Hello Troubadourians! Over the last 20 years I have been blessed to have played with some very talented and creative bands and musicians. First, it was the Wild Truth, then Folding Mister Lincoln, and currently Outliers. The Wild Truth had existed in several forms before coalescing in the early 2000s as a powerhouse rock band led by singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer Sven-Erik Seaholm. My bandmates were drummer extraordinaire Bill Ray and super funky bassist David Ybarra. To a man, they were all-around cool guys and remain good friends and brothers in arms. We recorded an excellent record, This Golden Era, which I’m still extremely proud of. It was during this time I started to believe that I had finally become a good guitar player.
Then there was Folding Mister Lincoln, a project of love by and for Harry and Nancy Mestyanek. FML sorted through several personnel changes before settling on the players who recorded our concept album Two Rivers, the fictional story of a couple named Lynn and Eugene. Violinist Alicia Previn, drummer/percussionist Jeff Stasny, and bassist Greg Gohde combined to bring life to the songs that Harry wrote, and they tell the tale of a love between two people, a story that would steer eerily close to real life events.
Currently, I’m playing with Mark C. Jackson and Pam Haan in a band we call Outliers. I met Mark and Pam when they were guest performers at one of FML’s Sunday morning shows at Rebecca’s Coffeehouse in South Park. We’re just beginning to hit our stride as a trio and I hope there is a new record in our future. And just as I first started to think I was actually a good guitarist with the Wild Truth, now with Outliers I’m now starting to think I could be a good singer too. Better late than never, I guess…
What do all of these bands have in common—other than me? Well, in addition to being highly talented musicians and creative songwriters, they also know how to work hard, rehearse well, and get the most out of the music. They listen to and learn from each other, always looking for that “something extra, something different” that turns a good song into an excellent song. With all of these bands, we rehearsed with intent and conducted our time with professionalism, always striving to be a little better than the last time we played. And that, I believe, is the key to “getting good” as a band and as an individual musician. I was able to grow into the player and singer that I am because of the environment created by and within these bands. I was always encouraged—even expected—to push the boundaries of my playing, and I felt safe to make mistakes while doing so. We all did. And we knew that not everything would work. But once you get the right part happening, you know it.
Have you ever watched and listened to a really tight band where everything they played just worked and seemed effortless? Have you ever thought, “I could do that…?” Have you even thought that you could just walk onto that stage and in real time play along with them? Come on, admit it… we all have thought that at one time or another. The truth is that it looks effortless because they put hours, days, months, of work into making it look and sound like that. A fun fantasy for sure, but the fantasy has potholes… Unless you’ve put in the time and effort rehearsing the music and making the mistakes—stepping into the potholes—you aren’t likely to perform as seamlessly as they do. This is what I’ve learned over the last 20 years.
Sometimes I wish I’d figured this out sooner. And I wonder how things might have been different. But this too is non-productive. I can’t—and shouldn’t—go backward, only forward into what I want to learn and play next. And just enjoy that I got here, not regret how long it took. Because I might have never come to this realization nor been this fortunate to have played so much excellent music with so many excellent musicians.
If you are reading this and thinking about your own musical journey, I hope you find some inspiration in mine. Each of us has a unique experience, only some of which is within our control. What we can control is to work as hard as we are able so that we are prepared for the opportunities that we encounter. And to continue to work hard when we choose to accept those opportunities. Some will be better than others but don’t diminish your efforts if something isn’t working for you. Just find a different opportunity. And if you are fortunate to find something really good, give it everything you have. And be sure to leave room to be inspired by the musicians you are working with. Enjoy the time together, rehearse with intent, and play with abandon.
Potholes and all…
Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (firstname.lastname@example.org)