I know some of you haven’t missed me that much (Hi, Volando!), but I’ve been super busy and stuff as of late and, as a result, haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’m incredibly fortunate that I don’t have to write for a living. That sounds like a strange statement to make—after all, who wouldn’t want to do his or her passion for a living?—but, in many ways, it’s a blessing to be able to keep one’s avocation exactly that.
Allow me to explain.
The year was 2005. I’d been playing on the road with a blues singer who shall remain nameless, mostly because I am about to say a bunch of mean things about her. The band that her musical director and guitartist had put together was incredibly good (he would go on to win the Albert King award as the world’s best blues guitarist only two years later), but she treated us like dirt. In fact, she was the least talented member of our band, but her name was on the marquee so she was in charge. She had inherited a bit of blues legitimacy due to the fact that her father had written a big hit back in the Sixties that Bill Haley & The Comets, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and many, many other people covered and recorded. She, however, was a mediocre talent, at best.
In addition to being just an awful person to work with, she was a legendary skimmer. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say a gig paid a thousand bucks. She would keep five hundred, pay the five-member band the other five hundred, and claim that the gig only paid six hundred. For those of you playing along at home, that meant that she often made five times as much from a gig as the guys who were backing her. Lovely woman, really.
Anyway, I remember one night in particular that altered the course of my life for good. We had been playing at little restaurant on Long Island called Paula Jean’s Supper Club (it appears to have been out of business since 2009—not at all surprising) as part of a “tour” up and down the East Coast. The previous night, we had played until 2:00 in the morning at Black Eyed Sally’s (which is, thankfully, still in business) in Hartford, CT, stayed at a Super 8 (where a hooker mistakenly banged on my door at 4:30 AM, claiming that I had underpaid her), then we drove to play the since renamed Poconos Blues Festival at 2:00 PM, and then we got in the van and drove to play at Paula Jean’s until 1:00 AM. It had been a very long and taxing 24 hours, to say the least.
Well, our dear singer decided that she was too cheap to pay for hotel rooms that night, so we were going to have to drive to her daughter’s house in Allentown, Pennsylvania and spend the night there. This was approximately a three-hour drive, which we would be making while she slept in the back of the van. The guitar player and I, both exhausted from loading gear in and out while she rested, put our collective foot down and said No. After a bit of complaining about how ungrateful we both were, she agreed to pay for a single roadside motel room for the entire band.
Naturally, she took the one bed in the room, and made the rest of the all-male band sleep on the floor. That’s correct—I had to sleep on the floor of a $35 motel room. Well, when I rolled over in the middle of the night, only to be awakened because I had rolled into a wet spot, I pretty much lost my shit.
“That’s it. I fucking quit,” I yelled as loud as I could. I grabbed my bags and went out to sleep in the van, where I waited until the morning for the rest of the band to join me. I don’t think I spoke a single word on the ten-hour drive home. If memory serves me correctly, that was the last gig I ever played with her.
From 1997-2005, I had played over a hundred nights a year, per year, nearly always as a sideman with acts ranging from the totally unfamiliar to Barry White. It never paid me very much money, but I loved every minute of it—right up until that moment, when I decided that I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the $100 a night to put up with the terrible travel, the ridiculous egos, and the sporadic crowds. I gladly gave up the ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year in additional income in order to get back some semblance of a normal life.
I don’t think I’ve played more than a hundred gigs total in the ten years since. But you know what’s been great? I haven’t accepted a dime for any of them. Every gig I’ve actually accepted has been because I wanted to take it, whether it was the opportunity to tour Europe, or to play with one of the greatest blues musicians on the planet, or to play second alto with the Count Basie ghost band. I’ve done everything from play the main stage of a European blues festival in front of ten thousand people to playing a Thursday night in a tiny club in front of ten. And I’ve only done it because I loved playing music.
So, for me, writing has been the same way. I take whatever minor income comes my way due to the written word and roll it into my Fiesta ST lease so I can write it off on my taxes. I don’t do it for money. I do it because I love the chance to put my thoughts into ones and zeroes that are occasionally read by as many as a hundred thousand people—and sometimes read by a hundred. I do have some semblance of a deadline at TTAC, but I find that the best work I do there is done when I write about something about which I’m passionate, not because I have something due on Wednesday morning.
If I had to produce something daily? If I had to write news articles or, God forbid, car reviews on a deadline? I think I’d quit and never, ever do it again. It wouldn’t be an avocation any more. It would become a job, and I don’t really want another one of those.
So thanks to all of you who have ever clicked on a single link or read a single word that I’ve written. It’s given my life that much more fulfillment over these last four years. You’ve become part of my extended family, in a way, and I appreciate you.
Have a great weekend.