Years ago I attended a party in the Garden State that featured a chimpanzee named Mr. Jibs as entertainment. On loan from a local zoo, Mr. Jibs didn’t have an act or do any tricks, but he did drink beer and smoke cigarettes—a talent I shared with him at the time. Perhaps it’s my simian build or the fact that collectively Mr. Jibs and I sucked down an entire pack of Camels and many beers, but for some reason, the two of us really connected. We spent hours beating our chests, dancing manically to Bob Marley, holding hands and howling our inscrutable secrets and most sincere lies as the afternoon party turned into a blackout followed by a nauseous, head-pounding morning on a strange floor.
I hadn’t thought about Mr. Jibs for years until yesterday, when I read it’s illegal to give monkeys cigarettes in the state of New Jersey. One would think there’s not much of a chance of breaking that law, but here I am, a repeat offender. This hazy memory made we wonder about what other laws I’ve unwittingly broken. Ignorance of the law does not absolve one of the consequences of breaking the law, written or not. That being the case, it’s high time someone actually wrote down the unwritten laws to which all band members should adhere. I give you:
The Written Version of Unwritten Laws of Being a Good Bandmate, First Edition.
1. In an open jam, share solos equally with anybody who wants one.
You know that player who takes his 12-bar solo ... and then takes your 12 bars as well? That guy is a douche bag. Even if this person plays great, no others onstage will hear what this solo hog actually plays over the sound of their inner voices loudly repeating “What a doucher. Seriously, what a complete, solo-stealing doucher.”
2. Help load and unload the gear.
You know that guy who disappears when all the heavy lifting needs to be done, and then shows up after the van is unloaded or reloaded? We all hate that guy. Unless you have serious health issues, man-up and hump some gear. (If you’re female, carry a few little things in rotation with guys. It’s cute, it helps, and the boys will love you for it.)
3. Be on time whenever possible.
Of course you’re busy—we all are. But when you’re habitually late, you send a message to your bandmates that says, “I’m more important than you.” They will despise you for this. Hell, I despise you for this and I probably don’t even know you.
4. If the soundman and your bandmates ask you to turn down, turn down.
We all want to hear ourselves, but a good mix never comes from a volume war. Learn to compromise or be ostracized.
5. Do your homework.
Even when we know the material, we all occasionally make mistakes, but we make a whole lot more when we don’t practice. Bands work interdependently like a rowing team, professional tag-team wrestlers, or people conducting a good orgy (I imagine). When you’re bad, you make everybody else look and sound bad. Don’t be the weakest link when all it takes is a bit of practice to get you hitting the right notes.
6. If you have long road trips or share hotel rooms, avoid food that turns your stomach into a toxic waste dump. Not only do your noxious methane leaks increase the size of the hole in our ozone layer, they can do some real damage to your bandmates’ morale and olfactory system.
7. Music is fun, so have fun.
I’ve worked briefly with people who are the equivalent of a human storm cloud. Just as laughter is contagious, so is grumpiness. One sad sack can make an onstage party feel like a funeral.
8. Be loyal to your bandmates. We all have a family member who drives us mad.* Amongst family, we can discuss a black sheep’s shortcomings, but if somebody outside the family insults our siblings, parents, uncle, etcetera, most of us want to beat the insulter like they owe us money. That’s the way a band should be. Argue amongst yourselves, work out your problems, but stick up for your bandmates to the rest of the world. There’s the family you’re born with and there’s the family you choose. Be loyal to both.
There it is—a good start to the written law. I’m sure I’ve missed many other unwritten laws. To be honest, I probably drive my bandmates crazy with my lack of self-awareness and personal glitches. I hope to become a better bandmate. If you’re reading this at premierguitar.com, please use the comment section to add your own additions to the unwritten laws of bands. Maybe collectively we can turn this list into a book—or at least a pamphlet—titled The Written Law of Bands and make music more fun for musicians who follow in our footsteps.
*I suspect I’m the disgrace in my family. My sibs are all pretty awesome.
John Bohlinger is a Nashville multi-instrumentalist best know for his work in television, having lead the band for all six season of NBC's hit program Nashville Star, the 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009 CMT Music Awards, as well as many specials for GAC, PBS, CMT, USA and HDTV.
John's music compositions and playing can be heard in several major label albums, motion pictures, over one hundred television spots and Muzak... (yes, Muzak does play some cool stuff.) Visit him at youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger or facebook.com/johnbohlinger.