News From The Woods.31


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published June 22, 1999

"Music, The International Language"

Recently the band I have been playing with, (Spilt Milk), played a private party for SLM, Inc. (St. Louis Music) They have a plant near here in Yellville that manufactures the CRATE line of amplifiers. We were hired as the local entertainment for a group of music merchandisers from France who were flown to the US as guests of SLM with the intention of solidifying trade agreements in Europe for CRATE instruments. A lot of the attendees were musicians themselves and during the course of the evening we were approached by representatives of SLM who asked if we minded allowing some of the participants to set in with the band. Since the beverages were flowing freely we were beseiged by half-dozen players who were "feeling the spirit" and had a strong desire to flex their musical muscle. Even with the language barrier we spent the rest of the evening swapping instruments back and forth, giving creedence to the saying that "music is the universal language". To make a long story short, a good time was had by all.

At first, we had "jammers" on bass and guitar but before too long our entire band was sitting out while the guests were comandeering the outdoor stage. One player in particular sticks out in my mind. He was the first to come up to the stage and say in broken english "It is my dream to play on the stage with your band". Well, with an intro like THAT, how could we refuse him!? His name is Michel Prats and he is a very professional player as I understand from his native France. He had no problem strapping on Doug's 5-string bass and jumping right in on our set list. We made many friends that night and exchanged email addresses. I wore an "Arkansas" baseball cap to the gig that night and had so much fun playing with Michel that I offered my cap to him. At first he didn't understand that I was giving the cap to him and he gave it back during a break in the action. At the end of the night I gave it back to him and informed him that he had earned it. He was so excited and told my wife that he had never worn a baseball cap before but he intended to wear this one back home. I'll bet he's wearing it right now! Below is a picture taken of the night and you can clearly see how much Michel is enjoying himself. To hear a RealAudio clip of his playing, just click on the picture below and you'll get an audio sample of the jam.

Now, very few of theose in attendence could speak english fluently. But then, their english was sure a darn sight better than our french! But despite the languare barrier, none of us had too much trouble getting our point across. Musicians are musicians, I guess. And these people were no different. During breaks we talked at length about such things as gigs, gear, and playing in technique. Since we were basically a rockin' rhythm & blues band, whenever a guest would take the stage they would play within the genre of R&B licks and rhythms. I did notice that when there were more of "them" than "us" on stage, the music style moved into a more heavy direction. When I asked about this later they told me that they were more into heavy rock over there. They gravitated towards Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and that type of playing.

I also met one of my favorite players who just happened to be one of the coordinators of this event. Many of you might (at least you should) remember "Uriah Heep" who had several very big albums on the Mercury Records label back in the 70's. "Heep" Keyboard player Ken Hensley is now a product representative and spokesman for Crate amps. We had some good conversation over dinner about "the old days" and I told him of all the times I had played his solo albums on my album review radio show. I hinted that he might "owe me" for securing radio airplay and therefore album sales, but he didn't take the hint. It was all in good-natured fun and I could tell by the twinkle in his eye he was definitely following me but wasn't going to play. Knowing that he would be there I contemplated taking along some of my prized Ken Hensley solo albums for him to autograph, but had second thoughts about it and decided not to appear to be a "gushing fan" but rather a "fellow player". It was a tough decision, but probably the right one. I even took along a Roland JX8P keyboard in case he wanted to sit in, but he declined and seemed more comfortable making sure the guests were having a good time and getting to sit in with the band. I'm glad I brought along the keys as there was a keyboard player present who, after a couple of sets (and maybe a few brewskies) came up and sat in on some organ riffs throughout the evening.

By the way the jammers treated us at the end of the evening, I'd say they had a good time. It took us over an hour to break down the equipment since there was so much conversation and mutual admiration going on. Several of the guys who sat in on my drums even helped tear down the drum gear and pack it up. Email addresses were exchanged and many people wanted our website addresses so they could keep track of their new friends from the Arkansas Ozarks. It was one of those rare gigs that transcended the "show me the money" scenario which usually accompanies a private party. I would like to thank Crate and St. Louis Music for hiring the band and I hope we showed your guests a good time. Next time you have another promotional event hosting for a group of international musicians and music industry people, please call us first!!

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