I received a request about this very question the other day from a Gibson student, and I realized this was a perfect subject to go into with some more depth. I had answered his question as best as I could, but I realized that it’s really quite a broad subject, with many twists and turns.
The truth about being in a band, and when it is appropriate to do so, is that it’s ALWAYS a good time to start! There will be many bands, at many levels throughout your life, and the early days experiencing these kinds of things with other musicians are critical to your development as a player, and couldn’t happen soon enough, in my opinion. I know that I started very young, with my first band at the tender age of 11, but I was already the driving force behind the music at that point, even experimenting with many far out ideas in a creative vein. The truth is that all bands, at any level, need someone in the group who provides leadership and direction, both musically and emotionally, and this is something that all band members should embrace; provided that the “leader” is not just on an ego trip, but is someone who truly cares about the music most of all!
Kind of like in tennis, or other passions, it is often a good thing to join forces with players who are better than you. This helps you rise up to another level, and acts as a tremendous learning experience. I have done this with several students whom I’ve “mentored” into my band, who have turned out to be true professionals, once given that extra “push” one so needs in the early, formative days of one’s career. The biggest disappointment for me in my early days, was to have had a real “taste” of the real musical life, by playing with many of the great players in Woodstock, only to have to then play with a terrible local band from the Bronx that was so beneath me, it wasn’t funny! We would sometimes play 6 different gigs a week upstate New York, and walk away with $60 apiece for the entire week! Those were pretty dark days, and the only solace I could draw from that experience was that they at least let me play some of my original tunes from my earlier days with my all-original band, Steel, who played with me at the first Woodstock reunion in 1970! Of course, with the kind of band I was semi-forced to be in at that point, we were playing places that mostly demanded us to play “cover” tunes, something that I despised doing at that point in my career.
Still, all in all, sometimes you have to take “one step forward, two steps back” when you are in this developmental process, but in the end, it always moves forward in a positive manner. When are you really ready to be in the band? I’d say it’s whenever you find the right group of folks to “fall in” with who at least have a similar vision to yours, and who want to develop right along with you. It’s the best learning experience one can have in the course of one’s career, period! More on this subject in future blog posts!