I had a spate of cabin fever tonight, so I headed out to Reiglesville for Andy’s Hot Acoustic Jam. Thankfully there were fewer folks in the house tonight so I got find a seat in the music room and take in my fellow jammers as well as witness the craft of Andy and Mitch Shelley on bass – how they are able to back up folks up. They listen (most of the time) first and play second. A beautiful thing.
I was on fourth and the room had settled in for the most part, the food and chatter had subsided, and my friend Mance had got folks’ attention. I came up, plugged in and launched into Don’t Call Me Early in the Morning. Though it’s a folky-sounding tune, the changes are peculiar and it was a challenge for Andy and Mitch. But I present the song with strength and count on their ears to pick up the changes. I also know that it’s a great vehicle for the audience to sing along, and that affords the my friends some slack with the chords. Posit the song and get the audience connection first.
I followed with Spoonful, one that I’ve been having fun with in the last two weeks. It’s found a solid spot since I worked it up with Craig Thatcher recently. Again, it has a slightly unique chord structure that even the most professional players miss. It has a three-part format and most blues folks are in a two-base mentality. So, I have to lead, alert them to this format, and then lay it down, to varying success. At least I have their attention.
By now, we had the room quiet enough for some witty banter, a salute to the boys in the band, and set up the sonic space for my guitar’s intro. The power of this song is pulling the dynamics back to zero, and lay out the verse/poetry of this not-so-simple song. (A fellow complimented me at the end of the night, saying that it wasn’t quite Howling Wolf but well-played. I’ll take it.) This small room is perfect for these tight acoustic trios, the information flow, both explicit and implicit, among Andy, Mitch and I is remarkable. It’s a wonderful and creative space.
We brought Spoonful down to the bass; that is a marvelous dynamic that instantly quiets the room. It also is a humble way for me to step back and let each musician take the sonic spotlight. That energy transfers to the audience. We all get to go deeper. Andy picked it up and, on my right shoulder, let some tasty electric licks fly. I brought it around with the chorus and landed the ship securely on guitar.
Bam. The room was ours.
Note: I was preparing to do Can’t Find My Way Home all day and my friend Ken did it earlier in the night. I cursed him silently from my seat. I told him later that I said, “You bastard!” under my breath. He’s a good man.
I figured that I should get serious and lay out Lessons from Pete. I haven’t done it here since I don’t know when. But, I was horny for some righteous sermonizing and figured, “Let’s do it.” I now had every confidence that Andy, Mitch (and my good friend, Dina, on percussion) and I were in tune to nail this sucker.
It was great to start with a quiet room and rapt attention. Again, a lot of trust on everyone’s part. There are two instrumental rides in this song and I let Andy stretch the first one (I tend to keep it clean) and it was very nice and contained. Pass it around.
The second ride is designed to be a piece unto itself, landing on a very open Am/F format, and a relatively easy space for improvisation. Again, we brought it down to Mitch on the base with interesting spaces for me on guitar. A surprising moment came when I tried to bring it back to Andy on guitar and he signaled to me that Mitch wasn’t finished. I deferred to Andy, on his home stage. I liked that. It was delightful.
It was a great exploration and I was pleased that Andy complemented me, later on, about the lyrics and the song itself. It was nice to hear him say so.
These three song sets are quite a production, if you want to do it right. It’s something that I have worked on since my move to CT in 2001. No one knew me up there and I had to build my reputation three songs at a time at local open mikes. I took it as a challenge to craft the perfect triad. It was good work, and I felt I could also set the bar higher for my fellow CT players. I also vowed not to repeat a song for two years. My friends in CT recognize this effort, even today.
I’ve found that you can prepare songs ahead of time (always a good thing to do) but you still have to gauge the audience and the room in the moment. You have to also gauge the song’s difficulty and the band’s abilities to follow along. And then let it go. These moments are why we musicians become solid friends in the process.
A good night that I needed during a barren booking season.