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That One Note

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I got to the rehearsal hall early, but was the last one there. This is a good sign. Punctuality is important when the space is rented by the hour.

I fist bumped everyone and made small talk while setting up. I’d never met two of them and only knew the other two from hanging out at shows, which is a completely different setting. Here, on a Sunday afternoon, there’s less alcohol, some silence to fill, and more casual clothing. Not a necktie or vest to be seen, and definitely no eyeliner, male or female.

The word “trepidation” might be a little strong for what I felt. I was looking forward to playing music but had no idea how this would go. I wanted to play well but wasn’t sure I would.

Those of you who came here from The Number Ones know me a little. You know I was in a band called Pussycat Doghouse and occasionally play with Duette and, honestly, anyone who asks nicely. If the gig pays money, sweet.

Duette – Pussycat Doghouse.

Then there was a pandemic. You may have heard about it, it was in all the papers.

Duette decided to put things on hold for a while and Pussycat Doghouse had to call it quits. Two members, one from Canada and one from Kentucky, had to move home to be with family. Losing the Canuck and the Kentuck broke my heart because they’re both good friends and, of all the bands I’ve ever been in, it was probably my favorite.

You don’t have to be friends to play music with someone, but it’s always better that way. In the past few months, I’ve jammed with two pals of mine on a very loose basis. We’d schedule a time to get together but something would come up. One or another of us would have to postpone. I think we’ve jammed a total of three times, though we did decide to call ourselves The Two In Ones. That’s been the extent of my playing with other people since the pandemic started.

So, aside from goofing around on my bass at home, alone, I haven’t played much for the past two years. My fingertips lost their calluses. I worried I’d lose my internal metronome.

Not likely. We’ve heard you play. You’re the “Seth” to our “Thomas.” -mt58

In a way, it was good to take a break. With rehearsals and gigs, and a full time job, it was easy to overextend myself. I’ve relearned the joy of actually sleeping for eight hours. I found it’s even possible to wake up naturally, fully rested, before the alarm. Who knew?

There’s a band here in Nashville called RAYGUN, in all caps. They’re a cover band specializing in underground hits of the 80s. The cover The Plimsouls, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, and others. They’re very good at it and their shows are usually packed.

The singer/guitarist and the singer/keyboardist are a married couple, Steve and Cally. Late last year, Steve put out a solo album called Tinfoil Hat and said on Facebook that he wanted to put a band together to play it live. After listening to a couple songs, I asked if he had a bass player yet. He said he was hoping I’d be interested. That made me feel good about myself for days. Sometimes it doesn’t take much.

Eventually, he pulled the rest of the band together with another guitarist and a drummer. I didn’t know either of them but I figured it’s Nashville and they’d be good. I started learning the songs. 

After a couple weeks, the drummer backed out. He had thought it was a one time studio thing, not a live band with gigs to be booked. His summer is already blocked out with a tour of some sort and other gigs. Double-booking happens a lot in this town if you’re not careful.

A few more weeks go by and I hear from Steve that he’s found a drummer. I don’t know this guy either but I assume he’s good, too. Steve set up a rehearsal for that next Sunday afternoon. I frantically run through the tunes again. Once on Thursday, once on Friday, and twice on Saturday. I really didn’t want to be the worst player in the room.

So when I showed up at the rehearsal space, I knew the songs but not the people. It’s always a little awkward, like going to a party where you know only the host, but musicians always have a couple topics to fall back on, and that day we started talking about equipment. The guitarist talked about why he brought his Epiphone and not his Gibson, and said I won the biggest pedalboard contest. I told him I cheated because I was going to use only two of the nine pedals.

What didn’t happen was extraneous noodling. Each of us got our volume and tone set and stopped making any other sounds. That, for me, is the sign of professionals. Why make a racket by yourself when we’ll be playing together in a couple minutes?

The drummer was using the set provided by the space. He used his own sticks and that was it. He arranged the kit but the hi hat clutch had issues. I guess it sees a lot of use and abuse and it didn’t want to screw tight onto the rod anymore.

The guitarist was the last one to be ready and he played the riff from one of Steve’s songs as a test of his amp. The drummer joined in, then me, then we all fell in and started playing the song.

The drummer had only had the songs for a couple days and understandably didn’t know them well, and he was a little rusty. A couple years off will do that to you. Still, he might be good. On the other hand, the two guitarists had already worked out their parts together. They didn’t step on each other and, remarkably, none of the five of us overplayed. 

This. This is our common language. Never mind equipment small talk. Playing together with other people is how you get to know them. And it felt good.

tnocs.com contributing author Bill Bois

That’s another good sign for me. Overplaying says that you care more about yourself than about the song. It happens all the time when jamming, when you can put your ego on full display, but it shouldn’t happen in front of a paying audience, or in a rehearsal preparing to play for them. Play the song, nothing more. 

But having said that, there’s a huge reward in hearing yourself in the mix of what everyone else is doing. As a bass player, my goal is to find a groove with the drummer, keep the tempo more or less the same throughout the song, and give everyone else a footing to lay their parts on. It’s “bass” but it could just as easily be “base.” 

Bring on the heteronyms.

We ran each song twice and went on to the next one. Hearing my internal metronome working made all those worries go away. We didn’t sound like a band, but we sounded like we could be.

I forget which song it was but the note was an A, precisely placed and dynamically nuanced. The joy in that one perfect note… man, I live for those. They’re the reason musicians play. Forget sex and drugs and fame and fortune. It’s that adrenaline joy that brings us back through shitty clubs and bad food and little sleep. And sometimes it’s only that one note that keeps us going.

And then it happened. We simultaneously landed on a note, in the middle of a lot of notes that were off by enough microseconds to sound sloppy.

In that note, it’s no longer about pleasing an audience or appearing like we’re good musicians. Appearances no longer matter. It’s a physical, visceral, emotional, reaction to that one note, the sound of musicians, people, coming together in a single moment. It’s an agreement that this is the note and this is how it’s meant to be played. For that instant, the note is all that matters.

Of course, we got so excited by that note that we got sloppy again, but it happened. No one can take that note away from us. We did it once, we can do it again.

I can’t wait for the next rehearsal.

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Bill Bois

Bill Bois - bassist, pie fan, aging gentleman punk, keeper of the TNOCS spreadsheet:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/138BvuV84ZH7ugcwR1HVtH6HmOHiZIDAGMIegPPAXc-I/edit#gid=0

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lovethisconcept
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April 19, 2022 8:12 am

Can’t wait to hear the new band. Hope you book some shows near Nashville soon!

lovethisconcept
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April 19, 2022 8:18 am

I love what you said about overplaying. My husband calls it “Hey, Mom, listen to me” syndrome, and many of the really great players suffer from it occasionally. I would be very interested to hear from you and others which of the famous players, solos, etc. really serve the song and which ones serve the ego of the player more.

lovethisconcept
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April 19, 2022 9:41 am
Reply to  Virgindog

I love the Who, and I think part of the charm is how over the top they all are all of the time. It’s not one person’s ego, it’s how they choose to perform as a whole, and I think that makes a difference.

Pauly Steyreen
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April 19, 2022 12:29 pm

While I have quite minimal experience performing music with others, I can definitely vouch for the magic that arises when you’re in sync jamming with friends and feel surrendered to the song.

When I was in grad school, my buddy taught me to play bass so he’d have someone to jam with. Heck, he was still learning himself. We had a limited repertoire, but when we were locked in (sometimes with guests on drums, guitar or banjo), it was glory!

cstolliver
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cstolliver
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April 19, 2022 1:05 pm

Bill, I loved this! Learning how a rehearsal works from the musician’s mouth was worth this lunch break and likely the highlight of the day. Thanks for sharing it.

mt58
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mt58
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April 19, 2022 9:49 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Chuck should be eating lunch.

Instead, he’s hanging around my dopey website. Give me a few minutes while I let that sink in.

You people? You’re just the best.

thegue
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thegue
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April 19, 2022 7:46 pm

V-dog, great read, but now I have questions!!!!

  1. Is bass guitar easy to overplay? (I’m not a musician, but I think I’d find it easier to catch the dummer/lead guitarist overdoing it more than the bass player)
  2. Is there a song you’d recommend where I could hear the bass being overplayed?
  3. Your mention of the note makes me want someone to take Vivek’s mantle here on tnocs.com and start explaining music theory to a layman. Any interest??
mt58
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April 19, 2022 9:50 pm
Reply to  thegue

Re: 3:
That would be absolutely fantastic. Any takers?

ArchieLeech
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April 20, 2022 7:57 am
Reply to  thegue

You could make the argument that Paul McCartney overplays his bass on “Something”. I wouldn’t – George’s lead, Ringo’s drumming, and Paul’s busy line add a little spice to what could have been safe and soft ballad.

On the Fleetwood Mac song “Revelation,” Bob Welch took the bass from John McVie. You can hear what he was trying to do, with a bit of a Latin rhythm. The highlighted bass solo is pretty much spot on and exciting (although I think the last high note is just a hair late). The problem with the solo is it draws attention to the bass line, and I feel like the last verse in particular is more ambitious than it is disciplined. I still like the song, though.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chcRAWh8Tik

Last edited 2 years ago by ArchieLeech
ArchieLeech
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April 20, 2022 10:01 am
Reply to  ArchieLeech

Just to be clear – Welch plays the bass throughout the song. Sorry for being a bit muddled.

ArchieLeech
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April 20, 2022 11:05 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Welch obviously felt like he had something to prove. Which leads us to when Buckingham and Nicks joined the band a year or so later. Early on, McVie said to Buckingham, “Just to remind you – I am the bass player.”

ArchieLeech
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April 20, 2022 8:06 am

Great article, V-Dog. Once you find magic, how can you not keep returning to the source? What makes this story really work is that everyone in the group obviously had experienced it before, and knew that fooling around isn’t how to get there.

Once, about a quarter century ago, I hit a 5-iron from about 150 yards from the hole and landed the ball about 20 feet from the target. Other than that one shot, that sport has been nothing but exhausting frustration – I would gladly avoid it forever. Music, on the other hand, always keeps me coming back.

Last edited 2 years ago by ArchieLeech
Marshall DeMott
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April 20, 2022 9:43 am

You hit a bunch of ‘nails on the head’ telling this cool little story. Sure does resonate with me as about 7 weeks ago 6 of us formed a rehearsal jazz band to just play together jazz we all like. You are a fine writer!

ArchieLeech
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April 20, 2022 2:00 pm

It’s great to meet the inspirational Mr. DeMott – welcome aboard!

Last edited 2 years ago by ArchieLeech
thegue
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thegue
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April 20, 2022 10:21 am

Just spent time listening to the songs recommended in the replies. Thanks to all of you for tutoring me in this new MasterClass© I’m taking!!

dave bois
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April 27, 2022 8:19 pm

yo, B

this is a fookin’ righteous long form piece,

gonna share and implore my many musician friends to:

wait for it … WAIT for it…

yer doofus cousin needs some closure here: do you recall the harmonic pocket within which yallz landed on that “A”?

the chord? the key of the tune?

GREAT piece, Bill -dmb

dutchg8r
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April 28, 2022 12:14 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Hi Dave, welcome to party!

Looks like VDog’s doing a heck of a job of recruiting folks to come join your site, mt. 😁

So not one, but we have two, two Bois, ha-ha-ha! Y’all just need to trek to DuBois, PA now… (which is pronounced “Do-Boys” cause there’s no need to be sounding all fancy French in Appalachia)

dave bois
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April 28, 2022 12:50 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

maybe — if we’re all so blessed — Bill and I can cajole his cousin / my still-in-Maine brother Mark to chime in.

he’d say NO, but I insist: his drumming remains superior to my efforts at saxophony, and his writing is probably a bit sharper.

[again: he’d say BS hahaha so… we’ll just have to rope him in 🙂 }

THANK you for the kind and welcoming words.

dave bois
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April 28, 2022 1:05 am
Reply to  Virgindog

HAAAAAAA !!!! wow.

[Mott the Hoople] x [Cheap Trick] =

the concert that Mary took us to [Ian Hunter opening for Heart, June 1980 / CCCC Portland ME

fused with:

what SHOULD have been my / Mark’s FIRST concert, a year-ish prior to that — with you piloting yer mom’s Toyota Corona … you endured our choice of Styx over Cheap Trick with your trademark grace and aplomb.

please know that *I* know just how poorly we chose, and we chose IMMEDIATELY, iirc.

[honestly, that Styx show really WAS way cool / huge for me. I won’t lie: late 70’s junior high school me and brother played the SNOT outta Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight. at that time, *none* of my classmates had tales to tell of going to see a major act. it was and remains super special stuff.

and / but DAMN it was cold AF waiting in that line, though!]

[PS wtf ever became of Angel?!]

dave bois
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April 28, 2022 1:09 am
Reply to  Virgindog

PS follow up question; goofily tangential, but yet somehow relevant:

i’d welcome a penny for any thoughts that you may have invested over the years into the matter of 440 hz vs 432 hz for that sweet, saucy, and beefy A onto which you and your sonic tribe happened to happily land.

mt58
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April 28, 2022 8:40 am
Reply to  Virgindog

^
We see what you did there.

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