Back: Frank Simes, Eric Schermerhorn, Brian Ray. Front: Lyle Workman, Peter Thorn, Jon Button.
In the second part of our sideman roundtable discussion, The Magnificent Seven discuss communicating with artists, Tom Jones and Elvis, and when they got good. Click here to read part 1...
Do you ever have problems working with artists who are unclear about what they want?
Peter Thorn: Yeah.
Frank Simes: Or they’re not quite sure what they want.
Jon Button: That can be really challenging.
Eric Schermerhorn: A lot times they’ve played it for 10 or 20 years and they’re sick of it and they want to do a whole new thing, and it’s up to you.
Peter Thorn: The more established an artist gets, the more comfortable they are just hiring you and trusting that you’re going to do the right thing. That’s why they get you there. It’s one more thing they don’t have to worry about. He’s got it covered.
Brian Ray: It gives you freedom as a musician to have an assertive front person who knows what they want, knows how to say it, is cool about it, but then allows you to search a little bit within that.
Jon Button: Also sometimes you might work with a younger new artist that never learned the vocabulary of musical lingo to be able to communicate what they want. It’s one thing working with somebody that’s seasoned, that’s kinda been around. They just don’t have the vocabulary to communicate what it is they want.
You probably have to talk to them like you’re not a musician.
Lyle Workman: You don’t say, “Would you like me to modulate the semi-quaver?”
That won’t get you anywhere. I didn’t even understand that.
Eric Schermerhorn: A lot of times new artists are in love with their record.
Lyle Workman: Or their demos.
Eric Schermerhorn: Well, that’s even worse. But they love their record. It’s their first baby, it’s their first record, and you’re out there and that’s hard. They’ll ask for things that were studio trickery. They want stuff reproduced and they don’t have the experience of having a bunch of guys in a room who could do better. The record is all programmed.
Lyle Workman: You sometimes have to do things that you don’t agree with. I wouldn’t make that choice, but it’s not about that. Go do your own thing if that’s what you really need to do.
Steve Stevens: In Idol we call it The Punk Police. I play initially a hundred notes, then The Punk Police would come in. But there’s something to be said if the end result is something really magic. There are singers that I’ve worked with that sometimes don’t like the attention going away from them. Billy fortunately is not one of those.
Peter Thorn: With you guys, that’s the beauty of your chemistry. That magic combination of however it distills down, it makes a sound that’s so cool.
Steve Stevens: It’s like having a brother or something. You sometimes fight, but at the end of the day you respect him, you love him, and if anybody else says something bad about him, you’ll fucking kill him!
Here’s the weird thing. I can remember as a kid seeing The Tom Jones show. He always had that guy. He was the guitar player. Now I know it’s Big Jim Sullivan. I always wanted to be that guy. I didn’t know that was a sideman.
Brian Ray: That’s “Main Man” more than “Sideman” as they call it in England.
Steve Stevens: As a kid I was like, “I wanna be that guy!”
Brian Ray: Jim Sullivan was a major session guy. He did a lot of the old Donovan records.
Steve Stevens: I just knew. I never wanted to be... Because I hated birthday parties… I didn’t want to be Tom Jones. I wanted to be the other guy.
That could be part of a personality test. “Do you want to be in front dancing like Elvis, or be Scotty Moore playing all the cool stuff behind him?”
Steve Stevens: My parents when they’d watch TV, my mom dug Elvis, but my dad would be like, “Yeah, but that guitar player is great!”