The intricacies of a TV gig
Last week, I lead the band in this year’s installment of the Larry the Cable Guy Christmas Special for the CMT Network. Dubbed “Hula-Palooza Christmas Luau,” the show embraced a Hawaiian/Caribbean-ish theme with all of Larry’s special touches (pole dancers, little people, fart jokes and Tony Orlando). To “git ’er done,” the band and I faced a few unique challenges. First, the budget and stage size demanded a five-piece band. Generally, I dig a lean and mean band: there’s less sonic clutter and plenty of room for guitar wankery. Television, however, can be a bit more demanding because shows typically cover many genres. The “Luau” theme meant I had to have a great steel player well-versed in Hawaiian guitar to join the bass, drums, keys and me on guitar.
With the band in place, I began working on the live bumper music that would take us in and out of commercial breaks. Bumpers need energy, but these also needed to incorporate both the Christmas and Luau theme with a hint of country flavor. The producers gave me a list of public domain Christmas carols that I could use. I chose “Jolly Old St. Nicholas,” arranging it as a reggae ditty with our keyboard player dialing up the steel drum melody. I ramped up “Silent Night” into a country shuffle straight from the dirty south. “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” became a Hawaiian hula dance. In all, I arranged 12 bumpers, leaving our producers plenty of options in case a few didn’t feel right.
Band and break music ready, I turned my attention to our musical guest, Billy Currington, who was slated to sing the absolute lamest of Christmas carols, “White Christmas.” Billy and I discussed picking up the tempo and swinging it like SRV playing with Bob Wills, and I made a board tape of our rehearsal with me flubbing my way through the vocals so Billy could wrap his head around the arrangement.
I arrived painfully early on Shoot day only to find audio tangled in some serious spaghetti of black XLR cables. We had no monitors for our first run through. Our stage—shaped like a tropical hut on stilts—bordered the pole dancer hut, which added significantly to the confusion. Whenever the producers cued me to play, I had to shout and wave my hands wildly to get the attention of our drummer, who could not take his eyes off the lithe, young, nearly-naked dancers four feet to his left. When these starlets weren’t dancing, they were leaning over the railing, which gave us a constantly titillating view of the back of their grass skirts and long dancer legs, or their bikini clad fronts—a happy dilemma indeed!
We ran our bumps to break, played some funny parody Christmas carols, and ran Billy Currington’s song. To our surprise, “White Christmas” actually sounded great. The only glitch was the key we’d agreed upon was a bit low for Billy once the adrenalin started pumping, so we brought it up a half step. You’d think playing in between the dots would be no big deal, but because I’d been working like mad on this kind of jazzy intro/turnaround guitar hook, my fingers wanted to play it like I learned it. To make matters worse, Billy’s guitar was tuned down a half step so it looked like he was playing in the key of D. The entire time we played I had to keep telling myself, “You’re in C Sharp. C natural is dead to you. It never existed. Stay focused. Don’t look at the dancers. Remain in C Sharp.” The song went well, but I never felt confident. I haven’t seen the final edit yet, but I fear my part may sound less than fearless.
Tony Orlando, a great singer, was closing the show with the Bing-Crosby-Christmas-crooner-classic, “Mele Kalikimaka.” The idea was that the entire cast would join in, but given that the words to this song are nearly unpronounceable, everybody hung back. I specifically hired a bassist who sang well so we would be covered should this happen. When I told her it was up to us to carry the load, she informed me that she “had a cold and couldn’t [wouldn’t] sing. I tried to convince her that it didn’t need to be a stellar performance; that we just needed voices. But she remained mute, downgrading our big, all-sing closer to a meager duet of Tony and my scratchy, blown-out voice. I was pissed, but what ya gonna do? Just sing like you’re making up for 20 people. Again ... I’m a tad nervous about hearing the final.
Like snowflakes, no two gigs are identical. Learning to hit the curves that live music throws at you makes us not only better musicians, but also helps us become better problem solvers and keeps those synapses firing and dementia at bay. Save the crosswords and Sudoku for the button-down crowd. Let’s gig!
John Bohlinger is a Nashville guitar slinger who works primarily in television, and has recorded and toured with over 30 major label artists. His songs and playing can be heard in major motion pictures, major label releases and literally hundreds of television drops.
Visit him at: youtube.com/user/johnbohlinger or facebook.com/johnbohlinger
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.