Rich Eckhardt performing on The Early Show in New York City. Photo by Cristle Chapman.
I recognize that I’m here to boldly go into the studio, on stage and on television and share my experiences with you guys, so you’re more prepared than I was when you’re doing those things. One area where I have a tremendous amount of experience to share is in performing on television. I’ve done numerous appearances on a large variety of shows, including The Tonight Show, The Today Show, Regis and Kelly, Ellen, Later, Grand Ole Opry Live, The Late Show with Craig Kilborn, CMT Total Access, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Austin City Limits, Music City Tonight and even Extreme Home Makeover. I’ve played the halftime show in Dallas on Thanksgiving—I even performed at the Superbowl when Janet Jackson infamously had that wardrobe malfunction! I’ve also done country and pop award shows, and I’ve even jammed on European TV.
Learn to make more of less.
You would think that when it comes to performing on TV, you’d have all the best work conditions and all your killer gear, so you and your band could make the most substantial impact possible on the millions of people tuning in to watch. Don’t I wish! Unfortunately, in the midst of a heavy tour schedule, it’s not always feasible to get your “A” rig from coast to coast in time. More often than not when I’ve done Jay Leno, we’ve flown in from another city halfway across the country, and I have to rely exclusively on my Roland GT-8 pedalboard under my feet and a rented amp behind me. In these instances, it’s vitally important to have a fly rig that you can count on to sound as close to your main setup as possible. After much programming and tweaking, my GT-8 is pretty close, but I have to admit there’s no substitute for the massive rig I have with me every night on tour. It’ll move the hair on my legs when I stand in front of it and jam. Most of the major television shows that have live entertainment will film in either New York or Los Angeles, so I’ve arranged with the good people at Kustom to have the Coupe amps that I play available for me from either SIR (Studio Instrument Rentals) or Center Staging in those cities. My Production Manager will secure one for me whenever we get called on to do one of the major network shows.
Don’t mess with the Union!
Once on The Tonight Show we built our monitor mixes and ran through the song that we’d be playing a few times. Then they were ready to do their camera blocking. The crew began lowering the wall that would isolate us from the audience until we started our portion of the show. As the wall was slowly moving toward the floor, it was about to come to rest on top of a stage light sitting on the ground near me. I started to lean forward to drag the light towards me and out of harm’s way, and I quickly realized that there were three Tonight Show staffers who were closer to it than I was, and they weren’t making any effort to move it—so I stopped myself and pretended I was just nervously pacing instead. The wall stopped just inches above it. It turns out the light in question had to be moved by a union lighting technician. He was summoned by walkie-talkie, and we all waited until he got there. He moved the light eight inches for the wall to clear it, and we went on with the camera block. I thought it was silly. I could have yanked that thing and reset it myself in a few seconds, but that’s not the way it’s done in TV land.
Be ready for any old thing.
There was another time while filming The Today Show when the backline company brought me the wrong amp. It was a Kustom like we asked for, but it was an old full tuck-and-roll Kustom from the early ‘70s. A vintage amp can be a beautiful thing… unless it doesn’t work. Then it’s a doorstop! I literally had to bang on the top of the amp with my fist (something I did gladly out of frustration, I might add) just before cameras went red in order to get through the three songs we did for a viewing audience of 15 million.
Keep it in perspective.
I’m passing along these experiences to you this month so that you’ll know what to expect when your big break comes, and they turn the cameras on you. It’s never going to be a perfect scenario, and pitching a royal rock ‘n’ roll fit won’t fix anything. You’re gonna have to get out there and give it your best. At that point, just remember there are 10,000 pickers who would love to be there doing what you’re doing. Steal a moment to look around and take it all in. In spite of all the incidental problems, you just made the big time!
Rich Eckhardt is one of the most sought after guitarists in Nashville. His ability to cover multiple styles has put him on stage with singers ranging from Steven Tyler of Aerosmith to Shania Twain. Rich is currently playing lead guitar with Toby Keith. His new album Cottage City Firehouse is available at his website and CDBaby.com