The past year or so has been an interesting journey for me. I spent the years from 2006-2011 not gigging other than the occasional sub gig and only playing with my students, barely even practicing. I went from years of 100+ annual gigs to almost nothing but teaching for half a decade. It was like I was “growing up” and “being a responsible adult by focusing on my business”. I stopped writing music too. As a guitarist and musician I was “on hiatus”.
Some of it was for what I considered “real life” reasons. My wife and I opened music school, had two children and then bought a house. In the middle of the worst economy in decades. I was making money playing gigs but it wasn’t as important anymore and the constant absences from family time, sheer physical and mental exhaustion and burnout was killing me. And a drive by shooting at a gig one night while I was loading out after a gig in San Bernadino was the capper. So I gave up my spot in the cover band and figured I’d be a music school owner. And I was for a long time but as the kids got older, the economy got worse and my replacement in the band quit I had an opportunity to return to “working”. So I jumped on it. The gig wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing at age 40 as a musician but it was more work than what many of my contemporaries were doing and for better money.
At the same time, I was hanging out with Tommy Harkenrider more and more building online lessons and webcasts and clinics for the studio. Tommy is a killer guitarist in styles I’ve never really had the opportunity to play much of. I learned a ton about West Coast Blues, Western Swing, Rockabilly and Chicago blues. Music started getting fun again. My rock band music was always so serious and tortured…too much Counting Crows in my musical diet and I was always too self conscious about how people perceived me to cut loose and write fun music. We sponsored a blues jam and I got to play with my buddies as a house band for the jam every week for a few months and even played an event for the Fender Custom Shop at NAMM that year. I was starting to love music again and I wanted to make music for myself, not just rent money.
I spent the last year or so rebuilding my playing. It was like starting over again with my picking technique. I learned licks online, stole ideas from Tom and other friends and even guys like Kirk Fletcher, Paul Pigat and Junior Watson who came through the studio for our webcast clinics. I bought a cheap telecaster to keep at home and I started waking up early just to get practice time in before I got the kids up for school. I found time to practice at work and even sometimes at night when I got home from teaching I’d pick the guitar up and play a bit after my wife went to bed. And then this past summer I talked to all of my buddies about doing a blues record.
I figured I would do something that I could get gigs with in the local blues scene and I could showcase my guitar playing. It would be fun and easy to do. I sat down and wrote 15-20 songs over about a month and we had some rehearsals. The music started taking on a life of its own though…some blues but also elements of funk, rock, New Orleans and soul. No two songs had the same groove which made me happy too….the guys were putting their stamp on my music which was my take on a modern blues album. My buddy Scott is recording and producing the album for me in his studio and he has a serious BS detector. NOTHING gets through him which is also raising the bar on me.
We are about halfway through the recording process right now but I love what we’ve got and folks who have heard rough mixes have reacted favorably. Ultimately if I’m happy and the guys who have contributed to the music are happy then its a success. I won’t be shopping for a record deal or getting in a van to support the record…too old and too many responsibilities but I’ll feel like I’m doing something creative again and I’ll have something to show people that I play music and don’t just teach it.
The project has had some other collateral benefits too. One of them is that I was at least 50 pounds overweight. Having to take pictures for promo materials that I can use not only for the album but the websites was a great motivator to get healthy. Playing gigs carrying around all that extra weight also sucked. The health benefits go without saying but comfort and vanity have been good for me in the long run. Nothing will make you put the pizza down like the idea of having to live with official pictures of yourself where you look like you should have Carrie Fischer chained to you in a brass bikini.
And my taste in guitars is changing too. I used to be very conservative with my instrument choices…I was very afraid that having a crazy looking guitar would lose me a gig or not look appropriate playing a wedding, corporate party or black tie event. As you can see in the picture above I’ve kind of gotten over that. The Reverend 15th Anniversary Flatroc I got this week is the flashiest guitar I’ve ever owned and it actually sounds really good. I have another instrument coming in the next week before NAMM that will also push the envelope a little in appearance and concept that I would have been was too self conscious to play a few years ago. I’ll blog about that soon…
Ultimately for many of my students there is a feeling that they are starting too late in life to be good. Or that they should be doing something more “grown up” with their time. The reality is that music is something that you can enjoy for your entire life. The reality of your responsibilities may put limits on the time you can spend or your expectations of what you can achieve (most of us won’t be getting in a van and rocking the countryside at this point) but thats not really what music is all about. The reality is that music is a journey and not a destination. I get a lot of satisfaction out of occasionally noticing that I can play something I couldn’t a month ago or even just learning some new music that I dig playing. I won’t ever get “there”, wherever that is. I’m going places though. :)
A member of the forum who had taken Skype lessons with me at one point has this quote from something I had posted online years ago in his forum signature:
…we’re all on the road to where we want to be on this thing. And when we get there we realize that we really wanted to get to the next town over, anyway