Playing in a band   Leave a comment

It hit me hard yesterday – how much I miss having and playing with a band!

With the recent recordings I’ve played all the instruments, usually starting with an acoustic guitar or piano and going on from there, adding more guitars or piano/keyboards, strings, and individual instruments for a particular track – dobro for Country Tales, harmonica, banjo etc.

As we record the song’s arrangement develops.  Tim Palmer, my wonderful co-pilot who engineers everything, gives me the space to try things, ideas that are in my head.  Four out of five times they don’t work but when that one does ……..  It’s great to have Tim to bounce ideas off and being a musician himself too he has valuable input.

What I miss though is bouncing off a group of musicians, musicians who are far better at playing their instrument than I am, and sitting together in a room, in various studios, in a field (we used to practice our harmonies in a field just outside Cardiff), or harmonies on a beach in Santa Barbara, (there have also been some not quite so nice rehearsal places, one in LA comes straight to mind, but that’s another story!).

I’ve always said that I’ve been blessed with playing with top musicians, right from the first band I played in when I was thirteen or so in Cardiff, with an outstanding guitarist, Ian Devine, who played with Ludus, and also Stratton and Devine.  I’ve mentioned Ian before and hopefully he’s going to play on a track for one of the albums this year.

Another fine guitarist I played with in a later banc was, and is, Tony Crooks, so emotional, so talented.  Tony played with Leo Lyons of Ten Years After in a band called Kick who released a couple of albums, (Leo of course was used to playing with a certain Alvin Lee……. enough said). Tony is about to launch a solo career after being in a successful UK band.

The last band I really had included Marty Grebb, who was Bonnie Raiit’s saxophonist and keyboardist; Chet McCracken from the Doobie Brothers and Chris Pinnick on guitar from the band Chicago.  We recorded at Danny Hutton’s studio in Trancas canyon in Malibu (Danny was of course the driving force in Three Dog Night, and he sang harmonies with me). 

This was quite a few years ago, it’s been that long but you’ve got to up your game with players like that.

I wish I was a better guitarist or piano player but when I pick up a guitar or sit at a piano, I usually start writing, not practising.  Being proficient on an instrument though means you can hear, and add, more elaborate parts, play a riff better or of course provide a breath-taking solo, all of which adds to the finished track.

There’s also of course the magic of playing live with a band that really clicks ……..

It opens up though the debate about songwriting and who does what in the band and gets what royalty.  Spandau Ballet appeared in court a year or so ago, three of the members sued Gary Kemp for a share of the songwriting royalties.  Songwriting is where the real money is.  Kemp won, and deserved to. 

For me, the person who turns up at the rehearsal, and sits down and plays the basic chords with the lyrics and melody is the songwriter.  The rest is arrangement.  Should George Martin have received songwriting credits?

Many bands now make an agreement to share royalties, Duran Duran for example.  Le Bon usually writes the lyrics and various other members have written the music for their different songs but all the songs are credited simply to the band.  Lennon and McCartney of course used to credit each other, regardless of who actually wrote the song.  In later years of course they hardly wrote together but the agreement stood, (Lennon often spoke about getting credit for Yesterday for example and admitted he hadn’t written a single note or word of it, it was all McCartney’s song).

It is one of the main causes of discontent in a band – one member, the songwriter, is able to buy the mansion, buy the classic cars, the others struggle – East 17 are a perfect example of this, with songwriter Tony Mortimer still enjoying the financial rewards of writing songs like Stay Another Day whilst the others are broke.

So, I’m going to be looking for musicians.  In Nashville of course you’re spoilt for choice with some of the best musicians in the world being based there, so it’s exciting and nervy at the same time but I can’t wait.

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Posted January 30, 2013 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

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