(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

More history: out of suffering, into joy

From nowhere to cool runnings

So, I already wrote about the Nowhere Band. As I mentioned, we painfully faded away and finally broke up. Now my friend, Bob Rogers (the drummer in the Nowhere Band), decided that I really needed to get into another band and he set his mind to finding one for me. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe it's because misery loves company but, more likely, it was to keep me from drifting back into just playing in my bedroom. Every once in a while, he'd call to tell me about a band I should check out because they needed a guitarist.

I even went to an audition, which was a nightmare. They wanted a lead player (great!) but they were more interested in flailing around than making music. The last song, I just turned it up to 11 and played as obnoxiously as possible -- There's a singer? Can't hear him, don't care. It turns out that this was my best song of the night from their point of view, even though I finished about 45 seconds after the rest of the band. They were happy enough but I wasn't interested. Even my earlier forays into punk were more interactive and (at some level) musical. I asked Bob to give it a break.

Still, he called me again within a month and told me about this great reggae band that desperately needed me. Right. Then he told me he had already set up the audition and committed that I'd be there. I had listened to reggae and even knew the difference between reggae and ska but I hadn't really played it before. I had a couple of days before the audition, so I decided to listen to all the reggae I could. I wanted to better understand how the pieces fit together, especially how the guitar contributed. It turns out that it's not all chank-chank;-)

I showed up for the audition and met the band. I talked with them while I set up my rig. It was an interesting mix: a couple of long haired hippie looking guys on bass and guitar/keyboards, another guy on percussion, a female drummer. and a female singer. Dave, the other guitarist, also sang. All of them were pretty cool. First song. "What key are we in and what do you want?" I dive in and it all came together fairly well. Each song, I started with the same question and adapted. By the end of the night, I didn't care so much whether I was in or not, I just knew I had helped make some good music. They went out for a beer afterwards and asked me to come along. As we were heading out of the bar, I said something about looking forward to hearing from them once they made up their minds. "Oh, you're in already. We have another practice next Tuesday and we're playing a gig the Friday after that."

On Tuesday, I took feverish notes for each song: was I playing fills or rhythm? What kind of beat? what key? guitar sound, etc. I got to that first gig and I wasn't sure how it was going to go. We started out playing Guess Who's Coming to Dinner by Black Uhuru. My job: a simple chank beat with a typical flange guitar sound. About two measures in, I notice that Dave is playing my part. Oh, crap. So, I automatically shifted into fill mode -- finding the holes and throwing in some parts without dominating the mix or the space. Dave looked over at me and smiled. I had just passed my first (and really, only) test.

The key question was which is more important? Getting the part right or how the whole band sounded? Of course, it was the latter. I had played in plenty of jams where the idea is for everyone to follow the muse of the group. But this was the first time I had played specific songs where, if someone else screwed their part, your job is to help make that sound good. That first test was a trivial one but it's what we did every time. Dedication to the groove, the whole is more than the parts. We would often have people sit in with our band, which could be unpredictable. But the grounding philosophy held us true. Also, it wasn't an intellectual thing, it was all about feeling the music and instictively finding the right part.

Over the years I played with Cool Runnings, we had plenty of conflicts and occasional infighting but every time we took the stage, the music came first. I've had some of the hottest moments playing for an audience with that band and we formed a deep bond that I still feel. After all of this, I have to thank Bob because it was his effort that pulled me out of a suffering, failed band and showed me the joy I could have, too. I've made it back to Colorado Springs and jammed with Tom, Dave, Gary, Lisa, and Keith (another singer who joined us). Unfortunately, there have been other drummers, since Melanie left after I moved away, but it's still always been about the music.

The barely spoken motto "Dedication to the groove" is one I took to heart for myself and I carry it into every band, every jam I play. It's also what I look for the most when I catch a band. I look for that flicker of eye contact as the bass player shifts his part to cover and the drummer adjusts...


  1. Obviously, I'm not a musician, but the "dedication to the groove" plays out in a whole helluva lot of situations I've been in my life. A team where everyone's dedicated to the groove is a very cool place to be, regardless of what you're trying to accomplish.

  2. That's all too true. Too much of the time it becomes an issue of ego or blaming. Music, politics, or work. Of course, protecting the groove may mean firing (prosecuting) someone;-)

  3. Ego? Blaming?

    Perish the thought!

  4. --chuckle--
    Like the Dead Milkmen said, "VFW."