Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of the parties involved.
. . . or, 2,000 Words About 59 Musicians
Hereâ€™s to the guitar players. Hereâ€™s to the dudes who passed through Roscoeâ€™s Basement during the audition process. Hereâ€™s to the ones who backed out before they even got that far. Hereâ€™s to the ones who couldnâ€™t be bothered to return a simple email.
In short, hereâ€™s to every guitarist within a 50-mile radius of Rochester, New York â€” and farther, in some cases â€” because it seems like at some point during the summer of 2017, I reach out to every single goddamned one of them.
Early on I hear from a fellow Iâ€™ll call Roger, who plays in an occasional showband called Ready State. I check a clip of theirs on YouTube; a very competent take on a Foreigner song, video shot in someoneâ€™s backyard. Ready State is a family project, Roger tells me, and heâ€™s looking for a change of pace. He seems a promising prospect, so I shoot him some info about the band.
Turns out he isnâ€™t looking for that much of a change.
And heâ€™s only the first one we scare away. Hereâ€™s to Eli, an old rocker currently in an acoustic duo, who expresses initial enthusiasm only to cancel on the day of his scheduled audition because, on second consideration, he decides weâ€™re just not his thing. Hereâ€™s to Dale, who declines to try out after getting a look at the list. Hereâ€™s to Charming Billy, who just goes silent. Hereâ€™s to Terry, whose former band suddenly, inexplicably gets back together when the time comes to schedule his audition. Hereâ€™s to Jimbo, who ran an ad in the paper looking for â€œsomething different, not the same old bar-band stuff,â€ but who flinches like a scalded cat when he gets a load of our repertoire. Hereâ€™s to Rance, who seems excited about the band right up until the day he stops responding to my emails.
Hereâ€™s to Bogdan â€” whom Deanna tags with the rhyming nickname â€œBogdan from Ogdenâ€ even though heâ€™s actually from Batavia, in the next county over. Heâ€™s one of the first players in this process to schedule an audition, but one of the last to actually try out â€” because he keeps cancelling and rescheduling. First he has to help his Mom move; then heâ€™s out of town and his flight gets grounded; then he has car trouble. When we finally nail him down, on the fourth try, I can only think: For all the hassle weâ€™ve gone through, this guy had better be Rock â€˜nâ€™ Roll Jesus when he gets here. His playing had better cure my eyesight and put hair back on my head.
When Bogdan finally turns up, heâ€™s… okay, I guess. Heâ€™s an enormous biker type, as wide as he is high, with a Gandalf beard. He plays well enough. But youâ€™d think that with all the lead time heâ€™s had, he might have taken the time to actually learn a few more tunes.
Heâ€™s got time to tell stories, though, Bogdan does â€” long, winding stories that leave me stupefied. Donâ€™t ask him to gig if the Reverend Horton Heat is playing in town, because he and the Rev are like this, he tells us. Heâ€™s not real familiar with power pop, but he likes the Romantics â€” but mostly because they are Ukrainian-American, as is he; which leads to a particularly winding story, begun after the instruments have been put away, about how his teenage combo â€œinventedâ€ heavy metal polka when they were booked into a Ukrainian social club, which leads to Bogdan getting his guitar back out of its case, plugging in, and tearing through an Eastern European folk dance on his Les Paul while the rest of us stand around looking at each other, polite smiles growing thin on our faces.
We cross him off the list almost before heâ€™s out the door. He doesnâ€™t click, and heâ€™s nowhere near good enough to excuse his unreliability. So long, Bogdan; see you in Ogd â€” I mean, Batavia.
Hereâ€™s to the kind souls who at least offer up plausible excuses, rather than blowing me off outright. Reno has multiple projects going already; Ricky likes our sound, but heâ€™s strictly a metal player. Clooney works second shift, essentially making it impossible for him to join a band. Pete is as kind as he can be about it, but our music just isnâ€™t his thing. Commander Eddie is already in a steady gig; same for Glenn and Anthony and Halsey (but the latter asks me to keep his number on file in case weâ€™re still looking in a couple of months). Danâ€™s concerned about the distance; heâ€™s rather find a project closer to home. RG left the grind of gigging to raise a family. Big Bill is only doing studio work these days; same goes for Tahlia, who can shred both rock and jazz, and my dream of adding Voidoids-style skronk to the mix goes up in smoke.
Hereâ€™s to the could-have-beens. Hereâ€™s to Beau, whose other band â€” an all-instrumental surfabilly outfit called the Rattlesnake Whips â€” is ramping back to intermittent status, and is looking for something to keep his chops limber. The idea of applying Duane Eddy-slash-Link Wray-style twang and tremolo to the power pop in our setlist sounds odd on paper, but Marshall Crenshaw, for one, has made a career out of exactly that kind of combo. But after we schedule the audition, Beauâ€™s mother is injured in an accident and Beau uproots himself and moves to Albany to take care of her while she recovers. Family first â€” but itâ€™s still a bummer.
And hereâ€™s to Darling Nikki, who gets in touch via Bandmix. Sheâ€™s an African-American guitarist with a hard-edged funk-rock style, newly returned to the States after eight years in Paris, with a brand-new gender expression and looking for a brand-new band; and she wants in. Iâ€™m psyched. Nikkiâ€™s presence on guitar and vocals would certainly shake up the band, but (I think) in a good way. Before I get back to her, I check her music and her bio on Bandmix.
Imagine my surprise when I see that Darling Nikki lives in White Plains â€” a five-hour drive each way.
Long story short: Did you know thereâ€™s another Rochester, New York? Itâ€™s true. Down in Ulster County, near New Paltz â€” not far from White Plains, actually. Thatâ€™s where Nikki thought we were from. Oopsie.
We laugh about it, but Iâ€™ll always wonder. Iâ€™ll tell you this much, kiddo: We totally wouldâ€™ve had your back.
Hereâ€™s to the creeps. Look, just by seeking a rock â€˜nâ€™ roll guitarist, you know youâ€™re going to get your share of weirdos. But there are always some who go above and beyond the call of mere eccentricity, straight into creepitude. It may be harder to find them, now â€” internet-based musician searches make them easier to ignore â€” but when you put a print ad in the weekly free paper, the crazies come out, as dependable as the rain in spring.
Hereâ€™s to Smitty, who sends me an MP3 of a fusion-style instrumental, which he refers to as his â€œaudition.â€ His email also makes an oblique reference to a dude committing suicide in one of the clubs he used to play at. A little intense for an opening gambit, I think.
So I send him our setlist and a boilerplate email explaining the aesthetic of the band, and inviting him to pick five or six songs from the list as audition pieces. He gets back to me suspiciously quickly with four more attached MP3s of his original compositions (which I have not asked for) and no mention whatsoever of our current repertoire. He then very aggressively demands not only an audition, but the right to sit in on a couple of other playersâ€™ auditions before trying out himself. When I demur, pointing out (quite reasonably, I think) that this rather violates the spirit of fair play, not to mention basic social boundaries, Smitty had himself a bit of a meltdown in my email…
I’m not looking to play anything there, Jack
just get a feel for the Band ..
how might that be “unfair” to any potential guitar players ..??
just give a call to talk about this stuff
Reader, I do not.
Hereâ€™s to Sardi, who calls out of the blue at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday, asking for an audition. His voice is unnerving â€” a flat, affectless monotone â€” and his conversational thread isnâ€™t really tracking. If alcohol-induced brain damage had a voice, it would sound like Sardi. He used to be in a band, he says. Fifteen years ago. Maybe twenty. Sardi mentions a name. He plainly expects me to know the name. I do not. He used to play bass, he says. I remind him that weâ€™re looking for a guitar player. The correction seems to make no impression on Sardi. He lives in the city, he says. Someone will have to give him a ride to our rehearsal space, he says, or lend him money for a taxi. He will need to borrow an amplifier, he says.
That will be a lot to put together logistically, I say. Iâ€™ll have to see what I can do.
Reader, I do not see what I can do.
Hereâ€™s to Geoff, who calls me one week when various bandmates are away on vacation; heâ€™s raring to go, bristling with energy, full of plans and questions. How often do you guys gig? Do you get paid for every gig? You should never, EVER play a gig for free, he says. Well, we do some benefits, I say. Eh, says Geoff: There are ways to get paid for benefit gigs. Heâ€™s a financial planner, he says. You need a business plan for a band. He can take us all the way to the top, he says. And heâ€™s a shit-hot guitar player and songwriter, he says. He directs me to a Facebook page for his current musical project.
Itâ€™s all songs about UFOs and alien abductions. Every single song.
They are pretty well-written and played, though. So against my better judgment â€” and driven by morbid curiosity â€” I tell him Iâ€™ll pencil him in for an audition, and weâ€™ll firm up a date when the rest of Roscoeâ€™s Basement come back to town. Heâ€™s stoked. I promise Iâ€™ll get back to him.
A couple of weeks later, after the rest of the band comes back to town, we agree on an audition date and I email Geoff. Repeatedly. And never hear back. Itâ€™s as if heâ€™s vanished from the face of the earth.
Hereâ€™s to Moose, a cat I find via Bandmix. Moose is only Craig’s age, or a little older, but he hasn’t aged well; he looks like a ropy old geezer. But when he comes out to play for us one night in the pouring rain, he is not fucking around. He knows seemingly half the list cold, and he smokes â€˜em all. Heâ€™s got an effortless versatility â€” â€œJumpinâ€™ Jack Flashâ€ sounds as natural coming from him as â€œSex On Fireâ€ â€” and heâ€™s got the knack for blending with another guitar player. Hell, Moose has even listened to my Soundcloud and come in ready to play a couple of our originals! Thatâ€™s one hell of a work ethic.
Moose plays a custom job with a MIDI setup (though he doesnâ€™t bring his synth unit this night), which opens up a world of new possibilities for our sound. Heâ€™s running through a digital multi-effects unit, so heâ€™s got textures galore at his fingertips. The thing about these digital boxes, though, is that itâ€™s easy to overdo it. Moose really digs the flanger, for instance; heâ€™s got it going full-bore on every single song, and it gets away from him â€” itâ€™s actively distracting. About four songs in, I ask if he can dial it back a tad. â€œI feel like Iâ€™m standing in a wind tunnel,â€ I joke. Moose is flustered, but he eases off as requested, and the rest of his audition kicks ass.
Iâ€™m ready to offer Moose the gig on the spot, but I feel honor-bound to talk to the rest of the band before I make a move. Moose heads out, and we confer. The rest of them arenâ€™t quite as high on Moose as I am, but all agree that he showed tremendous promise and we should get him back for a second audition.
The very next day, Moose â€” who was so prepared, so enthusiastic, who took so much time and care with our setlist â€” emails me to tell me that Roscoeâ€™s Basement is â€œnot my style,â€ and heâ€™s no longer interested. Dude is truly devoted to that flanger, I guess.
Hereâ€™s to the ghosts â€” the ones who donâ€™t respond at all when I message them regarding their â€œBand Wantedâ€ notices on Bandmix or Sonicbids. Hereâ€™s to Miguel and Gil, and to Sayeed from Craigslist; to Ryan and Spence; and to Mick, who put an ad in the paper, old-school style. Hereâ€™s to Randy, who doubles on guitar and Chapman Stick. (Damn, I wanted to hear that.) Hereâ€™s to Sharif and Rocky and Scott; to Josef and Matt and Dawn; to Doc; to George and Tark and Bender; to Rondo and Karl and Anton. Hereâ€™s to Morrissey, to Jaime, to Adam and Darian and Pat. Hereâ€™s to Reese, to Sebastian, to Blue, to Nico and Matty. May your restless spirits find rest in whatever netherworld to which they have passed.
Last â€” and least â€” hereâ€™s to Speedy, who gets in touch with me in fucking December, long after auditions are over, after weâ€™ve been playing with a new guitarist for almost three months; he missed my message when I originally sent it, back in July, and wants to see if the gig is still open.
Congratulations, Speedy; Iâ€™ve never heard you play a note, so I have no idea what kind of guitarist you are â€” but youâ€™re definitely the most guitarist of all the guitarists Iâ€™ve dealt with this year.
Next: My Brilliant Career