We had the pleasure of having one of the world’s finest Steel players sit in with us a couple of weeks ago, Sarah Jory. Now, this doesn’t reflect on the quality of the band I am in, we are not so good we command the world’s greatest players to come and play, we’ve just known her for forever – in fact, the bass players Dad taught her how to play when she was a kid. So, when she’s not touring the world and we are playing locally to her, she rocks up and we jam.
Obviously, this is both a massive relief for me and hugely terrifying, because I get to throw a hard pass on 50% of the solos but then again, this is a musician that has literally just come back from playing with the world’s best players at any given moment, so I also feel exposed as a musician. Fortunately, we know each other well enough for that to be an issue, I know my place! (yeah right, my ego wishes she would say “Jay that was amazing, come and tour the world with us”)
The one thing that always amazes me when Sarah plays with us is that how adept she is in the concept of ‘jamming’ with the band. She’s played with us literally hundreds of times but as the core of the band has been together for 40 years, there are a lot of numbers available to be pulled out of the hat (fortunately, I’ve been playing with them on and off for about 30 years so I can usually keep up) without notice – as the only musician within the band that is a soloist (the band is drums, bass and the singer strums acoustic) she feeds from me all the time about when to play and when not too, so in a way, I’m kinda in control of it all and also have the best seat in the house to see how a real player reacts when stepping into a band… so with that in mind, I’ve come up with the 10 essentials of playing live with a band that is not your own or when jamming... As inspired by Sarah Jory!
- Respect those who are standing with you. You are part of a unit and the unit only ever sounds good when the entire unit is working together. Listen to the band, listen to what they are doing and only play when you can add something to it.
- Listen to the song. You are the bricks that make the building, you are not the building itself. If you listen to the song that you are playing, you’ll know at which point you are the foundation stone, the regular brick, the cornerstone or the decorative slab that makes everything perfectly pretty.
- Play with the feel the song requires. It’s very easy to see a gig as a chance to show off your chops, especially when you are in a new band situation. A seasoned musician will show more respect for you if you can play one note that destroys everyone in one song, and a thousand notes in the next… if the feel of the song calls for it, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
- This is not a paid rehearsal. If you are lucky enough to be playing with other musicians and making a noise together, don’t step too far outside your comfort zone, if you respect those you are playing with, you’ll bring you to the gig, not the player you want to be. Perfect your stuff at home and then use that stuff in the best possible way. You can take risks, because what’s life without risk, but don’t push it too far.
- Play it like you wrote it. Even if you didn’t. Play what you play and own what you play. Even if you are doing a direct copy of the original, play it with conviction and the love it took to write it originally. There’s nothing worse than seeing a lacklustre performance of a song… I mean, you don’t have to jump around like a lunatic and do your bit to forward the beauty of the guitar gurn movement but play those notes like your life depends on them.
- Don’t be afraid to shut the hell up. Sometimes, there may not be anything to add to a certain part of a song. If you stop playing, when the time is right for you to come back in, the dynamics between of the space you left and the hole you now feel will sound amazing.
- Someone is leading it, and if it’s not you, watch them like a hawk. If you are not the one that is directing everyone on stage, look to them for cues – especially if you are sharing lead duties with someone. If you are standing into an established band and encroaching into someone else’s space, watch them for the cue’s. If they are worth their salt and respect you, they will give you ample room to shine, but don’t get into an ego fight with them, you’ll likely lose.
- Watch your stage volume. Make sure your stage levels are in tune with everyone else’s, they may run backline only, or through the PA as well, but you have to sit in the mix they are used too, if you are too loud, they’ll hate you quickly, if you are two quiet, they won’t see the point of playing with you. Communication is everything.
- Remember, people are watching. If not the audience, then the people you are playing with. Look up at them, even if you don’t know what the hell is going on, look up, engage with your band mates, engage with the audience. They’re more likely remember you smiling at them and making them feel like it’s for them than they are if you pull off a sweet diminished run at the end of a solo.
- Respect the music. If you are in a country band, your Yngwie licks ain’t gonna work. Just like your Brent licks aren’t going to work in a Nickelback cover. The band will have a style, or a voice, and remember that. If you don’t like the music you are playing, then ask yourself two questions. 1. Why are you playing in the band anyway? and 2. If you are there for the money, give the people who are paying you the value for the money they passing over to you. If you are playing in a band you don’t like, then I’m guessing it’s because of number 2. If you do dislike it, the guys you are playing with are likely to love this music, so show them the respect they deserve and play it like they want it to be played. If you are a guest on their stage, you want them to be happy with how you did it afterwards, especially if they know it’s really not your bag to begin with!
You can check our Sarah here!