Keith and friends at Java Joe’s — 29Jun2008

Randy, one of the “regulars” at Java Joe’s, had an idea to start a new (Sunday afternoon) Open Mic with a new rule: No “solos”. He wants to get people to group up, either with their real band, or better yet, to create an ad-hoc band on the fly. This should give more guys, more time, to play. It’s also less “serious”, ‘cuz you’re not plugging some future performance, you’re just having fun.

I was stoked ‘cuz I thought it would be fun to have a bigger band to play with. Maybe get some drums, bass, background vocals. Warren couldn’t make it, but I went anyway, and, inexplicably, Daleen and the girls came along. (They won’t make *that* mistake again.)

We got there pretty close to the start, though not many others did. Randy had brought a *huge* sound system, set up with lots of mics on stands, monitors everywhere, huge speakers, and a “sound man” station out in the audience where it belongs. Gary had set up a full drum set, and was camped out, ready to play with/for anybody who came up.

A guy named Mark went first, but he was new and hadn’t recruited anybody to join him, so it was just him and Gary. After him, a guy with an electric got up and just jammed some random stuff for a while, while Gary gamely tried to lay a beat down behind.

Another regular, Neal, was acting as M.C., and kind of spotted me out to go third, since there was nobody else (except himself! And Randy!). So, while the electric was playing, I asked Randy to play bass with me (by now having the impression that Gary on drums was a “given”). I thought we’d go with “Carolina In My Mind”, ‘cuz it’s widely known and I think I do a pretty good job with it. And I thought “Desperado” couldn’t miss. Randy looked through my list and wanted to do something “laid back”, and chose “Wonderful Tonight”, which has (of course — it’s an Eric Clapton song) a distinctive electric guitar lead line throughout, so he recruited his friend Troy to come fake that.

So we got up. I had been hoping that Patrick, a known high-harmony singer, would be there, but he wasn’t (yet!). Another guy, Scott, typically adds harmony, but he was out on a business trip. But that’s OK, I’ve got a full band, no need to get greedy.

We started with “Carolina”, but it turns out that the bass line is very intricate and tricky, and poorly notated on my sheet, so Randy, despite being scary-good normally, was pretty lost the whole time. Troy (wisely) hung back, and drumming is drumming, so no problem there. But the result was pretty catastrophic ‘cuz Randy’s bass line was all messed up, and my guitar’s lower three strings were completely inaudible. Naturally, the top 3 were way too loud, to compensate. I couldn’t hear the bass notes to play well, and Randy couldn’t hear ’em to try to follow along. Ack.

Anyway, we got through it, and moved on to “Desperado” (click for video), a much more normally structured, and well known, tune. Of course, I’ve transposed it to a lower key than the recording, so if the guys already knew it, they’d be off. But we got through it pretty well — Randy could follow my sheet better, and Troy just played some riffs in between the lines. The monitor mix was still terrible, though, so I complained and got some adjustments made.

Third up: “Wonderful Tonight“. Troy knew the song, but not how to play it, but he’s very good, and figured it out quickly enough. My problem was that I fake that lead line on my guitar while fingerpicking the chords, too — so if Troy’s gonna play The Line, and I don’t need to, what do I play instead? I’d never worked out what the vanilla chords would be like if I wasn’t playing The Line. So this time, Randy was fine with the easy bass line, Troy had his part figured out, and *I* was the one that was screwed up. On my own song.

But it went OK, and apparently Randy was having fun, and it was “his party”, so he called for us to do another one, and we quickly settled on “Something“. Again, I do it in a lowered key, so Troy was a bit thrown, but Randy faked the bass line well, and it came out OK.

The advantage of having the family there was that I could prevail on them to take some video, and Acacia volunteered. I posted the last three songs (links above) — I left out “Carolina” ‘cuz it was a mess, and Acacia took the video from her seat way in the back, so you can’t see anything anyway. The sound from the monitors was pretty awful, but I just played and sang on faith (I’m getting way too used to having to do that!). Turns out that the sound in the room wasn’t much better — the bass (both my guitar and Randy’s bass) is pretty non-existent, and the voice is terribly muffled-sounding. The drums sound OK, though!

Anyway, it was fun, and I learned a lot. First: how it works. Second: wait until much later in the afternoon, so the sound gets better dialed-in, and more “band mate” options show up. Third: pick easier songs. Beforehand. And bring decipherable (by non-me people) chord sheets.

And, of course, my family learned: Don’t go with Dad to a boring Open Mic.


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