Thursday, August 20, 2009
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: Art is FREE. WHEE!
I'm not going to pretend to be an economist. I’ve already shared some theories on why our country is in financial decline, and who knows if I’m right. But right now I’m in a somewhat obsessive phase of reading world history, especially the history of Stalinist Russia. I’ve begun to think that one very disturbing symptom of decline may be people’s gradual numbness to art itself. In this regard, the internet is the modern miracle that is simultaneously saving and destroying us.
It’s hard to say whether the internet has done more economic harm than good. I would think harm, but I honestly can’t say. While it has put millions of travel agents, car salesmen and realtors, etc. out of business, I’m sure it has also provided some jobs, exposed more people to global concerns, and let people telecommute, among other positive things.
This nation was once a major exporter of goods in the world. Now, not so much. American workers have earned themselves a reputation for being lazy, most everything is made overseas, and mega-corporations constantly price-set and put local competition out of business. I meet more and more people who are employees in retail, and fewer who are business owners or who actually manufacture something. I ask: what exactly are we making here in the United States that the world is interested in buying anymore? And for that matter, what are we making that WE are interested in buying? Our spoiled and selfish consumers favor quantity over quality, and seem to gleefully use the internet to pirate that which they can’t legitimately find for free.
New movie coming out? Buy it? Dude....you can burn it...for FREE! WHEE! Music? Get it FREE! WHEE! Piracy “feels” less dishonest than shoplifting, even though it’s not. Consumers are totally desensitized to the effects of their own behavior. For those that bother to compare and pay attention to the lessons of history, today’s commodity-hunger and devaluation of art are eerily similar to what happened to Rome. That super-power ate itself up in a hedonistic orgy of food, sex and entertainment. And after the implosion of a society, it is usually left to some restrictive regime to pick up the pieces.
Music, art and literature were once highly valuable commodities in the United States. Now writers, artists and musicians here are vying for any attention they can garner.....for FREE!! WHEE! Ask most young people today if they believe they should pay for fine art, literature and music and they will look puzzlingly at you. Who can blame them? It’s there – FREE! WHEE! Many young, budding musicians I know give away music that cost them to make, somewhat reluctantly, but their attitude is “that’s the only way to promote it anymore.” Sometimes their self-promotion pays off, sometimes not. The diminishing desire to create art that gives voice to the pains and desires of a society is part of the decline of that society. The concept of the starving artist is somewhat romantic for a while, but artists have dignity too and want to get a fair reward for their work. Authors have mortgages and actors have car payments just like everyone else. Art for art’s sake is a lovely idea, but one still has to eat.
If this trend continues, the result could very well be a society that has its arts completely funded and hence dictated by its government, much like the art of other countries throughout history. If that happens, the handful of remaining artists will end up on government payroll, which will certainly lead to two things. One, the art they produce will be created in an atmosphere of fear of job loss and will grow ever more stale and predictable. Two, art will most assuredly NOT be FREE!! WHEE!! Does undervaluing the arts still sound inexpensive? Uncle Johnny, over and out.
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: The Glamorous Sound of Eco-touring
Today’s topic arises as the result of a well-intentioned, blonde dreadlocked music fan who wobbly Birkenstocked up to me at a recent festival and asked, “Hey, man, what is your band doing to keep your tours green? I mean do you guys buy offsets to help with the carbon footprint?” “No, we don’t,” I said immediately. She looked shocked. Well, shocked, and a little bloodshot, and somewhat disappointed. I tried to explain.
Regarding the mucho-hyped carbon offsets, I feel compelled to put things into a pragmatic perspective. A little background: The idea of carbon offsets is not brand new (but maybe not familiar to everyone). Per Wikipedia, “In the … voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, electricity use, and other sources.” You buy an “offset,” and with that money, you support some ecologically P.C. groovy project like a solar or wind farm. (Is it just me or is this a little bit like going to an O2 bar to offset the lung damage done by smoking a pack and a half of Camel Lights a day? Basically, you are just fining yourself for touring.) But don’t get me wrong. Bands who buy carbon offsets are doing something important for the greater good, and I commend them for doing so. At least it’s honest, for it acknowledges that our industry pollutes (most do). Dave Matthews, Phish, The Dead, they’re all buying offsets and sponsoring clean energy, and I am proud that they are. Bear in mind though, that they do this in part to inspire others, not just musicians, but fans who are insurance adjusters and company CFOs. The point of these bands using their fame “for good” is to remind everyone that our travels make an impact.
Unfortunately my band (and in actuality the vast majority of bands) just don’t tour at the level of Dave or The Dead. Some of our friends are still crossing the map with two giant buses (at 6-8 MPG), one for band and one for gear. They SHOULD be buying carbon offsets. When they do, it’s because they can afford to. We tour nationally at a much more modest level. Trying to make a profit during this recession, Cracker tours in a single Sprinter van that gets over 20MPG even with a heavy gear trailer. When we arrive in a city after a 5 to 8 hour drive every day, our legs and asses are asleep and we have had almost NO sleep, but may I point out, we are leaving a much smaller eco-footprint. We recycle. Some of us are vegetarians. We play “sustainable living” fairs, and as individuals we give money to green charities when we can and still afford to keep going. But our business requires that we travel. CD sales are a fraction of what they used to be for EVERY band, so survival equals touring. A videoconference or podcast of a show just doesn’t give our fans that vibrating-through-the-floorboards, smell of the beer that just got dumped on the guy next to them, live in-concert feeling. We can really only pollute less by touring less, and by not making a living and not bringing our live show to the fans that sustain us. So until Ben and Jerry’s gives us our own flavor (Cracker Surprise with Whiskey, Milk & Honey?), or the industry reinvents itself in a big way, we will keep doing the many little things we hope will add up to helping sustain the earth, just as we hope our fans will do, even if we can’t publicly boast that our exhaust paid for an entire wind farm in Wyoming.
To learn about the many ways bands can tour more responsibly, and how fans can help, one great site is reverbrock.org (started by the folks from Guster). A final fact, from the Dogwood Alliance website, says that 80% of a concert’s carbon footprint comes from fans’ commutes. Hey dreadlock girl, wherever you are, I trust you walked or carpooled to that festival. Or perhaps you bought a carbon offset instead of that extra bag of “herb.” My only advice to friends and readers is this: do everything you can to fight global warming and social ills, but don’t waste time feeling guilty about things that are out of your hands. If you are doing your part, you are ahead of many who just don’t care.
Footnote: My wife and personal editor would like me to point out that we know Wikipedia is not a “real” source, but, this is not a New York Times column, either. This is college-town entertainment publishing, and Uncle Johnny is just fine with that, over and out.
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: A few words
Hello Fort Collins! Short column this month; I had considered not submitting anything at all due to time constraints, but I wanted to give a few props before summer insanity hits.
I was so impressed with the bands and the organization that went into our city’s first Fort Collins Music Experiment! We enjoyed two great nights out and I got to see a few local artists I’d only heard about. Take it from this happily weary, 25 year alt-rock veteran...Northern Colorado has one of the best locals scenes I’ve ever seen, much less been a part of. I hope FOCOMX grows every year, and thank you FOCOMA for supporting local music. It’s been an honor to be part of it.
Creating support for musicians at the local level is so important...without a local fan base, bands have nothing to build on. With the recession still in full swing, local music fills a community need for affordable and quality entertainment, to say nothing of the tremendous release that a night of musical escape from the day-to-day grind can provide to the soul and the spirit. So, folks, consider it your civic duty to hoist a few drinks in front of your favorite local band whenever possible! That said, I will be away from the Fort a lot this year.
My band Cracker has a new album coming out on May 5th. As my fellow musicians know, touring during a recession means more legwork and more dates, fewer patio lunches in Old Town, less time with friends and family. Summer can be grueling, but, this is what we do. We had an amazing time recording the Cracker album and I hope to bring tales of the road back home. We had great guest musicians on this record, like Patterson Hood, John Doe, and Adam Duritz. Due to a tight recording schedule, I didn’t bring home any tales of debauchery from the sessions, but if we spend any time with these characters on the road this summer, you had better believe that there will be adventures and misadventures to share. I will try to make time to write about them between festivals, long drives, hangovers and layovers!
Here’s to a fine summer, Uncle Johnny.
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: Uncle Johnny: MyBook SpaceFace!
Welcome to the world of “web thingies,” as my friend Brian calls them. Brian is a respected music business attorney in Los Angeles who, like many of us, feels a bit conflicted about the relatively new, blurred paradigm of web communication, networking and f____g off.
As I sit here feeling guilty about neglecting my MySpace “friends” and spending far too much time perusing mildly amusing but basically useless stuff on FaceBook, I hope to steal a moment to weigh the worth myself. Where have all my moments gone? While I admit to enjoying what I see as the positive aspects of the web thingies (reconnecting with old friends like Brian, advertising my band’s gigs), I don’t even want to think about what a time sucking vortex these technologies are.
For those of us fortunate enough to have a spare moment in these challenging times of economic catastrophe, the “thingies” pull us in and take those moments away. So that we can do what, share pertinent information such as our 25 favorite albums of all time, I guess.
How ever did we survive without these wonderful new communications miracles? Powerful indeed, they have even managed to create a new elitist lingo. “Oh..are you still using MySpace? How quaint! The rest of us were using Twitter but have since moved on to Splitter or perhaps Shitter!” Where does it end? Does it end? Will we all be sharing the apocalypse experience in darkly humorous, rapid-fire anecdotes as Rome burns?
Maybe I, modern guitar-Nero, will be sitting on my roof with a Les Paul and miniature amplifier, maniacally typing to you all between riffs until the wireless server shuts down for the last time.
Wait!...what am I doing writing this inane article? I have to check in on my “friends!”
Thanks to SpaceFace, I’ve now witnessed the end of more than one relationship, the details of which were sadly displayed across the screen for many “friends” to see. It is odd enough knowing these details about “friends.” It is even sadder reading these public proclamations about real, long-term friends and their personal pitfalls.
How will I respond? Privately or publicly? How will I keep track? Hmm...Note to self: Create new folders for friends vs. “friends.” Then I can get back to those bothersome secondary tasks such as eating, sleeping, working and caring for family. With any luck, my life will be made even easier when next year’s thingy automatically scrolls right across the inside lenses of my glasses so I can see what everyone’s favorite movies are as I get dressed and make breakfast! That will give me back so much of the time I’m now losing. I can’t wait!
Uncle Johnny, over and out
Sunday, February 01, 2009
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: Ambassadors of the U.S.A.: My Minority Neighbor and Me
I have a “minority” neighbor that I have nothing but contempt for. He represents everything I can’t stand about his kind. They feel threatened when anyone outside of their minority group seems to be advancing socially, financially or politically. Throughout history these people have been known to resort to violence to quell said advancements when propaganda and fear mongering do not do the trick. I’m talking of course about the last holdouts of thinly cloaked racists that disguise themselves as patriots and good God-fearing folk. They organize into hate groups, hiding in basements and back rooms to wallow in their stagnant fear of change. They wave the flag and blindly assume that every military action our nation takes is right and just, be it the battle with Hitler or backing blood thirsty dictators like General Pinochet or Saddam Hussien (Yes, before we killed him, we were Saddam’s ally). On Election Day, my obviously frustrated and hateful neighbor adorned his camper with an obscene sticker defaming our handsome and dignified president. His vehicles are already covered with bumper stickers that read “Can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em” and “Real Americans don’t press two.” Gee, I wonder how he really feels about immigrants. You know, those people who built the entire nation? What he seems to have forgotten is that the quintessential “real” American can barely be defined, given our diverse population made up of so many proud “foreigners.” Really, it’s only those a**holes like him that I’d rather not claim as my fellow Americans.
As traveling musicians, my band mates and I see a great deal of this country. We meet fantastic people of every age, race, and political persuasion. We also have the opportunity to get a firsthand perspective on how the rest of the world sees us. It’s been a rough last few years, touring internationally. Constantly having to defeat the image of the rude “ugly American” tourist who demands “Texas sized” portions and starts every sentence with “Well back in the STATES,…(they just GIVE you ice water / we don’t PUT up with riff-raff / we just take the FREEWAY / whatever...doesn’t anyone speak ENGLISH here?)” Unfortunately, foreigners I’ve chatted with seem to believe that folks like my neighbor ARE the common citizens over here. How did this guy’s small-minded set become the mental image of “American” for so many people? I don’t get it. Maybe the press, maybe the internet have magnified their presence. Most foreigners I met on the last couple of tours didn’t like our government either, so I would often find myself on the defensive end of a polite but opinionated set of questions. As a musician, you go on tour wanting to just do your job, share your music, meet people. You want to be proud of America’s artists, thinkers, and humanitarians, our frequent acts of aid to others in need throughout the last decades which are more than most other nations combined. But, again, the last few years have been tough for selling the assets of America to worldly folks who are usually much more aware of world politics than we are. All I could ever do was try to set a good example, be polite and unassuming, as another individual ambassador for my country.
May the next four or eight years see the global opinion of us change, as the haters here continue to slowly fade into the sunset and the “real” America continues on its path to healing and accepting responsibility for our actions. In my opinion, our new president perfectly represents the best of his constituency. Though his presidential track record remains to be set, he at least seems passionately devoted to working toward the common good of all people. Which is certainly more than I can say about my “minority” neighbor. (May he and his kind go the way of the dinosaurs.) Next time I tour overseas, I’d like to just do my job—entertaining—without feeling the need to apologize on every street corner.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: When You Hate the Audience
Okay, that’s a bit of a harsh headline and deserves some clarification. Let me preface this rant by saying that 95% of the audience members I’ve had the pleasure performing for over the years have been wonderful in every way, making me more than happy to shake hands, sign CDs, take pictures and have a beer with them. A couple of my best friends are people I met at shows. Not only do I feel honored and lucky as hell to have the opportunity to play for these people, but they also pay my bills and keep our band in business. I could do a lot worse.
Still, there are those nights and those people who make it tough to be nice. I’m referring to the audience members who by virtue of being drunk or just plain socially impaired throw a wrench into the machinery of an otherwise great gig. Let’s refer to them as “gig clowns.” I’m speaking for all performers as well as for the concert going fan in all of us here because these people are disrupting everyone’s enjoyment, aren’t they? Many of you will recognize these clowns. Maybe you have BEEN one of these clowns. If so, stop reading and go back to drinking your cheap swill beer and annoying your soon-to-be-ex-roommate.
OK, everybody gets maybe one or two lifetime “passes” to be this character, limited mostly to your 21st birthday and the weekend after your marriage breaks up. But some of these audience members are obviously career troublemakers. These characters are overwhelmingly male and usually wasted. Sometimes it’s innocent clumsiness, other times it’s your basic, attention seeking, ego deprived “Look at me!” assholeness. These are the guys that wait for a quiet, intense point in a song to yell something brilliantly original like “This chick is SO F___ING HOT!” They are sure their public display of appreciation for a neighboring fan will win them a date. The proper retort (stated loudly over the microphone) is of course “Yes, she is, and NOW she knows you’re an idiot.”
Another gig clown sighting: I like Halloween as much as anyone. Unfortunately, through the years Halloween has been bleeding over to the preceding and following days and weekends, a sort of Halloween Season. Some people apparently use donning a costume as an excuse to be complete jackasses. This year, a few days after Halloween, I was onstage with my musical cohorts about halfway through a somber, quiet song. The audience was silently attentive. Suddenly two morons wearing the stale, oh-how-2-years-ago “My Dick In A Box” costumes forced their way down front. Lousy timing aside, these guys were clueless. Gyrating and clunking their boxes into female audience members, they raised more than a few angry eyebrows. Finishing the song, I almost yelled: “Hey..this girl down here just told me those boxes are WAY too big for your ‘junk’...anybody got a spare ring box?” But, I resisted. Why reward them with attention? Dogs, toddlers, drunk idiots. The rules for dealing with them are often the same.
One of my favorite gig clown scenarios is the pitiable soul who keeps yelling for a song you have already played. He may have been in the restroom hurling his unwise schnapps and beer combinations or out having a smoke when the song went down. He has been told this by exasperated people in his vicinity but continues to bellow like a beached walrus in search of a mate he will never find. Sometimes the walrus accepts defeat and slinks away grumbling. Sometimes however, he waits, wobbling in his misguided, booze addled fury until the rest of the crowd has left and the gear is being packed up. The bouncers are close to 86ing him but he feels forthright in his indignation. At this point (sorry) I find him amusing and proceed to taunt him like a cat toying with a huge drunken mouse. It goes like this: He sees me poke my head out of the backstage area. “Hey man...you guys didn’t play blurberblurber!!” He yells between hiccups, his finger pointing in circles around the spinning room of his reality. “Yes we did!” I giggle and pull my head back in, closing the door. “NOOOO YOU DIDN’T JJJOHNNY! MAAAN, I PAID TO HEAR Mother f.....n BBRRRRUBLBBRUB!!” He throws down his beer can and begins to pound on the backstage door as my fellow band members laugh and shake their heads at my sadistic pleasure. As I hear the security guys leading him swearing and swerving towards the exit, I stick my head out and yell “Okay man.....we’re gonna play it right now!” and walk towards the stage with my guitar. You can imagine the scene as the side door closes behind our poor walrus. I sincerely apologize to this gentleman if he’s out there and recognizes himself in this story.....well.....actually, I don’t.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"This edition’s topic: On Tour... Election 08
Wait, I know you’re feeling up to your ears in it but let’s take another quick look anyway, shall we? My God, what a simultaneously odd and wonderful freak show this is. CNN footage of drooling, monosyllabic racists aside, this race is almost amusing. I am in a North Carolina hotel room watching Larry King Live as he and guest commentator Bill Maher watch the NY Diocese Al Smith memorial charity dinner. Here they are, America. The two presidential candidates joyfully clowning one another like some late night commercial for the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts DVDs. I half expect 60s comedienne Ruth Buzi to come flying out of the wings to beat both of them with her purse. Part of me is wishing she would.
Forget Joe the Plumber who’s not a plumber, come on over to my front lawn and ask ME what’s on my mind! Hey...I’m a just a guitar player (really...unlike Joe I have my union card!), but I have a reasonably valid question: What in the flying f---- is going on here? Isn’t the country on the verge of collapsing from within? What are these guys doing sipping chardonnay and chortling at one another’s one-liners in their white bow ties while Rome burns?
Well, at least they have their senses of humor. Personally my votes lean Left with a few small Rightish tendencies, so I can snicker when SNL or others lampoon all four ticket members... And boy is there grist for that mill or what? Moose Mommy verbally stumbling through speeches in ways that make “W” look almost worldly in retrospect. SHE COULD BE PRESIDENT! Like many of you I’m afraid, but trying to enjoy the circus anyway. However, in this year of historic political tensions I’m a little uncomfortable laughing. Sort of like my days working in a mortuary, when yes, we had to joke occasionally or we would have lost our minds.
Pardon me while I think back to a more carefree election season. My band, Cracker, was invited to play at one of Bill Clinton’s most pivotal campaign rallies in Atlanta. A proud moment, a proud year. As I walked up for my token souvenir snapshot with Bill, I remember complimenting his resplendent suit. Instead of a simple “thank you,” he grinned knowingly and winked. I felt right there that the then-unsubstantiated rumors about his “PLAYA” ways were true. Bill had it goin’ on and knew it, big time. It was a surreal day, the grandeur, the left and the right “making nice,” the daughter of a prominent senator at the bar, tipsily attempting to say “hello” by biting my neck (while secret service types hovered yards away with eyebrows raised). Even in my post-show, gin and tonic haze, I felt trouble looming. I split through a side entrance feeling like an extra in a Bond flick. Interesting times indeed. Rock and roll decadence on a campaign trail budget. Indie/alt rock was blossoming into its heyday. We had an album out on a big label. Rock the Vote was huge, and we were proud to be part of it. Good times. Sigh.
Fifteen years later... the major labels (many of whom deserved it) are all but gone. For better and for worse, we now have the digital revolution. We can reach wider audiences. Of course, many of them think our life’s work, our music, should be downloadable, free, like the wind. Will they come work for me for free? Hey man, come on over and make Cracker a free pizza! (Sorry, another rant for another day). Probably three quarters of the bands that were together when my band was at its peak are no more. But here we are, thankfully, still going strong, willing to work longer hours with higher overhead to bring our music to fans and our paychecks home. We hope that even as recession threatens, people will always need live music to rejuvenate. We musicians, like everyone else, just hope to weather the ongoing storm.
To my fellow working musicians, I offer this bit of optimism: whatever the fallout from this historic election, whatever recession or changes in world politics these times bring, we all need to keep doing what we do best. Creating and entertaining. Even during The Great Depression of the 1930s the clubs and speakeasies were full of people downing prohibition booze and listening to live music to forget their woes. If the election goes against our wishes, may we write the best blues we ever wrote. Punk rock. Protest songs. Melancholy instrumentals. Regardless of how the election tips, let’s make the feel-good songs of the season, so the fans whose candidate triumphed can dance on the discarded lawn placards of the other side. WHEEEE!!! Those whose candidate lost can slip into the comforting Friday night ritual of wine, whisky and song. Same as it ever was.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
Johnny Hickman is the co founder and lead guitarist for the band Cracker. Info at www.JohnnyHickman.com, www.myspace.com/johnnyhickmanmusic, Crackersoul.com, CrackerHatesMySpace @ MySpace.com
Thursday, October 09, 2008
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"This edition’s topic: Uncle Johnny Answers Your Questions
This month I've decided to answer some of the questions sent to my MySpace account. Thanks especially to Morst and Amy.
Q) What do you eat/drink to stay healthy on the road?
A) I drink a lot of water and try to eat well as often as possible. Some of us like to have a cocktail here and there (wow! what a surprise!) and I try to balance out the erratic sleep hours and alcohol with rest, re-hydration and a healthy diet. I'm so thankful for tours where we play college or hippie-centric towns, because the fare tends to be healthier. Unlike those long drives through the Midwest, where sad bands can be seen wolfing down Hostess Cupcakes or Pop Tarts in gas station parking lots. I try to eat my biggest meal of the day a few hours before the show (it's hard to sing with a full stomach) and I eat little or nothing after-show. (This helps me sleep better.)
Q) What music do you listen to on the road?
A) Depends on my mood like anybody I guess. Sometimes I can't stand listening to rock music because I play it myself every night. Other days I can't get enough, especially if it's something new that I'm obsessed with. I really like Backyard Tire Fire, Beck and The White Stripes. From the old school I listen to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Pixies, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. To relax or escape from a bad day, I listen to Dead Can Dance, Bonnie Prince Billy or Nick Drake.
Q) Do you listen to music when you're trying to get inspired to write music for your next project? What else is inspiring?
A) Sometimes, but the new music I come up with almost never ends up sounding like what I've listened to. Sometimes simply listening to any music can get you in the mood to write. I come up with a lot of rough ideas on the road but it's a challenge to finish anything. I need some solitude for that to happen and there is not much solitude there. I often hand whatever guitar riffs I've come up with to my partner in Cracker, David Lowery. He's a great songwriter and a lot more prolific than I am. Peter Buck from R.E.M. once told me that when he tries too hard nothing happens. He gets his best musical ideas just sitting and watching something like a baseball game on television with a guitar in is hands not really paying that much attention. Strangely, I often come up with music when I have a fever. The fall is good, so I'm glad Cracker is recording this fall and winter. The Canadian Geese that start flying overhead here in the Colorado fall never fail to give me a strange creative melancholy. I like their cacophonous honking. It's musical chaos, but in a good way. If I had to translate this into advice, I'd say don't bother with what works for others. If inspiration strikes, make the time somehow.
Q) So, is the whole "groupie" thing a reality, and if so, how do you react to it?
A) Every band has their stories.... I myself happily take pictures and flirt a little with "friendly" fans. The aggressive, really drunk or scary types, we generally let the club deal with. For those who don't take the "Thank you, but I'm happily married" hint, I have a few stock responses. I reach for my cell phone and ask them, "Let's call my wife. Maybe it will be OK with her?" Or I ask if they would like to help move some amps please, or perhaps do my laundry. No takers yet….
Q) What are the best and worst things about playing in a band?
A) To me one of the worst things is the physical toll the traveling takes. Being away from family and friends can be a disorienting, difficult and lonely experience. Living out of a suitcase is something I've been doing for most of my adult life, but it still sucks sometimes. For me the best aspects are playing shows, knowing you are a part of people's lives. I love meeting new people every day. Another great thing is waking up in that hotel room somewhere and remembering that I make music for a living. When things get rough I silently remind myself that I don't have to do this. I GET to do this.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
Johnny Hickman is the co founder and lead guitarist for the band Cracker. Info at www.JohnnyHickman.com, www.myspace.com/johnnyhickmanmusic, Crackersoul.com, CrackerHatesMySpace @ MySpace.com
Sunday, September 07, 2008
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"This edition’s topic: Why Do We Do This?
As musicians, we’ve all asked ourselves this. It’s a pragmatic and valid question. Let’s start with a few negatives that theoretically should stop us before we even entertain any aspirations of playing music professionally: The odds of actually earning a living as musicians are stacked overwhelmingly against us. The music business in general has scaled down to roughly one third of what it used to be only a decade ago and shows no sign of fully recuperating. The overhead cost of performing and touring is soaring due to high fuel costs and a troubled economy. Even devoting the time to hone your skills is a never-ending challenge, unless you are independently wealthy or you have no other life at all. – I’ve been in the latter category a few times and admit so unabashedly.
We know the odds, yet still we gather in someone’s garage or cramped rehearsal space to forge ahead with our goals to “make it.” Every year a handful of bands do just that. They somehow acquire decent instruments, write, rehearse and play their collective asses off. They earn a fan base, get the attention of one of the remaining record labels, and manage to get a deal. From the point of view of someone who has been through that music biz gristmill several times…if you really believe in yourself and feel you have something to offer to the music fans of the world, never give up. There were several times in my life when I put my guitar down in frustration and went back to “regular” jobs after yet another failed attempt or dead end. Each time I was miserable, until I got back in the game at least on some level. I know that someday, I will likely opt out again. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, knowing it will all end, but it’s reality. The average life span of a band is six years. We’ve gone eighteen with Cracker. Nonstop. The odds are stacked against any one band making it AND especially, against that success lasting. So why do I do this? Why do any of us do this?
I remember reading a quote from a musician long ago that went something like this: “Anyone who says they did not start a band to get laid is lying.” Although it may hold some truth, that’s a rather presumptuous take. I can honestly say that I started playing the guitar and hanging out with musicians when I was “pre-pubescent,” and it was as a direct result of what I heard on the radio. I knew I wanted to make those sounds. I was only seven when I first picked up a guitar. It wasn’t until I was around thirteen or fourteen that I had the first inklings of understanding that music-carnal connection. I was playing with eighteen and nineteen-year-old guys who made me stand in the back because they were a little embarrassed by the “kid”. Pretty girls swarmed them after we played, as my dad came to pick me up in the family station wagon. I remember Dad’s knowing look as he scoped out the scene and his words of concern as we drove away, all of it ignored as the music in my head cranked and my thoughts drifted to ways to look a little older and cooler NEXT gig.
What it all boils down to is this. If you were meant to make music in your life, then you will. There simply is no other choice. You will suffer all manner of hardship, indignity, confusion, broken relationships, and frustration. This goes for the successful and unsuccessful among us. It’s a mysterious and bumpy elevator ride and you will hit every floor. Learn from what’s there or get out and slink back down the stairwell with your tail between your legs. Remember this: John Lennon was raised by his aunt Mimi who told him, “Music is a wonderful thing but it will never make you a living.” He lived in squalor with his mates, and ate beans on toast every day until he “made it.” He eventually framed his aunt’s words and hung them on the wall of one of his splendid homes. When my own father, a.k.a. “The Colonel,” tried to encourage me to join the military for the hundredth time, my humble response paraphrased another adage, “If I have something to fall back on, I just might.” After that Dad slowly began supporting my musical aspirations wholeheartedly. Now, I admit, I might advise that my own sons and nephews actually have something to fall back on. Given those pesky odds, I know that even with sheer determination, talent, and a huge dose of timing and luck, it won’t always work out. But, if music is not your primary passion, forget it. And while I don’t have my youthful, hubris-stoked statement framed on my wall, I do have it echoing in the back of my mind when I contemplate the realities of the precarious life I have chosen. I take it one day and one step at a time. So far so good.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: Hotel Life
I’ve been practically living in hotels for around twenty-five years. My nightly accommodations run the gamut from splendid historic European establishments to filthy dives that my friend Jared calls "touch nothing" motels. And in between, chains like Comfort Quality 8 Inn, varying immensely in both "Quality" and "Comfort." I implore you or your tour manager, research. Some are fine at $49 but I’ve run horrified from places in the $100 range, wanting to douse myself and my belongings with rubbing alcohol. The reviews at Hotels.com and other sites are a Godsend of recent years. Here are a few more tips to make your stay in Dullsville, Ohio a little less stressful.
1. You DID WHAT?! Hotels will often give your room away if you arrive late. Of course, being a musician, you will often arrive late because you GET OFF WORK AT 3 AM! Have reservation numbers ready to shove under their noses, and check in pre-show whenever possible.
2. Become The Things In The Lobby! Most desk clerks are efficient and courteous. When they are not…. I’ve learned to deal with self-important, big city hipster hotel staff in my own way. Scenario: The smarmy clerks are fawning over a long line of resplendently dressed business types and ignore the (ugh)....musicians with guitars and backpacks. You are late for an interview and/or sound check. Be what they fear most! Become...THE THINGS IN THE LOBBY! Start by peeling a banana. Lie down en masse on a pile of your gear and bags. Put your feet up on the faux leather ottoman. Feign sleep. Don’t get thrown out, just be the friendly, smiling eyesore. You’ll be in your rooms in minutes.
3. The Sharp-Dressed Man. Living out of a suitcase, I occasionally arrive to find the iron was stolen and never replaced. Hanging clothes to steam on the shower rod gets you soaked clothes. I hang my things behind the shower head using my own roll of packing tape and plastic hanger. I emerge looking like I stayed at the Hilton.
4. Knock Knock...houseKEEPing! (Dealing with sadistic hotel maids.) I know these people have unpleasant, low-paying jobs with slave-driving bosses. Give them the benefit of the doubt...at first. Most are sweet hard working folk but some are uncaring and laugh at the "Do not disturb" sign you placed on the door at 3 a.m. They yell to one another outside your door at 7. They rap on it every 5 minutes, loudly chirping that one phrase like a screwdriver in your ear, even after you try to explain that you got to sleep 4 hours earlier and prearranged a late check out. First, call the front desk. If you are ignored, all bets are off. When the maid comes to torture you again, be ready! If you are not already naked, become so immediately. If your hair is not already a tangled mess, make it one. Distort your face into that of a homicidal maniac and yank the door open wide, roaring and staggering like a wild animal with a tranquilizer dart protruding from its neck. The last time I employed this tactic the offending maid crossed herself and muttered “oh no!” as she scurried away. I slept like a baby till noon.
Uncle Johnny, over and out.
Comment or questions? www.myspace.com/johnnyhickmanmusic
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
From Scene, "Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians"
This edition’s topic: air travel.
Greetings fellow NOCO musicians! I’ve had the good fortune of touring the globe with my band Cracker for about 18 years now, and Scene has asked me to share some tips with those of you new to the world of the traveling musician. In May, airlines began charging a fee for checking a second piece of luggage. Research online, and you’ll find that fees vary from $10 to $50 each way. So far Delta is the only airline to state publicly that in addition to the standard "one carry on and one small personal item" we working musicians can also carry on a guitar or smaller-sized instrument. I recently flew Delta to Atlanta and back and they were very cool, happily allowing me to carry my ancient, beloved Les Paul onto the plane. Remember that smaller aircraft often don’t have the overhead space for guitars, basses and other instruments. In short: call ahead, make sure you won’t be forced to gate-check your baby in a soft case, and book a seat near the back to increase your odds of getting that overhead space. Happy travels!
Suggestions for next month’s topic? Send a request at www.myspace.com/johnnyhickmanmusic
Monday, November 05, 2007
3 am....Nov. 4th 07 Sitting here in the wee hours at out hotel in Lawrence Kansas. Great show tonight...a very attentive audience which is my polite way of saying that people were listening very closely to the quieter songs and not talking to loudly during them. WHICH WE LOVE.
On to my other reason for blogging: I want to thank Chris and Maria for the wonderful podcast regarding the history of my song "Harvest Queen". A big thank you to Morst too. Well done! I feel compelled to fill in a few blanks though.....the music for the song goes back years...all the way to "Big Dirty Yellow" (The house David and I shared when we first moved to Richmond together pre Cracker). I awoke one morning with the guitar riff and melodies in my head and worked them out right then and there. I showed it to David at one point and he called my then instrumental "Harvest Queen". It felt like a great title but we were in the middle of working on many, many other songs and I put it on the back burner. Cut to 1999, around the time I moved back to Redlands and rekindled my friendship with Chris LeRoy.
We showed each other what we had been working on and instantly began collaborating again which always feels natural to us. He came up with a new title and lyrics for the song (Haunted) which I felt where great, but I still liked David's original title idea. We recorded the track with Chris on an old, beat up, upside down bass , Chad Villareal on drums and Maria at the board and it was just spontaneously magical on the first take. It's true as Maria says, I showed it to several session players and they never matched that original track!
One night I fell asleep thinking about David's title idea "Harvest Queen". As Chris says in the podcast he had burned me a CD of several scary old songs by other people. One night I dreamt I was one of 3 or 4 young migrant farm workers in a vast green field in California somewhere. In the dream there was a beautiful, naked witch flying over us. She was slowly changing from a woman to a raven, a ball of fire and back into this temptress / goddess ...then she vanished. She appeared again after dark and was trying to coax these young men into an old 1940s looking car for something...sex? comfort? protection? To steal our souls? I didn't know but I saw it all...the monkey's paw, the straw...all of it. Scared the hell out of me.
I woke with a start and wrote the whole thing down before I could forget it. The dream became the final version of the song after that. Strange story huh? Even though I wrote the lyrics and music, the song would never have gotten finished without the input of Chris and David. I had played a rough sketch for David Immerglück one night (in the back of a car) and he actually DEMANDED that he play on the track with me. How could I refuse the amazing Immy?
I was honored. One night he came down to Lo-Fi from Los Angeles and had brought along Cracker's original bassist Davey Farragher. They sang those great "AAAAAA" backing vocals and Immy and I did this sword fight of guitar solos at the end of the song which completed the long journey. I recently had the opportunity to play the song live at Roger Clyne's Mexico festival a few weeks ago. It was their suggestion. Roger and the Peacemakers just said "Hey let's do Harvest Queen...yeah we know it". They did and played the hell out of it with me. Yet another of those wonderful "Man I have a cool job" moments. Johnny....over and out.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Alright, it's been several months since my last official bloggish communication and that's just ridiculous isn't it? I've had my reasons and strangely, they were mostly physical. At the risk of sounding whiny I'll explain it this way...after fifty relatively healthy years I was suddenly hit with some dreadful maladies last fall. Without going into too much detail I'll just say that it involved some..um.... discomfort, some minor surgery and a rough recovery period. On the bright side, in the middle of said discomfort I traveled and performed three holiday season Cracker shows in Petaluma, San Francisco and Reno. Hallelujah! He moves! Music cures. Thank you to those of you who gave me some love and assistance out there. The wonderful David Immerglück would be at the top of that list, wheeling me around San Francisco in my chair barreling down crowded avenues to dinner and back, making me laugh myself silly with glee.
On the musical front, I am happy to report that I am currently involved with some new projects. Those of you who were in attendance at the recent Colorado shows will remember Jim Dalton, singer and guitarist from our support band the Railbenders...he of commanding stage presence and amazing, Johnny Cash like baritone voice. Jim and I are about 10 or 12 songs into an album of original material....very old school, sixties sounding country music which is sort of where I come from stylistically (as if you couldn't tell by some of my Cracker contributions and solo songs I guess eh? ). Some of the songs I write are probably just too country for Cracker and it's wonderful to have a home for many of them.....and it's great to write with Jim. We are both singing on the record ala Willie and Merle, Johnny and Waylon. Duets, harmonies and the like. Here are some titles; Mexican Jail, Hello Lonesome, Larimer County Blues, Hold My Drink While I Kiss Your Girlfriend......yeah Mr. Wrong lives.
Around my home town of Fort Collins CO, I've been playing shows with a great alt-rock / alt-pop band called the Piggies. I don't know what's in store for the future there, but something good I'm sure. I've played around in their private studio with a couple alternate versions of my own songs, just to get a feel for their masterful recording chops, and I will probably post the results of that first experiment on MySpace or somewhere else in the next year.
Last but not least in collaborations, I am also very proud to report that my friend Roger Clyne put the song we wrote together on a vacation (rest, sailing and tequila) weekend in Mexico on his new album. The song is "Bottom of the Bay," and the album is "No More Beautiful World." My current favorite songs on the RCPM album are "Andele" (no surprise I guess that I would love a pirate-themed song that mentions ravens, hmm) and "Maybe We Should Fall in Love".
Another bonus of all this collaboration is that doing all this writing and co-writing has got me fired up for some new Cracker music. I can feel it coming soon......Mr. L. and I have both been staying in the muse with other projects which always seems to lead us back to Cracker and new songs....or finishing ones that we started somewhere back in time. By the way, if you have not done so yet check out David's MOG site and devour his new song and video "Deep Oblivion". Enchanting. Okay, it's 4 am and we are not even to the middle of this Duo tour yet so, in the name of health and sanity I will sign off for now and send this to my ever-talented Webmaster Shay. Sweet dreams, Johnny
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Hello friends...just got back from the 3 shows in Petaluma, San Francisco and Sparks/Reno. As I hang out with my nineteen year old son Hans I find myself feeling wistfully appreciative of my cohorts and decided to write it down.
Allow me to give props to my associates and brothers in Cracker and CVB:
Frank Funaro: This amazing drummer and human being is the engine that keeps both of these bands on the highway. He loves to perform live more than anyone I've ever met much less played with. When he hits the stage Frank puts the show over anything else going on in his reality and has inspired ALL of us to do the same countless times.
Kenny Margolis: An intuitive and brilliant musician who could easily sit in with anyone, anytime, anyplace and hold his own on the keys. Case in point...in a moment of good humored and courageous spontaneity he scooped up a pump organ (foot operated mind you) from a nearby house and dragged it up onstage to add unrehearsed yet splendid backing to my solo show at Pi town. Balls.
Sal Maida: Basically walked right into Cracker and played as if he had been there for years. Amazing style and an uncanny ability to pick up songs, blend and create on the spot. AND he's one of the nicest guys around this camp.
David "Immy" Immerglück: This musical maniac is a combination of comedic genius, consummate showman and brilliant musician. The gang say he and I are a little too similar and grow more so all the time. I am honored by that overview indeed. David has been a spicy ingredient to the brew ever since he joined us in the studio for "The Golden Age" 11 years ago. That's his glorious pedal steel haunting songs like "Big Dipper" and "The Golden Age" and his beautiful singing right along side yours truly on gems such as "I'm A Little Rocketship" and "Useless Stuff". Whether making music together or tossing m-80s off the roofs of luxury hotels at 2 AM he is a delight to be around.
Victor K.: This eloquent and talented man has been, in been many respects at the heart of CVB from day one. From his teenage days when he was part of our small circle of pre CVB punk rock friends around the Inland Empire to the present day he has been a solid bass player, songwriter, vibester and friend to all of us. He is probably the most solid, even tempered and well liked person amongst us.
Jonathan Segal: In a very real way Jonathan is one of the edgy geniuses behind the Camper Van Beethoven sound. An aggressively brilliant multi instrumentalist, songwriter and intellect, Jonathan is a true musical seeker, always reinventing his approach and devouring styles and genres for his own amusement and growth.
Greg Lisher: As a fellow guitarist I have been a major Lisher fan for 2 decades now. We both admire several of the same greats (Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Peter Green) yet filtered through Greg's brain, heart and hands these influences meld into a highly original style that is pure Greg. His solos are small symphonies of their own and his tone and slide work floor me again and again.
David Lowery: Certainly the fire at the center of our universe, David has written music his own way for as long as I've known him and that's a hell of a long time. I count him among the best songwriters of his generation. As friends playing in separate bands around the same area, his oddly unique humor, wit, angst and passion inspired me long before we became partners in Cracker. I might not have come up with half of the melodies, riffs, lyrics or titles I've contributed to the Cracker canon without his direct inspiration and delightfully skewed vision of life on earth. When asked how we work together once in an interview I once blurted out that I try to play guitar the way David feels when he's telling the story. That's as close as I can get to the core of it. There's no set method. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes chords, sometimes a guitar riff that may or may not become a vocal melody, sometimes it's just a title or a sentence. Here's just one example of a Cracker song's birth : I have a guitar melody that feels to me like a cross between some freaky goth like surf music and The Pixies circa "Surfer Rosa". I show it to David and he soon begins firing off free verse lines on a fictitious character we invented for our own amusement (we do this often) named Kam Phoc. Soon, there are redneck mamas and comets flying around the studio. At 3 am in the hotel that night I wake up and hear another melody line in my head. I pick up my guitar and play it before I forget it. This one is a strange, almost atonal ascending thing. I show it to David the next day and he quickly finds chords to go under it. We graft the the new riff in and around the other until it feels right. Although Kam Phoc started out as my alter ego, ( I have many and perhaps should seek psychiatric help for this ) and would appear as our tour manager and mentor suddenly and without warning, David mind melded with him and realized that he was secretly an underground indie icon from a bygone era. David decided that Kam's TRULY great mid sixties record was called 100 Flower Power Maximum. Some disturbingly choice chanting and breathing from Herr Lowery and my estimation of Kam's wife's voice speaking the song title into a hand held recorder with a dying battery at the very end of the song and we had it. Thankfully our Golden Age producer Dennis Herring was (and still is) as out there as we were and caught it all, prodding us further on into our madness. After hearing David's "Let's pick it up!" screamed into the microphone, Dennis gladly obliged my sudden desire to capture the sound of my amp being dashed against the brick studio wall and miked it accordingly. That's one of the sounds that make up the bridge or "middle eight" as they call it in the U.K. That's how we roll as they say.
Perhaps in another entry I will go into detail about some of the past band members who played a significant roll in our family. Johnny over and out.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
First off let me offer my apologies for these long lapses. I MEAN to write more often but sometimes don't have the luxury for long stretches at a time. I am happy to say that they are usually due to a very active life, a very full career calendar, fatherhood, marriage and many great friends. Oh...and song writing. I had a fever and was sick for a few weeks there (thank you for the get well wishes) and got a lot of song writing done. My friend Brian from the Bottlerockets told me last week that Neil Young wrote "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River" in bed with a fever..on the same day. I told him I was going outside in my pajamas so that I could stay sick and write some more. Autumn and fever both get me writing for some reason.
Anyway, I came a lot farther on a batch of songs I started on the road this summer. At the moment I should be sleeping but I'm not. I am quite unwise that way....often. Cracker are in the middle of three days of rehearsals for the upcoming European tour. We almost never rehearse. This is due to the fact that we gig so much that there is not much need unless we are working up a slew of new material or there has been a personnel change. In this case it is the latter...temporarily...our beloved Frank has some family obligations and can't make the European tour. Filling in will be our friend Nate Brown from Virginia. Nate has played some drums on our CDs and toured with us in his former band Everything and we also know him from his days playing with guitarist Gibb Droll (All Thumbs Trio). It's always a good shot in the arm to play with different people and I look forward to playing with Nate this month. I will indeed miss my Frankie though. Frank and I room together a lot out there on tour. We are similar in a lot of ways, not the least of which is a shared childlike and passionate enthusiasm for music. We are also the most extroverted two guys in our world as well. Many of you know this eh? Who are you most likely to find having a Sambuca or a Maker's with you "Crumbs" after a show huh? Frank and I discuss the pleasure and privilege of this joyous (most of the time) activity often.
We appreciate and genuinely like our fans as a whole. I count some of them as my best friends. However, on occasion and for various reasons, there are times when we don't socialize after a show. Please know that it's nothing personal. Sometimes we are on a tough schedule and have already been operating on very little sleep, or have to be up ridiculously early after getting off work at 3 am or so. It's a great job but still a job. Imagine if you will, trying to end your work day by hanging out in a room or alleyway full of rather drunk and excited people as you pack up a few tons of heavy equipment.....every day after work. EVERY day after work. Sometimes you just don't have it in you. We've actually had insults hurled at us for simply wanting to go to sleep for a few hours. Those of you who have been around us for a long time seem to be able to sense the nights when the hang just isn't going to happen. Thank you for understanding and respecting us. We are not aloof, just thrashed or are perhaps having personal problems as everyone does now and again. Or we are sick. Or someone just ripped us off. Or somebody just pissed us off by being rude or invasive. Or we simply want to go get on the phone and say goodnight to our kids or partners in a quiet place. When you do this as much as we do you sometimes just need a little space, a little peace and quiet. These things are very rare out there on the road. Time to sleep. God bless you my friends.
Hope to see you soon. Johnny
Sunday, July 16, 2006
A glamorous life. 7/15/06
Great first show of the second leg of touring for Greenland last night
at the "new" 9:30 club in Washington DC. A splendid venue with great
sound, staff, food and a dressing room with...unbelievable!....no
penises drawn on the walls! Why do musicians draw huge penises on the
walls of dressing rooms? Insecurity? Do they think this will get them
laid? Trust me morons, this is not something women want to see if you
are lucky enough to escort one back there. Visiting Moms and aunts
don't want to see it either. Of course here in the 9:30 dressing room
there IS a highly stylized and oddly sexual Grecian painting on the
dome ceiling. Hmmm. There are also clean bunks where a musician can
afford him (or her) self the rare luxury of a nap. This club gets a 10
on the 1 to 10 scale. A far cry from the original 9:30 of yesteryear
which although legendary, was in actuality a hellish little punk rock
dive with a low, cramped stage with support beams that half hid the
performers from the crowd. Perhaps a blessing on some nights. There
was a storeroom/dressing room with overhead pipes that were a regular
thoroughfare for big rats looking to pilfer your rider (backstage
food). I remember stomping my boot at one such brazen rodent who
looked up and hissed at me fearlessly before sauntering off into a
hole in the wall with a tortilla chip.
At the moment I am sitting behind David as he drives
through the upstate New York downpour as we try to find our way around
construction riddled road detours to the gig near Albany NY. At around
2:30 AM in DC last night, after settling the business, loading out the
equipment, signing CDs and T-shirts we hauled ass to our hotel to
steal a precious few hours of sleep. Up at 7 am to grab a coffee and
hopefully some rider scraps we'd stuffed in our backpacks from the
night before we head out to the next adventure. I awake sleep addled
and befuddled after having snoozed in the back seat most of the 8 hour
drive while David and Wayne (our temporary tour manager from South
Carolina) take turns at the wheel. Load in was supposed to be at 3:30
and due to the weather and construction delays it is now 6:20.
Sometimes routing and variables just fuck up the best laid plans.
Yikes....we are at the venue. Time to snap out of it and move gear in
the rain! Yeeeha!!! Over and out..... Johnny and the grizzled
veterans of the road.
7/15/06 3 am.
Frank sleeps peacefully in the next bed...his
traditional post show Sambuca numbing his weary soul to slumber. The
band played their asses off tonight. On a 1 to 10 it's a solid 9 show.
....we got to sleep till 11!! We are on a punctual
course to Poughkeepsie until one of the trailer tires blows out on the
highway. Today being Sunday, it takes some phone scrambling but we
find an open RV outlet and buy a new wheel. They have no separate
tires so we buy the whole enchilada, rim and all. Once again we head
toward a late load in. 2 opening bands tonight. Sound check? Probably
not. Dicks on the dressing room walls? Probably. I'll check in with
you later my friends.
PS: Just got another report from Pioneertown about the fire. All the
historical buildings still standing...including Pappy and Harriet's and
the big barn up the road where we recorded Kerosene Hat. David's cabin
has very likely burned down. No access to the road up to it yet but
the satellite photos do not bode well.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Ahhh.... I have been invited to "sit in" tonight with my
friends Counting Crows. They are co-headlining a show with The Goo Goo
Dolls at the legendary Red Rocks amphitheater on July 5th.
I first met Counting Crows about thirteen years ago when
they rolled up in a cluttered, crowded van behind a great club called
Ziggy's in Raleigh/Durham North Carolina in the fall of 1993. They
were there to begin a run of shows performing as Cracker's opening or
"support" band. Our second album "Kerosene Hat" had just been released
but had yet to ascend to the level of success it gradually afforded us
over the following year. Counting Crows had just finished recording
what would become one of the most successful debut albums of the
decade "August And Everything After". At that moment though, there
back at Ziggy's years ago they were simply our new, relatively unknown
opening band. Always keen to meet the people we were to be sharing a
stage and traveling with for the next month or so, I went over to say
hello. David introduced me to them, having had a small connection with
them from the San Francisco area where his former band Camper Van
Beethoven were local legends. They seemed eager, excited and friendly
enough. When I caught their show for the first time that humid
southern evening I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a young band
that had refreshingly little in common with the "grunge" sound that
was so prevalent, much imitated and overdone at the time. Nothing
against the talented originators of that scene, but these guys seemed
to draw much more inspiration from The Band or Van Morrison than from
Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or Nirvana. Here was this dread-locked
young guy with a strong, soulful voice flailing and wailing over a
gorgeous, swirly mix of organ, bass, drums and guitars. The songs were
steeped in deceptively simple, seductive melodies. The guitars rang
more than screamed. The singer emoted and phrased in his own sweetly
broken yet powerful kind of way, supported by a band that possessed an
intuitive sense of dynamics, seducing the crowd with a quiet, steady
hypnotic groove, building to massive mid song crescendos, then ending
with a whisper. Over the next few weeks I remember thinking to myself
that if there was any justice in this unpredictable, often corrupt
business (there rarely is) these guys should succeed. Little did
anyone know back then how successful they would become or that that
David would co-produce a great album with the band "This Desert Life"
years later and that by that time they would be known the world over.
Over the course of a few tours with Cracker, Counting
Crows scored big with their first radio hit "Mr Jones" and we began
opening shows for them. We were soon fortunate with the success of
"Low", followed by "Get Off This" and also moved ahead a square on the
big chess board of the music business. This happens a lot in our
world. As we soared past bands we previously opened for, so did
Counting Crows and so will many more new bands to come. I actually
like this aspect of our huge and fractured profession. It is our
version of the time worn "be nice to the man in the elevator on the
way up for you will most assuredly meet him again on the way back
down" adage. In our business it is a constant, clamoring sea of
competitive musicians vying for attention. The effect is often
dizzying and frustrating but also hopefully gives us all a healthy
and humbling diet of pragmatism. It is part of the difficult dance of
ego and reality. On the one hand, I've seen unchecked ego destroy
potentially great bands barely out of the starting gate. On the other
hand, you have to dig your bad self to some degree or you will never
succeed in music or for that matter, in any business.
Cracker and Counting Crows, like very few of our
contemporaries have managed to slowly garner and be honored with a
loyal following of fans all over this and other countries that come to
see us live whether or not we have a hit on the radio at the time.
Both bands have survived a decade and a half through turbulent ups and
downs, band members managers and crew members being replaced or
leaving for various reasons, record label turmoil, a business that
has undergone tremendous changes, not to mention marriages, divorces,
break ups, births and all manner of personal and emotional upheavals.
We have all somehow weathered things that would have splintered most
bands years ago. When I see my friends Adam, David, Dan, Charlie and
Immy I will remember the nights when as a little boy, my now 18 year
old son Hans would shake them down for quarters to play foosball or
video games in the small clubs we played. They remember the times when
Hans would fall asleep, earplugs intact behind dad's amp as Cracker
roared mere feet away. I remember putting cardboard pizza boxes along
his mattress on the tour bus to keep him from rolling off the high
bunk as we flew through the night to the next city. He would sometimes
wake before the band and play with his leggos in the back lounge. I
remember once waking to him whispering "Hey, Dad...the guy from the
magazine is here. I got him some coffee and told him you would be
right out". Such is the life of a rock and rollers' kid. Such is my
life. I'm not rich but I get by just fine. I suppose I'm kinda famous,
but only to the point where I get the occasional "Hey Johnny!" and
some friendly conversation from smiling fans while walking through
major cities or airports. I have friends all over the world that I
adore. I work with a brilliant and prolific song writing partner who
also has a mathematics degree (much like Mick Jagger but on a smaller
scale) and watches the bottom line so that we can survive as a company
in this fiercely competitive business. I'm one of the estimated 20% of
North Americans that actually love their job...well, most of the time.
Several days in a row of little sleep, early morning radio interviews
and on air performances, hauling equiptment at 2 AM and long drives
will always suck but at the end of the day I remember that I feed and
clothe my kids with rock and roll. Lucky.
Monday, June 19, 2006
AND THEY'RE OFF!
New bassist Black Sal's first gig at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa Oklahoma was a smashing success. Black Sal? Yes. Why? Because everyone in this band gets a nickname or two, often an absurd one. In this case, Kenny Margolis (our keyboardist/accordionist) who brought Sal in told the rest of us he was black. A black Cracker? Cool thought we. When Mr. Maida, a towering, blue eyed Sicilian American showed up for auditions it was clear that our collective legs had been pulled. Now naturally, he's "Black Sal". At least for now. As I mentioned before, in our world you get a few nicknames. More on that later.
WAKARUSA!....AND FESTIVAL LOVE.
Black Sal's second gig with Cracker is in front of a huge festival crowd on a sweltering Kansas afternoon. This after little or no sleep and learning a staggering number of songs in the past week or two. He triumphs, locking with Frank as song by song they lay the foundation of the new rhythm section that will propel us through a very busy summer and beyond. Earlier, as we carried our gear up the ramp at the back of the stage we found the Flaming Lips sound checking for their headlining show. Both CVB and Cracker had played with The Lips at festivals years ago… and today, they greet us warmly. Singer Wayne Coyne is dressed in a suit, one that almost looks the white inner lining of a suit, which somehow looks quite elegant on the slender, handsomely graying singer.
We compare freak guitars...mine tattooed and time-battered, his appearing to have been constructed of kids' toys and brightly colored hunks of plastic. In spite of what is most likely a busy press schedule he and his band mates stay and watch much of our shows from the side of the stage. Just before we sound checked earlier that same day, I was happily surprised to find that my wife and three year old son rode up from Colorado with our friend Bluejay (not a nickname but her given Native American one), here officially as photographer for both Relix magazine and Wakarusa. They join on side stage with the famous MC/hip rock and roll scenester "Beatle Bob" and other personalities.
After our early afternoon Cracker show, David and I perform for a live podcast. We play acoustic guitars, strumming for the microphones under shade trees behind the hospitality area, as pretty girls watch from the surrounding lawn. I love my job, especially on days like this one. We play "Something You Ain't Got" from our new album "Greenland" as well as "The Loser" written by Robert Hunter and the late Jerry Garcia. Garcia liked our version of his song on our "Kerosene Hat" album and subsequently invited us to open for The Grateful Dead for three consecutive shows in Eugene Oregon years ago. This is a piece of Lowery/Hickman history that inspires some good natured envy amongst our famous jam band friends. I'm proud to say that we even received a very rare (according to Jerry) standing ovation from the Dead audience. He also told David and I that he and Bob Weir liked our song "Euro-trash Girl" and had mentioned covering it with The Grateful Dead. Sadly, he passed away a year or so later and so we will never know how close we came to this high honor. But I humbly state that it's likely part of why Relix and other jam-oriented publications take interest in our band today. Garcia would have felt and looked right in place at Wakarusa.
It's relatively hippie-centric around here with it's tie dyed, patchouli scented throngs cavorting happily in the heat with yuppies, hip indie rock kids, bikers, families with small children in tow, and backward baseball cap frat boys with their well scrubbed girlfriends. Some musicians don't care for festivals, considering them a necessary, promotional pain in the ass. I love them and am always pleased to see them on the tour itinerary. I'll take the cramped, shared trailers that pass for dressing rooms, little or no hospitality food or beverages, little or no sound checks, and general confusion for the chance to be a part of something this magical. There is often a shared sense of commonality and respect amongst bands at festivals, that in a nightclub setting, might be more competitive. I live for the opportunity to watch and often sit in with fellow musicians that I admire. For over twenty years I've been fortunate enough to perform at festival type shows as diverse as:
Willie Nelson's Annual 4th of July Picnic in Austin Texas where I met Willie, Waylon Jennings AND Johnny Cash; Farm Aid 2 where I met Neil Young; Bonnaroo; The All Good Festival in West Virginia where David and I sat in with our buddies, legendary jamgrass band Leftover Salmon. I've played the European festivals Pink Pop, Hultsfred, Take Root, England's famed Reading Festival, and we have headlined The WHFEST in Washington D.C. with 40,000 people making the sound of a jet's roar as we walked onstage. I've sat in several times with my friends from Widespread Panic on both mandolin and harmonica.
And exhausting as the journey there may be, I never tire of it. I'm enjoying my first Wakarusa immensely so far as my little family and I hitch a ride on a festival golf cart and go careening through the lovely fray. On the ride I see familiar faces yelling "Alright Cracker!" and "Hey Johnny". I feel like a million bucks right now....wouldn't you? I am presented with my favorite "beer from home" (a bottle of Abbey, stashed in my wife's tent)… then we are dropped off at the New Belgium brewery booth to say hello to our fellow Coloradoans. New Belgium is the official beer of Wakarusa this time around. Soon we are handed frosty cups of what I consider one of the world's most delicious brews. It is like nectar from the Gods in the baking midwestern heat. Our three year old has just jumped into a football toss with some of the New Belgium guys.
Soon we gather him up and head to The Voodoo Stage to catch our good friends Roger Clyne And The Peacemakers. RCPM's regular drummer (and founding member of Rogers' first popular band The Refreshments) PH Naffah is absent, having snapped his collarbone a few weeks ago, just before their own hugely successful bi-annual "Circus Mexicus" festival in Puerto Penasco Mexico. In '05, I opened Circus Mexicus for the Peacemakers, playing much from my solo album, the then-new Palmhenge. Roger has often cited David and I as influences and made me feel more than welcome in his world. When Roger's management called and invited David and I both to Mexico for Spring '06, we signed right up. In the year between Roger and I had spent some time at his house down there writing music together and solidifying our friendship, sailing on his boat and stumbling down dusty, moonlit Mexican roads lit up on his own "Roger Clyne's Mexican Moonshine" tequila and our good fortune. But back to Wakarusa…it's nice to have a job where you run into the same friends in Mexico and then Kansas, only weeks apart.
As usual RCPM are delivering the goods to the fans in the Voodoo tent. They grin confidently, whipping the crowd of fans and curious newcomers into a shouting, fist pumping frenzy with their raucous Arizona desert rock. Standing in and doing a truly fine job is P.H.'s drum tech Louie. After show, back on Rog's tour bus, I see that Louie's hands are blistered and bloody from the new grind of playing every night. I am reminded of my own self inflicted injuries onstage throughout the years. I've more than once bloodied my hands from bashing away on my guitar a little too enthusiastically. I've also torn hell out of a ligament in my knee jumping off an amp and even after surgery still pay for it today. You just don't feel those things in the moment. Just ask Iggy Pop or Pete Townsend. Louie chuckles and wraps duct tape around his wounds to hold the bandages in place.
We climb off the bus and hitch a ride on a golf cart through the night as Roger hangs laughing on the back of the cart. As the older but questionably wiser of the two of us I am compelled to grab his arm and hold on tightly, not wanting to be known as the old pirate who let the famous Mr. Clyne fly off a golf cart to his untimely demise at a Kansas rock show. Soon we are foisting Fat Tires and standing in awe on the side of the stage as the spectacle of a Flaming Lips show unfolds before us. We are caught up in the glorious maelstrom of the moment, gladly volunteering to backlight a sea of 30 or so costumed green space aliens on stage right. For those who don't know, there is a nightly ritual of assigning eager Lips fans to wear costumes that range from huge stuffed animals to tonight's Aliens vs. Santas madness. On the other side of the stage is the army of Santas, a few female volunteers in bikinis with full white beards and hats. In their midst as in the alien camp looms a giant "leader". It is a truly Fellini-esque spectacle as the band launch into an audience participation rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. The charismatic Coyne, with arms outstretched as floodlit streamers spiral around him, is already holding the rapt and singing ten thousand plus crowd in the palm of his hand.
This, mere moments after he clowned graciously with Roger and I for Bluejay's camera backstage. As we laugh and cheer maniacally I am reminded of what drew me to Roger in the first place. In spite of fatherhood and myriad responsibilities he has never lost his childlike wonder and enthusiasm for new experiences and his general lust for life. I strive to always retain these traits in common with my good friend. Our wives and managers call us big five year olds. What a compliment!
My wife takes our three year old son over to the Santa Claus side of the stage. He returns soon, telling us the people Santas are nice, but the giant balloon Santa Claus has a man inside and scares the heck out of him. He is over it soon as I hoist him above the delicious insanity to see over the aliens heads, as Wayne climbs into an eight foot, transparent sphere and rolls out over the ecstatic throng. The look on my son's face is worth a million dollars to me at this moment. I suppose other kids go to basketball games and such. His reality, like his older half brother before him, is somewhat stranger. I recall my now college aged son at age seven, hanging out with his hero (and one of mine) Beck. The very young Beck was at the time just beginning to ascend in his now highly honored status as a true musical original. I will never forget his kindness to my little son back in the day. (Note: Beck's' father David Campbell was responsible for the hauntingly beautiful string arrangements on our album "The Golden Age". After meeting and working with his brilliant, soft spoken mad scientist like dad I can ponder how Beck might have come upon his admirably unique melodic sense. He must have been immersed in every style and genre of music from day one.)
After the Flaming Lips finale here at Wakarusa we all reconvene on Roger's bus to laugh and celebrate our lot in life. We gladly remark on how lucky we all are to be able to do what we do. At 1:30 AM Roger's crew of pirates laugh as my three year old tells them "oh, I'm not tired" at the same moment that he slumps backward into deep slumber, potato chip still in hand. The next morning he wakes up with a smile and says "Hey....let's go back and see Wayne in the big ball again!" I tell him that the show is over. "Maybe back at Wakarusa the show is still going!" he says. I hug and kiss my family and say a quick farewell, grab my guitar and bags to hop back aboard the Cracker tour van. Off to Texas! Thank you once again my friends...year after year you give me this life. Best wishes and good night, Johnny
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
6/7/06 So...after a few days of intense NYC rehearsals with our new bass player Sal ( going very well...more on Sal later ) a hectic, rainy photo shoot and several busy press days I stumble sleepily down the hallway to my hotel room. The cell phone rings and it's our manager informing me that my friends (and one of my favorite bands) Drive By Truckers are performing on Conan O'Brian. Cool!....nice way to wind down a busy, productive day. So I shower, don my semi swanky hotel robe, crack a cold beer and with remote in hand settle in. The television pops to life at the tail end of "Late Night With David Letterman" . Elvis Costello is in mid song and behind him (as he has been for several years now) is our former band mate, bass player Davey Faragher. Davey is in fine form, resplendent in his leather jacket as his talented hands do that white boy soul "fruit at the bottom" bass thing he did so well with David and I years ago before personal matters and a subsequent, near inability to tour took him out of our world. I smile as I recall how a year or so ago, he and the equally talented David "Immy" Immerglück (Counting Crows, Monks Of Doom) rolled into Lo Fi studios in Redlands California to lend their God given chops to my Palmhenge sessions.
My wife catered the evening in style as 3 old friends laughed, got caught up on each other's lives and made music. After the song ends Letterman strolls past Davey to shake Costello's hand and I wonder if he remembers him from the first time Cracker appeared on the show. If not I suspect that the delightfully effervescent, 6 foot 3 bassist reminded him with an impish grin. With a proud and happy heart I change the channel...and....what the hell!? Here's former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth prancing around in jeans and boots in front of a half circle of bluegrass musicians singing.....ok this can't be real.....a hillbilly version of "Jump".
This isn't just weird, it's frightening. Suddenly I recognize yet another Redlands musical alumni and friend John Jorgenson on mandolin behind Roth. For those of you who may not know it David Lowery and I are both also from Redlands. It's not a very big town. Now here's another homeboy on the screen. Multi instrumentalist John has, since his fledgling days there on the new wave/punk scene been (amongst other things) a member of popular country rockers "The Desert Rose Band", one of three virtuoso guitarists and founder of "The Hellecasters" an instrumental group of MUSICIANS musicians that have made guitarists all over the world want to either quit or go home and practice until their fingers were numb. Myself included. From there he became Elton John's 2nd guitarist and multi instrumentalist ( he plays 6 or 7 other instruments very well ) and musical director. He recently graced the big screen (with Penelope Cruz...oo la la!) playing the part of renowned guitar legend Django Reinhart as well as performing/arranging the score for the film.
The Roth gig must be a $weet temporary sideline for John. I find out later after an e-mail exchange that (of course) he also put the bluegrass cats together and no doubt sketched out the musical arrangements. Change the channel again and now, here's big ol Paterson Hood howling his sensitive yet somehow menacing heart out as Jason and Cooley wail away on raw, soulfully bluesy guitar solos from the left and the right. Bang...well done DBTs. I drift off to sleep happy for my talented friends and thankful for my band-mates. With a great new label and record I wonder if we will find ourselves back on the late night television shows. If not, truthfully I will not be that upset. The live shows just keep getting bigger and better........and with the tour commencing in a few days that feels MORE than blessing enough. Thank you for that Cracker fans. You make my mostly charmed life a reality year after year. Hope to see you soon.....goodnight.
Monday, June 05, 2006
6/5/06 Ahhh......life is splendid my friends. Here I am nestled into my midtown NYC hotel room the day before Greenland "officially" releases! AND!!...AND!!....the newly coolified website is up and running! Teameffort conquers all! Thank you Cursion, Shay and SR for wrangling it together in time. MANY many hours of sacrifice and love there. Tomorrow Cracker go into rehearsals for the upcoming year of touring which you can see is extensive. I feel an exhilarating giddiness about the prospect of rehearsal tomorrow. This band very rarely practices. Probably because we play so often live that we know each-other like the proverbial backs of our hands...yet.... somehow whatever mutual hoo doo that put us all together in the first place kicked in recently and simultaneously from Colorado to Richmond and up here to NYC. Uncharacteristically, the e-mails started flying and BOOM..it was in the cards. New record, new ideas to revamp Cracker live (we still do not use a set list like 99% of bands do) and a new bass player. You'll see soon enough. Kenny is bringing in someone starting tomorrow. Without divulging his name let's just say that the rest of us trust the journeyman instincts of the multi talented and stealth humored Mr.Margolis. I mean...he's a virtuoso playing, pimp dressing, euro music directing, suavecito. I think he knows what's up. Anyway, sorry for the year off from blogdom. Hope to see you all soon.....got plans for you. Hehe heh. Love, Johnny
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Everyone... I'm home for one day after an unbelievable weekend in Mexico with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers... which immediately followed a fantastic record release party and tour. The guys in the Radio Nationals have a hilarious tour diary posted at www.radionationals.com if you want more details. I'll be back writing when I can, Love, Johnny Hickman... Tornado of Activity.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Ahh....forgive me friends.... I’ve been chastisably remiss in my reporting. So much has happened since my last entry that I almost don’t know where to begin so I’ll just take a deep breath and backtrack. Suffice to say that I have had one of the most utterly hectic, intensive yet thoroughly satisfying 2 month runs of my entire up, down and around musical career. After the west coast / desert leg of “Cracker CVB acoustic duo”
(Lowery/Hickman) shows I said goodbye to David and flew immediately up to Seattle Washington to meet up with my good friends and co/conspirators in musical merriment , Radio Nationals. (More about these guys soon).
* 2/27 Upon landing I checked into a cheap motel and slept for a desperately needed 12 hours straight. *Johnny’s road tip #41!...always crank up the ac/heater unit no matter the temperature. Even the fan only setting will mask any annoying noises like sub woofing jerk cars at 4 AM, knocking maids with voices like fingernails on chalkboards at 9AM or fellow musicians doing unspeakable things in nearby rooms...or hallways. Upon waking I called my friends Barbara (also my publicist) and Jared (singer/songwriter for Radio Nationals) and informed them that I had not fallen off the face of the earth but was actually in town. I then walked 3 or 4 miles up and down the hilly neighborhood streets surrounding Seatac to get provisions at a distant drug store. Note to self.....never begin a 2 month tour with brand new boots. My blisters were getting blisters. On the way back I had a great Seattlesque moment....my throbbing feet were miraculously saved by a battered, abandoned bicycle laying 15 feet below, tangled in long vines in a ditch near some woods. The handlebars were bent comically sideways and there was no chain, but as it was mostly downhill from there I hopped on with my swinging bag containing shaving cream, razors, vitamins, band-aids, Neosporin ointment (with pain relief) and a power cord. As I gleefully coasted down one particularly steep suburban hill at perhaps 35 mph....tears filling my numb and dumb ears, I had a sudden, harsh realization. No chain = no brakes. As the gods of comedy would decree, a late 60s model Ford Falcon glided up next to me. “Hey....he says you’re Johnny from Cracker...are you?”. The guy riding shotgun yelled, grinning from ear to ear as he gestured toward the driver. “NO” I yelled smiling. “I’m much smarter than he is!” This cracked the pair up no end. “Nice bike!” The driver laughed, thumbs up as he cruised along. “Need a ride?” “Naw.....but I’ll take a tow” I said, grabbing the door handle and steadying myself . “Where you playing?” They asked. “The Tractor.....Saturday” I yelled as I veered off towards my hotel down the side street. They honked and waved as I wobbled away. I lay the bike in a patch of grass and walked to my room. Looking out the window an hour later it was gone, some other freak probably saving my life for me as he walked off with his prize.
*Monday Feb. 28........Jared and I dropped an advance copy of “Palmhenge” by Seattle’s legendary radio station WEXP.....we begin the first rehearsal with the band and later Jared and I play an impromptu acoustic show.
*3/1 through 3/ 3 Rehearsed, drank brown liquor, ate lots of fish and rehearsed some more. Drank copious amounts of Rainier beer in honor of how fast the guys learned my songs.
*3/4 Drove down to Portland for our debut show together at Dante’s.
On the way we drive past the area around Mt. St. Helens where Radio Nationals lead guitarist Aaron Taylor was born and raised. That night after he played a red hot set I gave him the nickname “Lavabilly”. Days later digital pictures of me in an ice machine at 4 AM materialized. Don’t ask.
*3/5 I’m proud to announce that we nearly blew the roof off of Seattle’s legendary Tractor club. After recording Palmhenge with some of the best musicians I know I was a bit worried about how I would pull it off live. This show confirmed my theory that these guys were THE SHIT. They backed me superbly on my set and then ended the night triumphantly as they hammered the sold out crowd with their own great set...bringing me back up for a few raucous encores. Ahhh total bliss...made even better by a brief spotting of the guys who towed my freak bike earlier in the week.
*3/6 We load the gear into Jared’s van with Rick, Rich and Aaron and then Jared and I packed CDs, ipod, Red Bull, Coffee and began the drive to San Francisco for the second of our acoustic duo shows together. On the stereo.....Neil Young’s new greatest hits CD, Slobberbone, Bottlerockets Blue Sky, Drive By Truckers (lots), Bobby Bare Jr. , and random gems from Jared’s impressive collection. Computer wiz Jared kindly installs a wireless card in my laptop. We both sign up for the Flying J wireless deal for a month. Pull up to the truck stops, grab a coffee etc....log on! Old Johnny gets with these new fandangled ways!
*3/7 Monday night.... booked at the last minute, we did our gig at Hotel Utah in S.F. Small but enthusiastic crowd...great club. Some of the sweet local girls adorn the stage with a hundred candles for us. Great vibe. Look forward to playing here again with some advance notice/publicity next time. Victor K. and his mate Troy were there to share the wine and good cheer. If there is a better way to spend a Monday night I don’t don’t know what it is.
*3/8 HOLY SHIT!! These are the days that test the boundaries of good health both physical and mental........the erstwhile “Flying Js” woke up early and drove nonstop to Salt Lake City Utah for our gig at Monks. 13 hour trip...barely made it at 10 PM in time to set up, have a beverage with the always cool Mike Finch, Wolfitz and company before hitting the stage. Really enjoyed this cool little venue...great pizza....the owner even presented us with a set of groovy, square Maker’s Mark high ball glasses after the show.
*3/9 Drove toward Denver after spending the night in the middle of nowhere at the “Touch Nothing” motel. (Jared’s name for sticky carpet, see through sheets, cigarette burns on everything, kind of luxury accommodations.)
YEE HA! After hearing of the CVB/Cracker equipment thefts, Jared has decided to sleep in the van with the guitars many nights. A true hero. One night he was awakened by the sound of a would be thief trying to pry the lock off the van door. When the asshole got a look at Jared (who is a 6 foot 3 man mountain) bellowing and scrambling for the door he pissed himself, legs flying and his his bones mercifully intact.....my big little brother barreling after him like an angered grizzly as he fled into the night.
*3/10 We play a loose but fun show at The Lion’s Lair in Denver Colorado. The “Flying Js” have their first band argument but decide that we are brothers and laugh it off. Just like real musicians should do. I get a short but sweet visit with my wife and 2 year old son who are staying with my in laws from nearby Ft. Collins. In the morning we thank my friend’s John and Eddy for putting us up and head south.
*3/11 Jared and I arrive in Denton Texas to catch the first of two farewell shows performed by local legends Slobberbone. Old friends of Radio Nationals, these guys did an outstanding goodbye show preceded by a short film of performances and interviews from their ten years on the road together. It was bittersweet to see this great band live for the first and last time as their fans cheered and wept, lone stars held aloft in the sold out crowd. My friend Patterson from Drive by Truckers (who was out on tour himself and could not attend) was a very close friend of Slobberbone so we scored him a limited print farewell poster signed by his buddies. One of those nights that just feel magical all around.
*3/13 I grab my acoustic guitar and play an unannounced opening set with Jared at Rudyard’s in Houston Texas. Ian Moore is the headliner and his crowd is attentive and cool. Nobody knows who I am until Jared makes an announcement. I find this experience to be strangely enjoyable....especially when the set goes over very well. Ian and his band are quite impressive and afterwards we end up going to a friends house for an all night jam session with musicians sleeping on pool tables amid empty beer cans. Ian kindly tosses me an air mattress that he stows away with his gear. We all awaken to a huge tray of fish tacos and good coffee from our gracious host! Nice. I stupidly leave 2 of my harmonicas behind as we go careening off to Austin.
Next up..........tales of howling ribaldry at South by Southwest!!
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Johnny and David..."The Cracker / CVB Acoustic Duo Tour 05." Western run Day 5. Hello friends....thank you everyone who braved the relentless rains to come and see us. The first three shows have been an absolute pleasure for us...
2/20 : The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano CA was delightfully packed. The first show of a tour can be a little rusty but due to the great crowd response we soon felt right at home replete with synapsis firing back to life. David and I had a good night taking the occasional boisterous request (including one from my two year old son) and pulling out some rarely played songs.
2/21 : The Big Fish Pub in Tempe AZ. This cool little punk rock club did a great job of setting the show up for us last minute after the original venue closed mysteriously. The night was whiskey fueled and rowdy for an "acoustic" show. Our buddies The Drive By Truckers would have been proud me thinks. The staff at the club were hospitably appreciative....so much so that shots of a certain German poison were lined up on the bar after the show which led to....
2/22: Solar Culture Tucson AZ. Hangovers pummelling us from within, we inched our way from Tempe to our long beloved Tucson. David started the show with this recently learned wisdom...."Never try to keep up with your 25 year old tour manager". I’ll drink to that....water. For those of you who may not know, Cracker has had a decade and a half love affair with Tucson. We recorded herein 93, naming the 4 song EP after the town....it contained the first recording of "Eurotrash Girl". Years later wrote a batch of songs here which became most of our record "Forever". I recently returned to record most of my solo record here as well with local alt country legend Teddy Morgan producing.
2/23 : With our multi tasking, multi talented tour manager/soundman Casey at the wheel we made the long drive to San Diego through sheets of silvery desert rain. The storms out here have been so relentless that the normally gray brown desert is now a bright green....the weeds overtaking the cacti for visual attention. Beautiful day of gray, stopping for a fine, cheap Mexican lunch halfway. "Life is good...or so it seems."
Friday, February 04, 2005
Greetings all. Although I plan to make this about the road, my first post here comes from home. The closest I've been to the road lately was a trip to Los Angeles 2 days ago to see Michele Shocked playing with the Sin City Allstars at Molly Malone's. I shuffled in with my buddies Sluggo and Mark from the band Skeetertruck. A Maker's Mark on the rocks was promptly placed in my hand......nice when your friends know you. Michelle was in fine form as were Sin City. For those who may not know, Sin City is a collective of Southern California based cowboy rock/country musicians. They organize the Gram Parsons tribute show known as "Gramfest" every year. Gram's daughter Polly is part of the scene. Wednesday's theme (these characters like themes) was The Dukes of Hazzard. They had a constant silent movie of episodes from the 70s cult favorite projecting over the audience and onto the opposite brick wall. You could sip a beverage and watch constant muscle car chases interspersed with close ups of Daisy Duke's famous back bumper as rough and ready country and southern rock faves shook the rafters. They called me up to sing a number so I launched into Merle Haggard's (hey...sounds like Hazzard right?) "Mamma Tried". Of course the band, many of whom are Bakersfield alumni knew it like the backs of their PBR grippin hands. It was well worth the drive for this Inland Empire desertbilly. I can't promise that all of these posts will be as coherent as this one...(jet lag, sleep deprivation and or alcohol may be a factor) but I will speak my mind and enjoy myself here from time to time. Thanks for checking in friends.
All the best, Johnny