11 Thoughts On Touring: A Guide To The Occasional Traveler

Well, hello!

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I’ve just returned from a jaunt around the northeast, and I’m just as confused as ever.  Here are some observations I’ve compiled from a month on tour with a folk-rock-americana type band.

1 – People act differently towards musicians.

When you check into a hotel at 2:30 am by yourself, the clerk does not usually say “What’s your band called?  Where did you play? Ooooh that sounds fun! Where are you going next??”   Music and the thought of traveling as a result of it excites the most unlikely of people, even when you’re just traveling through Pittsburgh on a Sunday.

2 – It’s incredibly hard to eat well.

After about a week, all I craved was something that was grown on a tree.  We at one point discovered a juice bar near a venue, and went back several times.  I was so full of wheat grass I burped lawn clippings for days.  Not really, but it sure tasted like it.  The lady at the juice bar even came to the show.  She was a life saver.

3 – You do not know what day or time it is.

Yes, this is a cliché, but it’s true.  I had no idea what day of the week it was.  When getting to sleep so late, just as a result of work (and the occasional good time)  you wake up and feel like eating breakfast at 2pm.  There is a delightfully euphoric zombie like feeling that goes along with this.  I’d imagine that’s what causes so many problems for musicians with nothing to do after a tour.

4 – Stop calling it “Tour”

That’s just stupid. Put a fucking article in there. You’re not leaving for “Tour,” you’re going on tour.  Please stop saying that.  Hipster asshole.

5 – It’s probably easy to develop a drinking problem

You could see how a successful band could develop substance problems with no effort at all.  We were traveling small time, but were still given plenty of booze at all hours.  Imagine if you had a rider full of alcohol?  And people who just wanted to hang around?  And if you were bored out of your mind, didn’t have to drive yourself or carry your own gear, you’d probably take part in whatever buzz is available.  Then repeat this every night for weeks/months/years….It could get iffy pretty quickly.

6 – No one is fighting off groupies.

If you’re carrying your own equipment, people are likely not fawning all over you.  Spouses or significant others don’t have too much to worry about…again until you’re very successful and someone else is carrying your stuff.

7 – You get very close with people

Remember those family road trips?  This is like that.  We had 6 people in a sprinter van, and although there were no fights or arguments, the air does fill with tension on occasion.  You’re rooming together, eating the same meals, basically being within 10 feet of everyone for the majority of the day.  You better like the people you’re traveling with, that’s all I’m saying.

8 – It’s work

Yes, it’s work that people choose to do and many do for little or no pay, but it’s not that easy.  I was lucky enough to not have to drive this time, but everyone shares in the carrying of equipment.  Want someone to help you move?  Ask a musician.  They’re very efficient and have had years of practice.  Packing, unpacking, carrying up steps and narrow doorways, loading and unloading…it’s a universal musician skill that survives by evolution.  Those who do not carry things are probably not invited back.

9 – You get very little sleep.

This is true for even the most successful of bands.  No one gets any great rest in a moving vehicle, and things need to be done at odd hours.  You need to check out of the hotel early, regardless of what time you got it.  You also need to be at the next destination at a certain time, the schedule remains constant despite each day’s activities being different.  Then on the day you have off…you bolt out of bed at 8am

10 – Everything depends on monitors.

You’ve spent thousands of dollars on your equipment, many hours practicing alone and with the group…but by the time you get to a venue, none of it matters if you can’t hear yourself.  And you rarely can.  I never harbored much animosity towards sound men until this trip.  Everything is feeding back, none of the monitors are loud enough, the whole PA has a terrible buzz, the DI sounds like a dying frog….it goes on and on.  Yes, it’s not always the fault of the sound man, but a majority of the ones we encountered seemed to have no idea what they were doing.  And you could instantly tell the ones who did.

11 – Technology is amazing.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine doing this in 1994. I have always loved technology, but I want to kneel at the feet of the iPhone.  And Google Maps.  And Google in general. And Yelp.  Say what you will about technology being too present in every day life…our life is far better for it.  We would have missed out on a whole lot of great food, coffee, and all sorts of things.  For any place you can think of, someone has been there before you and logged their experience for you to learn from.  Think of how amazing that is.  Don’t even get me started on driving directions.  That’s worth twice the price of whichever device you’re using.  We never got lost, beyond an occasional wrong turn which was quickly corrected.  Unreal.  Now we just have to solve that battery life problem when you’re not near an outlet for 6 hrs…..

Well, there you have it.  11 is one beyond the classic list form, so let’s leave it at that for today.  I’m feeling a little restless, like when you’ve been swimming in the ocean and still feel the movement on your sleep, but I’m happy to be home.  It turns out being in the space where most of your life has occurs can be a comforting experience.

Best Music Stores In New York: Take 1

30th Street Guitars
30th Street Guitars

New York is home to several superlatives, many of them musical.  Once some of the finest studios in the world resided here.  Some of the finest places to hear music still do.  If you want to hear Jazz, it’s the center of the universe.  There is a fantastic talent pool of musicians of all genres, its a very serious place.  One controversial member of this list is music stores.  Even through economic hard times, NY has managed to maintain a respectable roster of instrument stores.  The downside being, like everything else, they are expensive as hell.  Blame it on real estate, also like everything else.  With the advent of ebay, stores of all kinds took a hit.  For a long time, that was the only place to go to pick up some used or boutique gear, it just plain had the widest selection.  But I believe in recent times, ebay might have jumped the shark.  There are too many people involved, everyone knows (or thinks they know) everything there is to know about equipment, so the prices shoot up right away.  Along with this, people try to pass off gear as something its not…undisclosed repairs or damage…its full of holes.  So today, we’re going to discuss some of New York’s finest brick and mortar music stores.  You will need a Metrocard, an EZ Pass, a packed lunch, and a toothbrush.  Here we go.

Back in the day, musicians from all over the world, from Jimmy Hendrix to The Beatles, would flock to Manny’s on 48th street to pick up a guitar.  Manny’s is still there, they have the pictures on the wall to prove it, but something has certainly been lost over time.  48th street is really not what it used to be.  The block is still lined with a few stores- Manny’s, Sam Ash, and Rudy’s, but it feels like walking into Wal Mart, Target, and Best Buy.  Well, Rudy’s is not really Best Buy, lets call them a Mercedes dealership.  They certainly have the pompousness.  The most characteristic trait of 48th st is the attitude all around.  Sam Ash and Manny’s are full of mass produced, average gear.  If they do have any vintage or boutique equipment, they’re so far out of anyones price range that it might as well be a museum.  Its not uncommon to hear “Well, are you gonna buy it, or do you just wanna play it?”  when asking to try something expensive.  Seriously, fuck that.  I have bought 2 great pieces of drum gear at Manny’s, but that is only because a friend of a friend worked in the department.  I once bought a vintage MXR Phaser at Rudy’s, but I don’t remember much of the experience, I was like 12.  But any guitar worth playing is encased in glass, and I cant even imagine asking to play one.

If you venture below 48th street, there are a few gems to investigate.  Lets start uptown, go down, then to the outer boroughs.  Way at the top of the list, is 30th Street Guitars…on 30th street.  In about 1996 I saved up every dollar I had from sweeping floors and painting walls in a warehouse all summer, and strutted into Manhattan to blow it all.  (by strutted, I mean driven by my dad)  I dont know how he knew about 30th st guitars, I think he parked in a lot across the street once, and told me about it.  But I walked in, and my 13 year old mind completely exploded.  I didn’t leave for hours.  And so much to their credit, the employees put up with me.  I must have played 100 guitars.  Eventually, I narrowed it down to 2.  An original 1971 Telecaster with a factory Bigsby, which was white and beaten completely to hell….and an early 90’s Les Paul classic in a dark sunburst.  They were both about $1200, which do you think I picked?  This was the biggest mistake of my life.  I can’t believe I bought the generic ass les paul.  I have no idea why.  I think the tele had a buzz or something, as is common in single coil pickups, and it looked too beat up.  God damnit, I cant even continue to talk about it, it hurts too much.  The moral is, consistently, 30th street has the best selection of vintage guitars in the city, hands down.

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Dan's Chelsea Guitars

A little further downtown on the west side, is Dan’s Chelsea Guitars on 23rd street.  Like 30th st, the staff is very cool, not much attitude.  This place may have the coolest window display of any store in manhattan (not just music stores, ANY store).  Since it’s so small, that’s where most of its inventory resides.  Amazing old Fenders and Gibsons taunt you next to the Chelsea Hotel, you wonder who went in there and sold some gear after being strung out.  One of those musicians was Ryan Adams.  I went on an annual guitar store tour with my friend Dave a few years back, looking for an old Gibson Acoustic- no easy task anywhere.  We wandered into Chelsea Guitars, and checked out their selection behind an old velvet rope, in a broken down wooden corrale type of situation.  I asked about a 60’s Square Shoulder Gibson Country-Western, and the owner said “yeah, we got that from Ryan Adams”  I picked it up, and the thing just sang.  Even with the old strings on it, it sounded perfect, big full sound.  I believe Adams used it in the New York New York video, which I can no longer watch, since I passed on the guitar.  It was $3500.  I just couldn’t pull it off, I didn’t even want to go visit it, because I knew after a few times, I would sell a kidney or something to obtain it.

Lets skip over Guitar Center on 14th st, their Vintage selection will just piss you off…its so completely amazing and so preposterously overpriced, that you will want to burn the store to the ground just so the ibankers (who are the only people who could afford the gear) will never get a chance to play it.  Lets travel south east to Ludlow St Guitars on….Ludlow st. Although their selection is not as immense as 30th st, and not nearly as vintage, this one may be my current favorite Manhattan guitar store.  The place where Ludlow really shines, is Boutique Amplifiers.  Ludlow really tears it up in this department, and its not just because David Lee Roth used to have an apartment in the building above it.  I was looking for a Swart 6v6 Spacetone amp for a long time, and finally Ludlow became the only dealer in NY.  This is a badass little fender champ reproduction.  They had 1 left in stock on a sunday, and I rushed from work in the afternoon to check it out.  As I walked in, another guy walked in directly behind me, also asking to check it out, but I was in fact there first.  The amp was fantastic, it lit the store on fire.  Being the nice guy I am, I let the other patron try it out, but said I was buying it.  He proceeded to act like a dick, and play it for way too long.  The dude behind the counter quietly said to me “just give me the sign when you need to go, and I’ll put an end to it.”  I have felt a kinship ever since.  They’ve got some badass Carr and Victoria gear, and where else in NY are you going to find that?  NOWHERE that’s where.

The Music Inn
The Music Inn

At this point, lets take a break from guitars, and move to the world of percussion.  There is one hidden gem, which I am amazed has not become legendary among drummers of all kinds. On West 4th st, right by 6th avenue, there is a broken down little store called “The Music Inn”  It looks like it’s never open, and the windows are piled with ancient sitars and various unidentifiable instruments.  Its been there forever, I found an ad for it in a Fillmore East program from the mid 60’s belonging to my dad.  I think my mom and I discovered it many years back, when she took my around the city one day in my early childhood.  You sometimes knock on the door, sometimes it’s open, they sometimes ask you “What Do You Want?”  they sometimes just let you explore.  I hadn’t been in years, but recently I was on the hunt for a channuka present for my sister, and the Music Inn came to mind.  I hate to ask to take pictures in a store, so luckily there was no one in there when i opened the door, I think the guy was downstairs teaching a music lesson.  The place is PACKED with amazing stuff, not really organized, more piled up.  You need a brazilian bird call?  They probably have it. A brass bell from an ancient Himalayan temple?  I’m sure I saw several.  Sitar?  Pandiero?  Metal National Ukulele?  Udu?  They were all there, packed into a space no bigger than 20×20.  I sifted through various shelves and piles, to find a weird rusted block of sleigh bells, a Brazilian Caxixi shaker, and some weird African poly rhythmic contraption which is basically 2 shakers tied together with string.  Their stuff is by no means cheap, but it is very authentic, and the place as a whole is just an amazing experience.

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Music Inn 3

Music Inn 4
To get really crazy now, you have to cross some type of river.  There is Main Drag in Brooklyn, which may be the best kept secret in the entire world. Their prices are not bad at all (to make up for my terrible tele mistake of 96, I bought a chopped to hell 1973 Tele Deluxe with a p90 drilled into the bridge for a reasonable price) and they have a great selection of amps as well, their inventory is nearly all vintage.  You won’t find a pristine 1959 Les Paul which you will never afford, but you can get some modified 70’s fender or Gibson which you will likely be able to play without fear of being kidnapped and having the guitar demanded as ransom.  I also got a great little 1950’s Danelectro amp, with purple tolex, which sounds like an old Silvertone, it’s now my main squeeze.

Main Drag Music In Brooklyn
Main Drag Music In Brooklyn

Now, we’ve covered a good amount of Manhattan, even taken a subway or two.  Are you ready to just get fucking whacky?  ARE YOU SURE???! Ok, get in the car, we’re going to Staten Island.  “WHAT?  STATEN ISLAND!?” you say?  Oh yes, Staten Island.  Home of the world renown Mandolin Bros.  No, thats not “Bro” Like you hear on The Jersey Shore, but brothers.  Its home to the finest acoustic instrument selection on earth, and the finest repair facility in the universe.  Paul McCartney sends his Beatle Bass here when it needs a fixin.  I’ve seen their repair work firsthand on a 1930’s D’Angelico, and it was stunning.  They brought it back to life in such detail I could never imagine.  The head repair luthier Leroy, re-etched the original inlays by hand based on drawings he found in a historical book.  You seriously do not find dedication like that anywhere.  Their policy with playing instruments is “just play it!”  you don’t even have to ask.  There is one room where you do have to ask…but that is full of the actual 1959 Les Paul’s and 1930’s Martins.  While they were taking a look at the D’angelico, I had to kill an hour or two…very difficult task.  I played a Koa J-45, several SJ 200’s, a B-25, a Santa Cruz, several Martins, I completely lost track. They crew there was so nice, you feel like you’re at someones house, just kickin it, with a few million dollars in guitars surrounding you.

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Well, we’ve taken quite a journey together, I’ve gotta get back to Jersey City, it’s getting late.  This could easily turn into a several volume list, we missed Southside guitars in williamsburg, Matt Umanov, Steve Maxwell Drums, Drummers World, Lark Street in Teaneck NJ, can anyone think of any others?  I’m open to suggestions.

Top 5 For The Weather: Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Bob Dylan, battle John Coltrane

On this date in 2009, around 5:00 EST in Manhattan, the weather was a mess.  I was returning from a Logic workshop at the Apple store, which was exactly a 5 on a scale of 1-10, when the sky did not really open, it just kind of went “Meh”  and shot out a bit of mist.   At this exact moment, my ipod on shuffle mode played the perfect song for the occasion.  This led me to the creation of a list.  Not in any particular order, so lets call it a grouping.  Here are the 5 greatest songs for when its not completley raining, and you’re on the verge or needing an umbrella, post 5pm on November 25th.

Tom Waits- The Earth Died Screaming- Bone Machine There is no better song for darkness of all kinds.  You can almost feel the dust settling all around you from some post apocolyptic battle.  The sky rained Macrel and Trout, the 3 Headed Lion sheds his skin, and you’re drinking water from a skull.   Somehow these lyrics don’t come out like some Iron Maiden record.  The chorus of what sounds like sticks banging against the ground behind the vocal march ahead into this freaky ass world of Waits creation, which i’d imagine looks nothing like the street I was walking on in Chelsea.  The entire Bone Machine album could be on this list, but lets leave it here for now.

Bob Dylan- Love Sick- Time Out Of Mind Again, nearly then entire Time Out of Mind album could go on this list.  Its dark as hell.  This may be some western preconception we have about musical tonality….but thats a discussion for people more intellectual than you and I.  That reverb in there, that Distortion on Dylan’s voice, you’re hanging out in a sketchy alleyway, and everything around you smells like mildew. Your shoes are wet, but you cant do a thing about it.

Medeski Martin Wood- Beeah- Last Chance to Dance Trance Yes, I went there.  We bring in the MMW.  This works particularly well on many levels.  There are no lyrics to distract, that bass sounds like a junkyard, and the organ over the top makes you feel like you’re in a 1930’s horror movie.  One time many years ago while driving home from Boston very late at night, this song came on, and I hallucinated several vampires.

John Coltrane- Part 2 Resolution- A love Supreme–  We go to a classic album, but skip the opening track.  Forget that mystical yet mysterious beautiful opening piece, lets move onto the second.  Things get a little more ugly here.  The wash of that ride cymbal is like this crappy mist reigning down upon you, its not a full on storm, but its moving that way, you may need to pull out the umbrella by the end of it.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds- Red Right Hand- Let Love In–  Oh man, I nearly forgot this one, and that would just be a shame.  Its telling you something is coming, so you should probably be prepared dude, you don’t want to just be sitting there, kickin it, playing wii, not prepared for the incredible evil lurking in the shadows and whatnot, you get the idea.  Again, we have the appearance of a scary movie organ sound, with some brush work on the drums, all glued together by the eeriest of instruments, The Theremin, appearing on the 2nd verse.  Cave is some sketchy old man on the corner of Times Square Past, in front of a strip club or something, but he’s not yelling at you, merely informing.  In this case, you have forgotton your umbrella, and wish you hadn’t.

Any ideas for others?  I dont care, I’m not even going to listen to them.   Of course I’m kidding.  Comment it up.