dan may w/vonda sheppard at sellersville theatre

some time back, i posted the following statement on a music industry messageboard called the velvet rope:

RE: which instrument has the most egomanical idiots?

here’s the deal, folks. some of you know this already, but i’m gonna come right out and say it.

batshit crazy isn’t married to a single instrument. it knows no bounds. you can, however, measure it by degree of talent.

think of it as a giant tree with three categories of rings – the outside most populated, the inside least populated.

on the outside are all the frat boys who just bought their first axe at walmart, the douchebags who got up at karaoke night once too often and started to believe the drunk chicks at the bar who fawned all over them, and the pimple-faced computer geeks who are crankin’ out their own special flavor of fruity loops on their PC’s in their bedrooms.

this ring of the tree is the worst, because whether by any fault of their own or not, they’re completely ill-equipped to do anything of merit or value, partly because of their inexperience, but more so because of their ignorant bravado.

the middle ring of the tree is almost a gradient unto itself, because it’s comprised on the outside of those who have stuck with it long enough to get into a band or two, play a couple of gigs at the VFW, and start to think that their own shit don’t stink because they got a little feedback from the honeys at the trailer park. in the middle of the gradient are guys who have been playing for years, who’ve got some serious mileage on them, have maybe had some degree of success, and maybe made a record or two…and have developed either a mental disorder or a chemical/alcohol dependency to quell either their self-hatred or their disillusionment with the world, because nothing turned out the way they thought it would, or the way they felt they deserved.

the inner ring of this gradient is composed of people like syd barrett and ryan adams and kurt cobain and jaco pastorius and charlie parker, et cetera…people who were just so fucking brilliant that they couldn’t help but be as nutty as a stuckey’s pecan log. makers of beautiful music and master purveyors of batshit crazy.

the inner ring is comprised of the fewest people….guys who play their asses off, are incredibly talented, and yet they manage to be personable, funny, easy going, and humble.

the absolute best musicians i’ve ever worked with had almost no ego whatsoever – because they’ve developed their talent to the extent that there are no lingering self-doubt issues. they know (whether they convey it or not) that they’ve got the goods, and they don’t need to shoot you down or “put you in your place” to prove it. they come in to a gig or a session, play their asses off, smile and enjoy the company of their fellow musicians, and go home at the end of the night content in the knowledge that they just knocked one out of the park.

batshit crazy is at its highest concentration on the outside of the tree, its lowest on the inside. same can be said of talent.

as an aside, a music store owner friend of mine once told me that someone sponsored a survey some years ago regarding rental defaults – which instruments were the most common victims of rental theft and rental default, and they found that instances of rental default increased with the diminishing amount of talent necessary to play the instrument in question.

least to most:

strings (violin, viola, cello)
woodwinds
keyboard and keyboard-related
drums
guitar/bass
vocal/PA/karaoke
DJ equipment

pretty telling, although whether it ties into batshit crazy or not is debatable.

now, you might ask why i’d be bringing this up when i’m supposed to be talking about a dan may show at sellersville…and you’d be well within your rights to be curious.

with dan may and company at sellersville
with dan may and company at sellersville

the reason it occured to me at all was because of the circumstances of the show…dan and the band were opening for vonda sheppard, who was travelling with a road manager/front of house soundguy and two musicians – a bassist and a guitar player. there had been a communication snafu regarding backline, and bruce ranes put me in touch with her road manager, and we managed – in the course of just a couple of phone calls – to get everyone on the same page. they needed a guitar tech, and i offered to take the job so they wouldn’t have to hire someone blindly, and i brought a couple of amps for her guitarist, james ralston, to try out – he’d asked for my deluxe reverb, but knowing the room as well as i do, i brought my princeton for him to check out as well, and he ended up using it instead (i also had the modded vibrolux reverb out in the car…just in case). the band came in and were very gracious and appreciative of the fact that we’d rustled up the backline for the show – they were friendly, easy to talk to (and work for, in my specific experience), and invited tommy and i up for the encore, which included “searching my soul”, “chain of fools”, and “tell him” (i played lap steel on all three).

seriously…four of the nicest people i’ve ever come across in this kind of situation.

dan and vonda after the show
dan and vonda after the show

sometimes in these shows where you’re opening for someone, there’s an air of superiority that’s lorded over you during soundcheck. you’re treated like caterers or worse…you’re snickered at, marginalized, or otherwise belittled (even if not outwardly, because hey – nobody does THAT anymore) and eventually, you’re “allowed” to go up onstage and play your own shit THROUGH your own shit for a few minutes, then hustled off so that the headliner can come up and abuse your stuff however they see fit, and then scurry offstage the minute they’re done without so much as a “thank you”.

now, it should be said that my absolute worst backline sharing experience at sellersville is head and shoulders above the scenario i just described, but there have been a couple of moments that have bugged me out in the past…which is what makes it so refreshing when you get to work with musicians who are confident enough in their own abilities to accept what life throws at them and work through it anyway. in my experience, the backline request can be interpreted as everything from “a loose guideline to what we’d like to have available, as long as the gear is in the spirit of what we’re asking for” to “if i said i wanted a ’67 blackface deluxe reverb, it damn well better BE a ’67…not a ’66 or a ’68, but a ’67. period.”

and in those latter instances, it’s usually some douchebag who reads waaay too many articles in vintage guitar that makes a stink about his amp…and often, they’re playing something like a mexican fender telecaster through it – or some other cheap guitar that certainly doesn’t perform well enough in their hands to warrant the expense of going out and hunting down their Specific Flavor Of Impossible.

i’m not sure why i feel compelled to vent about every other asshole on the planet to illustrate what great people the vonda sheppard crew are, but i’ve obviously got a bit to say about it…but i guess it’s just like anything else – when the bar is set overly low, you really stick out when you come in way above it.

the view from the tech nest
the view from the tech nest

for instance – since i had agreed to tech for vonda’s guitarist, i brought in my boss TU-12 tuner…which i thought to be something of an industry standard for stage tuning – and yet, when i’d tune james’ guitars, they’d always be just a hair flat compared with his stage tuners. it goes without saying that some guys would shit their pants in this situation, but james just tweaked everything in on the first pass, and he tuned from the stage for the rest of the show…without a single complaint.

and this, my friends, is just the kinda guy i referred to in my velvet rope post leading off this diatribe…“guys who play their asses off, are incredibly talented, and yet they manage to be personable, funny, easy going, and humble.”

so, anyway…there was a dan may set in the midst of all this man-love for vonda’s band – yes, there was.

because we were bringing the backline, we had – shall we say – a degree of flexibility, in terms of how we manned the show. we opted for something similar to the steel city/XPN shows a few weeks back, and we did a basic guitar/bass/drums instrumentation with the full vocal onslaught (since heather is back in the fold now, perky as ever).

barebones at sellersville
barebones at sellersville

i’m getting the sense that dan is finding a degree of fulfillment from this particular flavor of stripped-down-ness, especially since anthony is back among us and we’re finally getting to explore everything that he and i are capable of…and it’s sounding great, but i’m looking forward to getting to do one or two more “full strength” shows at some point down the road. i also want to try to start making some time to explore bookings…it’s been difficult to find the time of late to put in the necessary phone work and such, but change is in the wind and there’s no guarantee that this will be the case for much longer. but, i speculate. who the hell knows?

dan may, et cetera at sellersville
dan may, et cetera at sellersville

at any rate, it was one of those gigs where everybody loved everybody else at the end of the night, and you can never have too many of those. the folks at sellersville feel like family to us, and i see some of them more often than i’d choose to see some folks i’m related to…it’s easily in the top three of my favorite places to play, and i don’t see it going anywhere anytime soon.

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