News From The Woods - July 30, 2007


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published July 30, 2007

"Jam is good for you.........."

……Especially when you are a musician. I had almost forgotten how much fun a jam session can be. Recently I was shooting some video of a live event in my fair city. The National T-Bucket Alliance has their yearly road trip and get together here in Mountain Home. The culmination of almost a week of fun and festivities is a big "block party" around the town square. Prizes are awarded to the "Bucketheads" and the Top 10 cars of the show are paraded out on the square for everyone to gawk at. Imagine, if you will, the entire town square of a town roped off and about 2,000 people milling around gorging themselves on BBQ and burgers and getting close up and personal with some of the hottest looking classic Model T Monsters in the nation. It's quite an event, with a flatbed truck set up in the middle of the courthouse lawn and a rockin band belting out classic oldies of the 60's and 70's.

(and don't forget to turn those Subwoofers UP!)

It was while I was shooting some footage of this event that I ran across some of my oldest and dearest friends who just happened to be the featured band for the event. During a break we got caught up on old times and a couple of the guys mentioned "Bob, we need to have a jam at your place sometime soon". I filed that mental note away and continued my shooting assignment. Not even two days later I got email from my pal Steve Koenemann (aka. "Stephen Kane") in which he said he and the family was coming in to visit the following week. He mentioned he was bringing a guitar and wanted to jam, and could I get a few of the old gang together…? Talk about the right time and the right place! I immediately emailed my pals from the recent weekend and set up a jam for the following Saturday evening.

Now, it's been a long while since I put together a studio jam session. I've had a very busy year and also have been nurturing carpal tunnel syndrome in my left wrist, so I hadn't been doing much of anything in the playing field for several months. In short- I was not only rusty, but uncertain about how long I might be able to play before my hand would start feeling the effects. In recent months I have been mulling over this situation and knew I'd have to sooner or later put something together in which I could gauge my wrist to see how long I might be able to play in a live situation. I knew I could handle an hour or more because I've still been doing studio drumming with little or no effect, but I didn't know how my hand would fare during continuous playing, such as might be experienced during a gig. So this would also serve as an acid test where the outcome would reveal the strength of my hand during a "non-critical" event.

I already had my kit set up so I just brought in a couple of amps and made sure I had enough mics to go around for singing and for recording. I mention "recording" here because I make it a point to record EVERYTHING I do. Friends call me "Mr. Archive" because they know I will be recording everything that happens. The reason I do this is simple. You never know when inspiration will strike. The term "jam session" is sometimes misleading. To some, it means sitting around with friends and playing cover tunes. To other it means precisely that: a jam session. This means literally a exploration of unknown territory. Some may not feel completely comfortable with that, but I actually prefer the "Who knows what will happen next" method of jamming. We may start out with a couple of covers just to get the feel for the room and the players. Eventually, all that will strip away and someone will invariably start off with a riff. Others build on that riff and then the entire ensemble goes off in uncharted territory. That is when I really get excited. This is virgin territory and anything that gets thrown down becomes a part of the "soup". Most of the time it becomes "the riff that never ends" or deteriorates into a numbing silence as it dies a slow death. However, every once in a while something really original happens… something clicks. And those few seconds or minutes are why I am recording, because by the end of the jam no one will remember quite exactly those few moments in time where everyone was "plugged in" to each other. But if it was recorded you can just throw out all the crap and concentrate on the kernel of an idea which could become the framework for a totally cool and original song.

You cannot imagine just how many great songs I have in my library that started out as a simple riff that everyone got caught up in and added their own personalities to the mix. Even if it is just a short thirty second idea, it can be later expanded into a full blown arrangement or used as a starting point to write a new song. The "hook" could be a signature guitar riff like the beginning to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" or "Money For Nothing" - or a bass riff like the start of "Gimme' Some Lovin'", or even the drums at the start of "Walk This Way". That is the power and beauty of music. Something reaches out and grabs you and you never forget that feeling even after years and years of listening to it. It rarely gets old. Those are the "little things" that all composers are searching for…... The "glue" that holds a great song together. That is true inspiration (and sometimes a lot of luck). Sometimes inspiration strikes in the form of a mistake or a joke, much like the stuttering vocals in "My Generation" or "B-b-b-b-b-b-baby You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet". You NEVER know what it will be or when it will happen, so you have to be ready for it AT ALL TIMES. That is easier said than done. These new little digital pocket recorders by ZOOM, TASCAM, and Berhinger are perfect for recording ideas on the fly, and you can dump the result into your computer and go with it.

Anyway, back to our jam: I announced it to all as a jam featuring "Doctor Mayhem's Music Messengers" and invited Stephen Kane, Larry McFarland, Keith Alersmeyer, and Mark Rex to come and jam. That rounded it out at bass and drums and three guitar slingers. Just enough cooks so as not to spoil the soup. Everyone arrived around 5ish and I cooked burgers on the grill for all. People are happier on a full stomach, and musicians are certainly no exception to that. We all ate our fill then went down to the studio to loosen up. We started by doing some covers to warm up. Going in a circle, each player got to choose the next cover to sing. We did some Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Creedence Clearwater, and James Brown before slipping into an impromptu jam on "Rocky Mountain Way", which was fun. But then we just began to noodle around on some chords until someone liked one and joined in. Some great ideas began to pop out. I have included part of one of the jams on this page so if you want to hear some samples of this jamming, click on the link at the bottom of the page.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when you are in a jam session is to relax and enjoy it. Sometimes someone comes up with a song to play you may not like or may feel it's too simple for your interest, but that's part of the fun of jamming. God knows how many times I've played drums to "Feeling Alright", but if I really listen to the other players I can spot some interesting variations on a theme. After all, it's only 5 minutes. Anybody can hold still for that long. Remember, a sourpuss can very easily derail a good vibe of the moment. And the vibe of the moment can very easily develop into a great song idea. Also, don't be a "jam hog" and be the only one making suggestions. It's hard to loosen up and wait for the moment if someone is playing the first twenty notes of every song they know. Besides, who wants to all do songs we know? That isn't "jamming"….. that's "rehearsing". Stretch out and do some exploring. So what if you screw up? Who cares? And give everyone a share of the moment. If you have three guitarists, like we did, make sure everyone gets a chance to play. Heck, bring down the level and give the bass player a couple dozen bars. Try jamming with "extreme dynamics"…. Play loud for a while then bring it down to almost silence and simmer there for a while. Let the drummer play outside the box a bit. You never know what might happen. After all, a jam session is designed chiefly to blow off some steam. If you create something special then that's the icing on the cake.


I think in the industry many people have lost sight of what playing music is all about. Today's musicians seem so intent and serious about their music. But I recall in my day we played music because it was so damn much fun! When our mind set changed over time and eventually evolved into making the Almighty Dollar, a lot of the fun left the music itself. It becomes a business at that point. Managers talk about "formulas" and "posturing". An incredible amount of pressure is brought to bear on when to release what songs and in what order. What is your mission statement? Who is your fan base? What are the numbers? What is your demographic? What is your "look" on stage? …..Blah, blah, blah. This has NOTHING at all to do with creating and sharing music. When the two words "music" and "business" merged into "music business" real honest music took a big hit. In my opinion the last vestige of honest music is the blues. Look at today's modern country groups and their latest music videos, then dig back into the MTV archives around the 80's and tell me it's not basically the same thing except for the addition of a fiddle player or a steel guitar player. Smoke and mirrors…… Quick jump cuts from JimmyJib camera cranes……. Concert lighting and pyro……expansive stages and windmill guitar stances. Instead of REO Speedwagon it's Kenny Chesney!

It's enough to make you want to just shut the door and jam on all night long.


Back to CCS Home Page

© 2007 Ozark Network Communications, Inc.