Last night I performed as a fill-in bass player for Metal Maiden at the House Of Blues here in Houston. Those of you that ventured out to see the show in particular, as well as those that thought it best to remain elsewhere, are probably expecting me to rip this performance to shreds. And though I will admit to this not being the most spectacular moment of my career, I did find the experience as a whole to be insightful. In fact, I dare say, it was a learning experience.
So where to begin… so much story to tell here.
I guess it is best to start out with how I found myself in such a predicament in the first place. For twenty plus years of bass playing, I was for hire regardless of the talent of those that wished to hire me. I remember auditioning for a country band in Amarillo, Tx that had landed a sweet steady gig at a local hotel. They were, at that time anyway, the worst band I had ever been in contact with. How they got this gig at the hotel had to be an act of God or something because it made absolutely NO FUCKING SENSE at all. It was like grabbing some random vagrant off the street, handing him a snowshovel and then allowing him to act as your wife’s new gynecologist without any training at all. The band knew how bad they sucked too, which was even more interesting. After nailing the audition, the leader turned to me with a puzzled expression on his face and asked the obvious question “You…uh…really want to play with us??” My response as the bass mercenary: “You really gonna pay me?” And when he nodded his affirmative reply… “Then I’m your man.”
And that is how it went for years and years. I finally had enough of it and retired from that line of work. I now only play what I want to play, when I want to play it, and I no longer care what the pay is or even if there is pay. The price right now for me to come play some covers in a bar somewhere is $500 a night up front. This is the amount of cash it takes to make me WANT to do it. Yep…it is really, really high (5 times the standard rate). This is not because I am so good that I feel I am worth this amount, but because I do not want to do it, and I’m comfortable that nobody in their right mind would ever be willing to pay that fee. This saves me from having to say no. For the record, nobody has been willing to pay this ridiculous price for a standard bar cover gig as of this time… so my plan is a complete success.
So what made me come out of retirement and whore myself out once again? The House Of Blues of course. While I have played some mighty fine venues in my day, I never got to do a House Of Blues gig. It’s like a midget threesome…you just can’t let a chance like that pass you by. Steve Mills, whom I played with in our Iron Maiden tribute act Iron Mayhem talked me into it…but I was not a hard sell on the idea. The agreement was a two-show engagement: Concert Pub Galleria one weekend and House Of Blues the next. I waved the pay from the Concert Pub gig in lou of HOB tickets for my friends. Why not? I was not doing this for money anyway.
Now, we must discuss the difference between a hobby musician and a pro, because it has a lot to do with the story. If you are writing your own music, developing your craft, and trying to promote and sell your creations then you are working as a professional musician. It does not really depend on the money you bring in — that is just the level of success you achieve while acting as a professional. If you have a day job but enjoy playing guitar in your spare time, learn some tunes, and then want to go play covers in a bar somewhere, you are a hobby musician. Sure you might make some money (and sometimes more than the pro’s…haha) but at the end of the day you are promoting another person’s product and not your own. It is a hobby.
Think of it this way. Let’s say I learn how to pour concrete from somebody, and now I can make a driveway in my spare time. I can go over to your sister’s house and do her driveway for cheap because I know you, and you heard I could do this. Even if I happen to be very gifted and badass at making your driveway, I am still a hobbiest at this activity. The minute I put “Frothy Concrete” on the side of my truck and throw myself out there as someone to contact for this service, I am now a professional. What changed? For the most part the view others would take of my work would change. As a professional driveway maker, my work would now be judged against all other professionals. I would be expected to perform at the same level of competence as “Wonky’s Concrete” and “Hard-As-A-Boner Concrete.” If you were to go on T.V. and do an infomercial about my concrete business, that would make you like a cover band. As a hobbiest, people could overlook a fuck-up here and there because I was not “a professional.” There is no forgiveness at the pro level because you are…well…a pro.
It is both unfair and silly to try to judge a hobbiest as a professional. We do not take the local Lady Gaga tribute act “Dump Consumption” and hold them to the same standards as Symphony X. There is nothing wrong with going out and doing something you like to do, and there is also no reason to have to be very good at it unless you are trying to be a professional. If you are, and you suck, natural selection will take its course and you will not be around very long anyway…so who gives a fuck right. Or it should….(more about this in a minute boys and girls).
So was this band good? No, they were not. But there was no reason for them to be. These guys are just out playing Maiden tunes because they like Maiden tunes. They are not trying to “make it” in music, they are just trying to make music. It is O.K. for them to fail at this because they are not professionals. Ripping them to shreds would be like going to my daughter’s ballet recital and bitching because the little kids were not “doing it like they do on broadway.”
In fact, I know a whole bunch of professionals that would NOT have handled this gig as well as George (the leader) did. George took a bad situation and made the best of it. Think of it from his standpoint. He had his band and then lost two members after getting the HOB gig. Now he had to get two fill-ins for what would probably be one of the biggest gigs of his life. A few days before, the other guitarist’s mom passes away (R.I.P. so sorry for your situation bro) and now he has to get another fill-in at the last minute. Of a 5 member band, 3 guys are not even real members now! He had stress of the financial burden of this gig (it is my understanding that he had to pony up somewhere between $1500-$3000 to make it happen and hope he recouped from the ticket sales). Then, at some level, you know that he knows that the band is not at the standard that he wishes it would be. Most of the “pros” I know would have pulled a prima donna move, bitched and moaned, and probably cancelled the whole thing. Not George… he was a “Trooper” and managed all the problems as they came up and tried to keep a positive attitude. His guitar playing might not turn heads, but his composure, character, and attitude should. He was a stand-up guy and I’m really glad I got to meet him and work with him. If more of us acted like he did under pressure, gigs would be so much more smoother.
The thing that bothered me the most about the whole thing was not George’s fault. It was the fact that he could get on the bill in the first place. No offense to Metal Maiden, but I don’t think that we had any business HEAD-LINEING the fucking House Of Blues. The Judas Priest and The Ozzy tribute acts mopped the floor with us. If you are the headliner, you do not get support acts that completely kick your ass. This defeats the purpose of being the fucking headliner. Unfortunately for us, and the audience, the god damn “My Little Pony Tribute Act” would have kicked our ass. The drums were so insane that I can’t believe we did not come to a full stop in the middle of Number Of The Beast. In fact, I think the drummer got so excited that in some instances he just skipped a bar or two and it took a miracle for us to find our place. This was not something that was unnoticed by most of the audience. It would have been one thing had this happened at open-mic night or someone’s birthday jam. But they were acting as “professional” entertainment. HEAD-LINING PROFESSIONAL ENTERTAINMENT. People paid cash money to see us butcher Iron Maiden songs. The problem was not with the guys, but it was where the guys were. We had hobby musicians in a position to attempt to deliver a product (entertainment) to people who were expecting a professional job. Metal Maiden did not have what we call “a bad night” because they did the best job they could do. There is nothing that we could have done different to improve this show because it was done at the highest level the band could achieve. Instead, we were just trying to play in the major league when we were more apt to fit in at the city park on a Saturday afternoon. At best, we should have opened the show.
But hey, more power to Metal Maiden for being able to do this…right???
I don’t think so. While I am happy for George and crew (and myself) that we got a chance to play at such a cool venue, this does not bode well for the scene. I think Pay-to-Play is a bad idea. If you went to an expensive resteraunt and ordered a gourmet burger and they brought you out a dollar-burger from McDonalds and still charged you resteraunt prices….you would be ripped-off and pissed off. This is no different. If I want to see a bunch of hobby folks hack up some cover songs, I can do this for free at any one of the fabulous open jams throughout the Houston area. I won’t have to pay ten bucks to get in and the drinks will not be 9 bucks a shot. This logic carries over here as well. If everytime I go to the House Of Blues I get an average performance for premium price…I’m going to stop going before too long.
Thankfully, Judith Priest and Ozz were awesome. I feel that their performances helped make up for how bad ours was. They earned their right to play at such a venue. Metal Maiden, from my understanding, had to pay for that right. This does not make it a right, nor was it right. You have to work up the food chain boys and girls…and frankly, as much as I liked the men involved, they were not ready for this.
Of course, by agreeing to do this, I am just as guilty. And I don’t blame George and the others for taking the opportunity…who could blame them. Just as in the aforementioned midget threesome scenario…how could you pass it up. The fault is on the House Of Blues for making a situation where this kind of nonsense could even formulate.
And then again, is it really the House Of Blues’s fault? They are a business right? This was guaranteed sale for them by making Metal Maiden pick up most of the tab…how could they lose? Eventually, in theory people would stop coming if all they offered was crap…but you know they will be bringing in real “professionals” often enough that between the true stars and sheer name recognition, they would be fine. In addition, this kind of garbage is happening everywhere, from L.A. to major tours. For enough money, your kid brother’s crappy emo band can buy their way onto a whole bunch of tours. This does not give them the talent to belong there….and people do notice. Your friends will tell you how great you sound, but all the people that do not know you will speak the truth. Sometimes, that truth hurts…this does not make it any less true however.
All in all though, I’m glad I did it. The guys in Metal Maiden are all really cool folks and good people. I am very glad to have gotten to meet them and spend some time hanging out with them. I have several friends in Judith Priest, and it was great to see them again. I am now a fan of Ozz, the ozzy tribute…so that was a plus too. It was fun to get to share the stage with Steve Mills again (he can sing the shit outta some Maiden). And there is always the fun little pleasure of getting to do something that you have no business doing. Last night I was part of Metal Maiden, and I did not belong on that stage any more than the rest of them did.
But hey…it was fun. Thanks guys. And super big thanks to all my friends that came to see me and to all the cool mother fuckers in the other bands. It was an interesting day, and I’m glad to have been there.
Next time? That will be $500 bucks.