January-February 2012

OLD AND IN THE WAY

By Dennis Roger Reed

This is an iconic birthday year for me, one of those ones that end in zero. In my case, I’ll be much older than 50 but much younger than 70. We’ve all heard the saying “with age comes wisdom” but I have seen no recent evidence to support that claim.

With my new status as an old fart, I can continue the process of reminiscing about “the good old days” and, of course, talk incessantly about any illnesses or surgeries. But for the purpose of this column, I think I’ll stick to music and age. Folk music is a good music for us older folks. Folk music performers are not required to be youthful or even have a “traditional” attractive appearance. Whatever trepidations you may feel viewing the aging Mick Jagger can be somewhat assuaged by his prime physical condition. I guess the same could be said for Pete Seeger as well, but in folk music the “façade” is less needed, less expected.

So is one supposed to age gracefully in folk music? Depends on your definition of gracefully. Many folk performers continue performing until illness or infirmity makes them stop. Part of this tenacity is the love of the music, but part may come from the reality that most folk musicians don’t have appropriate health insurance. That does probably mean that we will all be facing a lot of boomer singer-songwriter protest songs about Medicare, Social Security and maybe AARP, and stuff like “Song About My Gall Bladder Surgery” (with Powerpoint).

But rather than impart any aged sage advice, I thought I’d mention some of the major accomplishments in my 40+ years in the music “business.”

* I played in a blues rock band that did a St. Patrick’s Day’s gig at a Chinese restaurant. They said the brown stuff in the buffet was corned beef…

* I was once fired from a club gig with every seat in the house filled and a long waiting list. The owner said that our audience was staying for multiple sets and the club wasn’t making much money. I asked if we should’ve mixed up crappy songs in our repertoire to move people on…

* One of my first paying gigs was a wedding reception at a private home, memorable for two reasons. The band’s harmonica player was the groom and he played with us rather than doing the usual “groom at reception” stuff. More striking was having my pickup truck hit by the presiding minister’s wife. He refused to pay for the repairs since I was not an invited guest…

* I once travelled from California to Colorado for a bluegrass festival that actually didn’t exist. Although booked as a festival, it was more of a hip mall opening. Although we were paid well and had nice rooms comped, it was still a big letdown…

* I played a last minute wedding gig where we played the melody for “Darcy Farrow” as the bride and groom exchanged vows, with the bride and part of the wedding party in traditional Japanese dress, and one side of the ceremony being spoken in Japanese…

* My band was banned from a brewery because some of my band members had disparaged the brewery’s beer during a gig. I think they said it tasted spoiled. But another band I was in was booked in the same brewery about a week later, and the owner was not happy to see me. Especially after one of the band members demanded I taste some of the beer, which did seem to have a similarity to Murphy’s Oil Soap. We were banned too. About two months later the owner threatened to kill his partner’s wife, and in the ensuing arrest was discovered to have some drug issues. The place closed…

* A band I was in was booked for a festival in Northern California and we noted that we were the lowest billing: almost all the other bands were folk superstar status. We were thinking “hey, we’re on our way now!” However, once we arrived at the festival site, we found that our band and one other were playing on an “entry stage” near the parking lot, possibly to lure in customers or more optimistically, entertain the long line of folks waiting to get it. That did not turn out to be necessary, as the promoters had done little to let anyone know the festival existed…

* I played a wedding where they hired a banjo player and a guitarist but didn’t want any bluegrass music…

* I have played more than one event where there were camel rides...

* I played a super market grand opening where a 5’3” celebrity impersonator was an almost perfect Clint Eastwood…

* I played a club in Newport the night of the holiday boat parade. About an hour into my night, the last customer left the premises. For the next couple of hours, the staff sat and listened while I played, watching the literally thousands of revelers walk by without coming in…

* I played a wedding where they forgot to cue the band and without knowing that the bride and groom were walking down the aisle, I called a song in the wrong key and we mangled it as they walked to the altar. No one seemed to notice…

* At the same ceremony, grandpa and grandma were called up to honor them as part of the wedding. Grandpa broke wind for a seriously long time. No one seemed to notice… but we sure laughed like six year olds once we got in the car to go home…

* Played a couple of festivals far enough north in British Columbia that the sun didn’t go down until nearly midnight, almost mandating that “jam ‘til you drop” as the truth…

* My band played a museum courtyard folk concert that faced out to one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. As were loading our equipment at the end of the event, a Los Angeles police car pulled up and chatted with my son who was helping us with the instruments. “Someone called them and said there was a loud band playing around here…”

* A Belgian publication once stated that one of my songs was about the digestive and elimination difficulties experienced by someone who eats fish bones. I had no idea…

* We were on stage performing at a bluegrass festival near Sequoia Park when a tour bus pulled in the parking lot. The fog was too dense to view the General Sherman tree, so the resourceful tour guide, with over an hour to kill, sees the festival. He tells the group of French tourists that we’re one of the premier American bands. We sold CDs and signed autographs for a long time that day…

Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.


  

All Columns by Dennis Roger Reed