Like Walking a Tightrope

Have you ever walked up onto a stage before a crowd of people… and you didn’t have a clue what you were going to sing or play?

For some of you, this probably sounds as frightening as walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls… or jumping off a tall bridge with a bungee rope tied around you ankles… or as embarrassing perhaps as a bachelor’s party gone wrong when your friends strip you naked and tie you to the town square traffic lights, the night before your wedding. This last bit actually happened to a friend of mine… even the cops thought it was funny. As they did their loop round the town every hour, they’d stop at the lights to chat with the groom in waiting, “Hey Steve, I hear your getting married tomorrow. Congratulations mate, hope it all goes well for you.”

As a touring sideman for many years this was my lot, to play guitar or bass on stages large and small alongside the touring singers and entertainers who were either on their way up or… down the slippery slope of success.

Some night-club performers, as they travel from club to casino to festival, carry with them a stack of song charts that might help ease the ‘how does this song go again’ nerves among the musicians. But more often than not, without a rehearsal or talk through the entertainer merely walks up on stage, smiles to the audience and shouts something pithy like, ‘are we ready to rock’ and then throws out the names of one song after another to us musicians with an expectation that we each know how to play the songs, ‘just like the record’.

This past Saturday me and my mates had the pleasure of one such adventure at the Party for the Soul down in Carlsbad. And it was a whole lot of fun… to get the old gray cells and magic ears a working together to play a set of songs that most of us had never played before.

Crazy… in Eb.

Now would that be the Aerosmith Crazy or Crazy by Seal or is it Madonna’s Crazy for You or Queen’s Crazy Little thing Called Love or Van the man’s Crazy Love… or Shine on you Crazy Diamond by the Floyd?

Oh… the Gnarls Barkley Crazy!

And as the singer (a fine singer at that by the name of Cerissa McQueen) counted in the song, me and the other muso’s on stage started to dive through our memory banks of moments when we may have played this song before… or at least heard it on the radio, or in a movie or at a party.

It’s a bit like space exploration. All the bits and pieces of the song, like the lyrics, melody, chords, the groove, tempo and song structure are little particles of information floating around in the space between our ears… and with any luck they may just link together on our Space station called a stage… in time to shape an actual performance.

What a joyous, painful, exhilarating shared experience this can be. We lived in this exploration of sound and groove for an hour or more, the audience oblivious to the ‘crazy’ notion that we had never played together before.

I am still buzzing that I could work out how to play “I Wish” before the second chorus. Woohoo!

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2 Comments

  1. Thats what happens when our lastest gospel band hits the stage..often musos wamder up just as we go on..usually a success..what a blessing to be a muso huh !!!

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