Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rodney Who?

IT HAPPENS A lot. People come up and they squint and they get this determined look on their faces, and they say, "Are you the guy who works for the paper?"

When I'm off, I'm off. I will talk to people about work stuff, but most of the time I just want to leave it at the office.

The other night at a Cheeseburgers gig a gal approached me, called me a name I won't repeat, and said she "had a bone to pick" with me.

It can't end well. It can't. I politely told her to call me at the office. I really wanted to go Chef Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible on her. But I didn't.

She persisted. It was about "bullbleep" I was writing about a family member.

There is way, way, way more to this story. Way more. I can't go into it. Let's just say she was leaning to port and in the morning she'd be somewhat sober but still misguided.

So I wasn't going to win. Fortunately the next set was about to start.

You can't play when you are mad or distracted. You put it out of sight and mind. I thought, I'm not going to let somebody who has no freaking clue win. And that was that.

There's a place and time for everything. Let's talk, at that time.

We'll both feel better about it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Every gig has a story

WE JUST FINISHED three shows in three nights. Now I can't move.

One thing about playing in the Cheeseburgers - it's a lot of fun, but the morning after a gig ain't pretty. Just what was the license plate of that rock and roll truck that ran us over, anyway?

Throw in hanging out with Gus Macker Saturday and Sunday for a few hours, and it was a very long but fun weekend.

It's interesting how every show is a little different. Every venue and crowd has certain dynamics. Some shows you bust your butt and nobody seems to care, others rock from the first song.

Our roadie, Frank Haxel, likes to say "We'll sleep when were dead" and "Every gig has a story." He is so right on so many levels.

Friday night we played at One Restaurant in downtown Quincy, a converted movie theater with a big stage and really cool atmosphere. There was a large dinner crowd there and a lot of them stuck around for the first few sets. By the end of the night it had dwindled to maybe 40 people, but they were all still really into it, especially the wild and crazy Gus Macker crew from West Michigan. Gus himself, Scott McNeal, even made an appearance and wanted to know if he could borrow some of our "props" for special Macker appearances.

It was especially heartening to see the guys from the young Quincy bands Somewhere In Between and Unknown Faces. I respect them because they play and write their own music, and they got a huge charge out of seeing the "old guys" play. What I hope they take away  is our love for music and the whole show aspect of what we do. We entertain and engage, not an easy thing to learn for a young band.

Saturday night we were at the South Side Boat Club in Keokuk, Iowa, This is one of my favorite places to play because the people are nuts and know how to have a good time. It was packed from the start and we experienced the dreaded "falling into the microphone stand" moment during the first set. There is no stage in the SSBC, just us in the corner, so the people are right there and dancing up a storm.

Unfortunately a lot of them left after the third set so the energy level dropped a hair , but we finished strong and the people left were appreciative.

Last night we were at the Quincy Country Club for a private party. Weddings and private parties are crap shoots much of the time, you just never know if you will be background music or actually engage the audience. This one took a while because we were outside, it was warm, and people were more into listening than dancing. Matt the manager took care of us and the people were great, so we took it all in stride.

Former Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz was there with his 2-year-old granddaughter Nancy, cute as a button, and when we played "Brown Eyed Girl" she started jumping up and down. She knows it as the "La-Dee-Da Song," of course! Music is for all ages and  the Scholz's told us they had a blast.

Suggestion if you book a band outdoors - put the bar by the band. That's where people will congregate, and if it's not far from the action, they'll get into it a whole lot more.

Near the end of the third set we were sort of cruising. Then we played "Red Solo Cup" and wouldn't you know it, a whole flock of people scurried down to start dancing and singing along.

For the life of me I can't figure out why some songs get people going. I'm not a huge fan of the song, but Burt and Jeff were the ones who came up with the idea and it's a crowd pleaser every time. We had 'em rocking the rest of the night and even played the "Fifth Set" and stayed an extra hour. After we finished a bunch of them went swimming in the pool, and you know it's a good gig if they just jump in after partying with us all night. (Chill. No shedding of clothing took place. That we know of.)

Today I'm so sore I can't hardly sit down. I declined an invitation to play golf today at QCC, which really means I'm worn out. It's a good Memorial Day to remember our service men and woman, and recover from three eventful gigs.

We are playing Saturday night again. Just one gig on a weekend?

We'll survive.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Love ya, Gus

THIS WEEKEND IS the annual Gus Macker 3 on 3  basketball tournament in Quincy. It's one of my favorite weekends of the year.

Sadly, for the first time in my 15 plus years in Quincy, I will not be volunteering the entire Saturday and Sunday. I'll be down for a few hours Saturday and maybe a few Sunday, but Cheese and Life is getting in the way.

The Cheeseburgers are playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Combined with working in the store, I will not be able to devote the full two days.

I'm sad about it. I love working for Gus. I worked for the national staff for seven years and had a lot of adventures traveling across the Midwest for tournaments. I miss the crew and the fun we had, but I don't miss driving long hours or getting up at dawn 30 on a Saturday morning.

I will get into this a little more in my Saturday Whig column, but for now I'll just say Quincy has a great tournament because of the organizers (Exchange Club) and good Gus Busters, or court officials. And I'll get a bit of a Macker fix by hanging out Saturday afternoon the Dream Court, where the youngsters are taken off their regular court and get the full treatment - starting lineups, play by play, MVP awards and more.

Welcome back, Gus. Love ya lots and it will be a great weekend, as usual!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Burglaries and owning a business

THE OTHER DAY the West Quincy Pawn Shop got hit, and hit hard.

A brazen burglar smashed the window, crawled through, stole a bunch of guns and jewelry, and left the same way he came in. I went over there the next morning, and the Marion County Sheriff's deputies and owner gave us access to the scene.

Click here for my story. And the video I put together - old dogs learning new tricks.

I felt horrible for the owner. Then I thought, "What if it was me?"

Sheryl and I have poured our hearts and souls into Second String Music. We aren't in necessarily the greatest of neighborhoods, and I can say that because we live a block away. We have really good people living around us and lots of dirtballs, too - some right across and down the street.

We have an excellent security system, and solid deadbolt lock on the door, and a huge streetlight right across the street.

We are hoping against hope we don't get victimized. If I walked in on somebody who broke in and was stealing stuff, I'm not sure what I do, but it probably wouldn't be good for either side.

Part of our Calftown Neighborhood Watch mantra is to be the eyes and ears, but never take the law into our own hands.

Hopefully we'll never be in that situation, or have to worry about a break-in.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Young bands, and watch out for music vampire suckers

SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT a sun-splashed Vancil Performing Arts parking lot, a young band played in public for what I think was the first time.

They are Vancil students and under the tutelage of Lenny Alderton. They decided to put on a free Mother's Day concert for family and friends, and wow, they were pretty good for kids age 14 or so. They played some classic rock covers, new country, blues, a variety of songs.

Playing in public is not an easy thing to do, and it's a lot like playing an instrument - you have to want to do it, and the more you do it, the better you get. I think these young people have tremendous potential, and I wish them all the luck in the world.

They will need it. And talent has nothing to do with it.

I wish I could tell them playing music is nothing but fun and games. Well, the games part is right. Just wait until you call a venue and the owner laughs in your face, or refuses to pay you, or changes the deal.

Just wait until a gal calls you to play a benefit for free, and you can't do it, and she gets mad and calls you two-faced. "Well, you did so and so's benefit, but not ours?"

The best places to play are the ones run by people who operate by the handshake rule. You do this, we'll do that, and our word is good.

Lesson No. 1 - in the music business, that rarely happens. Lesson No. 2 - get a contract.

The Cheeseburgers had a gig lined up this Saturday. It was set up by a guy who is starting a foundation for a worthy cause. I do not know why things went south, but he emailed me Monday and said the gig was off.

It might have had something to do with the fact he was charging too much for tickets, but that's just speculation and a dangerous path to travel.

So we are out from playing a good-paying gig, and we don't get a dime even though it's on a prime late spring weekend. We won't have anything to do with him again unless we have a signed contract, and even that is doubtful.

Word gets around in music and band circles. You learn who to trust, who will be good on his or her word. But you only learn the hard way.

Same with getting to the gig and playing in front of three people, or the bass player refusing to do certain songs, or the guitar player throwing a fit because the band won't play the song in E instead of B flat, or the drummer's wife making him quit, or the singer getting too drunk before practice. 

This is the stuff I wish I could tell these young people, but they'll figure it out.

This Friday, May 18th, Devonte Clark, Unknown Faces, Somewhere In Between and Covet's Avail play at Turner Hall for "Rock Back to Summer."  Come out and support our NEW local bands and musicians.  They are good guys, good players, with all kinds of dreams waiting to happen.

Go get 'em, kids.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday mornings in the music store

IT IS SATURDAY morning and I am spending it in Second String Music.

I have decided it's the little things that make it worthwhile. Little things like ...

- Hearing our guitar teacher, Warren Riley, laugh at LuckyCat Vegas and Fast Eddie, our store cats, as they fight over Chair Rights.

- Listening to Lenny Kravitz.

- Wondering why the gal who just wandered in isn't wearing shoes. And why she still has a hospital bracelet on her wrist.

- The Hood, in general. Duh.

- Eddie jumping into my lap and purring like a mad kitten.

'87 Gibson Epiphone Nouveau Spotlight
- Figuring out which guitar to bring to tonight's Cheeseburger gig, a wedding at one of the local halls. The rare '87 Gibson Epiphone Nouveau Spotlight I just acquired from Warren in a trade for a 12-string acoustic? The trusty Fender Highway Strat? The Aria goldtop? Enee Meanie Minie Mo ....

- And the Gibson Epiphone wins. For tonight.---^

- Coffee.  Even when Sheryl makes it, Yum.

- Dreaming of a Lake Michigan Beach. Three impossible months away. GUH.

- Appreciating the fact my back is feeling really good for the first time in years. Thank you Emily and the Nu Fit For You folks for the Monday night Pilates sessions. They are working!

- Wondering when I'm going to get a chance to play golf. Big tournament coming up with The Boss and I haven't played in almost a year. How do you hit that stupid little ball, anyway?

- My wife being amazingly organized and running this business while I goof around and strum stuff. That's not a little thing, by the way.  (She can fix things with a hammer and a screw driver!)

- Our Six String Heroes latest student, Chris, who graduates today. Chris needed something to do and he's found a release in playing the guitar. "I'm sleeping better at night," he says. The power of music. HUGE!

Our store cats....  Alex and Eddie
- Fast Eddie crashing into something in the back room.

- A good keyboard solo.

- A sidewalk crack that doesn't have weeds in it.

- The good people putting on a benefit this afternoon for the late Keith Mullin. Might have to put a bid on some of The Who stuff.

- Kevin Reed at Reed Promotional Media. Stay tuned, cause it could get really interesting around here.

- Lunch. Outta here to make the Saturday Hy-vee on Harrison run!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Going back to Vegas ... Music

I WAS ASSIGNED to cover a meeting tonight. It was at a child's consignment shop at 20th and Broadway, the old Vegas Music building.

Halloween, Funions at The Elks
My heart sank when I got the assignment. Vegas Music was owned by Pat Cornwell, who played drums in my band, The Funions. We used to practice in the back room of the store and we had some righteous times in there, sometimes even learning a few songs. The fridge was always full before practice started, if you know what I mean.

Pat got sick in September 2010, and died two months later. The store closed and the building has been vacant since. I have trouble even driving down Broadway past the store. After he died, Sheryl and I decided to open Second String Music, and we bought some of the Vegas Music stuff from Chris, Pat's son, to get started.

Pat always said the building was haunted. He and Warren Riley told many a tall tale about all the strange things they experienced. Lucky Cat Vegas, who now lives in our music store, was part of the store's haunted history - ask Warren about the times Lucky used to come down the stairs with blood red eyes.

One night we were practicing in the back room and a strange smell started drifting around. It was right before Halloween, and Pat simply shrugged, then reminded us the building used to be a funeral home.  Once he took the time to show us where they drained the blood in the basement.  Warren jumped out and scared the crap out of Sheryl and her sister Stephanie.

Open Mic at Streeters
Sheryl noticed the other day the consignment store had opened, and wanted me to go over there to give them our store business card. I resisted because I have too many memories and Pat's death still hits hard. 

Tonight, I had no choice. I had to go over there to write about the daycare meeting. As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, the memories started flooding back, and I felt like I was floating when I walked in through the front doors.

Not much has changed, except a bad paint job on some of the walls. Not seeing the counter in the main room was jarring. The stairs were closed off. No guitars hung from walls - instead, clothes and toys were scattered around the floors.

The meeting was in back, the old practice room, and it seemed bigger because Pat always had a bunch of PA stuff crammed back there.  But it was the same room, same marks on the wall by the outlets, same carpet with beer stains, probably.

Pat with Tim Corrigan, Johnson, and Jeff VanKanegan 70's
It wasn't much of a meeting, and I had to wait to talk to a couple of people. It was really hard, I felt like jumping out of my skin, and I half expected to see Pat jump out from around the corner, like the practical joker he was.

When I got done I felt very heavy, like Pat was still there and was trying to tell me something. It probably would have gone like this - "Can you believe what these people are doing to this building?" Something like that, anyway.

The current tenants say they've experienced some strange things after moving in. They asked me if stuff ever happened when Pat was in the building.

I just smiled and thought, I'll just let Pat tell them himself.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Music Contests

I KNOW A guy named George Cate who plays a lot of music and is really, really good at what he does. George plays in the Quincy band Predawn Hour, and he's got a cool acoustic thing going, too.

Rick was one of five finalist at The Local Q Musicfest last Friday, and he did a great job with our Six String Heroes buddy Steve Stoner. There were four other acts, all unique and interesting, and in the end Rick did not win.

He put a Facebook post out saying he was OK with that, and that music shouldn't really be a contest, anyway.

There are reasons to have contests and I support them, but in general I'm going to agree with Rick.

What was really good about the event was that it was acoustic and the singers couldn't hide behind a backing track - they had to play.

Sunday I helped at the Tri-States Got The Talent show, and how the judges picked winners was beyond me. There were a few really good acts and you can't be critical of a young person getting up in front of people and busting his or her butt.

The acts I liked the most were the ones with real instruments, not the karaoke singers. Again, I get it - you can't have a band play for every song.

A few years ago I was a judge for the Colgate Country Showdown and Madd Hoss Jackson was the backup band for the singers, and it really helped weed out the good from the not so good. Playing to a track is one thing, singing live with live musicians is quite another.

Music is so subjective. So is judging. There is no perfect system. And don't even get me started on this American Idol crap, which doesn't promote talent but does hype the hype.

The bottom line? Contests are a way to promote talent. Get out and support your local acts! 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Miss you, mom

SEVEN YEARS AGO today, I was sitting in a courtroom at a sentencing for a particularly nasty sex offender. Funny, how you remember certain things.

A Herald-Whig employee, Phil Carlson, walked to the courthouse and handed me a note to call my brother. I did, from the state's attorney's office.

"We lost our mom today," my brother said. And the world started spinning.

I walked back to the office through Jail Alley, blubbering like a baby. I believe I wrote the story about the sentencing, and it sucked, but I didn't care. My mom had died of a blood clot, just a few months before retiring as a school teacher.

The rest of the week is a blur. We spread her ashes on my Uncle Peter's Hill on Lake Michigan. It was good to be with my brother and sisters and friends and family. The night we buried her we had people over at my sister's house in Grand Rapids, and the beer helped wash away a lot of pent up anger as a fierce thunderstorm raged and we argued about the Red Wings and life itself.

So I'm remembering seven years ago today and seven year ago this week, but mostly I'm remembering my mom, a gentle soul who had ups and downs in life, but never lost her laughter and spirit.

I miss her calling me and saying, "Hi Rod!" I miss her scribbled letters and her optimism. I miss her fierce sense of independence. I miss her love for her kids and her grandkids, and how much she wanted to retire and travel to see them.

Miss you, mom. A piece of me went with you. I will see you again.

I will always remember you.