Make no mistake, paying your dues, and working the club circuit is no easy way to simply try and make a mark on the music world (let alone make a living). And, for most young musicians, it is pretty much the only path forward there is.
I know both my partners Steve Moyer and Gene McCaffrey have paid these dues, and as younger guys than I. Meaning, they did it as a job, which is indeed a hard row to hoe.
I have probably been playing dive bars off and on for the past five years, but for me it is simply because playing out is so much fun (and, since I make a comfy living outside of music, no pressure). But, at my advanced age, I don’t really have any illusions that anyone will ever discover the Biletones. In fact, though we are pretty disciplined, practicing at least every week, I know we will never be good or tight enough to be considered a serious band.
Of course that does not diminish the pleasure, for just a little over a week ago the Biletones played Rooster’s Roadhouse in Alameda, drawing a pretty typical crowd for us of about 75 folks. Which is actually not so bad for a bunch of guys in their 50’s and 60’s (well, me anyway).
Truth is I have never really played a huge venue (about 400 is the most) and I am not knocking the Arena circuit, but truth is also that I have very little use for it any more.
The best concerts I ever saw were generally at Winterland, the Fillmore, and a great old club in San Francisco that passed on a la CBGB’s and Maxwell’s, The Old Waldorf. For, I saw the Cars (first US tour), U2 (first American tour), Ian Hunter (with Mick Ronson), Hall and Oates (during their punk period, with a young G. E. Smith and Ray Cooper), The Records, Bram Tchaikovsky, Leo Kottke, Romeo Void and a lot of other bands in a venue that only held about 250 people.
There is nothing like seeing a band–especially a hot one–in a little club, however. Nothing like it for the band, and nothing like it for the crowd, for the energy feeds symbiotically, elevating the experience all around.
More to the point, I also find I am just not that interested in elbowing my way through thousands of people to sit half-a-mile away from the stage (which at my age I cannot really see too clearly anyway). In fact, most of the time I don’t even need an opening act. Let alone standing in line for 20 minutes for the honor of using a Port-o-Potty.
As it was, this past week I have been in Chicago, doing some work, but then helping Diane’s cousin Cherie and her husband Mike move into this cool house they built in Woodstock, about 40 miles northwest from the center of town.
On Saturday, I had committed to watch the Blackhawks and Bruins duke it out with Mike and his friend Jeff at a local bar, Rosie O’Hare’s, where their friend Steve Hopp, a carpenter by day, oversees the smoking of meat at night (it is good, too).
Now, I am not much of a hockey fan, but watching sports in Chicago is generally a lot more fun than watching sports in the Bay Area. Not that ATT does not rock, or even the Coliseum when the Athletics are hot. Plus, the Niners, Sharks, and Warriors all have devoted followings, and even the piece of shit Raiders (call me bitter) have the “Black Hole.”
But, football here is so different than at home, and these locals go ape shit over their hockey team (I am actually looking forward to watching the next game with Jeff and Mike, and like I said, I am not a hockey fan).
Anyway, after the game–in fact we got a two song taste before Saturday’s overtime began–the local band Jimmy Nick and Don’t Tell Mama completely blitzed the place with solid Chicago Blues.
A young band (I believe Nick is just 22 years old), grabbing the blues tradition pretty well, these guys have a great local reputation, in fact the clip here was recorded just a few weeks back at the very same Rosie’s. (They laid down a great cover of Los Lobos’ “I Got Loaded,” that featured a blazing guitar solo centered around the theme to “The Andy Griffith Show.”)
After we split from Rosie’s, Mike drove the long way back home, showing me that rural Chicago has a pretty active bar scene, and I really liked that. Kind of like I like that my mates Steve and Tom Muscarella always implore us to go to brick and mortar record stores.
For though I appreciate the fact that bulk purchasing allows big business to offer lower prices, there is something indeed to be said for supporting small business. For, those small businesses–and I am talking about mom and pop establishments, not companies like Koch Industries that masquerades as small business because only two guys own it—are largely our neighbors and community.
So, we should do what we can to keep them rocking.