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Tone Tips: The Company You Keep

Tone Tips: The Company You Keep

Bassist Jon Button and our columnist flank Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi during the Japanese singer-songwriter's 2015 All Night Live concert performance at the foot of Mount Fuji.

No worn-out clichés about the power of networking here—just some sound advice on landing your next better gig or helping a friend land his or hers.

Greetings, readers! On a recent gear-forum thread, a fellow named Billy Moss requested that I write a column about the process of getting a high-profile gig like playing with Melissa Etheridge—essentially, how to become a “hired gun." I've touched on the subject a number of times in PG by writing about topics such as choosing the proper gear, preparation, being intuitive, and the importance of living in a music city. This request from the forum thread is timely, in that recent events have clarified the importance of another major factor in any musician's success: that it's largely about the company you keep.

Birds of a feather. A few weeks ago, a guitarist friend of mine—who plays in a local cover band and has had some hired-gun touring gigs—related an interesting story to me. He told me that an opportunity had come up for him to audition for a new (and good) touring gig. After the audition, however, he discovered that the drummer in his cover band had known about the opportunity and even had a close connection to the band that was hiring, but didn't put my friend's name forward as a candidate. My friend found out about the audition through someone else.

In essence, the drummer put the short-term pain of losing a guitarist that his band would endure ahead of the potential advancement of my friend's career through a better gig. I'd guess that many of us have likely been in bands with folks like this drummer. Make no mistake: Music as a career is a hard road to take. And unfortunately, there are some musicians who tend to become jealous, vindictive, and resentful when they see others succeed, or even when potential opportunities for others come up.

I can't stress enough how important it is to avoid these negative, toxic emotions. Trust me: The longer you stay in this business, the smaller it gets. After a (long) while, everyone seemingly knows everyone, so do not burn bridges. You should always strive to help out your friends and fellow musicians, because it always comes back to you. The folks who are jealous and vindictive seem to wallow in a low place, and blame others for failure, mediocrity, and lack of work. The good folks who help one another out always seem to rise and shine. Birds of a feather flock together, right? So, make sure your flock is a good one.

Coming full circle. I picked up the guitar for the first time at 10-years-old and the very first song I learned was “I Can't Explain" by the Who. Those E, D, and A power chords resonated with me in such a way that my life path was changed forever, and now here I sit, writing about music and the guitar.

He just recently flew to London and is now on tour with one of the most celebrated rock bands of all time.

One of my oldest friends in L.A. is a terrific bassist named Jon Button. We've done many tours and sessions together over the years, and he's one of the most solid, trustworthy people I know. Simply said, Jon is the kind of guy you'd want in your band, for both his musical ability and personality. It should come as no surprise that he's had an exemplary career, evidenced by touring and recording with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Shakira, Mylène Farmer, the Corrs, and many others.

Now, back to that question Billy Moss asked me about getting a gig with someone like Melissa Etheridge. The short answer? Jon was the connection. When he got a call about a bass audition from Melissa's tour manager, the TM asked him if he could recommend a guitarist as well. Jon gave him my number and that ended up turning into three years of really enjoyable and rewarding touring work for me!

Around that same time, I received a call from an old friend Frank Simes. Frank had just become Roger Daltrey's guitarist and musical director, and was helping put a band together for Roger. So, I gave him Jon Button's name and phone number, and, you guessed it, Jon ended up getting the gig. But that's not the end of the story.

Fast-forward to 2016. The Who was gearing up to do some shows in 2017 and their bassist—the legendary Pino Palladino—was booked to play all year with John Mayer. Given all the circumstances, Jon was the natural first-choice to fill the bass chair. He just recently flew to London and is now on tour with one of the most celebrated rock bands of all time.

It's amazing to me that, in a way, I've had some small impact in helping the Who find a bassist—the band that actually influenced me to pick up the guitar. Full circle indeed. I'm a true believer that the company you keep is one of the biggest factors in developing a successful music career. Surround yourself with talented, driven, good people, and strive to help them at every opportunity. I promise you that it will come back to you. It may not happen right away, but eventually it will.

Until next month, I wish you success and happiness in all that you do!