How to Get the Gig!
Wondering how to join a band and get some sweet gigs? Then this episode is for you. Rhett and Zach share their advice, from how to get in front of audiences and make more connections—if it’s all about who you know, how do you get to know the right people? And how do you impress them enough to hire you?—to the skills you’ll need to hone to get the job done. Sure, knowing your way around your instrument is really important, but it’s not just about scales, arpeggios, and chord voicings. And different gigs—cover bands, wedding bands, singer/songwriters—require different skills. (Hint: Know how to get a good sound out of the gear you already have!)
Bad gig stories—from unappreciative wedding guests, to festivals who serve all beer and no water, to playing in the rain and getting all your stuff covered in mud—are just part of the fun, because all experience is valuable, at least in the beginning, and Rhett tells the story of how a single bad gig led to a wealth of connections and opportunity that landed him here today.Along the way, the duo dip Patreon supporter Ryan Paterson’s vintage plus Strymon rig—dig that 1959 Gibson ES-345—and they pay their respects to the recently departed Jeff Beck and David Crosby. Plus, Rhett shows off the mystery amp (“a tweed amp on steroids”) he just bought, but he needs your help to figure out where it came from. Who built this thing? If you know, drop him a line!
Thanks to Sweetwater for sponsoring this episode. Head to sweetwater.com/dippedintone today!
How to Get the Gig
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What Tom Taught Me About Petty Guitar Prejudices
The late Heartbreakers legend shouldn't have deterred me from "hippie" Rickenbackers any more than Hendrix should've turned his nose up at a "surf" guitar.
It's always a kick in the gut when seminal musicians pass on to the great beyond. It's natural to reflect upon their lives and appreciate their contribution to the world as well as one's own life. But when Tom Petty died, it hit me harder than I thought it could.
I empathized with the people who adored him and his music. I felt worse for his family and fellow Heartbreakers. I felt robbed of what had become a steady beacon in my musical life—the constant distillation of vague thoughts in my head being coalesced into simple, understandable phrases. The guitars were great, too.
When the Heartbreakers first hit the national scene, I recognized Petty as a talent to be dealt with, but I was not what you'd call a fan. It wasn't really my main kind of music, but it displayed serious craft and just enough edge to keep me interested. “Great little tunes," I'd say to myself. I may have bought Damn the Torpedoes. Going to a Heartbreakers concert wasn't on the agenda, but I noted Petty's exploits in the magazines of the day. I read about how he'd thrown a temper tantrum in the recording studio over something the record company had done to raise his ire. The article painted a picture of a bullheaded young man breaking his hand by punching a hole in the studio wall. As much as I admired his passion for his art, I thought it was a pretty stupid move. Somehow, that's the image of Petty that hovered in my mind whenever I heard his songs. I'd pigeonholed him in a way that I would have resented, myself.
A couple of issues ago, I explored the idea of getting to know a guitar before passing judgement on it [“What Really Makes an Instrument a Best Friend?" January 2021], but we can take that a step further. What about the gear you dismiss out of hand just because of the associations you've formed in your mind? Many of us are guilty of labeling, rating, and ranking the people and things in our life. It makes it easy to understand the world around us. In our imaginations we might be metal or funk, but not Americana. We can be a Les Paul person, but not an Ibanez sort of dude. There are myriad ways to create our own personal Venn-diagram tribal map from the associations we attach to music and guitars. Within this framework, we search for like-minded souls and compatible memes to fulfill a sense of identity and belonging. In doing so, we shut out opportunity. It's like living in a world where there's no color blue, green, or gray—only black and white. Sometimes, you can't even remember why you formed your opinion in the first place.
When I examine my own prejudice, I realize that sometimes my opinions are based on long-held associations as much as experience. I've always favored early 1960s P basses, especially the sunburst version, and trace this back to my youth when I idolized P-bass icon James Jamerson. On the other hand, I was never a big Grateful Dead fan, so any guitar with a half-dozen different laminations of natural body wood was noted as a “hippie" guitar (or bass), and only worthy of derision. Likewise, guitars with upside-down headstocks were strictly for guitarists who played a zillion notes and wore makeup. In retrospect, I can see how these associations were made, but it wasn't fair or productive to ignore perfectly good guitars because of them.
History is overflowing with guitarists who upset the status quo of instrument compartmentalization. Jimi Hendrix bent the rules of rock using a surf guitar. Tiny Grimes played some of the most rocking jazz on a tenor electric. The Cult's Billy Duffy created a swirling vortex of post-punk goth rock on a hollow Gretsch that's mostly associated with country music. Today, you can see flame-topped collectibles onstage alongside pawn-shop throwaways from the 1960s playing some decidedly un-corporate music. Personally, I'd like to see Chris Stapleton rocking a Dean ML. The fact is that although an artist might be associated with a particular instrument, that instrument shouldn't be strictly associated with his or her style of music.
Eventually, I came around to thinking of Tom Petty as a much more three-dimensional person than my younger self did. I'm not sure if that made his songs more personal to me, or the other way around. There's no shortage of tunnel vision in the way we think, but if you remove your filters, there's lots of great stuff to discover. So, give that hollowbody a shot, even if you're playing metal. Maybe that star-shaped axe with the reverse headstock has some great jazz tones worth exploring, but … stay away from hippie guitars. And if you think Tom Petty isn't your beer, give him a second chance.
Last Call: Monk’s Advice
In 1960, saxophonist Steve Lacy played in Thelonious Monk’s band … and took notes for us.
Some musicians wear weirdness like a costume they put on to appear cool/deep. Then there's Thelonious Monk, a person from beyond the Valley of Cool and Deep. When Steve Lacy—a Jewish, white soprano sax player who was into Dixieland jazz—did a four-month stint in Monk's band in 1960, he recognized his boss' genius. Lacy kept a notebook with him, jotting down Monk's advice verbatim. This became an insider's guide of do's and don'ts for working musicians.
Some of the advice remains inscrutable: “You've got to dig it to dig it, you dig?" If you, gentle reader, can decode these mysteries, please share your conjecture in the comments section online. For now, let's focus on what mere mortals can glean from Monk's advice.
“Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play." Being deep in the groove isn't a conscious thing. You can't think your way into it. You get there by feel. Sometimes it seems like when you become conscious of the groove, it goes away. Tapping your foot gets your body moving so you will literally feel it and internalize the beat. As an added benefit, a pat, tap, or stomp is percussion in acoustic environments. On some recordings, you can't tell if it's drums or Monk's foot scuffing the floor. Either way, it's music.
Often during gigs and occasionally while reading a chart during sessions, I'll catch myself thinking about what I have to do after work, or something equally inane. In short, I'm not present. I've tried the old sing-the-melody-in-you-head trick and found it makes me more in the moment, less likely to lose my place, and what I play helps reinforce the melody.
“Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!" Monk was innovative, brilliant, and probably mentally ill, so his playing had some weirdness. As he grew more famous, players who jammed with him felt obligated to play weird notes. But Monk's weirdness had a musical point that serves the song; weird-for-the-sake-of-weird doesn't. Few things are more annoying than watching competitive musicians try to out-weird each other.
“Let's lift the bandstand!!" Monk's first touring gig was with an evangelist and faith healer. If you've ever been to a tent revival and heard a gospel band in full flight, you've rode the musical wave that goes from a soft whisper to a mighty oar. When you think it can't possibly get any bigger, it doubles-up and you feel the stage raise. Since Monk experienced this power firsthand, this advice might be referencing that magical/spiritual energy that lifts everyone onstage and, in turn, the audience.
“Don't play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don't play can be more important that what you do." This is a hard rule for guitarists. Classic rock taught us that when the singer stops, we fill. But try letting a verse you'd usually fill go by and you'll feel the mood of the song shift. When you come back in, your notes will carry more weight. Music is a conversation. Like any conversation, what is said means more after a poignant pause. There's also meaning in the silence. Added bonus: It takes longer to burn through our bag of go-to-riffs when we lay out.
“Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he's out of shape and can't make it." During this pandemic, I've played very little pedal steel because that's one instrument that's way more fun to play with a band than alone. I got a last-minute gig this weekend and learned on the bandstand that I was sadly out of shape. By the time I remembered how to play, I couldn't think of what to play. It was a deeply humiliating experience. I kind of wanted to cry on the long drive home. Once it's time to perform, you've lost the chance to prepare, so always be ready.
“(What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!" Monk petty much invented the jazz cat in shades and a beret, or fez or porkpie hat. Presentation matters. You can't always control what you sound like, so at least look good.
“Whatever you think can't be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself." Monk knew genius because he was surrounded by it. From his piano, Monk watched Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker change music forever by taking their instruments and imaginations places where nothing had ever been. Maybe there were so many geniuses in that era of jazz because they watched their seemingly normal friends often do incredible things. This made them realize there are no limitations or boundaries.
Genius may be contagious. Although George Harrison didn't think of himself as a songwriter, he wrote some genius-level songs because he watched two kids he grew up with write genius-level songs all the time, so he knew it was possible. You can hear Harrison becoming less like John and Paul and more like Harrison with every album. Maybe pushing boundaries is where we become more ourselves and less like those who influenced us.
Thelonious Monk's Advice to Steve Lacy (1960)
- Just because you're not a drummer, doesn't mean you don't have to keep time.
- Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
- Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
- Make the drummer sound good.
- Discrimination is important.
- You've got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
- All reet!
- Always know... (Monk)
- It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights.
- Let's lift the bandstand!!
- I want to avoid the hecklers.
- Don't play the piano part, I'm playing that.
- Don't listen to me. I'm supposed to be accompanying you!
- The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
- Don't play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don't play can be more important that what you do.
- Always leave them wanting more.
- A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world; it depends on your imagination.
- Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he's out of shape and can't make it.
- When you're swinging, swing some more!
- (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
- Don't sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
- These pieces were written so as to have something to play, and to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
- You've got it! If you don't want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn't want to solo.)
- Whatever you think can't be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
- They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.