WARNING: this post contains examples of extreme humiliation and insult to injury. not suitable for children.
i have to admit, i wasn’t really familiar with daryle singletary before this gig came up – i knew who he was, but i hadn’t really been exposed to his music at all. they were looking for a guitar player who doubled on pedal steel, and i knew his material leaned more toward traditional country stuff…i grew up on traditional country, i’ve listened to it all my life, i’ve played it since i started playing guitar, and after listening to some of the sound clips on his website, it sounded within the realm of what i’m capable of doing, so i put my hat in the ring.
steve hawkins, the drummer, was the bandleader and also the de facto road manager for the band, and he was my point of contact for the gig – we had a couple of phone conversations about the band, and he gave me a little background. the guy i was replacing for this gig, danny mohammed, played both guitar and pedal steel at the same time. he actually sat at the pedal steel with a tele in his lap and switched back and forth between the two – sometimes doing so multiple times during the same song. i went onto youtube and found some videos of the band with him in them, and it’s a little hard to hear exactly what’s going on because of the sound quality, but sure enough – the dude was switch hitting in the same at-bat. wow.
so…with their expectations set that high, it was a pretty daunting proposition. i told steve during one of several conversations that we had about the gig that i wasn’t sure how i’d fare, in terms of playing both at the same time. it was one of several misgivings i had about the job, all of which i conveyed to steve beforehand – but he said to send them some clips and – if i had any video on youtube – to send that to him as well. i had some stuff that highlighted my abilities on both instruments, but nothing that was in the vein of the kind of music daryle did, but i sent what i had, and – to my surprise, honestly – they seemed interested.
i offered to come to nashville to do a live audition, but steve told me that they had a gig booked for july 3rd at a ranch-slash-resort in platina, california (it’s in one of those bare spots you see on the map in northern california between sacramento and redding), and that he’d send me a recording of a show to learn the material from, and they’d just have me fly out with the band to do the gig as a live audition.
quite a vote of confidence.
steve is a great guy…he’s been a road dog for years, and he’s a solid player, too…and i knew we’d get along well, because we hit it off on the phone. and he told me that daryle was a great guy to work for, that the guys in the band were good guys, solid players – and after looking over their schedule, it seemed pretty doable for me – they were doing what most of the bands who occupy their position in the food chain do…most of the gigs were weekend jaunts, usually thrown together with a couple of tie-ins scattered about here and there – and certainly, the business hasn’t become kinder to any of us these past couple of years – but they’re doing about as well as anyone else in their weight class. so i asked him about travel and the like – do you guys fly out to all your dates? do you generally do backline deals? how do you deal with rehearsal? y’know…the important stuff. steve said that “this was a fly date, because there was only one show, and it’s so far away…but we usually travel by coach to most of the dates.”
ok, so – yeah, i know how silly this whole bus infatuation thing is. yeah, i’m a grown man, and yeah – i’m a little too old (AND jaded, really) to still be fantasizing about things that are, honestly, beyond the realm of reality in my own particular situation.
i know all this…but really, it doesn’t change a lot. the fantasy is still intact.
i’ve had more success as a musician than i deserve, really – for the effort that i’ve put into it, i feel as though i’ve done quite well. i’ve kept my calendar relatively full, i’ve had people i respect say really nice things about me, and i’ve gotten to play both alongside and with some of the musicians i idolized as a kid. people routinely ask me to back them onstage, and have honored me by asking me to lend my talents to their records – it’s been a long, strange, wonderful trip…right up to this moment.
but the one thing – the one thing that i’ve yet to accomplish is…the bus. it’s the one thing i always wanted to do, but never have…a gig with a national act who’s far enough up the food chain to still be able to afford to travel by bus. i’m sure part of it is a validation or status thing, but the biggest attraction has always been the (perceived) comeraderie of being in a kickass band and seeing the world through the windshield of a silver eagle (or, these days, a prevost or MCI, i guess). that whole romantic-slash-nostalgic fantasy of being a part of something like what i conjured in my head when i used to stare at the photos in the insert that came with running on empty…
…oh, come on. you had the same fantasy i did. otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be reading all this hogwash.
but – yeah. well, there you go. now that’s out there. kinda awkward. but no puttin’ it back in the bottle now.
no, wait a minute…i’m not apologizing for that. it’s my little quirky fantasy, and just because you’re in on it doesn’t mean that i have to trivialize or ignore it. i always wanted to be on the bus. and not in a pamela des barres way, either.
so, i gotta admit…that became part of the carrot when this gig was on the table. there, i said it. shallow? maybe.
anyway, steve told me he’d send me a “show disk” – which turned into sending me a series of MP3’s of what weren’t even soundboard recordings of a live show…they sounded vaguely like copies of bootlegs, really – i mean, i could tell what keys the songs were in and such, but it was a challenge learning the songs from the recordings they’d sent me (the youtube stuff wasn’t really any better, and a lot of daryle’s catalog is out of print). so i imported the stuff into iTunes, bumped it onto the phone and started digesting it – as i’d said before, the guy i was replacing was just ridiculously good, and on a lot of these songs he was switching between guitar and pedal steel multiple times in the same song.
so i set up the pedal steel in the dining room and plugged everything in so that i could hear it all through the headphones, and started working out the hooks and the changes…and there were a few things that presented themselves as problems out of the gate – there was one song in particular, too much fun (written by my buddy, curtis wright, i later found out) that had a great hook in it that just didn’t seem playable in standard tuning. i asked steve about it, but he wasn’t sure. then, daryle has two songs that are called, respectively, that’s why i sing this way and i still sing this way that i was constantly getting mixed up. another song, one of his big hits called the note had this really strange timing around a pedal steel lick that served as the intro – it sounded like it wanted to come in a hair earlier than it did on the version he sent me, and i set about trying to find another version of the song to check it against, and – try as i might – i never got the timing of that damn riff. (search it on youtube….you’ll see what i mean.)
so, there were a few of these songs that i figured i’d need to consult with someone about – and since steve was the drummer, he wasn’t necessarily as privvy to some of this stuff as someone in the band who played an instrument that actually required some knowledge of the chords and the like – but he was my contact. sooo…i figured, ok – i can ask some questions on the flight and figure this stuff out after i talk to daryle or the keyboard player, maybe.
so….sure enough, a few days later, i get an email containing a PDF of my flight confirmation with the barcode i’d need to scan to pick up my boarding pass – nashville to dallas to sacramento – leaving nashville at 5am on 7/3 to arrive in sacramento around 2pm, where we’d be picked up by van and taken to the gig. steve also sent a full itinerary as well, with flight numbers, weather forecasts, meal times, the works. they did ask that we all fly out of nashville together, so that we’d have some time to get acquainted – which i was more than happy to do. it was daunting enough, playing together for the first time ever in front of a crowd…it would’ve been even more so having only met a few minutes beforehand. besides, i did want to talk about some of the songs in th set that i had questions about.
so now i had my ticket in my hand.
this was real now.
steve asked me about backline – he said that usually, they put in for a pair of fender twin reverbs for danny – but i asked if we could have them do one fender twin and one deluxe reverb. that way, i could turn the deluxe up a bit for just a touch of breakup on the guitar and use the twin, nice and clean, for the pedal steel. being a fly date, i needed to make sure that i was travelling as light as possible, so i rounded up some of my loose pedals that i use when the pedalboard isn’t feasible – the voodoo labs sparkle drive and tremolo, and a carl martin compressor. since there’d be obvious baggage considerations, i was bringing the pedal steel and whatever guitar i decided to bring as checked baggage, and i’d take everything else in my carry on. i gave quite a bit of thought to the guitar selection…i have several teles, but for this gig, i felt like i needed something with a middle pickup for some of the softer stuff. i knew that my buddy dave “lil’ ragu” piccone had a nashville tele that he’d bought from keith amos back in the day, so i called him to see if i could check it out of the library for the gig, and he told me that if i wanted it, it was for sale – so i snatched it up. i remembered liking it a lot, and when we stopped over to visit and i played it again, it felt great. nice beefy neck, comfortable frets, the action was near perfect…i felt really good about taking it on the road.
so i left that friday, late afternoon, to drive to nashville…i figured i’d get there around midnight or so, sleep in the car in the airport parking lot for a couple of hours, and meet up with the band an hour or so before the flight. i packed the old trooper and left with my earbuds in, still listening to the recorded set that steve had sent me, trying to soak up whatever details i might’ve missed in the listenings i’d put in at home while learning the songs. the sun was shining, the windows were down…it was a great day, and i felt really, really good about this trip. i had a couple of great conversations on the way south – with paul cotton, who i’d be playing with at the end of the month – an acoustic trio set in new jersey where i’d be faced with replicating the instrumental parts that one of my lifelong heroes had contributed to paul’s songs over the years. i also had a great pep talk with bob stirner, who told me to just close my eyes and play…always great advice.
so i spent the next few hours barrelling down interstate 81, listening to music and texting and talking on the phone and just enjoying being behind the wheel on a great day for a drive.
(oh, come on…you saw an “until” coming, didn’t you?)
it was around 11:30, and i was just outside cookeville, tennessee…when i noticed that the needle on my voltage meter was starting to dip, sporadically. there weren’t any other symptoms, initially – just the dip of the meter. but then, after a while, i noticed that the dashboard lights were dimming when the needle dipped. then a little later, i noticed that the headlights were doing the same…only a little at first, but more with each occurence.
not now. not now. NOT NOW!
as it started to lose its lifeforce, i was struggling to get to an exit that looked as though there was some sign of life in the vicinity…i had my phone in one hand, and according to the Pilot Travel Centers iPhone app, there was one a few miles ahead at exit 287 off I-40, and i was shooting for that one. and, sure enough, as i got to the ramp, the trooper shut off for the last time as i coasted down the ramp to the intersection at the bottom of the hill.
tried to restart it…click. again…click.
i started having flashbacks…it was the whole “lost in the swamps of jersey” thing all over again.
i parked, locked it up, and walked across to the Pilot, only to find that this particular one was little more than a convenience store with a diesel pump behind it. there was nothing there that was going to be of much assistance to me, that was for sure. so…i walked back to the truck and called AAA – i knew that they offered a battery replacement service, and i was still harboring the notion that i was gonna be able to put this behind me and get back down the road. the dispatcher told me that they only offered this service in metropolitan areas, though, and that the closest city this service would exist in was – yep. nashville.
i was standing there on the side of the road, contemplating just having the driver tow me to nashville and taking a taxi to the airport from whatever Pep Boys shop i could find, when a black car pulls up alongside me and rolls down the window….”what happened, man? you ok?”
i filled him in, and he pulled over to try to jump the battery – we got it to start, but as soon as the cables came off, the engine shut off. he told me that the chances of it being something other than the alternator were pretty slim, although i was focusing on it being the battery or the terminals or something like that – something that would be instantly fixable, something i could forget about when i drove away, headed back toward the airport…but it didn’t look good.
so this complete stranger, this guy who stopped in the middle of the night on a ramp off the interstate to help a guy with pennsylvania plates, who had a wife and a little girl at home…offered to drive me to the airport. at almost one o’clock in the morning, when chances are he would’ve loved nothing more than to just go home and call it a night, he offered to drive me to the airport.
so, not seeing any feasible alternatives at this point, we got the car pulled into the parking lot at the miniature Pilot travel center, and i put my pedal steel and guitar and carryon bag in his trunk, and we took off down the interstate for the remaining few miles between cookeville and nashville.
i still have his name and phone number…and when enough time has elapsed, when he’s had time to largely forget about that night, i’m gonna do something really nice for him. i’m not yet sure what, but i’ll think of something.
so i got to the airport, went in and found a nice, unassuming corner and tried – hard – to doze off. i propped my feet up on my road cases with my bag behind my head, no dice. i think i might’ve dozed a few minutes in fits and starts, but every time i did, tim mcgraw’s voice would wake me up, welcoming travellers to the nashville airport. it was just as well, anyway – i had more than enough to think about with the show ahead of me, but now i had the additional mental burden of wondering what the hell i was gonna do about the car situation. i had been posting facebook updates all night long, asking for advice and throwing play-by-play of what had become a pretty nightmarish evening out into the community of people who had the misfortune of following my adventures via the internet…i figured i could call charlie when i got back on sunday if i had to, or any one of a small handful of folks in the area who might be able to help me put the whole thing right before i started driving home. i had kept the phone charged, at least, and it felt like i was taking everyone along with me at times.
but right now, i was sitting at the gate at the nashville airport, waiting for the rest of the band to arrive.
everyone came in at a little past 5 or so, and we introduced ourselves to one another, and proceeded to take our bags to the baggage check, where we were lucky to get the pedal steel checked without having to pay an overweight fee (thanks, baggage check guy…) – when we checked our seating, though, everyone was scattered about the cabin of the plane – no one in the band was sitting next to anyone else in the band.
so…so much for discussing the setlist on the flight.
we got to the airport in sacramento where we were to meet the driver who was taking us to the venue, and we waited and waited at the baggage claim for my guitar to come through, but the belt eventually emptied and – nothing. i went over to the desk and found that it was being held by TSA because…get this…they thought it was a gun.
now, call me naive if you want, but i was holding onto the assumption that – because i knew so many musicians who regularly played fly dates, that these guys must see instrument cases all the damn time. but, in this airport, my telecaster apparently resembled a sniper rifle.
finally, i managed to get them to give up my case and we met up with the guy who was driving us back to platina for the show…who showed up in a dodge caravan.
to carry a five piece band, plus gear, for three hours from the airport to the show, he shows up in a minivan.
so…so much for discussing the setlist in the van on the way to the gig.
it was gonna be soundcheck or nothing at this point.
we rolled through the countryside for a few hours with the guys in the band all packed in tightly with one another…daryle was riding shotgun, obviously, and steve and mike (the keyboardist) were in the second seat, and phil frye (the bassist) and i were all the way in the back…and phil, road dog that he is, slept damn near the whole way there. we got to the gig well ahead of schedule, and the sound company and backline were already in place and getting set up. we all exchanged introductions and i took a walk up to the stage with my cases – and opened up the amps to find two vintage blackface deluxe reverb amps.
now, if you remember, i had pointed out to steve that i wanted to get a twin reverb for the steel (for headroom – as you don’t want the pedal steel to start to clip or distort…you just want nice, clean tube warmth. no distortion…generally speaking.), and get a deluxe for the guitar. now, though, i was stuck with a deluxe for both of them…and i’d have to find some means of getting a decent pedal steel sound out of the deluxe.
now, i did see something cool as i was setting up my side of the stage – the identification stickers on top of the amps read:
maybe this is insignificant to most folks…but i know who larry cragg is. turns out, he also runs vintage instrument rental, as well – the folks who supplied our backline. so that was kinda neat – knowing that the amp i was playing through had that particular history. 🙂
but, i digress.
we set up for soundcheck, and sure enough – the steel sounded like warmed-over ass through the deluxe reverb. this was an outdoor gig, after all…there was just no way in hell that amp was gonna have enough headroom to fly on this show. but i sat down and started tweaking it, to the extent that i could, to see if i could find some middle ground where i could at least pump it through the monitors….
apparently, while i was trying to dial this thing in, i made a pretty poor first impression. and they made a pretty piss-poor attempt to try to be discreet about their amusement at my predicament. 🙂 it was a bit of a joke at first, and i sensed that and figured i’d wait until the soundman had finished dialing in the drums and got around to me and i’d work on it then…but hawkins leans over and says to me, “maybe you’d better just play guitar for this one, man.”
so at this point, i start panicking. because now, we’ve added the notion of ridicule to the already multi-layered shaky self-confidence and awkwardness salad, and my usually calm and cool demeanor is falling apart. and, yeah – the nerves are starting to churn up. and we haven’t played a note yet.
so everyone is somewhat dialed in, and we’re getting ready for soundcheck – and i’m scrambling in my head, thinking about what the hell i’m gonna play on the songs that i was originally planning on playing pedal steel for – among an assload of other things. and i’m feeling whatever confidence i might’ve had when i loaded up the Trooper to drive south just melt away. i was slowly becoming a wreck.
and then we start playing.
for one thing, i found out pretty quickly that – if i put a capo on the guitar anywhere – it was noticeably sharp. not the usual just-a-little sharp, but audibly painful. so there’s another thing that i have to adjust to…no capos, no open strings on about six of the songs.
then i ask for a vocal mic, and the keyboard player says, “dude – you’ve got enough to worry about, it’s ok – you don’t have to worry about that.”
so there goes yet another thing that i brought to the table that would’ve made me a possible permanent candidate for the gig, out the window.
yeah, you’re gettin’ the point. it just went careening off the tracks from there. soundcheck wasn’t a disaster, but you could feel the air on the stage thicken up. the whole vibe went from everyone feeling good, kinda feeling each other out, having fun…to this foreboding sense of uh-oh.
i went back to the room after soundcheck and showered and immediately put the guitar up on the desk, maddeningly trying to adjust the intonation to split the difference and find a middle ground that would allow me to use the capo to play the stuff the way i’d initially hoped to. nope. not happening.
then there was the whole having to learn the songs i’d learned on pedal steel on guitar thing. yep, had to do that, too. so i had the earbuds in until right before showtime, relearning the eight or nine songs i had planned on playing steel on.
and no, the gig wasn’t much better. it wasn’t disastrous, but it fell far, far short of my own personal standards. and it was the most uncomfortable i’ve been on stage in years. YEARS.
i don’t recall much of the performance, really – with the exception of the songs that i’d learned on steel but had to improvise on guitar, i had about as much of a grip on the set as i think you could logically expect from someone who had what i had to learn them from…i don’t think i was remarkably bad, and a few folks complimented me as i was tearing my stuff down after the show, but i felt completely drained…humiliated…and just wanted to crawl under a rock and die.
there was a meet and greet after the show, but i didn’t go…i took my gear back to the hotel and collapsed into bed. i’d been up the entire day before, the entire night before, and the entire day of the gig…and had to be up at 5AM to catch the flight back to nashville. it wasn’t as if going to the meet and greet would’ve affected where i stood after all this. i mean, even if the guys had asked me to stay on, there was just no way that was happening after this. even with the whole bus thing on the table.
everyone was so tired the next morning when we left that no one really said anything to each other – the folks at the ranch drove us to the airport and we just kinda milled around the airport while we waited to board the plane. we flew on Buddy Holly airlines from redding to LAX, and then directly from LAX to BNA.
when we landed in nashville, i called my buddy jerry opdycke to let him know we were back…during the whole vehicle crisis, i had been posting updates on facebook, and jerry told me that if i needed a ride or any help when we got back, to let him know – so he drove out from savannah to pick me up so we could get a bead on what was going on with the car. it’d take a while for him to get there, which was fine.
i said my goodbyes to steve at the baggage claim with a sense of general, mutual implied understanding that it really was goodbye, not “see ya later”. after i’d picked up my gear (i checked my guitar and my steel…everything else fit into my carry on), i walked outside and had a short conversation with phil frye, the bass player…who seemed genuinely surprised when i told him that it’d been a real pleasure to meet him and to play with him and wished him luck. i told him that i had turned in probably the worst performance of my professional career, and that it was pretty apparent that this was a one-time thing for me at this point…he was so gracious about it, though – which speaks quite a bit to the kind of person that he is. class act, to be sure.
i was kinda glad to have that time at the airport between when the guys all scattered and when jerry got there…i had slept through the flight, and while i was a long way from being rested, i was at least able to start thinking about the whole travesty of getting myself back home from nashville.
a lot of opinions had surfaced about what my actual problem was via facebook over the weekend, but jerry felt almost certain that it was a contact issue with one of the battery terminals. he arrived at the airport, i took him out to dinner and we drove out to cookeville to retrieve the sleeping Trooper from the parking lot at the Pilot mini-center off exit 287. first, though, we took a ride up the highway to wal-mart (where, as you’ll see in the pic here, everything was free. seriously. no kidding. zeros all around) to pick up some basic tools that i’d need to clean up the brand new battery i’d bought when i’d last been in cookeville, some 36 hours ago. and, sure enough, when i cleaned up the terminals and tightened everything properly, it fired right up. so i thanked my brother profusely and headed back out interstate 40 towards home.
strangely, though, right around knoxville, i noticed the voltage meter hiccuping – not falling straight off, but dropping and jumping right back up, as if it were bumped – which didn’t freak me out one bit. not even a little.
actually, it was enough insult to injury that i finally pulled off the highway in knoxville and slept for the night in the parking lot of a truckstop. i’d had enough by then.
the next morning, i made a decision…i was going to drive as far as roanoke if i could, just to see what was going on. i’d tried all the facebook suggestions i’d gotten – starting the car and removing the negative battery terminal and the like – and i knew it wasn’t my battery, and i had a strong feeling that it wasn’t the alternator…based on the advice i’d gotten from friends over the ‘net. i thought that for a couple of reasons, namely that it wasn’t sucking the battery dry and i could take the negative terminal off and the engine kept running. so while some of the symptoms were consistent with the alternator, it just didn’t add up.
so, after letting the car sit all night, i woke up the next morning in the parking lot of a truck stop just outside knoxville, tennessee and gathered my thoughts for a minute – went into the truck stop and used the bathroom and grabbed something for breakfast – and came back out and started her right up. i hit the ramp and got back on the interstate headed northeast toward the virginia line along I-40 headed east. the sun was up already, and had been for a while – i don’t remember what time it was, but it was still pretty early in the morning. the thing i remember most about driving that stretch of road at that point was the steady stream of tour buses coming in the other direction, back towards nashville – returning home from the road. after the weekend i’d had, though, it actually felt somewhat taunting – watching them roll past me in the other direction, heading back up the interstate.
i monitored the voltage meter as i was driving, and sure enough, it declined slowly but steadily the longer i drove. so it was pretty painfully obvious that i was going to have to do something about this before i got home. so i did what any industrious road warrior would do in my situation.
i turned to craigslist.
i went to the roanoke classifieds, and started sifting through services, looking for mechanics…and i started calling one or two of them, mostly getting voicemail. the first guy i got to actually answer the phone was actually just up the road from roanoke a bit – i described the problem i was having to him, and he told me as soon as i slowed down a minute that he knew exactly what it was. apparently there’s a diode inside the alternator that regulates the voltage that passes through the alternator, and when the diode starts to die, it exhibits the behavior that you’d associate with a bad alternator, but the alternator itself hasn’t gone bad yet. the dude seemed to know exactly what was wrong with the thing, and he was willing to meet me in the parking lot of an advance auto parts store just off the interstate and said he’d fix it in an hour. i met him at the parts store a little after lunchtime, and we went inside and bought the part and he had it put in and ready to go in about 40 minutes.
and i paid him twice what he tried to charge me. and as far as i’m concerned, he was worth every penny. the rest of the trip went without a hitch.
i got home quite late that night, after a long, reflective drive up the interstate…replaying the gig in my head, wondering how this whole thing could have gone as wrong as it ultimately did. did i spend too little time with the recording of the set? did i freeze up under pressure? what the hell happened here?
the conclusion that ultimately revealed itself was that it was a little bit of everything that could’ve possibly gone wrong…not having a reasonably audible copy of the set to glean the material from is an easy target, but i’ve walked onstage already without any notion of the material that i was about to play, and i’ve pulled it off. and, for the most part, i did that here, too…but i expected more of myself, and i’m sure they did too – in terms of having learned the hooks from the songs and such. generally speaking, i’ve been the utility guy in just about every scenario that i’ve been a part of for years now. this was more of what i’ve come to call a “dick swinging lead guitar player” gig, and it’s been a while since i’ve played the role of DSLGP – not since stone road, in fact. so a week and a half of playing along with really crappy live recordings wasn’t gonna bring that back in a manner consistent with what i needed for this show. it’d be easy to blame it on the gear, after everything that went down, but i should’ve been on top of the guitar thing well before i left for the gig – and i should have been able to get a decent sound out of a deluxe reverb, too…i’ve heard rusty do it (indoors, anyway), and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. i could blame it on being preoccupied with the car, with having gotten no rest, blah blah blah – but the bottom line is that i wasn’t as prepared as i should’ve been for the kind of gig that, certainly, i should’ve known it was. and once we got to soundcheck and the warts started showing, my internal self-doubt machine kicked into overdrive and i was a nervous wreck. i don’t see that much these days, because most of the people i work with are folks that i have a personal relationship with, and there’s very little doubt as to what’s expected of me from the outset. these were total strangers who didn’t know me from adam and only had one expectation of me…and it was something that i hadn’t prepared properly to deliver.
a learning experience? yeah. a humiliating learning experience, and one that i don’t ever, ever want to repeat…but certainly a learning experience.