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My Experiences in a Tribute Band, Part 1: All the way ‘Round

(For a more detailed history of the Tribute Band phenomenon, visit the Wikepedia site here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribute_bands)

Neil with The Machine in NY CIty

Once upon a time, there were bands. Bands that broke BIG – we’re talking tremendously, phenomenomly big. Huger than huge. Bands like…. Led Zepplin… The Beatles… Pink Floyd… Van Halen…. The Police… (insert favorite GIANT rockstar band name here). As time went on, concert ticket prices for these groups reached astronomical levels – assuming you could get a ticket at all. It didn’t happen in all cases; and there was certainly a time in every band’s life when it could be seen for cheap, before they broke really really big.
But then, the unthinkable happened: the group broke up (curse them…)!, or simply stopped touring, or (as previously mentioned) became prohibitively epensive. And this created a vacuum, a “hole in space” (one of my favorite phrases).

Now during the time these bands were producing their primary body of work, young musicians (like…myself!) were learning how to play. Although some of these newbies focused on their originality, hordes and hordes of us learned by imitation: by learning the songs, licks, and the playing styles of the folks we listened to.

I remember clearly when “Dark Side of the Moon” came out – I learned the whole record, learned about echo tricks used, about arranging… it was the moment in which I said ‘THIS is what I want to do with my life – to be a musician, make records, etc’ “

In my own musical coming of age, I was devoted to performing original music and have since I started my first group “A. Animal” in 1978. But I had learned – and still know – many hundreds of songs by other bands – and not limited to rock (the Pat Metheny Group album is one in particular).

Playing songs we knew was always great fun, especially if everyone knew them. You could play lots of music with little or no rehearsal, or effort of any kind. Mostly we played this stuff for ourselves; I have plenty of old cassettes of us playing tunes like “Larks Tounges part 2” (King Crimson), “Arriving UFO” (Yes),”Dogs” (Pink Floyd), or even things like Stratus (Billy Cobham) or “Timeless” (John Abercrombie). We knew these songs and would play them for fun at parties, and work some of them into our setlists on gigs.

Meanwhile I had to earn a living: I started playing dance classes (which I continue to this day), and eventually got into a wedding band in 1990 (I left the wedding band in 95 before I got truly sick at heart). A. Animal finally disbanded in 1994… Around the same time I responded to an ad – for a keyboard player – in a (hmmm…) Pink Floyd Tribute Band called “The Machine”. Well, I needed work, plus I knew I could do that gig with my eyes closed. So I answered the ad. They asked me one question: “Do you have a sampler?” At the time, I did not. They didn’t pay very much (less then the wedding band, by more than 1/2), so I let it go and started to look for other things. (I also started working on my 1st solo CD “Alone At Last”, but that’s another story…)

Then, about a year after that I got a phone call from the Machine, wanting to know if I was still interested. I said yes, a session was arranged, and I spent the next 10 years touring with these gentlemen, and learning more about the music biz then I think you could ever learn elsewhere.

PART 2: A 10 year tour and more…

My 1st Audio upload to WordPress: A Midnight Xmas Rendering

Well, had to figure this out at some point. If I wanted to upload an audio file, and not into my standard site player; not on myspace or facebook etc., can I do it here? Let’s find out….

….a passage of time…..

OK – it’s 4 days later. I have poked and peeked; found sensitive areas on my server site where delicate adjustments needed to be made, and Presto! I can now post reasonably sized MP3 audio clips within my blog posts. To this end, I will now post my first offering: “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”, recorded at midnight Christmas night. I am not religous (at least not that way) but I have always enjoyed this traditional song. Besides, several of my friends – notably Paul Mitchell and Dan Johanson – posted lovely “audio e-cards”, and inspired me to do the same.

SNAFU, it always takes me days what it seems to take minutes for others. So, 4 days late, here is my midnight rendition of “God Bless Ye Merry Gentleman”. Please enjoy. Comments ALWAYS welcome. Happy Holidaze.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Ask Me Again, I’ll tell you the same

From our 9/28/08 show at Keegan Ales in Kingston NY, it’s the first of 3 clips I’ve gotten up on YouTube. This is “Ask Me Again”, a relatively new tune (last 6 months). It crosses the line between rock and jazz in what is to me a very appealing way; the backbeat is strong, even with the many time signature changes, and the harmony is all “post-bop”. In my mind it walks the line between Joe Zawinul and Alan Holdsworth, showing what those two giants have in common. Steller performances from Charlie & Nadav make this a standout. We also had fun hooking up the s-video output of the laptop into the bar’s projector, and viola! Instant light show.

Thanks for watching. I will post some “serious” stuff soon, for real. Lots going on, the big thing of which was spending a month looking for a car (which we found, yesterday). Enjoy, and thanks!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tHi_RHoW8M

The stage at last night’s show: 9/27, Benji & Jakes

The stage from Benji & Jakes. I suppose someone should actually take a picture of us PLAYING. That would be novel.

Spring is here…

“Spring is here….” so the song goes. “Why is my heart not filled with gladness?” Well, in fact it is. I know it’s in there somewhere. Trying to stay on the positive sometimes seems more difficult than it feels like it should be. Truth is, with gas prices, a lack of work in the early part of this year (leading to a sort of financial “crisis” for me and my fam) and the molasses-like  progress of NAIL, it’s been rather hard to stay upbeat. A challenge, to say the least. I find the “patience” thing to be a big part of it. But – it is a MOST beautiful spring day. I will be going outside today (even though I have more than enough work to keep me in the studio for days on end) to enjoy a little self enforced downtime.

In reality, things are still moving. I just picked up a gig for the “Art Along The Hudson” kickoff event. This 2 hour party takes place at DIA Beacon, one the most fantastic modern art museums on the east coast (and just across the river from me). It’s like performing at MOMA, a coveted gig under any circumstances. I had to do some serious wrangling of schedules tomake it happen – but I was successful. Special thannks to our good friend Kippy Boyle, who put the right word in the right ear at the right time…..!

Also, our very good friend George Dubose, one of the great NYC Rock ‘n Roll photographers, just shot a whole new series of press pics for NAIL (and a few solo shots, too). So even though I don’t have the time or the money to really do NAIL’s press the right way, it still goes forward.

I had to push myself into writing today; it’s been too long. I am going to stop here, however. as I have no intention of spending all day at this computer I would advise you all to take similar action: go outside. Get some fresh air. Take 5.

You dig?

Love ya all –

NAIL

One of George Dubose\'s new pictures.

Found: An unpublished Blog Entry from ’07

I found this in a word doc tucked away in a folder on the laptop. I was going to just delete it, but I decided it was worth posting. It’s from last summer, which was a very busy time for me. So without any further ado, here it is, dated 8/10/07

Here I am, on the road again, out with Marty Balin. He’s one of the founders of the Jefferson Airplane (and later the Starship).It’s an honor to play with him, and he’s a really nice guy too. We’re only doing 4 dates on this particular run. That’s ok, because July was an incredibly busy month (that bled into the 1st 2 weeks of august). Last Tuesday (Aug 7th) I premiered Five Elements, a new group based on an idea I had a few years back. The idea was to use a wide variety of percussion – Afirican, Latin, Brazilian – but no actual drumset. The show featured Percussionists Amarildo Costa (Brazilian), Kazi Oliver (African), as well as jazz vocalist and flutist Judi Silvano and myself on a rather big rig (5 keyboards). Judi was kind enough to record it, so I’ve posted an excerpt from the show HERE. Other stuff I’ve been doing: 3 weeks of Ballet Class work at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center (in Tivoli, NY); The Susan’s Restaurant Jazz Jam Session (hosted by drummer extraodinare Bob Meyer); Robert Kopec’s “Big Bang Jazz Gang”, a big band playing Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, Dizzy and more; MBA, an experimental electronic free jazz project (website going up soon!); a few gigs with Judi Slivano’s jazz Quartet; Gigs with the Scott Weis Band (a great local soul-blues band); Marvin Bu-ga-lu Smith trio; the Neil Alexander Trio (acoustic jazz!) As well as a handful of solo Shows and of Course many NAIL gigs. I’ve got some down time coming (no day or night gigs till sat 8/18). Time to recharge the batteries, slow down a little.
The cool thing about all this is since I’ve left the Machine, I’ve more varied and interesting – and paid – work then I ever have in my life. I’m playing every kind of music imaginable (except country, bluegrass, and a few other things I ain’t interested in). And the sky’s the limit. Playing with Bob Meyer, I getting to meet and play with some of the greatest jazz musicians in the area (and the NY area is nothing to scoff at). I’m getting to the place I have oft dreamt about. The challenges come, and will continue to come; I will continue to work hard and to give my best to the music which I hold so dear.
I love you all, stay in touch.

Bring it on

OK, I think I’ve just about posted that Moogfest video everywhere I could…. I will be posting the second half (with Herb Deutsch) next week (when I get a minute!). Made some site changes; news posted on the NAILMUSIC site. Notice the date calendar in the sidebar here.

I’m trying to get more summer dates for us. Doing that has its own specific challenges, however, as I try to work around the very busy schedules of my two great musicians. (I think) I wish I could offer them so much work they wouldn’t have to do anything else… But even that I’m sure would come with it’s own set of challenges. Only one thing I can say about all that….

“BRING IT ON!!!!!”

peace out –

NAIL

Moogfest 2007

NAIL at Moogfest 2007 (part 1 of 2)
httpv://youtube.com/watch?v=1qhmfp-NPJc

New video uploaded! This proves that this great show was not just my imagination.

A moment to reflect

Hey…..

Gosh, been busy. Here at SUNY Purchase Conservatory of dance, occasionally “nothing” happens, and I get a 90 minute “break in the action”. A chance to write! Anyway, killin weekend; solo show at 2 Alices was a hit from my perspective (meaning technologically). In reality, only about 6 people showed up. But the system works, and with a few refinements I’ll be ready to KICK some SERIOUS ASS Germany in the fall.

NAIL played sunday afternoon at the waterfront for the newburgh Jazz-a-thon. 2 hours – really freakin’ fun!! Played a lot of music, but didn’t get to all the things I wanted to play….

Interesting that, because some tunes we just never get to, even though they’re easy ones. I realized something important about myself – I’m so self conscious and self critical on the bandstand I won’t call a tune I’m not sure about. In short, I tend to play it safe. My gut feeling is that a safe approach doesn’t fully serve the music. I also think I let the fact that it was considered a “jazz” event color my choices of music. Hmmm….. something to work on.

No matter – band sounds better than ever. Chris Vander Essen (DJ Cheshire Cat) and his buddy Mike from Beacon Videotaped/Audio recorded the set; They were very happy about the way it came out. I can’t wait to post it on youtube. I’ll get it up there ASAP; along with the video from Moogfest 2007 which I just recently obtained thanks to VINNIE the Video Guy – friend of Gregg Bendian (Mahavishnu Project Drummer). Vinnie’s an awesome guy, smart and generous, and is seriously into the archive thing.

Things are hopping around here. Major editing jobs have been done and are being done, compositions for dance, new dates added all the time, more solo shows, etc. I am going to compile a list of the the websites we’re on; there’s quite a lot at this time.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo from yesterday (sunday). Picture by Frank Ostrander.
NAIL at the Newburgh Jazz A thon

Thanks to everyone who came out! Great to see you all, glad you enjoyed the music. See you June 26th at Cafe Mozart. Peace, y’all!

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