Last gigs at the end of a busy tour can be a toss-up sometimes. The conventional thinking is that we’ve been on the road playing night after night primed up and firing on all cylinders and taking musical chances with the music evolving. On some levels it feels like we’ve acquired this new innate ability to perform just that much better from the short time we’ve been out. For the most part that really does happen and we do have those nights where things really click and spark. I’m hoping that happens for us every night. We’re human though and things influence us on a daily basis that keeping on the ever upward trajectory is not as easy as your brain will try to tell you it is. At least not for me. It’s the ‘H’ factor; the ‘Human’ factor. Why did I decided to embark on a career that gives me such extremes in emotional outcomes? I experience utter frustration and unimaginable sublimity in the course of a few hours. This is a wide swing of the mental pendulum. No wonder I feel crazy sometimes. Like an addict still on the prowl chasing the dragon it’s those few moments of bliss that helps me to forget the depressing lows I go through. I know it sounds unhealthy but like anything you love you find a way to manage it and you try to put perspective into the self-analyzing of your emotional peaks and valleys. A kind of coping mechanism. After all, there’s more in the day than just playing.
Arriving at the studios where Don and his largely volunteer crew tape the many bands performances, we settle in because as it turns out we still have a lengthy drive after this engagement in an effort to knock out a chunk of our travel day tomorrow. In a perfect world we’d be playing our first and last gig on a tour within a few hours of where we live but due to my current stature in the biz and market forces at work I am not afforded that luxury on a consistent basis. Preparation is already underway with the sound man going through the channels and EQ’ing the room. We set up and allow them to get the drum booth set up. This clear plastic enclosure that is handled with disposable surgical gloves so there are no smudges or scratches laid upon the sound barrier that would show up on camera. I really like this set-up here. It’s a small room that the taping is done in and for the limited audience that is allowed to attend they have put an arrangement of folding chairs in front of us in a straight-forward fashion. Art Tipaldi, publisher and editor of Blues Music magazine is our host and MC. I do a short interview with him in a separate room and then it’s on to the taping a short while to follow.
This is my third time to do this show and I’ve decided to try and do new material this time through. In the end I did manage to adhere to my wishes towards the set list but I slipped in a few repeats due to my feeling a bit uncomfortable and disappointed in my sloppy playing at times. It just happens. You work and work and work and you just have a day where things aren’t going great. In the end I walk up to the soundman and ask him to ‘fix’ things for me in the ‘post production’ of the taping. Smooth out the rough edges and inconsistencies from my fallible ways today. He assures me he’s got my back. Not every performance is authentically live out there. I’ve had some and then again I’ve had some that were edited.
I remember in my days of naiveté I was in the complex of KRLU, the public network on the University of Texas where the show ‘Austin City Limits’ is taped as well as the NPR station KUT is located at and I’m going down in the basement to do a ‘live show’ on the air which at the time was a regular program done on Sunday nights. The show was a coveted gig amongst the local bands. It was a bellwether of sorts because it showed confirmation that this was a band-to-watch and listen for on the scene. While I was in the elevator I ran into Paul Glass, one of the premier players in Austin. He was mostly on the jazz scene but obviously capable in many styles and I saw him play many times with various players and clubs. He was especially particular because he was a mandolin player.
This was way back in the days before the mandolin was in vogue like it is in popularity now. Plus Paul played a ‘Mandocaster’. A custom mandolin that had a ‘70’s style big Fender-like headstock on it. The body was of conventional mandolin appearance but the headstock was where your eyes gravitated towards. Plus it was a kind of sunburst two-tone red. Quite the sight and made all the more impressionable by Paul’s extreme talent he exhibited. The guy was good. Real good. So I said hey and we just start chatting lightly to take up the time of the ride to the subterranean levels, I’m flattered that he even acknowledges me cuz’ I was truly a nobody back then, I think he thought of me as this ubiquitous face buzzing around cuz’ he saw me at a lot of his shows back then. In my early days I was really a constant presence at the jazz shows. I’d go to them all. From the Elephant Room down on Congress to Piggy’s, and West Sixth Street to seeing Suzi Stern play at the Atrium lounge down at the Hyatt on the river. Well truth be told I had a crush on Suzi but I’m pretty sure she just saw me as this adorable ‘puppy-love’ guy that came in from time to time and maybe I might’ve pressed her into awkward zones at times. I had no clue. We’re talking early to mid-80’s at the latest here. Anyway Paul and I both are chatting and we both confess to being down here to play, me on the live Sunday radio show and he’s re-doing some tracks on an earlier Austin City Limits show that he played on. What?! He’s RE-DOING some tracks on ‘THAT’ show?! It wasn’t ‘LIVE’?! He’s being all casual in his off-handed way of informing me and inside I am all in turmoil and confusion. I was such an ingénue back then. I’m sure my jaw was still slightly open when he exited the elevator as I vacantly made my way down the hall to the studio room I was to play in that evening. Wow, what a rube I was.
Tour done and long drive underway, we finish off the night with an overnight stay in Delaware. Started in Maine this day, stopped over in Palmer, Mass, (the home of the famed Smith College), and now we’re in Wilmington, DE. Home tomorrow.
‘The road goes on forever and the party never ends…’