Whether you are a longtime veteran of your local music scene, a recent music school graduate, a hired gun working for a national act, or an aspiring independent artist, you all have something in common – that being a life centered around music. This life of music will lead you into many different performance situations. Like many of my musician friends, I have found myself in a plethora of musical situations over the years; including top 40 bands, rock bands, blues bands, national acts, and start-up original projects, to name a few. I’ve played at festivals, mud bogs, weddings, frat parties, blues jams, jazz jams, open mics, on the Grand Ole Opry, and of course, in nightclubs and bars, the latter being be the arena in which I have probably performed the most.
If there’s one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that you can never have a big enough repertoire. Back in my Berklee days, one of my guitars instructors once told me “You should start building your repertoire of standards. Not only will it help you find your musical voice, it will come in handy down the road”. Twenty-something years and thousands of gigs later, I’ve really come to understand the scope and importance of his words.
Unless you play nothing but your own original music, most live music situations will involve playing a night of cover material, and in my mind, this is a noble cause. The audiences of your typical local bar are usually folks that want to hear some “feel-good music” – familiar, often danceable party tunes that will help them forget about life’s hardships. Before the world had ever heard of “The Beatles”, they were a working cover band, as was Aerosmith, Huey Lewis, and many others.
By the time I entered my nightclub performance years in the late 80s, there was already a few decades of recorded popular music to pick from. Some consider this time period (50s through the 70s) to be the golden era of recorded music. This era gave birth to many songs that are still big crowd-pleasers, those certain tunes that always have a positive impact, no matter what the demographic. While the following decades would add more songs to this pool, it seems that the golden era provides the bulk of what we consider “classic hits” and standards. Over the years, many people have put together lists of the most covered songs, the most popular songs, the greatest hits of all time, etc. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine released a list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Upon scrolling through this list I saw many songs that I had played in different bands and situations over the years.
After cross-referencing that list with the song lists of several modern day cover bands, and comparing that with my own personal experiences, I have come up with a list of what I consider to be songs that every working musician should know. This list is by no means definitive or official; it’s simply my take on the most commonly requested classics, songs that many cover bands have in common, and songs that are often played when guest musicians sit in. Many of these songs are thoroughly worn out and greatly overplayed. Some might argue that many of these tunes have been beaten to death, while others might call this list “Dead Songs That Kill Bands”. Nevertheless, if you are planning on a lifetime of musical performance, knowing these songs, at the absolute least, will come in handy at some point.
|Aint no Sunshine||Bill Withers|
|Ain’t Too Proud to Beg||The Temptations|
|All along the Watchtower||Jimi Hendrix|
|All Right Now||Free|
|Blue Moon Of Kentucky||Patsy Cline|
|Born to Be Wild||Steppenwolf|
|Brick House||The Commodores|
|Broken Wing||Martina McBride|
|Brown Eyed Girl||Van Morrison|
|Can’t Get Enough||Bad Company|
|Drift Away||Dobi Gray|
|Feelin Allright||Joe Cocker|
|Folsom Prison Blues||Johnny Cash|
|Free Bird||Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|Friends in Low Places||Garth Brooks|
|Gimme Three Steps||Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|Good Hearted Woman||Waylon Jennings|
|Hard to Handle||Black Crows|
|He Stopped Loving Her Today||George Jones|
|Hit Me With Your Best Shot||Pat Benatar|
|Honky Tonk Woman||Rolling Stones|
|I Feel Good||James Brown|
|Johnny B Good||Chuck Berry|
|Knock on Wood||Eddie Floyd|
|Knockin on Heavens Door||Bob Dylan|
|Last Chance For Mary Jane||Tom Petty|
|Little Sister||Elvis Presley|
|Long Train Runnin’||Doobie Brothers|
|Mama Don’t Let Your Babies||Waylon Jennings|
|Me and Bobby McGee||Janis Joplin|
|Mony Mony||Tommy James & the Shondells|
|Mustang Sally||Wilson Pickett|
|Old Time Rock and Roll||Bob Seger|
|Piece of My Heart||Janis Joplin|
|Pink Houses||John Mellencamp|
|Play That Funky Music||Wild Cherry|
|Pride and Joy||Stevie Ray Vaughn|
|Red House||Jimi Hendrix|
|Redneck Girl||Gretchen Wilson|
|Roadhouse Blues||The Doors|
|Rock ‘n Roll||Led Zeppelin|
|Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy||Big and Rich|
|Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay||Otis Redding|
|Some Kind of Wonderful||Grand Funk Railroad|
|Soulman||Sam and Dave|
|Stand by Your Man||Tammy Wynette|
|Standin On Shaky Ground||Delbert Mcclinton|
|Statesboro Blues||Allman Brothers|
|Stormy Monday||Allman Brothers|
|Sweet Home Alabama||Lynyrd Skynyrd|
|The Chair||George Strait|
|The Joker||Steve Miller|
|The Thrill Is Gone||BB King|
|Twist and Shout||The Beatles|
|Walkin’ After Midnight||Patsy Cline|
|What I Like About You||The Romantics|
|Wonderful Tonight||Eric Clapton|
|Workin’ Man Blues||Merle Haggard|
|You Really Got Me||The Kinks|
|You Shook Me All Night Long||ACDC|
Here are a few of what I consider to be the benefits of having a big repertoire of standards:
Requests. If you ever wind up playing some cover gigs, which many musicians do at some point, “standards” will often get requested, and you might find your band “winging” these songs to please audience members. This even happens with national acts.
Sitting in. Having a big repertoire of standards will give you some common ground when sitting in with a band. Back in my New England nightclub days, when friends would sit in with my bands, we would play standards. The same was true when I would sit in with their bands. In Nashville today, sitting in is one of the best ways to build your reputation as a player. Even when superstars sit in, it seems they often choose classic hits or standards over their own material.
Big Tips. If you already play in a cover band, knowing the most popular classics can help you earn some extra tips. I can’t think of how many times someone has said “I’ll give you guys $20 if you play Sweet Home Alabama again.” (Make it an even $50, and it’s a done deal!)
Song Structure. These songs were hits for a reason, and it’s not a coincidence that people still like to hear these songs decades after they were released. Whether it is your desire to be a great performer or a songwriter, internalizing some of these classic hits will teach you song form and structure, and give you perspective about what strikes a chord with the masses.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this list. Are there some songs you feel I missed? Are there songs on here that you think don’t belong? Wherever your musical path might lead, always do your best to smile when playing Mustang Sally, and never accept less than a $20 to play Free Bird!
With my new book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” finally being out into the world, I’m starting to get my life back again. And going out on the town to network and check out the scene a little more often has now become a little more practical.
Last Thursday I went to The Fillin’ Station, in Kingston Springs, for their weekly blues jam. There was a great turnout of talented players and some killer jams took place. For those of you who have never been, the jam is hosted by “The Mohawk Slim Blues Band” and runs every Thursday from 7 – 11 PM. A great place to meet new players, do a little jamming, or just hang that’s outside the in-town microscope – you owe it to yourself to check this place out!
This past Tuesday I went to The Fiddle and Steel Tuesday night jam. As some of you may have previously read, “The Steel” is a great in-town bar and a place that helped me get my start in Nashville. When I first moved to town, Tuesday nights at The Steel were THE place to be, as it was one of the best music industry hangs in the city for the longest time. In recent weeks the jam has been resurrected, and this was the first time I had a chance to check it out. The band started just after 10 PM and the place was packed by 11 PM, with a great turnout of players playing everything from Vince Gill to SRV and Merle Haggard to Jimi Hendrix. Toby Keith and some of his bandmates were hanging out for a bit and I saw several well-known Nashville songwriters there as well. It looks like Tuesday nights at The Steel are on again!
This coming Monday, August 29, I will be giving a talk about my book and my experiences in Nashville at Indie Connect. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this organization, Indie Connect is a community of independent musicians, singers, bands, songwriters, record labels, music professionals and service providers who come together to support each other by sharing ideas, expertise, contacts and resources.
Where: Indie Connect: 2720 Old Lebanon Rd. Ste.108, Nashville TN 37214
When: 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Last week I was invited by Bryan Cummings to appear on “The Jesse Goldberg Show” on Channel 19, our local community access station. I will be talking about my book and my experiences in Nashville. I’ll post the air time at a later date.
While I was at The Steel the other night I had the pleasure of meeting Darlas Rai, an on-air personality at Nashville’s 103WKDF. When she learned about my book, she offered to do some promotional giveaways on her radio show. During the next few weeks she will be giving away five free copies of my book during her nightly show which can be heard weeknights from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM, and Saturdays 6:00 PM to 12:00 PM midnight. Listen to her show for details!
And lastly, the book just received its first official review. The French country music magazine “No Fences” caught wind of the project and asked me to send a promotional copy for review. I don’t speak French, but judging from some comments in an e-mail from the magazine, the review is a good one. The review is posted here, and while I’m sure there are computer programs that can translate this, if anyone out there can translate this, please let me know via e-mail.
That’s about it for now; I’ve got some other interesting things in the works and will keep you posted. Meanwhile, happy jamming and I’ll talk to you later!
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!
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!
As some of you might know, there’s a lot going on in Nashville this week. It’s that time of year again where 250,000 country music fans converge on the city for “CMA Music Fest Week” (formally known as Fanfare). Tourists, country music fans, and curiosity seekers from all over the globe will fill the streets, shops, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and concert halls, and while this can make getting around a little sticky for the locals, it is truly an exciting week for Music City, not to mention good for the local economy. This year, I am fortunate to play my own part in these festivities.
Thursday, June 9 from 11 AM – 2 PM I will be doing a book signing at the Charlie Daniels Museum on Second Avenue in downtown Nashville (between the Hard Rock Café and the Wildhorse Saloon.) This unique museum/gift shop began selling my book last week at which time I was fortunate to meet the museum’s owner, Bud Messer, who requested I come back and do and in-store signing during Fanfare. Bud is a great guy and I am honored to receive this invitation from such a prestigious institution, not to mention the fact that they are now selling my book. (The Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway is also now selling my book.)
This Saturday, June 11 my band will be performing at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs. The fun starts at 7 PM, and if the weather is good (which it looks like it will be), the outdoor patio will be open. This week the band will consist of me on vocals and guitar, Nick “Shaggy Bag” Forchione on drums, Tom Good on bass, and special guest Patrick Weikenand (formerly of the band “War”) on harp and beer slinging. This club is a one-of-a-kind experience, so if you’ve never been, you owe it to yourself to check it out. (no cover.)
Monday, June 13 I will be giving my first talk on the book when I host “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide Workshop” at Corky’s Ribs & BBQ, 100 Franklin Road, Brentwood, TN 37027. This luncheon will be sponsored by “Indie Connect” and held between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM. Cost $10.00. This presentation will be somewhat informal and there will be a lot of questions and answers, networking and group interaction.
Other than that, it’s been hot as hell in middle Tennessee for the past month, and we’ve had over 10 straight days of 90° plus heat with no end in sight. Stay on the lookout for heat and poor air-quality advisories.
So that’s it for now, if you’re around, please stop in to one of my events or gigs and say hi.
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!”
So far, the feedback I have received on my book has been very positive, and I’m thrilled about that. Several people who purchased the book have e-mailed me and share their thoughts; I’ve even had some European interest. However, a Craigslist response last week to one of my recent blogs brought up one issue that I must address.
The response was to my last blog “The Benefits of Having, and Being a Mentor” and, while it completely missed my point about mentoring, the writer stated views that “the music business is the biggest waste of human activity” and something else to the effect of ‘why should young people have to spend years playing in bars to get good or make connections?’ This person was obviously taking a shot at me and my book, while it was clear from the rhetoric that he or she formed opinions based only on reading a couple of my blogs, without actually reading the book.
So for the record, here are some of my thoughts regarding music careers in Nashville (or anywhere for that matter).
When I started writing this book, my intention was to present a document that would help “fill in the blanks” for both newcomers to Nashville and people who are considering relocating here. I wanted it to be full of useful information that would simply help musicians’ gain perspective about what’s here and I believe the finished book does just that. But it’s definitely not a “get rich quick” angle. I don’t make any promises; I’ve done my best to simply present information about the Nashville music industry from a journalistic standpoint.
In fact, nowhere in the book do I suggest that moving to, or embarking on a music career in Nashville (or anywhere else) is a good idea. For that matter, nowhere in the book do I state that it is a bad idea. People have been selling the farm and moving to Nashville to fulfill their musical dreams for decades. The way I see it, people are going to chase their dreams no matter what I write in a book or a blog, and the last thing I’m going to do is try to talk someone out of their dreams.
Do I think that the music business is a waste of human activity? It might be for some, but those folks will never know if it is until they try. And once they have it in their head that they think they can succeed, no one is going to be able to “talk them down from the ledge.”
In the foreword to my book I write “many find out that the music industry of Nashville is not what they thought and are unable to achieve their dreams and aspirations, often resulting in a premature and hasty exit.” This is one of the first lines in the book and reading it today makes me think of something one of my professors at Berklee once told me. It was my first day of “Harmony” class way back in 1988 and the professor began the class by saying “80% of you will not survive your first year at Berklee.” He wasn’t trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, he was simply trying to instill that what we had chosen to pursue is extremely challenging, perhaps much harder than we were prepared for, and that it was simply a statistical fact that more would fail than would succeed.
This sums up the music business perfectly. It is extremely challenging, much more difficult than you could ever prepare for, and only a small number of those who try will succeed. But this doesn’t mean that it is a waste of human activity, or that some people shouldn’t try. Like I said, it’s not my place to talk people out of their dreams. My whole angle is, if you’re going to try to build a successful career in the music business, understand how hard it is and prepare yourself for the road ahead. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can. Practice your instrument and become a great player and play music with others often. Learn how to enjoy playing nightclub gigs, for these are the majority of gigs most musicians will play. Read as many books, magazines, and articles about music, business, and life as you can. Talk to others in the business to gain perspective. Be a good person and contribute to the community in which you live. Work hard, bring something to the table, and don’t be afraid to put your chips down. And HAVE A BACKUP PLAN – be good at doing something else too!
The music business is an extremely competitive and difficult endeavor to succeed in, and making it work in Nashville is just as hard, if not harder than it is anywhere else. I don’t have all of the answers, I just know what worked for me and am sharing that with the hopes it might help a few others along the way.
So what are you waiting for? Buy my book today 😉
Hey everybody, I realize that I haven’t been writing very many blogs over the past couple of months and I feel like I owe y’all a few. This lack of regular blogging is mostly because of the frantic pace I kept while trying to finish the book. I’m going to do my best to put out a new blog everyday (or so) for a while.
When I first moved to Nashville, back in the summer of 2002, I was hungry for work. But gigs, especially gigs that paid well, seemed few and far between. My mentor and friend, “D” gave me tons of good advice, including networking on the town as often as I could. I followed this advice, going out on the town four or five nights a week, taking every oddball gig that was offered, sitting in whenever I could, etc. After six months of this routine, although I was making a lot of friends and connections, I still didn’t have any consistent gigs that paid any real money to speak of.
So one day I told him “Things just don’t seem to be evolving very fast for me. I’m going out on the town all the time, sitting in, making friends and networking, but the phone just isn’t ringing very much. What am I doing wrong?”
His response was quite simple, although I wouldn’t entirely comprehend the entirety of it for a couple of years.
“Patience my boy, Rome wasn’t built in a day. This town goes at its own speed. You’re doing all the right things and making a good impression around town. Everyone I’ve introduced you to likes you and you’re building a good reputation for yourself. The people you are meeting today and the relationships you build with them are what is going to give you work five years from now.”
Although that last statement was probably the most important thing he said during our conversation, the things that I heard the loudest were “This town goes at its own speed,” and “five years.” Geeesh! The Nashville music scene goes in slow motion, and I have to wait five years to get busy – NOT exactly what I wanted to hear!
But looking back at that moment, now going on 10 years into my Nashville life, those telling words make so much sense. I met a lot of people during that first hard year of Nashville – musicians, engineers, songwriters, artists, etc. – and became friends with many of them. In the years that followed, many of these friends and acquaintances would eventually call me for work. Sometimes it was a simple “one-off” gig, other times it was several gigs, sometimes it was songwriter demos.
In 2006 I did a ton of gigs on Broadway, mostly at Tootsies, but also at The Stage and a few other clubs on the strip. It was good supplemental income, good for my chops, and I met and gigged with several great players whom I became good friends with in the years that followed. These gigs all started with one phone call from a guitar player friend I had met during my first couple of months in town. He subbed out a few gigs to me, these gigs led to more gigs, and before I knew it I had all the work I could handle on the strip – All because of one relationship.
Several years later I was working more as a touring musician and no longer gigging regularly downtown. On many occasions I found myself in need of musicians for different situations, and ended up calling players I had met during those earlier years of steady gigging on Broadway. Sometimes I would need a player last minute and call someone I hadn’t even spoken to for a couple of years, someone that had obviously made a good impression at an earlier point in time.
I have learned that the town (and life for that matter) does go at its own speed, and quite often that speed is slower than we would all like. But I have also learned that there really is a lot of truth to “The people you are meeting today and the relationships you build with them are what is going to give you work five years from now.”
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.
That’s right everybody, the book really is finally done and now available to all who have been patiently awaiting its arrival. Orders for the print version will be processed and shipped this week, the e-book and Kindle version will be ready and available by the middle of next week, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally be at this point in time! Others involved in the project are getting excited too. Check out these back cover blurbs that a couple of folks offered after checking out advance copies:
“Awesome! Required reading for any musician moving to Nashville, especially as a hired gun.
Hundreds of hours of priceless advice condensed into one thorough and brilliant book
– an incredibly helpful masterpiece. Makes me want to move there now!”
— DEREK SIVERS, Founder of CD Baby
“If you are making or want to make money in the music industry of Nashville, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide” should be your next purchase. Eric Normand’s beautiful and comprehensive book contains invaluable insider information and practical advice from pros actually making a living in the industry now. A terrific read for anyone interested in peeking into the unique world of music Nashville. Even the pictures rock!”
— JUDY RODMAN, Vocal Coach, Producer, Hit Songwriter
As you could imagine, there was a big celebration at the Normand house when these e-mails arrived!
When I embarked on this journey two years ago last January, I had no idea I would be entering the world of book self publishing. In fact, when I initially began writing the content that became the foundation of this book, I had no intention of writing a book at all, or even the knowledge about how to go about doing this. At that point in time, I was simply trying to help a few folks on Craigslist and other message boards who wanted some info about the Nashville music biz’. The next thing I knew I was writing a book, almost by accident. The more I wrote, the more I began to understand the massive scope of this project, and the work it would entail to finish it – Internet research, extensive recorded interviews, photo taking excursions, etc. At some point along the way the book began writing itself. It was as if I was a mere conduit, the end result first being the story of the modern-day Nashville music industry magically appearing on my computer screen, and now in this wonderment of a book.
I couldn’t have done it alone either. Dozens and dozens of people have contributed their time and resources to this project and for this I am eternally thankful, their contributions have made this a far greater book than I could have produced alone. While the entirety of this project has been a massive undertaking (there were many times that I felt as if I would be writing this book for the rest of my life), this has truly been a labor of love – my way of paying forward all that I have learned in this strange place we call Music City, and I am absolutely thrilled with the end result.
So if you’ve been waiting for this book, it really is finally here. Thanks for your patience and I hope you enjoy reading “The Nashville Musicians Survival Guide!”
P.S. If you live in middle Tennessee, I would like to invite you to our official book release party at The Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs on Saturday, April 30 from 7 to 11. Many of the contributors to the project will be in attendance on this night, there will be music performed by my band (Mike Chapman will be on bass and Fran Breen on drums), and the first three people to ask will receive a free copy of the book.