Alright friends, well as you might guess, all musicians have great stories. I played my first payed gig back in 1989 and in the years since I estimate I’ve played 5,000+ shows in all kinds of venues all over the world. I wish I could remember them all…well that’s not true, some of them I would love to forget! But even the on terrible gigs I’ve usually come away from it learning something or having a good laugh about it later.
So I made this little Gig-a-Blog to entertain you and maybe help you avoid some of the obstacles or pitfalls that can happen when working as a musician or just playing music in general.
The Gig-A-Blog is in no particular order and photo/video is provided if available, and I’ll update with new posts as I remember them…..Enjoy!
Ok, this is a comical one. I was hired to play at a fine dining restaurant for a 3 month contract at a big beautiful casino in Macau, China. For those of you not familiar with Macau it is basically Asia’s Las Vegas. So I start the gig and everything seems ok at first, they would like me to play smooth jazz instrumental music at low volumes to enhance the atmosphere. Cool, I can do that.
Unfortunately a month or so into the contract they decide they want something a bit more lively: They want me to stroll table to table around the restaurant singing Italian songs. Wait, what? Yeah well, I am all about being flexible and all but I don’t sing in Italian nor am I comfortable with intruding on guests when they are enjoying their tiramisu. So I guess they didn’t know quite what to do with me, so their answer was to built the great wall of plants around me to hide me as much as possible. So I spent the last 2 months of the contract as the guitarist behind the trees haha. The pizza was great though.
Lesson Learned: Venue owners often do not know what they want/need in terms of music. Be flexible, but don’t be a strolling musician, nobody likes strolling musicians.
In 1996 I had the great fortune of playing in Tokyo as part of the house band at a newly opened rock live music venue Desperado Tokyo. We played 6 nights a week and during the weekdays it was pretty quiet. There was a Japanese singer that sang with the band a couple nights a week and she also was a well known radio DJ who MC’d a lot of the big jazz concerts that came through Tokyo. On this especially quiet night(maybe a Tuesday) she was MC’ing legendary bassist Marcus Miller’s show in Tokyo. So it is almost 1:30am and we have a couple more tunes to play for the night, the club is totally empty. Our singer walks in with Marcus Miller and they retire to the VIP section. Of course we would love for him to sit in a play some tunes with us so we ask and he very graciously agrees to play “Superstition” and “Pick up the Pieces” with us.
I had developed a habit of cueing our bass player on sections of the songs as he seemed to often(at least in my mind)mess up the song form if not cue’d. So one of the best bass players in the world comes up and is playing next to me and I find myself cueing him on the changes to Superstition. Marcus was cool about it and didn’t even mention it after the jam. I cringe when I think about it to this day lol.
Lesson Learned: Bad habits are hard to break, best not to develop them in the first place.
I have had a recurring gig aboard a private yacht owned by very wealthy individuals. The residents of this amazing vessel include a group of amateur musicians that have formed a band. This ship is constantly traveling the globe and this band will play very rarely, always in a totally remote part of the world(Antartica, Greenland etc). They often will ask the musicians who are on board at these times to back them up to help beef up the band. On this occasion we were on board the ship when it was sailing through the islands of Papua New Guinea. The resident’s band asked us if we could back them up for a show if they could find a very remote spot in which to do it, we said of course!
So they found a tiny uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere Papua New Guinea and the gig was set. The morning of the gig me and my wife had an argument of some insignificant thing, but it ruined our moods. The show went on and we found ourselves on a pristine white sand beach that no-one had probably set foot on let alone play a rock show there. It was surreal, and yet we couldn’t fully enjoy it because of our foul moods.
Lesson Learned: Sometimes you have to take a step back and let smalls annoyances go in order to appreciated the amazing experiences that only playing music can bring to you.
What if Briarcliff Manor Mental Asylum threw a Halloween party for the inmates and invited your 50’-60’s rock band to play, would you take the gig? You would if you were 19, broke, and had a serious addiction to buying guitars and amps. That is exactly the case(except I cannot recall the real name of the hospital)when I was fresh out of high school and playing in an oldies band. We often played clubs, weddings, corporate parties etc, but this was the first mental hospital lol. It was also a Halloween party so all the patients were dressed up in ghoulish costumes adding to the already bizarre scene. The only thing I distinctly remember is an old lady dressed as a witch coming to the front of the stage telling me to “eat her poison apple or she would break my f’ing neck”. Good times.
Lesson Learned: Not sure there is a lesson to be learned here, other than if you ARE to play at a mental hospital make sure the inmates are restrained and/or heavily sedated.
I believe it was January or February of 2000 I answered an ad online from a band based out of Jacksonville, Florida. It was a husband(keys) and wife(singer), drums and sax player. They mostly played casinos travelling all over the US with some corporate party work while they were at home in FL. It sounded ok, at this point I had seen more outside the US than I had of my own country so the thought of doing the long haul road trip band thing sounded kind of fun. I arrived in FL and met the band and every one seemed normal enough at first. We were to rehearse a couple weeks, maybe play a couple local gigs then head out on the road. Sure enough the band gets a call to play a private event at the Sawgrass Country Club, for Former President George and Barbara Bush. Unfortunately I wasn’t up to speed on the band material enough to be on the gig. But that kind of thing looks great on a resume, so I volunteered to play for no $, and play the stuff I know and lay out on the rest. We all went through Secret Service background checks ahead of time and were cleared to do the gig. We arrive to the gig, a very posh setup and meet the event coordinator, a professional but obviously high strung individual.
I had learned by this point that the sax player liked to drink alot, fine, but he wouldn’t possibly show up drunk to a gig would he? Especially a super fancy gig with a former POTUS in the room and big scary looking secret service dudes within arms reach. Well, he did just that. Not just buzzed but wasted. It started off looking like he may just make it, but as the set went on he was leaning on the wall to keep standing, the event manager was turning purple. By the time the sax player knocked over a candle to the floor I think I saw the manager's head spin completely around Exorcist style. So the band leader sent him home after that set and luckily enough I was able to get us through for solos for the remainder of the event. Amazingly enough, none of the party guests really noticed what had happened. As is often the case the band is like wallpaper at these events. After the event finished all the staff including us went out to meet the ex-Prez. Regardless what you think about his politics he was very gracious and shook all of our hands before leaving. Though he did seem to give me a suspicious glance at first, must have been the long hair.
Lesson Learned: I don’t personally care what musos do in their spare time but if they show up to a gig wasted they are a liability and put you and your bandmates at risk.
This one was not really a gig but just something that was a very good time that I had playing. It was 2002 and I was on a backpacking trip through Thailand. I had got certified as a scuba diver and signed up for a 3 day liveaboard trip on a dive boat going to the Similan Islands, a beautiful remote spot in the Andaman Sea. There was about 8 divers and 4 crew aboard this very small boat. It was a friendly group that was very mixed, mostly European, Asian and me the lone American.
Being a brand new diver it can be rather intimidating diving with really experienced divers, which they all were, which kinda made me the odd man out. So we had our first day of dives and I struggled a bit with the strong currents which I’m sure didn’t endear me to anyone. After dinner that evening we all went on the top deck of the boat to chill and have some beers and conversation, except everyone else was speaking in either German or French of which I understood neither. However, I DID have my secret weapon, the ice-breaker of all ice-breakers, my guitar. So there we were, people of various backgrounds and nationalities singing along to 3 chord songs in the middle of the ocean, it was a beautiful thing.
Lesson Learned: Music is the only true international language, and no matter how advanced you are on your instrument, some of the most joyful times you will have as a guitarist are just playing easy songs for friends or strangers, making people smile, laugh and sing.
At this time I was the bandleader of a pretty good old school funk band. We played cool stuff that we the musicians really liked and most audiences could dance to. We had just got a new bass player who was also a virtuoso harmonica player, he was very respected in the area and I was really proud to have him in the band. He was also the only one among us who solely made his living from playing music. So we got a call from an agent offering us to play a nightclub for a 4 or 5 night engagement. It was a new venue for us and a good opportunity for us to shine with our excellent new band addition. So we set up on the first night, sound checked and started the gig. We started with some cool instrumental tunes. The band sounded great, never better. The club must be loving us right! Wrong! It turned out that this particular venue always booked top 40 dance bands, and we were definitely not one of those. The staff looked confused and bewildered. We finish our 1st set and the management pulls me aside and says we “can’t play songs with no words in them” there and we can pack it up and go home.
So, it was a shock. No band I had ever been in had ever been let go from a job, and this being our new bassist’s first night with the band I would look like a total flake to him unless I paid him anyways for the night. So I did the right thing and paid him out of my pocket.
Lessons Learned: I learned a lot from this situation. First, a lot of music agents, not all, but most will look after their own interests before the musicians almost every time. We should not have been booked in the club with the style we played, she probably knew that but booked us in there anyway. Secondly, because of this it is important for you to do your homework on venues to make sure your show is appropriate for the venue regardless of what an agent says. And third, if something terrible like this does happen and you are working with with new musicians that you want to continue to work with in the future, do the right thing and pay them anyway. It probably saved our professional relationship and I have gone on to work with that amazing musician on lots of great gigs since.
Opportunity Knocks: 1999, Somewhere on the Caribbean Sea
In early 1999 I was offered to go out on a cruise ship gig with a band that I had worked with 2 years prior. It was winter in Washington and a few months soaking up the Caribbean sun seemed ok to me. The band was a decent bunch of people and we would be doing the lounge gig onboard. On a cruise ship gig that means you do themed events, country night, 50s night, disco night etc, you pretty much are human jukeboxes 7 nights a week. However there was one group on board,
a group of elite musicians that was the band belonging to the headline act, an amazing world class vocalist. This band only worked 2 days a week, had passenger cabins AND got paid more than us lowly staff musicians, it was THE gig to have in the cruise musician world. Occasionally the headliner would come by our lounge and check us out and when she did I always tried to play my best.
Well, one day in a strange twist of fate the bass player in the elite band decided it would be a good idea to go on the top deck of the ship and start shouting gibberish on full blast to anyone within earshot. It seemed that working only 2 days a week had gotten the best of him and the voices in his head took over. Needless to say the captain and officers were not amused and kicked him off the ship in the next port of call. Luckily the guitarist in the elite band was also an excellent bass player and he moved to bass to cover the remaining 2 weeks of their contract…..which left the guitar chair vacant. Life on a cruise ship is much like living in your high school and soon the rumor mill was buzzing with speculation about who was going to get the coveted guitar fill in job. There were 3 other guitarists onboard including yours truly. Turns out I got the call and had about a day to learn their 1 hour show. It was somewhat nerve-racking as the other guys were older more experienced musicians. But I did my homework, learned the show and did it to the best of my ability, hangin in with the big boys. About a year later the regular guitarist in the elite band decided to take a long hiatus and I got the call to fill his spot permanently. I held that gig for the next 5 years, played with great musicians and became a better musician because of it.
Lesson Learned: There was a couple things I took away from this experience. You never know when opportunity may come knocking, but be prepared when it does….and always try to play with musicians that are better than you, its the sure-fire fastest way to improvement in your playing.
The Big Gamble: Early 1996, Orange County, CA to Shreveport, Louisiana
In early 1996 I relocated from my hometown of Tacoma, Wa to sunny Orange County, California. I was bored and tired of rainy Washington so I packed up and set off for clear skies. I had no big expectations for California, just wanted to find my place in the sun and hopefully get some gigs in the process.
A couple months prior I put an ad for myself on a musicians wanted website on the still fairly new “Internet”. I didn’t think much of it and went on with my business of trying to get a job. Problem was I made this move to CA with only about $2,000USD in savings. CA being the most expensive places to live in the US I knew I couldn’t hold out long before I would be broke unless I got working and quick. So I bit the bullet and started looking for a day gig. A couple months go by without much success in the job hunt and I’m now down to about $500 to my name. Not much longer and might have to make the unthinkable trip back home. I needed a miracle. I didn’t think it would arrive via email.
Remember that musician ad I placed on the website? Some cool guy in Louisiana had seen it and he needed a guitar player right away, for a gig in Tokyo, Japan. Awesome! But, first I needed to fly to Louisiana(at my expense) and audition for the club managers from Tokyo with the band. Problem was I had no cash to buy a ticket to Louisiana so I had to max out my credit card to make it happen. So I was basically betting more than everything on this audition, a huge gamble. I decided to roll the dice and trust in my skills that I could get the gig. I arrive in Shreveport and meet the band who are all really good people and great musicians. We have a couple rehearsals and the audition is set. We arrive at the venue, a very much southern honky tonk type place, and see 4 serious looking well dressed Japanese gentlemen waiting for us. They looked a little out of place lol. I think we only played about 30 minutes and then had to wait a couple weeks to find out that we did indeed get the gig. We were on a flight to Tokyo 2 months later and, my life was about to change forever.
Lesson Learned: Don’t be afraid to take chances, you never know where they may lead you.
The Best Gig I Never Played, Late 2011, Khao Lak, Thailand
Once upon a time I was doing a live looping/EDM project. It was pretty fun, just improvising stuff over a house dance beat. Most of the time I would work with a percussionist. I got a call from an agent to come down to the seaside resort town of Khao Lak in the south of Thailand and do the show for a corporate party. It was at a 5 star hotel on a beautiful beach, short 2 hour gig, fly back to Bangkok the same night, easy as cake! We prepared a contract and the gig was set. So we fly down to nearby Phuket, meet the agent and drive about an hour to the resort. As soon as we arrive to setup I knew something wasnt right. The place was deserted and the resort staff was looking confused. Turned out that the hotel booked us for the wrong day. The event was for the following day, and the event organizer for the resort screwed it up. So they agreed to put us up in the resort for a night and have us play the following night.
We set up the following night to finally do our gig, we are sound checked and ready to rock. At this time the party guests are nowhere to be found, we wait and wait some more. They are on a boat trip and cannot arrive before we are set to finish, and we must finish on time to catch the last flight back to Bangkok. So in short, we were there for 2 days and ready to play what would have been an amazing party on the beach but nobody was there but us. But what about our pay?
Lesson Learned: ALWAYS have a contract. I stipulated in the contract we were to be paid regardless of how little we played if it was out of our control. We ended up getting paid for 2 days because of the extra day we had to stay there as well. Could have turned out alot differently if there was nothing in writing.