News From The Woods.39


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published June 14, 2000

"New where is that soap box?"

I know. It's been a while since my last column. Do you want to hear all the excuses I've assembled? No? I don't blame you….. They are the "usual suspects"…….. I've been terribly busy……… Robert demands more time from Daddy…….. It's summer and I'm spending more time on the lake ………. The dog ate my last article………..

Lately I've been through a time of self-contemplation. As I've looked back over the years of my career I have discovered some awful truths. Music doesn't excite me like it used to. For a while I imagined that it's just the music itself. But I think I was on the wrong track. Actually, I think what happened, although it is difficult to explain, is what we refer to in the Biz as "burn out". Let me try to explain:

Waaaaaaay back in 1964, when I first got "into the business" (long before I even KNEW there was a "business"), music was just entering an exciting time. Rock and Roll had just begun to rear its ugly head. There were (of course) The Beatles, The Animals, The Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann. In other words - "The British Invasion", as it has become known as. Of course, Elvis was still the Reigning King of popular music. Frank Sinatra was grumbling along with Pat Boone about how the youth of today were all going to Hell due to this raw, naked, pulsing beat. "Race Music" some called it. What later was labeled R&B and Soul Music had just started to infiltrate the pop music charts. For the first time, Black Music was crossing over into mainstream pop, and suddenly America had to acknowledge separate genres of modern popular music.

I was playing drums in "The Vipers", our local R&R band. We were doing hit songs like "Gimme' Some Lovin", "Light My Fire", "Satisfaction", and "Runaway". But we were also doing R&B music like "Treat Her Right", "Midnight Hour", "You Can't Sit Down", and "Turn On Your Lovelight". I think one of the reasons we were so popular was that we played a very wide variety of the popular music of the time. Another reason was that we LOOKED like we were really having a good time. Remember, this was long before a "formula" for rock stardom had been created. We had nothing to prove. We weren't trying to impress any talent scouts in the audience. We didn't really have visions of greatness at the time. We were just entertaining the audience while at the same time entertaining ourselves. When someone screwed up his part we didn't turn around and scowl at the offender. We were having too damn much fun up there on stage. Most of the time we'd just turn and laugh it off and get on with it. Like I said: Nothing to prove.

And while we always wished for a maximum audience, we didn't get our feelings hurt if the house only had 100 people in it. Sure, many times we didn't make much (or ANY) money at a gig, we played like it was for a crowd of 1,000. We were living the life! We'd schlep our gear in our own cars (thank goodness I had a Barracuda…. I could get my entire drum kit in the fold-down back seat area) to some small town 130 miles away and set up in a Dairy Queen and play a four-hour gig for 60 people just for the door. Many times we actually went in the hole, but BOY did we have fun! After a year we started renting dance halls and conference rooms in local motels and promoting ourselves. We didn't have the money to buy radio spots so we would make our own posters and handbills and blitz the town the day before the gig. In those days there was a lot less going on in the world (not to mention Arkansas) - No cable TV. No VCR's. No video games. No satellite dishes. Movie Theaters and Drive-Ins were just about it as far as local entertainment was concerned. So when a band - ANY band - came to town it was "an event". Just about any kid who liked Rock & Roll music would show up. It was a good time to be in a rock and roll band.

Now, flash forward to today. The music business has become just that. The business of making music. As a matter of fact, music is riding in the back seat. Attorneys, managers, attorneys, promoters, more attorneys, and agents are the real "Stars" of today's music scene. Now add the technological advancements of todays' cheap multitrack digital recorders and anyone can make a record. Literally. It doesn't matter if they don't have real talent. You can cover that up with arrangement. You can bury bad vocals in processing. You can have your tongue pierced, put on a flannel shirt, and join upwith three other losers and call yourselves a "band". All you really need to suceed is a music attorney who senses your inability to grasp the obvious - like decent contract negotiations, appropriate royalty rates, and creative control - and you're IN! So what if you've signed it all away? You STILL get to tour, make records, and rub elbows with other "stars". You're video will still make Top 10 on MTV (if there's enough T & A in it). There's even MORE drugs available than in the sixties! What more could a rock star ask for?

You may think I am being too harsh on the modern generation of music makers. Perhaps, but I don't think so. Maybe you think I'm just bitter because I didn't make it. Well, actually I DID have a couple of chances at "stardom" but after carefully checking it all out I realized I'd be giving up something very precious in return. My dignity. Creative Control of product. The ability to say "no" if I felt something was amiss. Sorry - see ya! I have no regrets. I KNOW that if I had signed those contracts I would be no different than those who I am bashing here.

No, I prefer to sit here and handle just the creative side of the music business. I once was stupid enough to think I could be personal manager to a band. It was a disaster. Partially because I am a nice guy and had a hard time "pushing" the band and having to make tough (but necessary) decisions for the band. Even decisions the band did not want to make but I knew were necessary. And, I was not a good negotiator with the record industry. I was always the Champion for everything that should be right for the band but could not bring myself to deal with the "other side" on their terms. In other words I was not sneaky and selfish enough. In the end the band broke up. I could not get a record company to sign the band because they needed a better singer than they had, but I could not bring myself to approach that subject with the singer, who just happened to also be the main songwriter for the band. More or less it was a Catch 22. Damned if I did - damned if I didn't. Never again.

For all the same reasons I have chosen NOT to persue a record contract with the release of my own solo CD, "New Tricks From An Old Dog" . It's not that I couldn't handle the pressure of the job. It's just that I'd have to negotiate with the same *ssholes I had to deal with before. The faces and names have changed but the attitude and political posturing is still the same. No - I prefer to place my CD on the Internet and if I sell them one at a time - then so be it! At least I have my dignity and I can say - honestly - "Here. This is my new album. No strings attached. It's JUST the way I want to present it to you. I hope you like it".

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