playing “the ugly chord.”
One thing I have learned is that a song won’t completely fall apart if you simply miss the downbeat of a few chord changes. Songs have momentum, and a lot of this momentum is carried by the vocalist and the overall groove. As long as there is a lyric and melody happening over some kind of basic “chug factor” the audience won’t miss a few guitar chords or bass notes here and there. Of course if it’s the bass player that doesn’t know the tune, it’s a lot easier for the song to fall apart, as incorrect root motion might derail some of the other players.
One of my favorite tricks for getting through an unfamiliar tune is to avoid playing thirds. In many cases, the melody will dictate whether or not the song is in a major or minor mode. But in some situations the melody might be too ambiguous for this to be obvious. So if you only play chords containing roots and fifths, nothing will sound wrong.
Another concept I have engaged in is to play very lightly through the first verse and chorus, while intensely listening to the lead melody sang by the vocalist. By playing lightly it becomes easier to hear the vocals, giving me some time to figure out what’s going on. Melody dictates harmony, so there’s a lot of information in that first verse and chorus. After I make it through the first verse and chorus and know a little more about the songs melody and chord changes, I might dig in a little harder the next time around.
But by the time the song reaches that all-so-elusive bridge, this is where many players can get into trouble on unfamiliar tunes. In the words of Dirty Harry – ask yourself one question – “Do you feel lucky?” Do you feel brave enough to take a chance, and guess what chord is coming next? Maybe you’ll get it right and look like a big hero. But if you guess wrong and play a big old ugly chord, you might find yourself as the conductor of a good old-fashioned train wreck and derail the whole song.
“When in doubt, lay out”
As some of you may know, and for those of you who don’t know, I have just released my book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide.” This street-level perspective of the music-related jobs in the Nashville music industry is now available in print version, and the e-book will be available within a few days. To purchase your own copy, follow this link.
Come out tonight for the official book release party for “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN (7 – 11). Many of the contributors to the project will be in attendance and the first three people to ask will receive a free copy of the book. My band will be playing featuring former “G-man,” Mike Chapman on bass; Nick “Shaggy Bag” Forchione on drums; and me on vocals and guitar. There might even be a few special guests.
After 2+ long years of research and writing, I’m excited to get this book out into the world. This project has been all about paying it forward, and I believe this book will prove to be a useful tool for many musicians trying to find their way in this crazy business. This will be a very special night, and one to remember for a long time to come. So come on out for the festivities!
The Fillin’ Station
385 North Main St.
Kingston Springs, TN 37082
Directions from downtown Nashville:
Take I-40 West to exit 188 (Kingston Springs)
Go right at end of exit onto SR-249 (Luyben Hills Rd.)
Go 300 yards turn left onto Kingston Springs Road
After 1.3 miles you’ll come to a stop sign – turn right onto North Main St.
The Fillin’ Station is about 400 feet on the left (the last business in a small strip mall)