I’m sitting here thinking about the etiquette of “sitting in”. It’s not something I do very often but I’m starting to think I should be a little more pro-active about making guest appearances here and there. Get out there and show my face, you know. It’s not something I’ve pursued because, truth be told, I don’t usually have much fun in those situations. I remember my first experience, as a naive new arrival on the Toronto blues scene, going up to the Black Swan for the Saturday matinee. Actually I went to several of those matinees before I was allowed to step onto the stage, in fact the first time I went my leather jacket was stolen (welcome to Toronto). Perhaps because they felt bad about the stolen jacket the previous week, I was invited to take the stage, not to sing but to play guitar along with a bunch of other newbies. I plugged into the Fender amp, but there was no sound. The rest of them just started playing and I was still looking for the “on” switch. I had never used a Fender amp and didn’t know about the standby switch tucked in the back. After struggling for a while, I just plugged my guitar into the PA mixer and played through that. I’m sure the general thinking was “if you don’t know how to turn on a Fender amp, you shouldn’t be on this stage”. That was my introduction to “sitting in” in Toronto.
Over the years I’ve observed how some people have gotten very good at that, mostly by playing the same song every time (one that everybody knows) – and, of course, playing it as close to the original as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of blues standards in my repertoire, and the ones I do are quite different from the original – a combination curse/blessing.
I sat in once in a while at more of these jams & matinees but like I said, I was not having fun. I got the feeling these folks who just wanted to play songs they knew with musicians they knew. Over the years I got to know most of the musicians, even played with many of them on regular gigs, but still didn’t get invited to sit in very often, and hardly ever got invited to be a “featured guest” which usually included a little remuneration.
I should start asking and just arriving with my guitar on my shoulder. It’s not a great career move to sit around waiting to be invited – at least not in a town where every second person you meet is a musician. But maybe things are turning around, because last night I had three “invitations”. Mory the Sockman asked me if I would do a tune at his birthday celebration at Healey’s (I don’t know what the band would have to say about that, but in any case I had a festival gig, so I couldn’t be there – Hope you had a great party, Mory!) Then after my gig I dropped in at the club where my buddy Larry was playing and he insisted that I come up and and do a couple of tunes with the band, even though I was a little reluctant. Well we’ve done a few duo things together and he happens to be the director of the festival, so how could I say no…yet when I got back, I think they were playing their last tune but I jumped in there anyway, and then Larry says the drummer has to leave and the rest of the band leaves the stage so I do a tune with Larry while the musicians are tearing down their equipment. I guess it was overtime and they just wanted to get home, but it just reinforces my resistance about “sitting in” even when one of the band members wants you to. Next time I’ll let them take a vote. I don’t want to inflict myself on anybody. I don’t play that often, so I insist on having fun when I do. I had a a third invitation for last night – not to play but to attend the big gala for the Walk of Fame with Paul Schaeffer and many big stars. That would have been fun.
Here’s a tip for any musicians driving home late on a Friday night – tune in Reiner Schwarz on JAZZ-FM 91.1 He is the original underground FM pioneer and he does an overnight show that harkens right back to the seventies when he was on CHUM-FM. He was talking directly to “the musicians who are driving home from the gig” How many other people are listening to the radio at 3am?