Saturday, April 14, 2012

putting myself out there

About 20 years ago I regularly played out as a solo act.  I played at restaurants, coffeehouses, open mics... all as a solo performer.  I had a long list of cover tunes that I knew and a few originals.  I gigged three or four times in an average month.  Then something happened.  Alexis was growing up and showed the promise of being an excellent performer.  We learned a couple of songs together and I took her to a little vegetarian restaurant called Mother Earth to perform with me.  She was in 9th grade.  She sang on about half of the songs and we had a great time.  She was glowing by the end of the evening.  When I gave her half of the tip jar, she looked at me in sheer amazement... "You mean we get paid for this!?!?!?"  I laughed and smiled at her naivete.  She was bitten.

She began to come with me on every gig and before long she was singing the entire night.  A 9th grade class project came up where each student was supposed to pick a profession and do a report.  Alexis chose singer/songwriter and shadowed a friend of mine - Amy Abdou - as she wrote and recorded material.  Alexis and I wrote a couple of tunes together (including Call Down Thunder in the player on the right - the melody and the lyrics were hers) and performed them for her 9th grade class.  We were officially a duo - originally called "d"  and we began performing around the folk circuit in upstate NY and into Massachusetts.  As Alexis became more comfortable on the stage, she took over.  She was clearly the focus and we began to perform as Alexis d.  I sang lead on two or three songs, but she clearly had become the star.  We performed together and wrote material all through her high school years and shared the stage with some great acoustic acts including Patty Larkin, The Nields, and Tony Trischka.  I had transformed from a solo performer to a back up musician.

It was fine with me.  It gave me the chance to stretch out a bit on my guitar parts plus she was a great performer with a wonderful ear for unusual melodies.  It made for music that I felt very good about.  And if something went wrong, there was someone else on stage to help fix things (or to blame).

When we moved to Cali, Alexis came along and we continued to perform for the first year around Santa Barbara and into the LA area a few times.  Then, she went back east to finish her school and Alexis d essentially bit the dust.  She moved on as she should have.

I took a position playing electric guitar in a funk band for a while but discovered I'm too old to be playing bars anymore... then took on the role of acoustic guitar player for a singer/songwriter named Jamie Green.  Together with an amazing drummer/percussionist named Bob Terry, we were a trio.  Jamie is also a great performer and wonderful songwriter, but I was not part of the songwriting.  I was charged with playing guitar parts from her recordings (which weren't always what I would have chosen to play so sometimes I played pretty closely to the recording and other times I made them my own) or coming up with something that worked in the stripped down acoustic trio setting when her recordings were full productions.  I was even more of a sideman during those years but it still felt like a good fit to me.  Last summer, Jamie decided to go in a different direction and with very little notice, I was suddenly no longer a sideman.

I looked for a while to try to find another singer to back up but in spite of running into some great singer/songwriters, none seemed to fit very well for a variety of reasons.

So now I'm struggling with trying to become a solo act again.  I got used to playing some complicated and difficult parts and wrote some music with Alexis that I'm still proud of... but for the life of me, I'm having a difficult time playing those parts and singing her unusual melodies.  But I'm putting myself out there.  This week I did a songwriters circle, played at Songwriters at Play, and met and played for and with a wonderful musician named Randall Williams.  Frankly, in each setting I screwed up some of the vocals and played my share of clams on the guitar while trying to sing.  Still it was fun and terrifying and I'm inspired to do more and to try to write some new tunes all by myself.  I'm excited about putting myself out there!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Roy - thanks for sharing. I've been enjoying your blog and look forward to hearing you live sometime!

-Adam Phillips