What do you imagine the experience of playing music in a band on stage to a live audience feels like? Is this something you have ever given much thought to, because if it is you are in for a pleasant awakening here!
This is something I have been fortunate enough to be able to do on a regular basis throughout my life so far and I don’t plan on slowing up anytime soon. Since I was at school, I made it my business to join bands that were looking to get out there and play in front of people, which meant I had to learn to play my instrument well enough to do that.
I started out on guitar like many people do who want to learn to play something with a view to playing in a band that focuses on popular music. The first band I joined while at school actually needed a bass guitarist, so rather than pass up the chance, I told them I could play bass, even though I couldn’t!
I had about a week before the first rehearsal to figure it out, but it didn’t seem like a problem to me back then. The guys gave me their set list so I’d know which songs they were going to play, then I borrowed a friend’s bass (it was a cheap Satellite Precision copy) and started learning the basics, which wasn’t too different from just playing the low strings on a regular guitar.
I’m a fast learner and figured out the simple bass lines to most of the songs, when I noticed a sort of pattern forming. A lot of songs seemed to use an almost identical bass line to follow a simple chord progression, which I later found out was the “pentatonic blues scale!”
Thank Heaven for the Blues!
Understanding that morsel of golden information was the key to appearing much more advanced in my playing than I really was. Since the band was playing some old Zeppelin songs and a few other blues based classics, morphing into a bassist for the band was pretty easy for me.
There were a few more complex songs in there too, but I got away with not knowing them at first since hey, I was human and I could only learn so many songs in a week! The guys bought my excuse and I was in!
We played a couple of small gigs in youth clubs which was exhilarating to say the least but I wanted to do more than just play bass. It was OK and a good way to be part of a band, but to be honest, I found playing the instrument a little boring and repetitive, especially when the guitarists were playing interesting licks and lead breaks.
I needed to play guitar in a band!
My next band followed soon after that. I managed to get together a five piece band with myself on guitar and that was much more interesting to me. I started singing too, just backing vocals at first but I also knew that I wanted to sing lead as well.
I was also writing my own songs but the early stuff was a little over-complicated (the influence of Yes and Pink Floyd) and not very perform-able in a band situation. My later writing got better and simpler, but more of that later.
After that band dissolved, I teamed up with my two brothers (one plays drums, the other could play bass although he is also a mean boogie woogie piano player) and we started playing in the cellar of my dad’s place. We did our own songs and jammed out some nice ideas, but never went on to gig them. That was a shame and a big regret for me because we probably could have done something a bit special.
Listening to Guitarists and Learning
My guitar heroes at the time were Jimmy Page (Zeppelin), Jan Akkerman (Focus), Angus Young (AC/DC), Steve Howe (Yes), Alvin Lee (Ten Years After), Ritchie Blackmore (Purple/Rainbow), Brian Robertson (Lizzy) and of course Jimi Hendrix. It was only Hendrix that sang out front and as he wasn’t around any more to go watch live, I needed to branch out.
It was the latter part of the 1970s and with so much bubblegum dominating the pop charts and radio waves, all the good stuff (rock) was harder to come by. Punk had just emerged but there was nothing musically interesting about it for me although I loved the style and The Stranglers stood out head and shoulders above the rest as a serious band that wrote and played interesting songs.
I discovered heavy metal band Judas Priest (although they weren’t so much metal as rock back then) and the amazing guitar work of Glen Tripton. From there I “found” an amazing new band playing in a pub in East Ham (E London) called Iron Maiden with Dave Murray playing some really great guitar. It wasn’t long before they took off!
As the years wore on I started listening to more heavy bands and now I had some serious guitarists to listen to like Tony Iommi (Sabbath), Eddie Van Halen, Gary Moore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai… the list can get pretty long although I was always pretty selective of what I liked and didn’t like.
I liked Vai when he was busy with Dave Lee Roth and Whitesnake, but his solo stuff never really got me fired up because it got too technical. Same with guys like Joe Satriani and Vinnie Moore etc, all great technical guitarists but not so great for the style of music I liked to listen to.
Back to the Live Playing
But I digress… I played in several small rock oriented bands over the years and joined a heavy metal band at the end of the 80s for a while and that was a lot of fun. We were writing our own stuff and that was also very interesting to me, because the pinnacle of musicianship to me is to perform my own songs in front of an audience and get positive feedback so I knew my songwriting was solid.
After that, I went back to the bass and played in a great covers/originals band for several years. We started out as a 5 piece and cut down to a 3 piece which I liked best as it is the most perfect mass a live band can achieve.
In a 3 piece outfit of guitar, bass and drums, there is no room for mistakes because there are no other musicians to hide behind! But the music is still very full yet sparse enough for perfect clarity where skill and ability reign supreme. Think of bands like Rush, Cream, Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Jam, Budgie etc and you’ll understand what I mean.
That band finally ended and I stayed on bass for the next few bands. My last band in the UK was another 3 piece that rehearsed in Chelmsford and we had a nice set of covers plus some originals. All three of us sang and we got some mean 3 part harmonies going. We never gigged but did record a number of songs.
The Move to Spain
In the early part of the 21st Century, I quit Britain and moved to Spain where I soon hooked up with musicians and got gigging again. That is a story you can read on my page at webmusicstar.com/karma/band/terry.php so I won’t duplicate it here.
So how did this musical ramble begin? Oh yeah… playing live. How does it feel?
Man, its the best experience I can say, hand on heart, that I’ve ever had and probably ever will have. You have to be a musician to understand that and as most people are not, it would be hard to find anything that would equate with it. It just is what it is!