Back in 2009, I began putting together a list of people to interview for my book, The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide, and my friend, Mike was at the top of this list. Those of you who knew Mike know that he was a very caring, giving, and humble human being. The interview he gave was not only insightful for aspiring musicians, but also a wonderful insight into his musical journey. Although he has now gone on to a better place, his music can still be heard, and his magical essence still shines through the words on these pages. It is with that spirit that I’d like to share his words with you all. Mike touched so many lives, and we are all the better for it. I miss my friend.
Click here to view the entire interview: https://nashvillemusicianssurvivalmanual.com/Blog/mike-chapman/
By Eric Normand
Sunny days, dusty hayfields, huge crowds, great music, great people, light beer, diesel fumes, gator balls – these were the sights, sounds and aromas of the 2014 Luke Bryan Farm Tour. I can’t believe it’s over, it seems like I just hopped on the bus yesterday. The 8 shows spanning two weeks whirled across the Deep South with the speed of a jet plane and the intensity of a freight train.
My role in this mega-tour as lead guitarist and bandleader for Nashville’s most successful songwriting team of all time, The Peach Pickers, began with our pre-tour warm-up show at a sold out Third and Linsley in downtown Nashville on September 26. The show, which benefited The Wounded Warrior Project was a huge success, and a couple of days after this electric night we hopped aboard a bus bound for Knoxville, TN.
Even though it was October 1, it still felt like summer when I hopped off the bus around 8 AM, the temperature already approaching 80°. This day began for me like every day that would follow on this tour, a trip to catering! After some eggs, home fries and coffee I got ready for my daily trip to the gym with members of Luke’s band and one of the other opening bands, Cole Swindell. While I was doing my thing at the gym, other members of our entourage walked the hayfields, while others took advantage of another luxury provided to the touring musician, sleeping late.
By mid-afternoon it was time for our load-in and sound check. The level of production on this tour was top notch, sporting state-of-the-art lighting, some really cool video walls, and a PA system that would rival that of any mega-rock tour. They even had a remote-controlled flying camera that captured video footage of the audience and performances, otherwise referred to as “the drone”.
Luke’s crew, along with the other crews (which included the world-class sound company, Claire Brothers) not only knew how to make us sound and look great, they were a pleasure to work with. After sound check it was time for a little rest, a quick shower and some dinner before taking the stage at 6:40 PM. Our 40 minute set began just a few minutes after the tour’s first opener, Louisiana native and singer-songwriter, Chancie Neal. The sun was just beginning to set as the DJ introduced our show with something like:
“These three guys are the most successful songwriting team in the history of Nashville. They have 60 number one hits…230 million downloads… please welcome to the stage – Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip, Dallas Davidson…The Peach Pickers!”
The crowd went wild and we began our onslaught of 13 number one songs with “The Only Way I Know”, a Peach Pickers cut by Jason Aldean. In rapid-fire succession we played down our list, each song greeted with, and followed by the sound of 15,000 people going absolutely berserk! After a few rockers we slowed things down with the heartfelt ballad “I Don’t Dance”. A few of the songs towards the end of our set really seemed to hit home with themes that everybody in this crowd could relate to – “Small Town Throwdown”, “Parking Lot Party”, “All about Tonight”, and the epic hip-shaker, “Boys Round Here”. The set went by like a blur, seeming to end as quickly as it began, and the three stars of our show left the stage to a deafening applause. The crew and stagehands helped us tear down and pack up our gear with lightning speed, and by quarter of eight it was all loaded on the bus and we were done working for the night. Only six more hours until bedtime!
Our show was followed by the fast rising, Cole Swindell, another Georgia native currently enjoying his second number one song, and his four-piece band kept the party going full force. By 9 PM it was time for the Tour-D-Force of this event, Luke and gang to take the stage, his show beginning with the modern day phenomenon of thousands of cell phones being raised into the air to capture an endless barrage of digital photos.
Luke’s show is an exciting ball of kinetic energy, his top notch band providing an AC/DC like “foot stompability” that kept the audience pulsating for his 90 minute set. The phrase “sing along” doesn’t even begin to paint the sonic picture of the sound of 15,000 people singing at the top of their lungs at a Luke Bryan concert. After Luke’s show ended, the crowd quickly dispersed the field, only to be trapped in a massive traffic jam as thousands of cars began their slow motion journeys down the one lane road that led out of this little piece of rural America.
This first day and night of the tour was a huge success, and with each following show, the tour seemed to gain momentum. The only snag of this first week was some torrential rain during Friday afternoon in Tallahassee Florida, and despite what seemed like an impending disaster, the rain subsided right before showtime and the night went off without a hitch. The following night we ended the first leg of this tour to a crowd of 17,000 in Gainesville Florida, and this was, in my opinion, The Peach Pickers strongest performance yet.
A few days off and we were back at it for round two. The week started out smoothly, but late Thursday afternoon in Columbia, South Carolina it began to sprinkle, with the sounds of thunder and the view of lightning in the distance. Oh no, it was happening again! We pushed back the start of the performances by 20 minutes, and midway through Chancie’s set a downpour began. With a handheld wireless microphone, this brave girl stood out in the pouring rain on the middle of the runway and kept everybody’s spirits high. By the end of her show she was soaked head to toe, as was her acoustic guitar player and percussionist, Austin Marshall (who also just happens to be the Peach Pickers tour manager). The rain stopped as she exited the stage, which was now soaked, and a dozen stagehands began to dry the stage using push brooms, towels, and high-powered electric fans. We began our show with a strange hue lurking behind us in the form of some ominous storm clouds and lightning in the distance.
By the second to last show in Columbia, South Carolina our band was really beginning to hit its stride, and by the final night of the tour, Saturday in Macon Georgia, we were on fire. On the bus shortly before our set, we all talked about our agenda for the night, which basically consisted of kicking some serious ass. And that’s exactly what we did! At one point of the show, me and Dallas even did a couple of moves that might have almost seemed choreographed. The show ended with our usual closer “Boys Round Here” during which Dallas, Rhett, and Ben walked the runway with their wireless microphones, slapping hands with the audience in a climactic sing along.
There’s a really unique aspect to a Peach Pickers show. We play songs that are the most successful chart-toppers of modern-day country radio, songs written by these three guys, yet made famous by others. So the crowd knows our tunes, yet most have never heard them performed by the original writers. A Peach Pickers performance is very organic, powerful, sometimes rough around the edges, and performed by what many in Nashville would consider a “stripped down band”. Most of the radio versions of our songs feature multi-tracked guitars, layers of fiddle, steel, keyboards, background vocals, etc, and most touring bands that play behind country artists consist of this instrumentation. Our group is basically like a traditional rock band – drums, bass, and two electric guitars. Nothing against modern day radio production, but I find that this stripped down approach allows us to rock a little harder while allowing the essence of the song to shine through without obstruction.
While Rhett has had success and experience on the big stage, Ben and Dallas are newer to this forum, yet they rise to the occasion every time, perhaps with an excitement and enthusiasm that would be impossible to have in any other scenario. Together, the three of them make a formidable team. It probably doesn’t hurt that the rest of our band is made up of some extremely talented folks – Nick Forchione on drums and former G-men, Mike Chapman on bass and Chris Leuzinger on electric guitar. I’m extremely proud of this band, were all friends, we love playing music together, and we make it happen every time.
The farm tour might be over, but the memories are forever. Luke’s entire crew, band, and management treated us with great care and respect, which speaks volumes of the man himself. We all made some new friends and strengthened the bonds between old ones, and I sure hope we get to do it again next year! In the meantime, The Peach Pickers might just have a few more surprises for you, stay tuned!
By Eric Normand
I recently read an article on Huffington Post, “Art and Music Are Professions Worth Fighting for, and while I agree with some points of this article I think the author does a major disservice in presenting the pursuit of music as a profession in a kind of “all or nothing” approach. He talks about a presentation he made at a high school career day where he suggests music as a possible career choice for young people. He says that those interested should “go for it, with abandon and furious joy, and that you do so without a plan B”. This is where I disagree. I also disagree with the distinction this makes between “career musicians” and nonprofessional musicians. Just because you don’t play professionally doesn’t mean your music isn’t valid. I agree, if you love music and want to pursue it, why not pursue it wholeheartedly, but what’s the matter with pursuing music while earning a living from something else? What’s the matter with pursuing music for the mere enjoyment of it? I believe you can pursue music as a career and for fun, but you need to keep your eyes open and realize that you will need a steady income stream along the way. To decide how music or a music career might fit into your life, perhaps the questions you really need to ask yourself are; why are you pursuing music, what do you want to get out of it, and what will it take to be successful? What is your definition of success?
When I was a senior in high school, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said, “a professional musician”. Immediately after high school I got a job as an apprentice drywall carpenter before enrolling in the Berklee College of Music two years later. After Berklee I played professionally in nightclub bands for the next 14 years, eventually also becoming a guitar teacher. In 2002 I relocated to Nashville Tennessee where I’ve had the good fortune to work as a hired gun on several major tours. My first gig was as a guitar tech for Toby Keith, and I went on to play lead guitar with several country artists – Daryle Singletary, Vern Gosdin, Rhett Akins, and the hit songwriting team known as “The Peach Pickers”, among others. I also wrote a book about how to navigate the Nashville music industry, “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide”.
Looking back, if you had told that starry-eyed high school kid that one day he would be a musician, painter, drywall carpenter, teacher, author, and website designer, he would’ve said “Naw, I’m not interested in any of that other stuff”. But as they say “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”, and one of the things I’ve learned along the way is that you have to wear a lot of hats to survive in this world. The truth is, my original goal of being a professional musician was based on the glamorization of the musical era that I fell in love with, and I had no idea about the reality of any of it.
We starve! Just kidding (well, not entirely). The options for musicians trying to earn a living from their craft are somewhat limited. The way I see it you can pursue one or more of the following avenues; nightclub musician, music teacher, touring musician, or session musician. Sure, there are other gigs (orchestra musicians, jingle writing, etc.) but these four are the most practical, and out of these, the first two are the only ones that ever become reality for most. If you want to be a touring or session musician, you will need to live in a music metropolis such as Nashville, New York, or LA, and these are extremely hard (but not impossible) gigs to land.
Regarding paying gigs, I’m talking about work you can get on a regular basis that pays real money for your services. Therefore, I’m leaving out songwriters and aspiring artists because these do not pay any real money unless you become extremely successful. TV shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” have propelled the myth that anybody that learns how to sing a good cover song can become a national recording artist and superstar. Out of the tens of thousands who audition for these shows and the hundreds that perform on them annually, how many are ever heard from again?
While I cherish many of my experiences as a professional musician, I’ve learned the hard way that it doesn’t always pay the bills. Night club gigs still pay what they paid 25 years ago when I first got into this ($100 a night is still considered good pay) and most club gigs in Nashville don’t even pay that. As far as touring musicians, most tours only pay during the part of the year that the tour is active and, unless you are on a very high profile tour, you’ll have to find another income stream during the winter.
Two years ago, I went back to full-time construction work, and put my music career on part-time status. I began approaching music as simply one component of my life, and for first time since I’ve been in Nashville I’m actually earning a steady living year-round. I still play music, sometimes for pay, always for fun, and I get just as much reward, if not more, out of a local club gig playing for tips as I do when I perform with The Peach Pickers on the Luke Bryan farm tour in front of 15,000 people.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to talk people out of their dreams; after all, I did write a book about surviving the Nashville music industry. But if this is your dream, you need to arm yourself with knowledge and know what you’re up against. If you’re thinking about pursuing music or arts as a profession you must first “define your success”. What is your definition of success in music? Then ask yourself why you want to do this. If it’s because you think it’s an easy and fun way to make a living you might want to do a little more research. It can be fun, but it’s definitely not easy. If it’s because you absolutely can’t see yourself doing anything else, then go for it, but have a plan B, and have a way of earning a living while you pursue it.
There’s nothing wrong with pursuing music as a career, and there’s also nothing wrong with being a musician or artist that never becomes “professional”. Music is one of the oldest forms of communication, music has the power to heal and unite people, and playing music makes you smarter. So go ahead and work at becoming a great musician, it’s a noble thing to do and the world always needs good music and art. Approach your music with abandon and joy, but don’t be afraid to have a plan B.
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my dad playing records and, dare I say, reel to reel tapes of the music of Paul Butterfield, John Lee Hooker, Santana, and Derek and the Dominoes. I guess this music made an impression, because by my early teens in the early 1980’s I was buying my own records, not of the pop-based FM radio music of my generation, but of the previous generations more blues-based artists. While everyone else was listening to E.L.O. and Michael Jackson, I was discovering Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, BB King and Bobby Bland. Sure, I liked some of the 80’s guitar rock of the day, but always kept digging back to a more rootsy sound. Then right smack in the middle of 80’s hair band mania came Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I immediately related to his music.
Stevie’s music influenced a generation of guitarists and, at a moment where rock and pop music was winding itself up, almost single-handedly brought blues music back into the light. You couldn’t go see a club band during the late 80’s and early 90’s without hearing his music. I found myself covering his renditions of blues classics like “The Sky Is Cryin’”, “Empty Arms”, as well as originals like “Cold Shot” and “Walkin’ the Tightrope”, as did many others at that time. Stevie’s instrumental “Riviera Paradise” from the album ‘In Step’ is a beautiful piece of American roots music, and I always loved the spooky vibe created by his magical band on that song in particular.
I’ll never forget the day I heard of his tragic passing, how sad it was that we had to lose such a wonderful artist at such a young age. But his music, and the influence of his music, lives on, and I, like many others, will always appreciate everything Stevie did for music, and everything his music has done for the world.
So that’s why when I began hosting the Nashville Berklee Jam I felt compelled to have Reese Wynans, the keyboardist who played with Stevie for the last five years of the great guitarist’s life, as a special guest speaker/performer. Reese was kind enough to share his story with me and a room full of alums at our monthly Nashville Berklee Jam last Tuesday at The Fillin’ Station.
Almost 20 years before he began working with SRV he was playing in cover bands in his home state of Florida, and he recounted one of his first bands playing five sets a night, six nights a week. Two of the other members were Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley and on their one day off they would play a weekly free jam, adding Duane Allman and Butch Trucks to the mix. Eventually Duane decided to start his own band and stole these key members to form The Allman Brothers.
After spending a few years in San Francisco and working with a still-unknown artist at this time, Boz Scaggs, he returned to Florida for a brief period and then worked the East Coast in a show band for a few years. Reese then migrated to Austin, Texas, a booming town full of blues-infused music by this point of the mid-70s. Of this time, Reese spoke passionately.
“It was really great for me living in Austin…everything was so rootsy…they had a great music scene back there in the 70’s. They had a great blues scene, and a great blues club called ‘Antone’s’…and I would go and sit in at Antone’s anytime I had a chance. I was ending up really lovin’ the blues during this time.”
By 1980 he found himself working for Delbert McClinton, playing on four of his records and touring extensively for the next five years. By 1985, Reese was ready to get off the road, and would have if not for a fateful encounter at the end of his final gig with Delbert. Apparently, Delbert’s sax player had been invited to play on one song of a Stevie Ray Vaughan recording session after Delbert’s concert, and at the last minute Reese was asked to join in as the other keyboardist did not show up. Things went very well at this particular recording session, one which produced the hit, “Look at Little Sister” and Reese was asked to come back and record the following day. By the end of that recording session he was asked if he wanted to join the band. Reese summed up a life lesson from this critical moment,
“When a door opens for you, you’ve got to be willing to walk through it, and then be able to deliver once you get through there.”
The next five years would yield three Grammys, several world tours, and a reintroduction of the blues to the masses –
“We were spokesman for Texas blues…as much as Stevie didn’t want to, BB King had to open for us, because we were just more popular than him. He said “no we can never, BB’s always closing the show”… but finally, we had to headline…I loved playing in that band…we were all totally immersed in the blues, and we felt like were the vanguard of the blues. We were dragging Buddy Guy and Otis Rush into the light and presenting them out on our shows to people who were just hungry for that music…the stuff that we played I thought was shining a light on all the huge blues guitar players that had come before us, and that was a wonderful thing to do, I felt like it was really worthwhile.”
After Stevie’s tragic passing, Reese wound up in Nashville, TN, a place where he has continued to record and perform on a national level. During the talk, Reese passed around his All Music Discography, which reveals a staggering body of work, including Brooks and Dunn’s 2006 single of the year “Believe”. He offered us some thoughts about the differences between studio and live performance –
“I like being in the studio, I like playing gigs, I like playing clubs…all you people who do studio work know it’s two different things. Playing a club is really a chance to experiment…a chance to reach out in different directions and really find yourself. The studio isn’t really a place for that. The studio is where you don’t have to play it safe, but you’ve got to do something that’s exactly right for the song…it’s a place for finding something that works, finding something unique that works.”
After his talk was finished, Reese was gracious enough to perform a set with our house band – a performance that was nothing short of inspired. I’ve heard his playing on many records, but there’s something intangible that you can feel in the heat of live performance that goes beyond a recording, and that was evident on this night. One of the songs we played together was “Little Wing”, a song that he had played on tour with Stevie, back in the day. On this song, Reese seemed to really stretch out in one of those magical musical moments in which time seems to stand still (see video below).
Eventually, this special night had to end, and we said goodbye after a quick photo op. Thanks, Reese, for sharing your wisdom, and for continuing to shine some light on that crown jewel of American music we call the blues.
When we first began planning our New England visit, sometime late last year, I had the idea to put together a special reunion show, one at which we could reconnect with our dearest friends and musician buddies from days gone past. My initial thought was to throw together a band of players from my New England nightclub days, have a few guests sit in, and that a few of our old friends might turn up too. To my delight, all that happened, and then some.
Sometime around February I began putting this all together. The first thing I had to do was pick a place. Hmmm, early August in New England? What better place to do this sort of thing than Hampton Beach! And why not pick a venue in which I used to perform regularly back in my New England heyday, Wally’s Pub, which turned out turned to be the perfect spot. I would need a core band of players, so I contacted drummer, John Medeiros; and bassist, Keith Foley; both whom I once played with in my old band, Electric Blue. I wanted to have another guitar player involved as well, so I called up my friend, and former guitar student, Charles Cormier, who was a junior in high school when I left New England. Charles now plays with the seacoast jam band “Superfrog” from which I also recruited percussionist, Adams Viciguerra.
Once I had the place and the players, it was time to invite some special guests, and I began putting out some feelers months in advance. Putting together a reunion show from afar takes a lot of work, and I spent a lot of time e-mailing, talking on the phone, and sending mp3’s across cyberspace. It was all well worth the effort. On a warm Sunday afternoon a few days before the show, we had one rehearsal with the core band and, thanks to everyone doing their homework, things came together pretty quickly.
So Wednesday finally arrived, and the band guys arrived around 5:00 PM to set up and sound check. Our five piece ensemble was joined by, Jeff Bissonnette, a sound engineer that I knew from the “Jet City era”. We got everything dialed in and then our friends and guests began to trickle in. I hired a local videographer, Mike Maleszyk, to document the evening and he showed up about an hour before the show with one of his cohorts and three video cameras. A lot of friends that Kelly and I hadn’t seen in ages started arriving and I did my best to make some rounds before showtime. Some of these friends I hadn’t even seen since high school, some 25 years ago. There were so many people I wanted to talk to but so little time.
Eight o’clock came around and it was time to get down and boogie. “The Eric Normand and Friends Band” felt good right off the bat and I was excited about the vibe we were putting forth. Despite the fact that I hadn’t played with any of these guys in a decade, and most of the players had never played together before, the group had a real synergy and maturity, almost as if we had been playing together for years. We played an hour-long set of my favorite tunes, blues-rock music born of another era. Songs by Freddy King, Delbert McClinton, Jimi Hendrix, and the Allman Brothers, got a good dance floor going by mid-set. A couple of high points came during our rendition of the classic “Sweet Melissa” and an extended version of “Little Wing”, the former turning out to be a particularly proud moment for me when Charles took a beautiful and emotive solo. This all crescendoed with the set’s climax of “Black Magic Woman”, complete with full blown Santana-style percussion and an extended outro jam that nobody wanted to end.
We took a break and I made a few rounds, trying to catch up with as many of my friends and musician buddies as I could. I didn’t get to talk to everybody (not for lack of trying) and I wish I could have had more time. It was time to kick off the second half of the night, and this began with a couple of songs with the core band plus friend and former Electric Blue member, Tom Martin sitting in on bass. Next would come a “Jupiter’s Ghost” reunion, and this was comprised of Doug Hinton on drums, Mark Gagnon on bass, Keith Bowen on vocals, and me on guitar. We played two songs in what felt like a literal time machine, a packed dance floor from the get-go. Keith stepped down and Brandon LePere joined us on vocals for the next onslaught. Once again it was “Sherman set the way-back machine”, and when I looked across the stage it felt like 1995 again. Once upon a time a lifetime ago, four guys had a little rock band called “Shockwave”, and we played, and played, and played. We went through a lot together, and many great memories and feelings came rushing back during this part of the night.
Next it was time for one last reunion grouping and the crowd heard the announcement “Will Stan Jackson and George Bisson please come to the stage”. Yes, that’s right a partial “Jet City” reunion was about to unfold. A little “Alice in Chains” followed by some “Bad Company” kept the dance floor hopping. Sadly, the night was drawing to a close, and I had the core band return for one final number, “Whipping Post”.
Have you ever experienced a moment in time that was so full of positive energy and wonderment that you hoped it would never end? An experience so pure and magical that you wish you could just live inside of that moment for eternity? For me, and maybe a few others on this particular night, this was one such moment. Life is whizzing by, and the perception of time seems to be changing, literally speeding up exponentially. This fact has recently clarified some things for me. Friends and family are of the best things in life, and to me, friends are family. The times we spend together make us who we are, and on this trip, reconnecting with the friends of our past was a powerful experience. So many people made this special night happen. People drove from as far away as Brattleboro, Vermont and Portland, Maine; Stan Jackson drove all the way up from Cape Cod to participate in this night. Thanks everybody for making it all come together!
The night did have to end, but the memories we made will last a lifetime. And besides, I don’t see any reason we can’t make this an annual event. Meanwhile, Kelly and I have adopted a new theme song, one from which I would like to appropriately quote for the end of this writing –
“Meanwhile I, ain’t wastin’ time no more,
Cause time goes by like hurricanes, and much faster things,
Don’t forget the pouring rain.”
I would like to send out a special thanks to Mike Maleszyk, Catherine Fraser-Dery, Athena Erickson, and Curt Comeau for the use of these photos.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation which required you to play a song you did not know? Perhaps you’ve had to play unfamiliar material while sitting in at a blues jam or open mic. Or maybe when an audience member shouts out a request and your band attempts it even though none of you have ever played it before. I have been in these situations countless times. I’ve even been in situations where an artist decides to attempt an unfamiliar tune with the band hanging on for dear life, in front of thousands of people.
In these unnerving situations I have learned to embrace some great advice from my mentor “D” – “When in doubt, lay out.” That’s right; if you don’t know what chord or note is coming next, don’t play anything. Sometimes it’s better to leave some gaping holes in the music than it is to take a chance on playing “the ugly chord.”
One thing I have learned is that a song won’t completely fall apart if you simply miss the downbeat of a few chord changes. Songs have momentum, and a lot of this momentum is carried by the vocalist and the overall groove. As long as there is a lyric and melody happening over some kind of basic “chug factor” the audience won’t miss a few guitar chords or bass notes here and there. Of course if it’s the bass player that doesn’t know the tune, it’s a lot easier for the song to fall apart, as incorrect root motion might derail some of the other players.
One of my favorite tricks for getting through an unfamiliar tune is to avoid playing thirds. In many cases, the melody will dictate whether or not the song is in a major or minor mode. But in some situations the melody might be too ambiguous for this to be obvious. So if you only play chords containing roots and fifths, nothing will sound wrong.
Another concept I have engaged in is to play very lightly through the first verse and chorus, while intensely listening to the lead melody sang by the vocalist. By playing lightly it becomes easier to hear the vocals, giving me some time to figure out what’s going on. Melody dictates harmony, so there’s a lot of information in that first verse and chorus. After I make it through the first verse and chorus and know a little more about the songs melody and chord changes, I might dig in a little harder the next time around.
But by the time the song reaches that all-so-elusive bridge, this is where many players can get into trouble on unfamiliar tunes. In the words of Dirty Harry – ask yourself one question – “Do you feel lucky?” Do you feel brave enough to take a chance, and guess what chord is coming next? Maybe you’ll get it right and look like a big hero. But if you guess wrong and play a big old ugly chord, you might find yourself as the conductor of a good old-fashioned train wreck and derail the whole song.
“When in doubt, lay out”
As some of you may know, and for those of you who don’t know, I have just released my book “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide.” This street-level perspective of the music-related jobs in the Nashville music industry is now available in print version, and the e-book will be available within a few days. To purchase your own copy, follow this link.
Just for fun, I thought I would make a list of what I consider the top 25 greatest rock albums of all time. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, this music was the backdrop of my life, and I listened to most of it on vinyl, the medium in which I still prefer most today. In fact, I still own most of these albums and listen to many of them regularly. First of all, this was a hard list to compile. I have so many favorites and it was hard to whittle it down to just 25. What makes a great album? I think it comes down to the songs, performances, production, staying power, and popularity. Of course, excluding popularity, all of these criteria are a matter of opinion.
The following albums, in my mind, are all gems. They are all outstanding collections of great songs performed by brilliant musicians, and deliver a monumental sonic imprint to the universe. You might notice, barring a few exceptions, that most of this music was recorded before 1980. Once again, just my opinion, but I think that the majority of all great rock music was recorded during the 60s and 70s. Although some great rock records were made during the 80s, advances in recording techniques led to the tendency to “overproduce” which unfortunately dated many recordings from that period. By the 90s, the rock ‘n roll party was pretty much over. While grunge and alternative did have some elements of rock, the feel-good factor (along with guitar solos) seemed to be missing.
So here it is. The music that rocked the masses, the songs that inspired so many of us to grow, the sounds that made me want to learn guitar, the records I cranked full blast on my bedroom stereo after school before the parents got home, the music I listened to in my car while cruising the beach with my buddies late at night, the songs that helped solve many of life’s problems, the music of my generation and the generation just before – The greatest albums by the greatest bands from the golden era of rock!
Boston – Boston
Van Halen – Van Halen
Are You Experienced – Jimi Hendrix
Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso) – Led Zeppelin
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Electricladyland – Jimi Hendrix
At Fillmore East – Allman Brothers
Led Zeppelin I – Led Zeppelin
Van Halen – Fair Warning
Montrose – Montrose (Sammy Hagar’s first band circa 1972)
Bad Company – Bad Company
Abraxas – Santana
Rubber Soul – The Beatles
Band of Gypsies – Jimi Hendrix
Moving Pictures – Rush
Revolver – The Beatles
Whitesnake – Whitesnake
Back in Black – ACDC
Wheels of Fire – Cream
Doctor Feelgood – Motley Crue
Machine Head – Deep Purple
Get Your Wings – Aerosmith
Van Halen II – Van Halen
Who’s Next – The Who
What’s your take? Do you think all of these albums belong at the top of the pile? Do you think any are missing? What are your favorites? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.
Saturday night was the first outing for my new band ‘Endless Boogie’, and fun was had by all who ventured out to party with us at the Fillin’ Station in Kingston Springs, TN. The club, owned by Patrick Weickenand, was the perfect setting for my long awaited rock n’ blues experiment. Small, intimate, and loaded with character, the club is housed in an old garage right out of yesteryear, hence the name, and a favorite watering hole for the locals on the west side of town.
Our trio started out with a couple of instrumentals to get things going before switching to some vocal-based tunes. The place wasn’t too busy during our first set, so Patrick, who was working the bar, had time to sit in on harp for a few tunes in between slinging beers. Patrick is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and undoubtedly contributes greatly to the warmth and charm of this unique place. Anyone who has ever played the Fillin’ Station knows that Patrick is a great harp player, and he’s frequently requested to ‘sit-in’ from behind the bar with many a band. So several times throughout this night he joined in for some fun jams (check out the video below).
Fran Breen (drums) and Mike Chapman (bass), aside from being good friends of mine, are seasoned pros and I was thrilled to have them on the gig. Talk about groove, boy these guys can lay it down! I had an absolute blast playing with them, and we plan to do this on a regular basis, schedules permitting. As of right now our next outing will be Friday, December 3rd back at the Fillin’ Station.
By the third set, the place had erupted into a full-blown dance party which held through to the end. People were even dancing on Whipping Post (if you’ve ever tried to dance to this song you know why this is significant). All in all it was a triumphant beginning to this new project, a project born out of my need for “a little music for the soul”.
As a professional freelance musician working and living in Nashville, much of the work I perform is for other people’s entities, as is true for many hired guns. I’m not complaining mind you, this is how the bills get paid. My regular gig as tour manager/guitarist for Rhett Akins occupies many weekends throughout the year, and sporadic nightclub gigs and songwriter recording projects help to fill in the gaps. As rewarding as some of this work can be, it all comes under the heading of ‘gun for hire’ which means I must meet somebody else’s expectations, as they are footing the bill, often adjusting my musical tastes and desires to fit the gig.
So whenever it’s feasible, I take on gigs purely for my own musical expression, a little ‘music for the soul’ as I call it. Now that fall is here and the annual touring/festival season is drawing to a close, I’ll have a little more time for these kinds of endeavors. With that, I’m excited to tell you about my new project – Eric Normand and Endless Boogie. The concept of this band is simple. I will play only music that I enjoy playing, with people whom I enjoy playing, in venues that are enjoyable to play.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s I always looked back a few years to find my musical heroes; Jimi Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, John Lee Hooker, and to this day this is still some of the most expressive music I ever play. So in my new Nashville based ‘fun band’ that’s just what were going to do. The song list will contain Hendrix classics like Little Wing, Voodoo Child, and All along the Watchtower, Allman Brothers classics like You Don’t Love Me, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Melissa, and Whipping Post, classic blues songs like Freddie King’s Going Down, John Lee Hooker’s Hug You, Kiss You, Squeeze You, and even a few of my favorite instrumentals by Miles Davis and The Meters. Needless to say, we will put our own spin on these.
As I live in Nashville, and this kind of song list will not command top pay, getting great players to commit to a gig like this isn’t easy. All the best players are usually pretty busy taking the most lucrative gigs offered, and even if you get them to commit, something always seems to come up. So you either have to have two or three players deep on each instrument that know your material, or you have to wait till the last minute to book the players. I got real lucky for this first outing of Endless Boogie as a couple of my good friends, Fran Breen and Mike Chapman, just happened to be available.
Fran Breen is a world-class drummer from Ireland that has worked on and off in the Nashville music industry for over 20 years. He’s played with a few major artists like Lucinda Williams, Nancy Griffith, Shelby Lynn, and is also an accomplished session drummer having played on countless projects over the years including the soundtrack for the movie “The Commitments” . He’s a top notch groove machine, especially when it comes to blues and funk, and I’m thrilled to have him on the gig. (Plus he is really funny and has the coolest Irish accent.)
Mike Chapman is one of the best bassists Nashville has to offer, and another ace in the hole who happens to be a good friend of mine. Mike’s first big gig was with Hank Williams Jr. in the early 80s, since which time he has played on innumerable A-list recording sessions ranging from literally all of Garth Brooks recordings to Leanne Rimes, Brooks & Dunn, Huey Lewis and countless others. Mike has played bass on over 30 number 1 singles and the albums that he has played on have sold over 150 million copies. If it sounds like I’m bragging a little bit about these guys, it’s because I am. I mean how often does one get to say “My drummer played on the Commitments soundtrack” or “My bass player has been heard on 150 million albums”?
The last ingredient for my first outing with ‘Endless Boogie’ is a fun venue in which to play. The Fillin’ Station, located on Main Street in Kingston Springs, is the perfect venue for an intimate night of exploratory rockin’ blues and funk jams. While playing on big tours in front of thousands of people can be exciting, sometimes the finer points of the music get lost in the ‘bigness’ of those events. To this day, my favorite musical settings are small to midsize nightclubs, for it is in these small-town bars and juke joints of the world where the magic really happens. The Fillin’ Station is owned by Patrick Weickenand, former member of Eric Burdon’s band ‘War’ and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet who also blows a mean harp from behind the bar from time to time. The club is small but comfortable, and has an adjoining outdoor patio which fills up with locals on many a night. The club is just 25 minutes from downtown Nashville (exit 188 off of I40 west) and features live music four to five nights a week year-round, never with a cover.
I’ve been wanting to put together a group like this for a few years now, toying with the idea periodically, but never quite getting organized enough to make it happen. But I’ve realized that this is just what you have to do in Nashville, you have to find a way to not lose sight of your own vision even while you spend most of your time working for other people. My musical dreams at this point of my life are quite simple, I want to play the music that I love to play, the way I want to play it, hopefully taking a few others along for the ride.
So that’s it, all the essential ingredients are in line for an expressive night of music – songs I enjoy playing, people I enjoy playing with, and a place I enjoy playing at. Our show will be this coming Saturday, October 16 from 7:00 to 11:00. I’m really pumped for this show, so if you live in the Nashville area come on down for a night of Endless Boogie!