There is one thing for sure, we are always going to have good and bad gigs during our developing, and even advanced years! It just never seems to fail that the statement that “just when you thought you paid your dues, you get another bill!” always holds true for all of us! The main question is how we can always turn the negative into the positive, and most of all, make “every gig count.” This means that we must take away from each situation something that we have learned, or that has made us grow as players and people. In any case, I have certainly found that almost every gig I have ever done has helped me grow as a player….after all, many times we have to “dig deep” for the value of a particular gig to us, and what it means to our style and development as a player. For example, even though we may totally despise the music we may have to play at a certain gig, it may be just the thing we needed to make us think a little differently on the guitar, and to make us focus on another aspect of playing we may’ve never thought of.
Today I had to give a lesson that dealt largely with acoustic Bluegrass guitar, and I realized what an extreme discipline it can be. I was teaching my student a very specific version of Bury Me Beneath the Willow, a great traditional piece. This was a version by none other than Clarence White, one of my favorite guitarists, and it was lovely, but very hard to dissect properly. I realized I had to dig back into my early country roots to find out just where I had developed an ability to play this way, and I realized I had played many a Bluegrass festival in the early ‘70s, and had done a lot of research when I wrote my 3rd book, “Nashville Guitar.” This was what gave me a great foundation in those wonderful seminal tunes of early Bluegrass, and what Maybelle Carter had so pioneered.
I may have not had too many gigs back then that warranted me playing this style, but I nonetheless absorbed it for sure. So, in essence, the “gig” I did back then to get this stuff under my belt was to research and write my book. A tedious task for sure, but one that gave me a lot of mileage on the car without ever leaving the garage! Of course, back in those days, I was playing with folk/Bluegrass artists such as John Herald, Happy and Artie Traum, Bill Keith, Jim Rooney and others, which exposed me to a lot of that kind of sound. I guess being so young, I was absorbing it all like a sponge, and everything I ever heard or played somehow eventually came through my fingers!
But no matter what the gig may be, don’t ever be discouraged. I have done some of the truly craziest gigs in history, like sitting in front of a church in Manhattan wearing a Hawaiian outfit, playing lap steel guitar, with nobody caring to listen…but you know what? I learned the night before, along with my girlfriend, who played rhythm with me, and entire catalog’s worth of wonderful Hawaiian pieces! So yes, the gig was horrible, but the learning curve for it was something I’ll always be thankful for! Take this attitude with you wherever you go in music, and you’ll be so much better for it!