Updated: Oct 23, 2018
Joseph Campbell said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come."
Dang, I hope he's right!!
My beautiful sons were grown and on their own. My wonderful marriage had ended, with our relationship surviving and taking new form. Years of alternative treatment for prostate cancer showed the first signs of success.
The Music Dream beckoned. Feeling clearly that it was now or never, I resigned from the music classroom after 27 years of the best job ever, at least until the once-thriving alternative school transformed into a miserable corporate environment.
When I was 27 I spent two years traveling in the US, deciding where to relocate. NY? DC? The Northwest? Chicago? San Francisco?
San Diego finally won out due to music friends and beaches. I spent a very happy five years there.
Now, at 63, I had the same question. Where to relocate?? This time the options included Europe, the Greek Islands, coastal Brazil, and more.
But the music scene in New Orleans was richer and more compelling than any other I had experienced. Heck yeah, I'm doing it.
NorCal to Iowa to St. Louis to Jackson to New Orleans!
Back in California after an epic South America trip I packed up the C-Max with everything I felt I could use to start a music career in NOLA, plus a very few household items. The plan was to be there at least through June 1, 2019, a kind of trial run.
I first made the long, long drive to the small house above the Mississippi River I share with my brother. I had a couple months to kayak, enjoy the people of Iowa, and reunite with my high school rock band for a big concert.
By late September I was ready to head south.
St. Louis was a great stop where I connected with my old friend from high school, Dewey. He is a blues lover of the highest order, and took great joy in showing me around the city for a couple days. I'm sure I'll spend more time there over the next years.
Jackson, MS has always been an awesome stop on southern trips because it's the home of my magnificent and magnanimous brother-in-law and sister-in-in law, and we love traveling together, This time Bruce and Bev were coming to New Orleans to help me find a place to live.
We were most fortunate that Bev's family had a beautiful (and unoccupied) house in the Marigny we could stay at while we looked. I love this neighborhood: walking distance to the music hub of Frenchmen Street, right around the corner from St. Roch Market, friendly southern neighbors, the works!
OCTOBER, WEEK 1
After three or four dizzying days of looking, I decided to take the fourth-floor apartment on Coliseum Street in the Lower Garden District. Love my new Neighborhood!! Two block walk to St, Charles Street and the oldest streetcar in America, about a fifteen minute ride to the French Quarter. Also many shops, cafes, bars, etc, plus my new gym, the St. Charles Athletic Club.
Magazine Street is two blocks the other way. Similar entertainment options plus a legendary vintage guitar shop. Most impressive so far was the restaurant Gris Gris.
Getting Out There - The Open Mic
OCTOBER, WEEK 2
One of the things I knew I’d have to endure was the indignity of the jam session or open mic.
In a city where I know almost no one, and have only a couple friend-of-friend references/contacts, the old rules apply: Be seen and heard. Nine times out of ten, these “opportunities” are in bars, and 99 times out of a 100 the talent level is, should we say, “varied”.
I had met Janey at her bartending gig during my few days of apartment hunting. The conversation turned to music, and she declared herself to be a singer-songwriter who was looking for a guitarist.
Red Flag One was that she was a regular at the open mic at DMacs Bar and Grill on Mondays and Thursdays. While professionals may show up occasionally at these things, they are not regulars. She said most of her experience had been in the studio and she was working to get over her stage fright. I left with Janey’s phone number and promised to show up at a session soon.
Once I found an apartment and got somewhat settled I was ready to get myself out there. I texted Janey and said I would be at DMacs on Thursday. I had no idea of the format (these things are all run differently) or even what style of music to expect. I loaded up my guitar and threw an amp in the back of the car just in case I needed it.
The place was a Mid-City bar with a sign that beamed LIVE MUSIC NO COVER EVERY NIGHT in bright red letters. It had an unpretentious seediness to it, and there was a stage with a sound system and a full band set up. It pretty empty when I walked in, guitar case slung over my shoulder. The band was on a break.
It turned out there was a duo that hosted the jam, guys both named Will, one on guitar, one on violin. They were very strong players and both sang beautifully. They invited me to play a couple times, but that would have been solo, not my favorite way to go, so I decided to wait for Janey and see what she was all about. (I eventually did end up playing bass with the Wills for the last hour of the night, which was big fun)
I was at a table about halfway back when a young guy sat near me. Soon Janey walked in. What I didn’t mention is that she is smokingly hot. If I were to stoop to a current popular reference point, I’d say she looks quite a bit like Stormy Daniels. She came through the door in a dress that showed off every curve and contour, and every head in the bar snapped around, women and men alike. The woman could make an entrance.
The young guy next to me almost jumped out of his seat. His open mouth stare turned to elation when she suddenly smiled in recognition and gave a little wave. When he realized she was headed for me and not him, he shot me a look of disbelief and disappointment. WTF is happening here?
By this time the duo had kicked it up again, and we had a hard time talking over the volume. Her drummer Johnny joined us at the table, and though we were invited to take the stage several times, I gathered we were waiting for someone else.
Soon the three of us took a table outside, and with the nearby locals and regulars ogling Janey in that dress, and we talked about what to play. Johnny was primarily a rock drummer, Janey did originals and didn’t know many covers. So we of course decided on blues. Janey had an original blues song and we ran through it. What else?, I asked. We need at least one more song.
About this time a dozen twenty-somethings showed up together. It turns out they were all visiting from London and Australia and somehow Dmac’s on a Thursday night was part of the tour. I had an interesting conversation with Ralph, who was just starting what was projected to be a year of travel that included the US, South America and Asia.
Sid arrived, sporting a Mark Knoffler-like bandana, and the band was complete. When Janey left the table he said, “I’ll play bass, you play guitar. Follow me, don’t follow her. Forgot that song. We’re gonna do one in B flat. Just follow me.”
When I was twenty-two I returned to my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa after spending a couple years on the road with a band. I picked up bass for the first time, and while I knew some jazz standards on the guitar, walking the bass was a whole new deal. I got a gig with a singer named Char and a pianist named Bob Scarborough. They were twice my age, in their 40s, he balding and quiet, she mini-skirted and sassy. Both were married to other people.
Musically, I was in the wrong place about half the time. The tunes were corny standards and most were new to me. The bass should really stay rooted in the chord changes but I constantly got lost. Bob and Char, however, praised my playing. “You learn songs so fast,” they said. Really?
There was often tension between Bob and Char about who was in charge, but one night stood out in particular. Bob called a song. “I don’t want to do that”, Char said quietly but forcefully. Ignoring her, he started the intro anyway.
“I don’t want to do that song”, she hissed over the piano. The bass player had decided to wait before coming in.
The pianist kept going and she glared at him, fire in here eyes. The young bass player looked back and forth at the two grownups. When she finally did come in, the bass entered too. Char sang grudgingly, kind of gritting her teeth and scowling, and it was about as good as you’d expect. After the closing chord, the room was silent.
“I told you I didn’t want to sing that fuckin’ song”, she said, not caring who heard. “You’re cut off!”
As the kids say now... AWKWARD.
Janey and Sid had a similar relationship but I seriously doubt he was getting any lovin’ from her. When she came back to the table, they fell to arguing once again about what songs to do. Fortunately I had the conversation with young Londoner Ralph to distract me.
Finally Janey pulled Sid away from the table, saying We gotta talk. When they came back it was time to move inside and claim our time slot on stage. Sid said under his breath, Just follow me.
When we came back inside the place had filled up nicely, and a young woman from London was doing a great job belting out American R&B with some backing tracks she had brought. The crowd loved her.
We took the stage and started with Janey’s original blues, the one Sid said we were NOT doing. Johnny was solid on drums, but instead of going through blues chord changes, Sid just stayed on one bass note. Her melody clearly dictated something else.
I followed Sid the first time through, thinking the whole time, This is stupid. So I followed my own instincts from then on, adjusting to Janey’s random insertion of two extra measures once in a while. The two of them remained in their own worlds.
This song was followed by another meandering original, then Sid started up a song that he sang featuring a one line lyric about the dirty south, repeated three or four hundred times. During that time Janey stormed off stage, grabbed her drink and headed out the door.
When we finished Johnny looked up and said, Look, we cleared out the place.
Like I said, one of the things I knew I’d have to endure was the indignity of the jam session or open mic.
OCTOBER, WEEK 3