All entries filed under Steppin’ Out!

It’s been a couple of years since our last gig at Godfrey’s. We’ve managed a few rehearsals locally this fall, but none with Reid. That’s no big deal. Reid is a rock.

We got together earlier on Friday, checked in on our recent health escapades (old guys, ya know…) and went through the set I had prepared. We were aiming for an hour and a half set, so I did my best to figure out how to balance each lad’s voice, diversify the rhythms, genres, etc. and add in old and new songs. It’s a long process preparing for rehearsals and the gig.

Anyway, it was a fairly good session, and several times we remarked to each other, “Hey, this is a good band!” We were in good shape for the show after three hours together. Amazing, actually. Some of the tunes sounded better in the afternoon, too.

We did an extra sound check with Jason, stepping up himself to cover our show. He had the whole board set up for him from the morning, so he as prepared as could be. Nothing like going into the studio with 12 tracks and a live band. (It’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to get a good tape of the show. Jason was a bit overwhelmed to think about the recording.)

Choo Choo Cha Boogie, and we are away in style. Don’t Call Me Early, Got What It Takes, Payday Blues, How Can I Miss You and Bloodshot Eyes, all relatively familiar tunes that got us comfortable. Still, often a crap shoot as to who’s lead it is. That’s when we miss the tightness we used to have, or could rehearse several times ahead. Again, old guys with old brains.

Kris did Waits’ Til The Money Runs Out, staking out his corner in this band. Water of Love was a new one for the band, good but not great. The new stuff usually gets the lads’ creativity up. Tornado, Giant and Delilah followed. We were getting louder…

Hub’s spotlight was You Don’t Know Me with Reid and the others chipping in atmosphere. Twenty-four Robbers got me on mandolin for the first time tonight. Jeff followed by stepping out from the drums (catch that?) and fronting the band for Old Cowhand, Ooh, Baby Baby and Too Old To Die Young, last two new songs for the band.

We headed for the final stretch, back on our regular instruments and I did Heart of Saturday Night, another Waits’ tune and a new one for the band. It was solid but their was some fatigue on our parts, and, frankly, the audience. Sluggish applause.

We tried Good Hearted Woman, and, per usual (I get one mulligan), I screwed up the key and we started over again. (Last time it was Angel from Montgomery as a waltz. We actually pulled it off.) I did Santa Assassin, Reid did Shorty (loud) and Lessons from Pete. That came out really nice with lots of controlled spaces for leads and dynamics. We quickly begged for an encore and did a spritely Texas Swing. Good night, all.

Immediately after steppin’ off stage (again!!), a friend and long-time supporter said, “You were too loud.” Yes, we were. We’re old guys who get together every year and crank it up. But she was right, too. Too Loud!

By most standards, we put on a good show and played well. We all could have played better individually, and could have shaped our sound better. It would have been nice to have a better and more complete recording (we’ve got a very small archive of tapes).

The important thing is that we could celebrate our friendships. We are all good, good friends, still able to gather to make fine music, put on a show, and share our scars from the last two years. Deep love, actually.

 

 

The ole gang gets together annually on the Friday after Thanksgiving for the last 5 or 6 years. This year we had a Musikfest gig in August so we actually have quite a bit of material worked up. Kris Kehr has settled in on bass and the other band members have accepted his dedication and work on the material. Thanks to our regular gigs, Hub is playing piano more, Jeff working on drums and Chris getting back to his steel guitar work. We don’t show as much rust as we once did. Reid remains off in New England but is playing all the time so I have little worry about his performance chops. Peggy is singing regularly, too. Still, the band is not tight like it used to be. And that’s okay, I guess.

We had several practices for this and came up with new material to perform, trying to still explore our collective creativity as a band, as well as simply enjoy each other’s company. Our rehearsals are actually filled with wise cracks and friendly jibes. We enjoy our long friendships.

Reid came into town early so we gathered at 1 pm on Friday and ran through the two sets. Peggy and I got our signals crossed and she came after we packed it up around 4 pm. We got together to straighten out the sound check at 7 for the 8 pm show. We could have used the time earlier.

The first set went well but I was working up a sweat. I was feeling a little winded after the long rehearsal in the afternoon. I wasn’t 100% and I don’t think the band was either. I was disappointed in having half a house as well and didn’t feel the energy of the audience as before. We didn’t remember our arrangements/leads as much. I also think too much.

Set 1.

  1. Choo Choo Cha Boogie (F) – Hub
  2. Lose My Blues (G) – Dave
  3. Your Mind’s on Vacation (E) -Reid
  4. Walkin’ Stick (Am) – Dave
  5. Panhandle Rag (E) – Chris
  6. Good Hearted Woman (E/F) – Hub
  7. Till the Money Runs Out (E) – Kris
  8. Mr. Bojangles (D) – Dave
  9. Chuck E’s in Love (A) – Peggy
  10. Rosie’s a Friend of Mine (A) – Dave
  11. Angel from Montgomery (D) -Peggy
  12. Lessons from Pete (Am) – Dave
  13. Got What It Takes (A) – Reid

I totally blew Peggy’s Angel tune by starting it off as a waltz. Troopers that she and the band are, we managed to finish the song while not totally owning it. It was novel and I challenged the audience to figure out what we did wrong. As usual, we cover our asses with style but I know there is no pride in screwing it up for ourselves. Chuck E’s in Love also suffered from not rehearsing it full band in the afternoon. I feel badly for Peggy’s sake. I even screwed up Lessons from Pete and should have kept Bojangles tighter, nothing noticeable but to me and the band. It was exhausting.

We regrouped for the second set.

Set 2.

  1. Bloodshot Eyes (A) Jeff
  2. O’Reilly Drinking at the Bar (G) Dave
  3. Don’t Call Me Early (D) Dave
  4. Yulesville  – Dave
  5. Till There Was You – Hub
  6. No Milk Today (C) – Reid
  7. 24 Robbers (G) Reid
  8. Jigs (D) Dave
  9. I’m an Old Cowhand (F) Jeff
  10. Don’t Take My Picture (C) Jeff
  11. Rodeo Rider (D) Dave
  12. Texas Swing (C) Hub
  13. encore: Soul Shake (Reid and Peggy)

There was less anxiety for me in the second set. There were fewer powerhouse songs and I think we were more comfortable with the house and the situation. Hub took a chance with his solo Beatles’ song and did fine (though never to his satisfaction). We were able to hit the critical ending to Don’t Call Me Early (yay!) and 24 Robbers was pretty good. I was disappointed with the set of mandolin Jigs, in that the band wasn’t quite familiar with the subtle chord changes to really bring it home, but I played it well and Jeff drove the tune on drums. It didn’t rise to the power of the old days. Rodeo Rider reestablished some credibility and Jeff’s set as front man is always welcome. The encore Soul Shake was a straight ahead rocker and both Peggy and Reid really delivered on a song we had briefly run through before the show. Folks loved the show.

I had a chance to talk with Hub’s wife Donna at the counter as we packed up and said our goodbyes for another year. It was good to hear from her and the audience’s point of view. She said that the crowd picks up on different aspects (outside of our myopic view) that make for a good show. The humor and side-talk is still pretty funny. We play well and have a powerful array of instruments, arrangements, talents and a very diverse repertoire. We obviously enjoy each other’s company and the joy of playing together. Donna enforced that last point: people come to see us play together. It is, after all, play.

I found myself wasted after the show and into the next day. I invest heavily in pulling off a Steppin’ Out! show since I am the nominal leader. It’s hard for me to perform without the confidence that I maintain when it’s just a solo, duo or trio – too many moving parts, leads, endings, etc. in a large band like this, especially with the few gigs and rehearsals that we do. But, I remain tremendously proud of this group of friends and professional musicians. We are still a great band.

 

Steppin’ Out! was booked for the last slot on the first Sunday night at Liederplatz, and though I was glad to land the gig, it was a very tough spot for us. 9 pm to 11 pm on a Sunday night is not particularly good for our demographic, but we prepared well and played well.

We decided to play straight through, no breaks. I knew that if we took a break, folks would certainly leave and we would be playing to an empty courtyard. I hoped that we could sustain the energy, mix up the styles, have different folks lead the songs and maintain a good diverse set of music. It did seem to work.

We had several rehearsals (without Reid … living in N.H.), worked on the old stuff and brushed up on some of our newer material. Jeff had two new tunes, Kris had a Tom Waits song from last November and I have a bunch from the Troubadour CD. Reid is good with his expansive repertoire and great recall of our old tunes. Unfortunately Peggy couldn’t make this one due to her full-time job. She was missed.

We gathered at 2 pm on Sunday to roll through the set I had worked up, and Reid came by later after grabbing some much needed shut-eye after driving down from New England. It was a good rehearsal and it made a big difference in the evening’s show. It did take a toll on Hub though.

Hub Wilson

Hub’s developed a carpal tunnel issue in his left hand and struggled all day, and especially during the evening’s set. We had originally had Hub play drums at the end of the night, but Jeff and I decided that it wouldn’t work. Hub’s Song for You came off wonderfully and there was no hint of his pain in the performance. I was in awe of his courage in this song and his overall chops all night. He could barely move his hand at the end.

We found out the Reid has a rare blood cancer. He produces too much blood and will have to drain a pint of blood every month from now on. He’s glad that at least it’s controllable. We talked about how lucky we are that we are still playing, still a band, and still alive. I am simply glad that I’ve overcome my prostate cancer and have two new hips so I’m not complaining. Such thoughts at our age.

Chris Jones and Reid Tre

I was impressed with Jeff’s drums and Kris’s bass for our rhythm section and, upon reflection, made a huge difference in maintaining our energy for the whole two hours. Kris is fully integrated in the band now. Chris’s steel and rhythm guitar were strong, Reid’s vocals and nasty guitar work also gave us a wonderful edge to our music. I actually nailed the lyrics and chords to all my songs (surprise, surprise!) and felt good about our overall stage craft. We played really well and it was a solid show. I just wish we had a better time slot. I mentioned near the end that I was proud of the band and that they are my brothers. Truth.

Liederplatz stage

The sound crew of Dave Reichert and Terry Mutchler were a joy to work with and they made us really comfortable on stage. No small thing. It was hot though and we crawled across the finish line at 11 pm. I was whipped.

There were some familiar faces from years back and it was quite nice to have those folks stick it out to the end. I know that they enjoyed our music, and the fact that we can still do it. We’ll do our Thanksgiving Friday gig in November, and the hard work we put in for this gig will make a difference for that gig.

Set list:

  1. Choo Choo Cha Boogie (F) Hub
  2. Lose My Blues (G) Dave
  3. Got What It Takes (A) Reid
  4. O’Reilly Drinking at the Bar (G) Dave
  5. Bloodshot Eyes (A) Jeff
  6. Mr. Bojangles (D) Dave
  7. Shorty (G) Reid
  8. False from True (G) Dave
  9. Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian (C) Jeff
  10. I’m an Old Cow Hand (F) Jeff
  11. Walkin’ Stick (Am) Dave
  12. Delilah (D) Reid
  13. Lessons from Pete (Am) Dave
  14. Song for You (solo) Hub
  15. Till The Money Runs Out (E) Kris
  16. 24 Robbers (G) Reid
  17. Rosie is a Friend of Mine (A) Dave
  18. Lady Madonna (A) Hub
  19. You Can’t Do That (G) Reid
  20. Zombie Jamboree (D) Dave
  21. Don’t Take My Picture (C) Jeff
  22. I Can’t Help It ……(C) Jeff
  23. I’m Walkin’ (E) Reid
  24. Don’t Call Me Early (D) Dave
  25. Texas Swing (C) Hub

I was proud of what Steppin’ Out! did at Godfrey’s on Friday night, on several levels.

  1. We played as a band, live on stage, using our wits to adjust to the inevitable quirks of playing in the moment. We were able to pick up on eye-contact, mental adjustments to small mistakes in arrangements and take the mike when the situation demanded. These abilities define the band.
  2. The rehearsals and preparations were very productive, inclusive, fun and professional.
  3. The on-stage humor was extemporaneous, real and quite appreciated by the audience. Folks commented on our humor.
  4.  Though we are not as tight as we were, the audience picks up on the effort that goes on, on stage, in the moment. I’m sure it’s quite a sight to see.
  5. Kris is accepted as part of the band.
  6. Peggy has also active in the band. She has emerged from a shell from several years ago.
  7. Reid’s contributions have barely been scratched.
  8. The “show” is a professional production with good musicianship, great audience interaction, musical diversity in a relaxed presentation.
  9. The audience certainly picks up on the fun we are having, responding as friends on stage.
  10. We are good at what we do and we are very good friends.

This was the fifth annual gathering of Steppin’ Out! on the Friday after Thanksgiving and the first gig after our set at Liederplatz last August. I think we finally have a solid concept of being more than a reunion affair, an actual performing ensemble. It’s been an interesting process this fall in preparation for this gig. We’re a pretty good band.

We are somewhat handicapped with Reid being a full-time performing musician in New England. We have to set up gigs like this months in advance to accommodate his schedule. I’ve been the band secretary and creative director so it’s been up to me to guide the project. We put together three rehearsals prior to Friday with four, five or six members and did a lot of homework via emails, dropboxes and other useful social devices, and, we are smarter as musicians as well. (I hope). Each session was particularly professional and productive. These dialogues create communication and trust and go a long way to our comfort on stage. Lots of funny chatter as happens with good friends.

I pulled up our two-hour set from Musikfest and started from there. I put out feelers for new material from the folks and everybody came up with new stuff. That’s a sign that we are all creatively invested in the band. Peggy, Kris, Hub and I offered some challenging songs, I pulled up Troubadour tunes, Jeff put together a rock and roll medley and counted on Reid’s amazing skills as a spontaneous and gifted improvisor. The antennae is always up with him.

I put together two strong sets and brought them to the four hour rehearsal on Friday afternoon (with Reid) and it was, again, remarkable how we were able to roll through the material, work on some details, pass out the leads. We really got things ready for the show later on that evening. It’s great working with a real performing unit. We took a three-hour break to come back for a sound check and run a few songs.

I had hoped to take a break before the show but I found myself having to help out setting up the room, making coffee and working the counter due to our usual shortage of volunteers at my shows. Pisses me off, but I have to jump in when there’s a need at the club.

We hit the stage a little after 8 pm and started out with Choo Choo Cha Boogie, a tight opener and Reid immediately followed with Buzzy’s You Got What It Takes, nailing his vocal gymnastics at the end. With that opening statement, we settled into our comfortable banter with the audience and rolled out the set of old favorites and the new tunes. Peggy came up and made her presence a real part of the band, now quite energized as a singer and performer. We were really listening to each other, adapting to various wrinkles in our execution and I know that the audience is engaged by the process.

Set One:

  • Choo Choo Cha Boogie  – Hub (tight opener)
  • Got What It Takes – Reid (straight R&B with killer vocals)
  • O’Reilly Drinking at the Bar – Dave (irreverent swing)
  • Bloodshot Eyes  – Jeff (country swing fave)
  • Mr. Bojangles – Dave ( a new ballad that I almost got right)
  • False from True  – Dave (extended blues, Peggy’s voice and leads)
  • Chuck E’s in Love – Peggy (this is a new one that connects)
  • Love Me Like a Man – Peggy (Bonnie Raitt classic that Peggy owns)
  • Rosie is a Friend of Mine – Dave (new one that the band is working on)
  • Til the Money Runs Out  – Kris (Kris steps up with a Tom Waits tune -welcome to the band!)
  • Walkin’ Stick –  Dave (quick version that brought a “not tonight, ladies” comment
  • Delilah – Reid (this one always has a visceral response from the crowd.)
  • Tightrope – Hub (we did great for the first time in front of people)
  • Yulesville – Dave (a trip into jazzville with red shades for all)
  • Lessons from Pete – Dave (it was nice version with good colors from everyone)

I was particularly gratified that, thanks to Concert Window on the web, my daughter Rosalie could catch the first set from her home in Italy. She said said, “Spectacular show tonight! So glad I could tune in. You guys looked like you had a blast ?“. That’s very cool.

The second set settled in quickly with our country swing set, a Beatles set, some old favorites (as got out the mandolin and Jeff fronted the band from guitar and piano, Hub played great drums.) and finished up with our rock and roll medley. We came off stage to a standing ovation but I was winded. We hadn’t planned an encore so I was grasping at what to do. Kris mentioned we didn’t do Don’t Call Me Early, and, bang, that was the perfect way to end the evening. It was serendipity, falling out of a mistake I had made in forgetting it in the second set.  But it was a well-rehearsed new song and referenced getting up in tomorrow morning after this gig; it also got people singing and we almost nailed the ending (no one else noticed…). It turned out to be spot on for the final coda on the show.

Set Two:

  • She Made Me Lose My Blues – Dave (tight, sprightly bluegrass opener)
  • Going Back to Tennessee – Peggy (a new one from Peg that Hub owned)
  • Seeds and Stems Again –  Dave (a righteously pitiful country tune that was fun)
  • You Can’t Do That – Reid (another new one that Chris wanted and it was good break from the country)
  • Lady Madonna – Hub (Hub owns this one, too, and the band responded)
  • Zombie Jamboree – Dave (silly nonsense that folk appreciate, tight though)
  • 24 Robbers – Reid (Fat’s Waller tune that breaks the mold, and, again, tight)
  • I’m an Old Cowhand – Jeff (Jeff fronts the band on guitar with a band favorite)
  • Song For You- Hub (Hub did it wonderfully, with mix of piano and organ on the keys. It was great to hear him take charge)
  • Santa Assassin – Dave (again, with the attitude. It is short and sweet)
  • Mandolin Tunes – Dave (the tunes came off well in spite of Terry in the audience)
  • Texas Swing  – Hub (Hub’s festive Texas Swing tune that re-introduces the band)
  • All Shook Up / 20 Flight Rock/ Jailhouse Rock – Jeff  (people got up and danced!)

Encore: Don’t Call Me Early – Dave (an unexpected rouser of an encore)

Reflections on the evening to follow.

 

 

I had the privilege to book the acts at Godfrey Daniels Day at Musikfest and did a good job of mixing strong local acts with a very strong national duo: The Best of Open Mike with  Evan Miklosey

and Pete McDonoughSerene Green (the lads have grown up),

Dina Hall’s Songbird – Emmylou Harris tribute,

David Jacobs-Strain and Bob Beach

and my own Steppin’ Out!

The weather forecast was lousy the day before but it turned out to be a rainless day. Quite amazing! Whodathunk?

Steppin’ Out! has been a project I’ve nurtured over the last few years, with our annual Black Friday gigs in November. But this band has become more than a reunion project and I welcomed this opportunity to showcase our work at Musikfest this year on a more public stage.

We have practiced three times over the last month or two, without Reid (in New Hampshire) and developed a good set of tunes, both old and new. We worked Peggy Salvatore into more of the songs, especially backup vocals on my Troubadour tunes. The last rehearsal we ran through the two hour set I had constructed so we figured we were in pretty good shape.

We started out strong and established ourselves well with some familiar songs and then departed from the “same olds” with a nice version of Mr. Bojangles and some of the Troubadour songs. But as we went along, there was some hesitation in the band when it came to communicating the leads and arrangements. It was a minor struggle. I have a hard time remembering all the nuances myself and count on our collective ability to adapt in the moment.  This chalks up to an unfamiliar experience for this ‘new’ band, performing on a big stage with big sound and a relative infrequent performance schedule. But the professionality comes through and we make it work, in a astounding leap of faith. (This is why I love these people – we trust in each other.)  This is performance stuff that only we notice, but it still distracts us from the excellence that we’ve come to expect.

Peggy did a great job on Chuck E’s in Love (a new one for the band and a leap for me) and nailed her regular tunes. I welcome her presence on stage with us. Reid was, as expected, extraordinary on guitar and vocals and can always be counted on to have his antennae up for tunes he isn’t familiar with. Hub and Chris, the bookends, held down their parts well, with some effort (they add so much to the sound), Kris, on bass, was a little scattered but, considering he had just come up from a family vacation on the shore he was as solid as we could all expect from the young lad.  Jeff did great on drums but we struggled synching up on the rhythm on Lessons From Pete (more guitar in the monitors, please). But Jeff came up a led his mini-set on guitar and finished off the night on keys with his Jailhouse Rock. His versatility adds some diversity of our set. This has always set Steppin’ Out! apart from normal bands.

Part of the challenge in a two hour set is to rotate the spotlight among these talented people; that’s the most important thing on my mind when I write out the set. I have to mix musical styles, tempos, instrumentation, solo/band, lead vocals and leads, personalities, etc. I guess I’m the director (didn’t hit me til just now) and a Steppin’ Out! gig becomes a true theatrical production. We all recognize our little glitches but still we did a pretty good show today.

As we hit the hour and a quarter marker, I began to think that we were running short. I was also starting to feel some fatigue, having stood for the bulk of the set in humid weather. (This is still new territory for me, after two hip replacements, though it feels great to move to the music again.) I was doing some clock watching and pondering about the run to the end.

I added Rodeo Rider to the set on the spur of the moment (these folks trust me) and it was a good way to reset the mood with a nice, thoughtful folk/country tune. We followed with the mando/electric guitar acid jam on Clinch Mountain that was less solid than I had hoped it to be. But, we headed for the home stretch with proven tunes Texas Swing and Jailhouse Rock with people dancing as we finished at the crack of 9. I thanked folks for sticking around and brought the Godfrey’s day to a close. Done.

I was beat, drenched with sweat and relieved that we had pulled Steppin’ Out! off. Actually, it pretty amazing that a band that hadn’t played since November could command a situation like this. I wish we had had some time to unpack all that we did, but that’s part of a band gig. It took an act of will on my part as a musical director and the trust of my friends and bandmates to succeed in this project. It was a limited success. This band still means a lot to me; it’s a great vehicle for my ‘band’ self (non-solo/kids), my new material and for all of us as friends and musicians. These connections still run deep. I love Jeff, Kris, Chris, Hub, Peggy and Reid.

The Show:

  1. Choo Choo Cha Boogie (F) Hub
  2. Got What It Takes (A) Reid
  3. O’Reilly Drinking at the Bar (G) Dave
  4. Bloodshot Eyes (A) Jeff
  5. Mr. Bojangles (D) Dave
  6. False from True (G) Dave
  7. Chuck E’s in Love (A) Peggy
  8. Love Me Like a Man (E) Peggy
  9. Rosie is a Friend of Mine (A) Dave
  10. Walkin’ Stick (Am) Dave
  11. Delilah (D) Reid
  12. Georgia on My Mind (solo) Hub
  13. I’m an Old Cow Hand (F) Jeff
  14. Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian (C) Jeff
  15. 24 Robbers (G) Reid
  16. Giant (Cm) Dave
  17. Lessons from Pete (Am) Dave
  18. Heat Wave (D) Peggy
  19. I Saw Her Standing There (C) Dave
  20. Lady Madonna (A) Hub
  21. Rodeo Rider (D) Dave
  22. Clinch Mountain BS (Am) instr.
  23. Texas Swing (C) Hub
  24. Jail House Rock (D) Jeff

Phew……