News From The Woods.28


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published February 20, 1999

"What's In a Name, Anyway?"

Those of you out there in Readerland who know me very well, know that about every year or so I get to where I can't stand it any more and I put together another band. I work and slave with the band members for a couple of months to ensure that we have a good solid set list, then we go out and play for about a year (sometimes less) before I get sick of it all and "go back into seclusion". Then, like clockwork, about a year or so later I get "the itch" again and start the entire process all over. I call it the "Recurring Endless And Meaningless Earache Dilemma" (REAMED).

Well, I have been long overdue for a good REAMING for several months now, and so I have embarked yet again on another nightmare excursion into the land of "PayingYerDues". Don't get me wrong. I LOVE to play live. I NEED to play live (to feel alive). I have been extremely fortunate to have spend many years of my playing career either in the sterile studio environment which has it's own sort of pressure and stress, or performing in bands on concert stages, opening for "Big Name" acts. Either way, it's a good way to hone your chops without selling your soul to the lowest bidder. But these days, opening for a name band around here is about as scarce as finding Clinton supporters, so I have had to get my ya-ya's out by primarily doing studio work, which is in a lot of ways boring and monotonous. Plus, there's no room for experimentation, since the client is footing the bill.

So, what's the worst part of starting a new band……….. Babysitting inflated egos? Putting up with the drummer's tardiness? Putting up with the guitar player's girlfriend? The keyboard player's indifference? The bass player's alcohol dependence? The singer's brother-in-law who owns the PA? Naaaaaaaaaaaaw…………. That's the EASY stuff! Real musicians out there already know the answer: NAMING THE BAND, of course! Why? Because you're stuck with it for the rest of the band's life. It follows you everywhere. It is inescapable. And you HAVE to have a name. But not "just" any old name will do. It has to be acceptable by the entire band for one thing, and that in itself can be a pretty tall order. Also, a band name must somehow reflect your style or at least fit your band's personality. For instance, you wouldn't name your new ProtoTechnic Industrial Band "Wildfire", which is surely a country band's name. Or how about a blues band with the name "Next of Kin"? I don't think so.

I have always played in your basic rock and roll band, so we've had names like "Blind Chance", "Whizz", "Rock Bottom", and "Bad Manners", just to name a few. Of course, I've also played in my share of bands with totally bizarre names, too. Try playing a gig with a name like "Amazon Love Gods" or "What About Bob?" It's a good way to get a lot of raised eyebrows, but believe me you'd better be GOOD with a "catchy" name like that! No, you really need a name that is both easy to remember and easy to imagine what kind of music the band plays. When people drive by a club and see the band's name on the marquee, it's just good advertising to have a name that is inviting. And band names are like chords…. There are just SO many of them before you get to the desperate stage.

We've been practicing now for a couple of weeks and sort of tossing out names periodically to see if anyone else likes it, but nothing has really stood up and demanded to be considered. We thought we still had a couple more weeks to come up with a decent band name that everyone would agree on, but out of the blue we got a gig, and an important one at that. This one weekend engagement will dictate whether we become the club's house band for the rest of the year or not, so we HAVE to have our "real" band name ready by then. One thing I have learned is to avoid AT ALL COSTS assigning a name then changing it in mid-stream. You just lose too much momentum. If we use a temporary name and the "audition" gig is a big success we lose on two counts. First, it's simply too confusing for people to keep up with you, and second, when they see your "new" name on the marquee they may not go just because they are waiting for the "other" band to return. Since we need all the supporters we can get, we had no choice but to board up the doors and windows and nobody gets out until a band name has been decided.

A lot of thought goes into the naming of a band. When you think about it, there's a lot at stake. People will recognize a band from their name even more than how they sounded the last time, and that's a sobering thought. For someone who has never seen or heard the band, the name is the only thing they have to go on. Clever names like "Live Nude Girls" will sometimes backlash on you. Besides, who would take a band called "Free Beer" very seriously? Also, names that are WAAAAAAAAAAAAY TOO LONG, like "Uncle Ezra's Drugstore and Wholesale Discount Pharmacy" are had to fit on a club marquee, much less on a CD or cassette label. I remember when "Dr. Hook's Medicine Show" dropped their name to "Dr. Hook" after their first big hit single. Even "Chicago" used to be called "Chicago Transit Authority". Then there's the question as to whether to name the band "Thrilz" or "Thrills"? Sometimes, clever acronyms or weird spellings enhance one's ability to remember a band, but not in every case. I had to stare at "INXS" for five minutes before it finally dawned on me, like a cryptic personalized license plate. And, hey! Does anyone remember "The Beatles"?

Probably the last thing to consider when naming a band is how the name will translate to a bass drum or banner logo, or T-shirt graphics. Having a name like "The Humdingers" might be a difficult moniker to convert over to the business card. On the other hand, a band called "Panda" would have no trouble coming up with a suitable logo. I wonder what kind of music "Panda" plays?

And by the way, in case you are wondering what fiendish name we gave ourselves that will bring the corporate record companies to their knees: "Spilt Milk". Go figure.

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