Category Archives: Opinions

Specific points of view on people, places, and things.

The Wedding Singer

OK, so I play a lot of weddings.  And invariably, the wedding organizers will request that the band play a number of songs at key points in the evening – the bride and groom’s first dance, the bride and her father’s dance, the groom and his mother’s dance, and so on.

Now, I’m all for dancing at these pivotal moments to songs that are special to the dancers (e.g., a song that the bride and her father love, the bride and groom’s “song” or a particular song that perfectly captures the way the bride/father, bride/groom, or groom/mother feel at this special time).  But …

1.  There are a LOT of really maudlin, overblown, sentimental and let’s face it, poorly written and tritely phrased “wedding” songs out there.  Most of them, particularly the country music ones, try to illustrate some special bond (between father and daughter, especially) that really only exists in fairy tales, greeting cards, Disney movies and 1950s TV shows.  Do you REALLY want this moment (which will be captured on film for eternity, and hopefully will be in your hearts and memories even longer) accompanied by a cheesy, forgettable Hallmark song that usually, if you listen to the lyrics carefully, is more about control and stereotypical gender roles than about true love and the commitment it takes to make a relationship (let alone a marriage) work?  How about something timeless?  At least something well written?  Not something you picked off a popular “Wedding Compilation”?  If you’re going to pick something (and you have to, because these dances have to occur), if there’s not a particular song that is “your” song for this moment, at least pick a great standard – like “What a Wonderful World” or “Can’t Help Falling in Love” or “You Are So Beautiful”.  These songs may be old and moldy, but at least they’re well written, succinctly emotional and not overly sentimental, and most wedding bands can execute them passably.  Don’t pick a song like “When a Man Loves a Woman”, because it’s not really a happy song, it’s about a guy’s who’s miserable.  THINK about the lyrics, because they are speaking FOR YOU at this wonderful time.

2.  Speaking of lyrics, most of these songs are written in first person.  That is, they are from the point of view of the father letting go of his precious darling, the husband holding on the for the first time, the bride saying goodbye to her dear daddy or hello to her true love, etc.  Do you really want these words (and by choosing these songs to represent you at this time, you’re saying these words are what you would really like to say) spoken by someone else?  In particular, so many of the father-daughter songs seem really inappropriate when sung by someone in the band who is at best an impartial, uninvolved and probably a little uninspired observer of this momentous occasion.  If you really mean these words, you ought to be singing them yourself.

3.  However, if you can’t sing (and since you’re dancing, it may be difficult anyway), IF you really love the song, and it really means something to you (both you and your dance partner), why would you want a cover band (who probably first listened to the song on the way to the gig) to blunder through and butcher it for your entertainment?  I know you’re paying the band for live music, but isn’t the importance and poignant nature of this moment worth the price of the band NOT playing one or two songs, and letting the version that touched your hearts in the first place do the talking?  I for one as a wedding band member would not be offended in the least if asked to pop in the CD or start the MP3 player.

4.  The CD or MP3 player is EXTREMELY important if your song is deep in a particular genre, especially one like country music that probably uses instrumentation, arrangements and studio overdubbing that the live band you’ve hired cannot possibly duplicate.  If they do better than stumble through it, it will be their own arrangement of the song, not the version that you and your dance partner (and/or wedding party) have come to know and love.  While it may be sweet that they attempted your request (like Americans visiting Paris who attempt to butcher French at a sidewalk bistro), ultimately you need to put your trust in the interpretation that speaks best to you.  It’s your call, of course, either way.  But if you’re going to trust the band for your soundtrack, do the right thing and give them ample opportunity (at LEAST a week, and a copy of the CD would be extraordinarily helpful) to attempt to learn the song.

Just a few thoughts from a wedding band singer whose repertoire (and vocal range) includes Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Joe Cocker, Tim McGraw, the Righteous Brothers and quite a few others but does not, and will never, include Rascal Flatts.

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A definition of punk

You know how you can tell if it’s REAL punk music? And not stadium punk, pop-punk or some other homogenized derivative? Real punk draws you into thinking and reacting to the world personally, as an individual. Not as one of the lighter-lifting masses, but as a unique voice of dissent. You may be singing the same lyrics as the person next to you, but you’re separately digesting their meaning.

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Our musician compability

1. Have you ever played in a band that performed original material? If no, then stop. We’re probably not musically compatible.

2. Name ten bands that have influenced the music you’ve played/written in original bands, in no particular order. For example, mine might be:

The Beatles


Black Sabbath

The Cure

Lou Reed or maybe more like Iggy Pop

Elvis Costello

Jonathan Richmond

David Bowie

Black Flag

Bob Dylan

If you don’t match at least three of these, stop. We’re probably not compatible.

3. Name at least 3 bands not listed above whose style you’ve considered, but never had the opportunity. For example, mine probably would be:

X, Yes, Blondie, the Damned

If you don’t like at least one of these, stop.

3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important are the lyrics of an original song you’re performing? If less than 6, stop. We’re definitely not compatible musically.

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State of the Union

OK, so I’m now 45 years old. I’ve been playing music onstage since I was 8. That’s 37 years in some kind of band or another, on stages of all kinds, in six different states and on at least three TV channels.

And here’s the bottom line, for me.

I don’t want to play in any more bar bands. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to play at any venue (except as a huge personal favor to a good friend or two) where the main purpose for attending wherever the music is playing is something other than the music onstage. And that includes places that use as their marketing campaign something like “Fridays and Saturdays, live music” as if the music were some kind of gracious amenity that attendees got as a bonus. No more gigs where you show up to do something else, and there just happens to be a band playing.

I’ll go one further. The audience (which we’ve already stipulated has to be primarily motivated by wanting to hear live music) also must be there to see me. Not accidental live music, not breezing through town and luckily catching the only live music in on that particular evening, but deliberately coming either because they know me (or have heard of me) or because the venue has specified “ME – live and in person” and is likewise excited (to some degree) about having, promoting and paying for non-anonymous performance.

I’m not so foolish as to think it must be exclusively ME. It could be me solo, me as or in a band, or even me opening for another band that folks also are interested in hearing. It’s also not about the money – although if you’re coming to see live music, and not just getting it included in your meal (solid or liquid) like a free dessert, you ought to be willing to pay for it. It’s a privilege, not a right.

One final stipulation … when you come to see me play, it’s to hear what I WANT TO PLAY. I’m not your human jukebox.

I think that covers it. If your gig doesn’t meet this criteria, don’t call me.

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Not my favorite bands of all time, but …

Even though they’re not necessarily my “favorite bands of all time” there is certain music I’ll never turn off if it comes up in rotation (on the radio, on a random play through my collection, on internet sites, in a friend’s car, wherever). Because for whatever reason, their music is infinitely interesting to me. I’ve discovered that this music, with the exception of the Beatles or Lou Reed (who I’ll listen to anytime), is largely alternative-goth-post punk oriented, strangely enough. Well, maybe not so strangely. The greatest band (in terms of the enjoyment and creative juice I got from it) I ever played in was a post-punk LA band called Faith Assembly. So maybe the music I listened to extensively during that period still resonates strongly with me:

Gang of Four

Joy Division

The Cure

Love and Rockets (including Tones on Tail, David J and Bauhaus)

Cocteau Twins

and let’s not forget:

The Damned

The Chameleons UK

New Order

The Jazz Butcher

Christian Death

Siouxsie and the Banshees



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The soundtrack to our lives

Watching the Michael Jackson memorial in bits and pieces in between work, I noticed that so many mentioned his songs as the “music they grew up to”. And it made me think of two things:

First, I’ve always said the music you listen to is the soundtrack to your life. But thinking about it today, I realized that as a musician I deal with that differently than maybe a lot of non-musicians. You might think key moments, and the songs that are associated with those times, are like “the song that was playing when I lost my virginity”, “my first slow dance”, “music from that summer by the pool”, “my wedding song”. Maybe. But for me, the key music always involves my being a musician – the first song I performed for a girl, the first song I wrote, the song I wrote when my father died.

Second, “the music I grew up to”. Because it transports you to a different time, a time of “innocence”. Because you don’t listen to music anymore? Because music changed and you never did? Because you just “don’t understand kids today and their music”? REALLY? The first record I ever heard was Elvis. The second, the Beatles. But those records don’t inform or make who I am any more than Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead (the first time I heard it) or Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 4 or Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert or James Brown Live at the Apollo. Unless the movie is over, or you’re in a constant state of flashback, the soundtrack (which has to play at the speed of now, or die) is constantly changing. It evolves, or your storyline (and your character) never do.

I’ve always hated nostalgia, “oldies” radio formats, and revival musicals (like Grease or High School Musical X, that dare to presume that anywhere near the majority of people had a positive experience in high school, regardless of the decade they attended). Like Satchel Paige once said, “don’t look back…something might be gaining on you.”

I think it was Chris Rock who said that the music that is the most important to you in your life, that you remember the most fondly, is whatever happened to be playing at the time you first had sex.

Is that true? Personally, no.

My soundtrack is on an entirely different level.

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Round on the ends and high in the middle

After thoroughly enjoying my new Ampeg bass amp (the magnificent BA300 115), I am reminded of something essential:

It’s NOT the lows or the highs, it’s what you do with the middle that makes all the difference.

Yeah, the highs and lows are important, but it’s the middle that defines who you really are. And that’s brought home in bass amps by the incredible phenomenon that is the “Ampeg sound.” Anybody can effectively woof or tweet. But unless you’ve got the middle right, it’s either just mud or screech.

That’s a metaphor for life, I want to tell you. Like your second and third albums, the middle of anything (life, a string, a circle, the universe) really gets to the core of your being — and it either works, or it doesn’t.

That’s why there’s such a thing as a mid-life crisis (or Chrysler, as a friend of mine used to say). Because if you get to the middle, you’ve got to either get your shit together or quit. Otherwise, you’re like a dull knife that just ain’t cuttin’ it; talking loud and saying nuthin’.

BTW, the new Ampeg is awesome – only 59 pounds and pure SVT sound. You can get Duck Dunn, Bootsy, James Jamerson, Gene Simmons, Geezer Butler or Victor Wooten all with the dial of a button or two.

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