Monday, March 2, 2015

Straynger in a Straynge Layund

People misunderstand me. I'm misunderstood. Poor me. I'm really such a nice fellow. It's just that I react...energetically to stuff.

Music, for instance. If I hate a piece of music, I hate it with a regurgitative kind of hate. I, for instance, loathe The Doors. I don't think they are bad musicians or that Morrison was a bad lyricist or singer or that their music was low-quality... I just hate their music. No real reason and no real evaluation of merit or the lack thereof lies under any of it. When a Doors song comes on the radio, I actually curl my upper lip, for some reason, and fumble to change the station as if swatting at some horrible insect. There is no good reason for this; it is as if, as stated above, I ate a food that disagreed with me.

The best pictures of the band are ones
in which my face is obscured by a beer bottle.
But I don't believe there is a such thing as an intrinsically bad genre of music. For every -- literally every -- genre of music I have heard, there has been at least one song that I have really liked. (Yes, rap included.)

I don't, for instance, generally like "country music." It has, however ( the growth of a tumor) become a part of my life because I am in a band that plays and has always played what is popular. We were a classic rock band and then alternative came along and then grunge and we shifted with the times. We never fit into the Spinal Tap cliche -- we have never dressed the part of any  particular music movement and we have never become rock stars in our own minds.

Now, for better or worse, it's all about country music. Very popular. We began putting songs into our list some time ago and people really like it peppered in between, say, "Play That Funky Music" and "Sweet Caroline." We'll do a few dance and then a few rock songs and then put in a little Luke Bryan or some Kenny Chesney.

I'm not usually thrilled when the country stuff comes up...but it is not bad to play. I mean, yes, I do often wonder how many times one can use the phrase "them blue jeans" before one questions one's creative scope and takes to the bottle; and, yes, it does get a little tiresome to hear about blowing one's pay check on Friday night for a party in the woods...but I have played worse.

Country line dancing. They were not kidding.
And the crowd ranged from 21-71. 
Feeling, though, that we had included too many country songs in our list, one night, I suggested that we stop playing so many country songs at a time on regular jobs and just learn three sets of country and book ourselves in a country-oriented room. Blatantly ignoring my chronology, Tony, one of our guitar players, booked us two weeks ahead, in a country joint. When I protested that I had said that first we should learn the music and then book a country place, Tony just smirked and said that that is simply not how the King Richard Band does things.

So, we learned three sets of country music in two weeks and played our first gig in a country bar. It was weird, but not altogether unpleasant.

The weird: We were not "the show." Usually, in the places we play it is a concerty situation: people watch us and if they feel like it, they dance. At a country place (or, at this one, at any rate), it's all about the dancing. We simply provided the music. And the dances were group things -- line dancing; prescribed dances per song. And the people in the dances were none too happy with those who didn't know how to do it. Reports from friends of the band were that they were told to hit the road if they didn't know the steps. Hard core boot-stompin'. From a historical perspective, I wonder if this is a throwback to the stranger walking through the swinging saloon doors and everyone stops what they are  doing and the piano player cuts off mid Foster song and one can hear the tumbleweeds ticking dryly by outside. At any rate, I suggested line-dancing classes to our friends -- for their own safety -- if they intend to come out again.

The not altogether unpleasant: They clapped for us. I know this sounds like a given, but our response is usually either getting ignored or furious dancing followed by woo-hoos and cheers and long "yeeeeeaaaahhhh"s. These people would finish a dance and, in old school fashion, turn to the band and clap. It was neat. And the people there were really nice -- staff and audience, included. (I talked to a guy in a black cowboy hat for about twenty minutes about the Rolling Stones, Kevin Costner's band and traffic in South Jersey.)

Twilight Zoney? Yes -- a bit. But, it was nice to change up the set list and it was even nice to "read" some of the parts that I had to write out because we learned them so fast. I haven't done that in a while. And, there were moments in which we played things that are totally out of our usual "feel": "He Stopped Loving Her Today" by George Straight!? -- I never get to hit the drums that lightly. I saved some money on Advil the next day.

There was even a real music moment: Tim McGraw's "Shotgun Rider." Country? Rock? Pop? It doesn't matter. It's a good song. We also got to play "Tequila Sunrise," by The Eagles, which I love... That about equals the number of "real songs" I get to play per night on a regular gig, so who's complaining?

No, I'm not about to start boot stomping or wearing Stetsons (I did take some inter-band flack for wearing a t-shirt from the Black Dog Tavern on Martha's Vineyard -- a little far north), but change keeps you on your toes. And while I could do without the neo-top-forty country and the "drankin'" around the "bonfahrs" in the woods, it's not much worse than pop... In fact, there as a lot of pop that is much worse.

And, let's face it -- we want to keep playing and pros adjust. So, yeah, once a month I can clamp a piece straw between my teeth and play some snare drum shuffles. know...once a month, please.


  1. I may have left a similar comment before, but based on what I know of you, I think you'd like old-timey country music quite a bit more than the current wave of pop-country—although the latter is, I imagine, what the gig demands.

    We were recently down in Memphis at a rockabilly club. The band was great, but I found myself wondering which songs they loathed, especially when they inexplicably broke into "Wild Thing": Was it their choice? Management demand? Assumptions about the bar-band audience?

    1. I kind of got the feeling the newer stuff was merely tolerated, Jeff - it may well be that the classic stuff might go over better. We shall see. It occurs to me as I write this that I might be able to indulge my love of Jimmy Webb's work by delving into Glenn Campbell's catalog... Hmm...

      When some member of our band scouted the place out, they said that bend did play some non-country stuff. In fact the DJ played some decidedly wedding/promish stuff. I guess it is just evidence that there is no musical isolation anymore. We probably would have gotten away with being less country than we were, but I guess we were paranoid...

  2. I remember reading an excerpt from an interview some years ago, when Merle Haggard said that he had about had it with playing clubs that were all about line dancing. And while I'm sure that the purists can name a few people who are more country than Merle Haggard, I think that his credentials are pretty good.

    As Jeff says, some of the old-timey country music is quite good. Some of it must have been pretty bad, too, but the novelty wore off and it doesn't get played that much.

    1. I hear what ol' Mel is saying and I only played one of them so far. And they are not terribly discerning. They'll line-dance to anything, it seems. I found myself watching their feet and adjusting the beats to fit what they were doing, but to the surprise of the band, who fell in line eventually. I do like a lot of the old country stuff, especially Glenn Campbell, for whom Jimmy Webb, probably my favorite songwriter, wrote a lot., most the new stuff is the essence of mediocrity.