Looking at Music-Sustaining 30 Years in Live Music

After chatting with some awesome people about music, I became pretty friendly with a few musicians, throughout this whole process. It’s funny how you just click with some people. For instance, hen I met Dom from The Secret Service Band, his warmth and genuine friendliness was evident from the beginning. His normal-everyday-guy look made him easy to approach. He gave me a huge hug and his number to call him so he could share some good stuff about being in the business. He told me that he would be away for a week but to get in touch with him after his return. I called the following week, and he got back to me within a day or two after that. After watching such a great show that he and his partner put on, I was thrilled for the chance to chat with him.

As soon as we began our conversation, everything flowed rather naturally. This is where Postmodern Interviewing information kicked in, as I felt completely immersed in the information, as we chatted. Dom explained how he had been in this band for over thirty years! That is a lifetime, as far as cover bands go. He began by telling me about how he loved what he did because he gets to interact with the audience much like his life growing up. “Growing up Italian, the kitchen was the place everyone hang out and shared stuff about their lives. That’s what I try to do with the audience. I don’t like to make it so formal and boring like, ‘How’s everybody feeling tonight?’ That gets boring. I like to interact with them as if they are in my kitchen hanging out.” This includes discussions about trivia questions, and sports talk as topics of conversation in between songs. One thing Dom prides himself on is that he gets to know people and connects to them. He genuinely cares to know where they are from and what they are about, so he can deliver a show to their experiences.

One thing Dom did point out was the differences, over the last three decades, in music and trends. The fun part of all of this is learning new stuff and keeping up with the new, younger guys. These younger bands are astounded, at times, at how easy it is for Dom and Craig to keep up with the new music. At a recent show, Dom belted out songs from singers like Kesha, Pharrell, and Bruno Mars.

While Dom loves the new stuff, he holds a special place in his heart for the music played during his father’s era. Wildwood was a very prominent place, in the summers, for the live bands to go play and mingle with the people. “Wildwood was the place to be. This was the hub of the action, especially music wise.” As a child, his dad’s musician friends would come and hang out at his house. “This was when music was so different. These days, so many new comers are just manufactured and made into something that society seems to want. Years ago, music was more individualized and you could be who you wanted to be. It was great.” These days, Dom enjoys playing all kinds of music for those that take the time to come see them. No matter what the music is, you have to play what the people want. This makes sense. There are some bands that stick strictly to their set lists and never stray. Not Dom and Craig. In fact, throughout their shows, they repeatedly ask people for what they want to hear. Now, they spend most of the summer playing at Sea Isle City’s Ocean Drive. This place is similar to Wildwood, as they seem to draw a lot of who follows them throughout the rest of the year. Dom says it’s a fun crowd and you can do whatever you want, while having a good time-which is what it’s all about. wildwoodpic

There is obviously something that The Secret Service has that has been working for them for over three decades. Most of it seems to be having a good feel for the people they play for, as well as what new things are going on. Whether it’s the music or the rapport the guys seem to create, it is working.

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Unexpected Connection

My dad

My dad

When I first set out on my musical excursion, I didn’t think to connect the fond memories of my dad and his extensive career as a drummer with my work. However, small things would pop into my head about my dad. For instance, when I would watch a band play, I would quietly follow the drummer and begin to compare him to my dad’s drumming skills. When I met the Juliano Brothers and they weren’t super thrilled to divulge personal information for my researching needs, I thought to myself “Hmpf, my dad would never act that way.” It dawned on me halfway through my research that I have been learning and sharing the lives of many others that I have been learning about in this industry. I figured the most appropriate place that I should probably end up is right where it all began-with my dad.

I was told that when he was very little, he used to have vivid dreams about playing drums and singing. He would even tap his fingers to an internal beat as he slept. He played in the band at school, and eventually travelled with many bands that he was part of over the years.

Although I lost my dad to heart disease two weeks before my twelfth birthday, I still have such great, vivid memories of going to see him play at the gigs he would do during daylight hours. When he married my mom and had his family, he mostly did a lot of local gigs, like festivals, parties, and casinos, with his friends in the Bobby Lewis Trio. Some were during weekend days but a lot of jobs were on the weekend nights. I always knew it was a gig night when he would kiss us good bye. A mix between his cleanly shaven face and distinct scent of Lagerfeld lingering behind were the big hints that he was off to work. According to my mom, however, earlier on in his career, he played in such places like Carnegie Hall, the Latin Casino, and many places across the country. He worked with people like Steve Gibson and the Red Caps, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Johnny Mathis, and Bobby Darrin. Very humble and laid back, my dad was a natural entertainer and a hard worker.

By day, he worked as a gun distributor in Southampton, PA, taking the two hour ride, to work and home again, in stride. On the side, he also taught drums to young, eager students. For a while, he actually would make his own drums and sell them. For a number of years, he owned and operated the South Philly Music Store on 9th and Porter Streets. When I spoke with Dom, from The Secret Service Band, he mentioned that this was a place that his father would hang out in and chat about music, when he had time. I grew up with a vaster knowledge of motown, big band, and jazz music than most of the kids my own age. Buddy Rich filled the VHS tapes that were arranged in our basement.

While on a hunting trip in November of 1990, my dad had a masssive heart attack that damaged 80% of his heart. He was in the hospital for two and a half months; after receiving a triple bypass and a pacemaker, he was sent home weak, yet undefeated. My dad died five months after he came home from his surgery. To this day, I am thankful for the short time I had with him, as well as the many videos of him playing in the countless places that he played over the years. Even during his hospital stay, his fingers would drum instinctively as he slept. You know it’s your true calling when you do it even in your sleep.

It is so funny how things work out: I didn’t particularly choose to research local live music, until Bill offered it to me. However, the research has ultimately led me to the lives of musicians and their families-a place that I never expected to go again. It has really given me a whole new view on many aspects of music and musicians, not to mention my own life growing up with this lifestyle, as I reflected on the lives of others. The truth is, my dad was one that fell into the category of most I met with in my research: family man first, then music: both equally close to his heart. Regardless, I never expected it to lead me to the people and situations that I came across that were so closely involved with my dad. In hindsight, it has brought me a feeling of closeness to my dad that I haven’t felt in a long time. One big lesson throughout this process is to go where the research leads; I was pleasantly surprised to find that it led me home:)

Fieldnotes of a Gig

stagenotesfnotesfnotes3 SJ Music, a local music store in Turnersville, is located in a small strip mall on the Black Horse Pike. Upon taking ownership of the location they were in, Jay and his staff quickly rented out the store next to theirs and built a small café, complete with a full stage, lighting, and equipment. Although it took some time, the café gives people a chance to come in, get a snack and listen to booked bands of the area. This particular day that I popped in was when the stage was being set up for the first performance.

I told him to put me in his mind (maybe I don’t want to be TOTALLY in a guy’s mind, but he understood what I meant.)when doing a gig. So, Jay spoke to me as he unraveled cords, plugged instruments in, situated drums and microphones. He explained a whole lot of ‘gear’ jargon that some of it was tough to understand, because he explained the technical term for certain sounds he looks for, technical terms for reasons why they use certain instruments. When I wondered why there can be a number of guitars on stage at one time, even if they are not being used, he explained that certain songs require an electric guitar, while others require the sounds of an acoustic guitar, instead. I asked about how the lighting and sound worked in certain venues. Everything depends on the venue. Some places, to keep costs down, will provide their own sound and light guys so that they don’t have to pay the band more to provide this. This tends to keep costs down, as well as avoids any tampering with their equipment.

Once the stage is set up, Jay talked about each instrument and how they conduct the sound checks for them, as well as the microphones. They look for a good balance between hearing all instruments and microphones. The singer obviously can’t be drowned out by the music, so they have to balance the sound beforehand.
The playlists are already set ahead of time for each set; typically the first set is a little calmer to and then the final two are a lot more upbeat, ending the third set with the biggest party songs. If someone requests something, of course, the band will honor it and play it. There seems to be some reason for certain songs, as the band has certain ways they lead into the next song with a little bridge or silly melody that will go into the next selection.

In between sets, the band will take a quick break for a drink or bathroom break. They will revise any kind of song choice issues that may or may not be working. This is when the band goes over any kind of issue that they may be having with a certain instrument, sound a member may be producing, or timing issue. Sometimes, some band members use this time to mingle with the audience, as a lot of the bands I spoke to say that dealing with the people is one of the most important parts of the job. If the audience is not happy-there are problems.

Once the night is over, the equipment gets broken down in just the precise way it was set up. Cords are rolled up, instruments are methodically placed back into their cases. The band is very good at reciprocating the effort and support in packing up equipment into the car of whoever is driving. If someone has more gear than another, everyone waits and helps load up the vehicle before leaving. While this is not always the case, this band tries to do it that way.

I followed Jay around as he rattled off different things that they encounter on any given night. There may be an issue with someone’s instrument, the lighting or sound may be a problem (which will obviously affect the way the band sounds). They have even encountered a payment issue where the manager/owner of the venue changes the payment arrangements last minute and decides not to pay the band. One person will typically be in charge of the financial end of it and will be the one to deal with the manager. If there is an agent involved, this adds another aspect to the payment situation. There have been times, Jay says, where a venue will arrange to pay the band directly, then when they show, the band will be told that the check will be given directly to the agent. Either way, the situation is normally dealt with in a professional way, and discussed with the agent at a later time to straighten things out.
By the time members finish up a gig that maybe starts around 9pm, they don’t usually arrive home until 2 am, depending on the location. This is where the family impact comes in. If a musician chooses to stay, hang out, and drink with everyone, this arrival time would be considerably later. It can take a toll on the family, because it makes for a tiring night/following day. Overall, Jay says, if you are dedicated and passionate about what you do, you make the time and effort and it is all worthwhile.

Scene:

While waiting while the band finished a song, I took note of a younger looking girl with straight blonde hair. She wore a black t-shirt and ripped jeans. She timidly walked up and began talking quietly with Jay. He nodded his head and responded to whatever she said. Not long after that song was over, the blond girl hopped up on stage and belted out her version of the song “Happy” by Pharrel. Her strong, lofty voice filled the room, completely contrasting her small frame. I found out later, she was a sister of one of the band members. Jay later told me that this was the whole idea for his cafe. He wanted to create a place that bands can play, people can join in and sing and enjoy the music. In the summer, he is looking to get groups booked to share their music, as well.

Reflection:

Before reading Horowitz’s On Looking, I never would have though twice about what goes into setting up a gig. However, I not only have learned the technical side of this lifestyle but I also learned of the atmosphere and relationships the band members have with each other. While my actual article took more of a turn towards the actual band members’ lives, this shows a great deal of what they have to plan for, even before the go out to a gig. My jottings and notes were quickly written, as I followed Jay around the store like a whilrwind. It led to some notes that were a little crazy and hard to understand but overall, I was able to put them into some kind of understandable order. This was probably because a lot of what he was describing made sense and I was able to recall it quickly enough to get it all written down and transcribed. After seeing live shows over the years, this whole experience has led me to be more aware of what goes on around me when the band is working together. You definitely see the results of such a cohesive group.

In Ethonographic Fieldnotes, it states, “On a fundamental level, a researcher’s stance in fieldwork and note writing originates in her outlook on life. Prior experience, training, and commitments influence this stance, predisposing the filedworker to feel, think, and act toward people in more or less patterned ways.” I realized only later that my memories from when I was younger of my father’s performances as a drummer and singer, that I had a certain outlook on this routine, as well as on this type of lifestyle.

In-Person Interview Reflection: Reflecting on The Ropers

John is a native to the Atlantic City area. He lives in Ventnor, NJ and has been playing the guitar for thirty years. He has been in many different cover bands that have performed in the Atlantic City/Philadelphia area, but his last band was called The Ropers, which included his sister as the lead female vocals. John and I chatted on the phone for the interview, as he currently works at the Showboat Casino full time, while substitute teaching four days a week.

Upon inquiring, John shared that he had been playing the guitar since high school. He became interested in it through friends, then shortly began taking lessons. After a year or two of daily practices, John and some of his friends decided they wanted to form their first band. Once that started, his confidence continued to work with others and perfect his guitar playing skills. By the time he was in the Ropers, he brought his sister, who was a great singer, into the mix. Together, they played in clubs throughout Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore.

To John, it depends on what kind of effect the band member lifestyle will have on the family, as it depends on what the musician is in it for. Those in it for the money and/or the passion of the music will not let the hype and attention get to them. “Although it is something we enjoy, it is still a job in the end. It is important to make sure that the business end is taken care of and is straight so that it is financially worthwhile.” Some, on the other hand, are in it for the attention, social aspect, or dates. If this is the case, the impact on the musician’s family would be a bit tougher, especially if they spend more time out than at home. “Sure the hours are tough because they are late, but if someone is drinking and partying late, then it will affect them the following day.”

Working in the cover band scene, John agrees with others that you meet a lot of interesting people and see a lot of crazy things from being on stage. “It is unbelievable what people do when they think nobody is watching. it’s very eye opening, especially when people are drinking.” Between working at the casino, as well as in the cover band scene, John has extensive knowledge on human behavior. “It’s fun to people watch.” All in all, John was happy to have the experiences he did with the band. Now, he is looking to become a teacher full time and get out of the casino industry all together.

My plan was to use a conversational approach to the interview, as I have known John previous to the interview. The closest type of interview from Postmodern Interviewing that this would be considered would be “Active Interviewing.” According to Gubrium (pg 74), “The standpoint from which information is offered is continually developed in relation to ongoing interview interaction.” On a few occasions, I noticed that John referred to some of his knowledge he was sharing by saying, “As a musician…..” This tells me that he may conduct himself differently if his teacher hat were on, or he were thinking as the casino supervisor he is, full time. Overall, this had a very easy, conversational flow to it. Since this was over the phone, it was easy to jot notes naturally, without fear for things being awkward.

It was a great experience to delve into this topic with John. As with many aspects of this research, I always knew about the basics of what John did with music. It was very eye opening to get this view from him about his days in the cover bands. These days, he still will play with friends or fill in with a group that is in need of a guitarist.

Post-Interview Blog (Online)

In the interviewing process, in general, I began with one idea in mind: a nice little plan in my head. However, a lot of my results, while good ones, were not part of my original plan.

An online interview I conducted was a female music teacher, Karyn, who is in a band. A connection of someone I know through Twitter got me in touch with her, not long after I realized I would not be hearing back from the originally planned band. So, I shot Karyn some of the same questions I sent to Split Decision.

She told me that she had been in awe of music for years and due to how it made her feel, she spent hours upon hours practicing, even though she had an ear for it naturally. She then got into the teaching of it to young children. On the side, she was in a number of bands with friends, over the last twelve years. She told me that she feels her dedication and love of what she does drives her each day to getting up and spending eight hours a day with kids and their music. This drive, then, keeps her on top of her rehearsals that the band holds once a week. She performs almost weekly (during the summer) in smaller venues. The money on the side helps a bit, but she says it’s the best of both worlds-working with kids AND your friends (in the band) while getting paid for it. “When you are able to get paid for what you love to do is the best feeling.” I could definitely feel her love for what she does radiate from the screen, as I read her answers. I found her dedication and passion for what she does to be inspiring. 🙂

I found the interviewing process for the online interviews to be very cut and dry. I sent the set questions, I received answers. I sent a follow-up email to clarify some things and that was it. It seems very unlike the conversational interviewing processes in Postmodern Interviewing. I did not get as immersed in these situations from doing this online, as much as I did when I was in person. While I felt that the answers I received were very clear and direct, the actual experience was very different from what I experienced in the in-person interviews. While I felt like I learned a lot, I definitely felt more connected to the people I interviewed in person, as I was able to experience their attitude, feelings, and passion for the music that these people dedicate their lives to making.

Drilling Down the Sources: Music and Its Place in Human Culture

While the articles I refer to in this blog are not directly referring to live music as we know it today, they are still very much tied into my research. After speaking to many musicians who perform live, the heart of what has driven them to their profession or hobby, is a love and passion for music and what it stands for. It is what helps them express themselves and paint a musical picture of who they really are. It is more about how they see life and how they deal with the workings of life. Therefore, these articles would be considered much tied into the research I have been conducting. These articles are very philosophically driven and provide well-known philosophers’ insights on music as an important entity in our lives.

The first article is by Dennis Schmidt from the University of Pennsylvania, entitled “Keeping Pace with the Movement of Life:On Words and Music.” It explores how we live and represent our lives through music. The claim is that the language and use of music is able to keep pace with this movement of life. Schmidt feels that life is more of movement and flow. If we speak of life through objects or things, it will make life less mobile. Therefore, music is a better way to help keep the movement involved. He gets many of these ideas of Fried Reich Nietzsche. Friedrich Nietzsche was a nineteenth century, German philosopher who disagreed with the basic heart of organized religion, as well as traditional morality. He was more interested in the molding of individual health. He believed in life, creativity, power, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond. Schmidt writes, “The suspicion that music might be able to better follow, to better respond to, the movement of life comes—for me at least—mostly from Nietzsche… it is Nietzsche for whom even ’the spirit of music’ offers the greatest promise for thinking life anew.”

As a result, Schmidt’s article refers to many of Nietzsche’s writings, including Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of a Tragedy. (First published as Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik, 1872 (English translation, 1909). In this work, Nietzsche argues against Apollonian views on what he considers “plastic art” over human philosophy, in order to understand how humans exist and interact with each other. “Nieztzsche argues for the primacy of the arts over philosophy as the means for understanding human existence.” In contrast, the rituals of Dionysius, god of music, erase all sense of self, and thus all sense of rational causality.

According to Nieztche, this kind of musical culture
“exists in all cultures. Dionysian intoxication transcends the boundaries between self and other and self and nature; it even transcends language, replacing it with song and dance. In this Dionysian celebration, the division between artist and artwork is also erased, so that the singer or dancer becomes the work of art. When the two forces unite, the Apollonian becomes the translator for the Dionysian, bringing the ideal balance to human aesthetic expression.”

These three articles, mostly leading up to the very well-known philosopher Nieztche, show that music has been a favorable, vital part of human culture for centuries. In many cultures, music is not only included in celebration, but it is considered a great part of religious rituals, traditions, and regional culture. Today’s version on music, while vastly different from the times these articles refer back to, is still a place where musicians tap into in order to create their version of their world, passion, and comfort.

Oh What a Night!

My partner in crime with the band behind us:)

My partner in crime with the band behind us:)

Quite a night it was! When I first told Valerie, my math teacher pal from work, about my research topic, she immediately insisted I see her favorite cover band,Secret Service. We finally made it out and it was worth the wait!

Secret Service played tonight in the upstairs bar at Curran’s Pub, in Northeast Philly. As we approached the bar, a group of middle aged women from down the block walked up behind Val and me and inquired if we knew who was playing. When we informed them it was Secret Service, they hooted and hollered all the way into the bar. As we made our way through the downstairs bar, the most boisterous gal of them all, Linda, danced her way to the back steps. We followed and were met at the top of the steps by a hostess giving out red wristbands. Once inside the upstairs bar, the the high top tables scattered throughout the room to the left were beginning to be claimed by the small groups of people, predominantly in their 40’s and 50’s, at first glance. People were clutching drinks served in small, plastic cups, as they grabbed chairs and arranged them around the tables with their friends. The bar was situated against the right wall, while the stage was backed up against the front wall, next to an emergency exit.

As we scoped out the room for seats, Linda and her three lady friends immediately pulled up chairs and insisted we join them. As we got a closer look, I noticed Linda’s pretty almond eyes and deep, mocha colored face that was framed by her bouncy, curly hair. She had great enthusiasm about being there and was excited to dance. She introduced us to her neighbor, Lauren, who was in her mid thirties. The other two older ladies with them didn’t speak much. Val and I went and grabbed drinks; we were pleasantly surprised to find out that the drinks were free for the first hour before the show. We took our drinks back to our table and began to get to know our tablemates, while we awaited the band’s arrival and set up.

Throughout this happy hour, Linda danced to the music piped in from the DJ. She and her neighbor shared stories about other outings, as well as their favorite kinds of music. Apparently, they live around the corner and come to Curran’s often. We also found out that Linda is a grandmother of five kids and is happy to get out on the weekends to have fun. She also declared with pride that she was, in fact, a cougar. I immediately liked Linda and her vibrant energy. It became obvious that she was a regular, as the band gave her a big hello when they came in and began setting up.

I was surprised to see that the Secret Service Band consisted of just two guys: Craig and Dom. Even though there were only two, the amount of energy and warmth that radiated from these two filled the room as if they were many. Once they got settled, I introduced myself to Dom. I would peg him to be in his late 40’s. He was very friendly and open to my research. With great ease, he offered me his number and email. Val requested and song and he said he would gladly play it. Before he left to go get started, he told me to contact him so he could share some great stories for my research.

As the band began their first set, I was excited to hear the band begin playing songs from groups such as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Barry White. As a younger crowd started to filter in, the band began playing a more eclectic mix from Kesha and Michael Jackson. Dom, the lead singer and guitarist, showed great relaxation on stage, as he danced and twirled around with the crowd on the ground. Craig seemed to be more of the music controller and bass player, in the background. The rest of the background music seemed to be controlled by Craig using a synthesizer.

Not long into the first set, our new lady friends left. While the initial older crowd began to disperse a bit, a larger crowd of people in their twenties came in. These people were much more scantilly clad, while the patrons from earlier seemed to be in their work clothes. As the various groups of people began to mingle, Val and I set our attention on a short fellow, dressed in a sweatervest, jeans, and white button down shirt. He was at most 5’0 even, with brown hair that was balding in the back. However, his short stature was not what caught our attention. We were more taken by his active attention he was paying to the ladies, as they towered over him during. It was very amusing and endearing.

Throughout the second set, Dom danced around and sang with some of the girls. They also were very open to having audience members sing with them. At least two gentlemen had hopped on stage to join them in a song. Frequently, Dom would dance around in the crowd singing, then allowing others to chime in on a word or two. This created quite the vibrant atmosphere that everyone seemed to enjoy. It was very amusing to see Dom sing Tick Tock by Kesha and the Happy Song by Pharrell Williams. They also took requests by some audience members who enjoyed country, as well. They had no problem playing the song Country Girl Shake it For Me by Luke Bryan. We were very impressed with the array of songs they were able to play, as well as the ease they did it with.

In the last twenty four hours, I have seen two bands that played similar types of music, but couldn’t have been more different. I have been marvelling at how the love and passion for some bands is so evident in the performances. Much like Horowitz’s son’s attention to smaller things in On Looking, I feel like I looked more closely at the band and their routine, as well as the people, than I would have in the past. It was in tonight’s performance, particularly, that this band’s love of the people and passion for the music really shined through each and every song performed.

We stayed well into the second set, patiently waiting for Valerie’s song request. We were a little disappointed when it didn’t come on, but we decided it was just an excuse for us to come back another time, in the very near future.

http://secretserviceonline.com/