Finding your level part II

Fast forward to the late 1990’s.  I got the music bug pretty bad and had always wanted to become a really good guitar player, but alas I got married young and had a family and responsibilities therein.  But now my kids were old enough to entertain themselves for the most part and apart from a taxi-ride now and then, they were getting pretty self-sufficient so I picked up the guitar and started taking lessons.

As someone who grew up trying to learn the guitar and appreciating that it’s a real challenge, I used to drool at the guys who could shred the neck.  As luck would have it, one such individual, Erick Hailstone was playing in a band in my own home town.  Erick is not your average shredder.  He’s could share the stage with the top names in the business, he’s that good.  He is the most well-rounded, knowledgable, gifted guitar player I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  He’s got an endless library of Jazz Standards that he can seemingly pull out of nowhere any time he wants.  If he happens to be playing with a rock band, he will absolutely blow you away with speed and tastiness of his licks.  There isn’t anything the guy cannot do as far as I know.

Watching Erick and his band at the Sweetbrier in Tualatin just made my music bug grow more intensely.  I was obsessed with learning as much as I could and getting good enough to play in a band myself.  I figured it might take 5 years or so, but I had time now and it was a priority, so I was going to do it.

A couple of years went by and I was invited to play with the company band at Xerox, “ZeeRocks”.  I didn’t think I was quite ready yet for this, but I couldn’t pass up the offer.  It turned out to be a pretty fun group to play with and a great learning experience for me.  An off-shoot of ZeeRocks was a trio we formed called The SoundWaves Band.  To start with it was Dan Brantley and myself and we featured his daughter Rena on vocals.  Rena has an awesome powerful voice and I enjoyed that band immensely.  We worked our way up from the Farmer’s Markets to the next level so-to-speak where we got to play in a Restaurant BBQ on a golf course.  Great setting.

But all the while, I’m reminded of “leveling” and playing “at my level” and no higher.  The worst thing, I reckoned, was to get up on stage where the expectations on the guitar player are high, and suck.  I knew enough about the limits of my abilities to not try it.

The SoundWaves started playing local Farmer’s Markets and those were a ton of fun.  Before the very first one, I went out to the market the weekend prior to when we were scheduled to play and “scoped the competition” some.  It was a guy playing his guitar underneath a tree, solo.  I figured we might come in with our powerful female vocalist, a keyboard player and electric guitar and rock this house, baby.  We did.  They invited us back for several more gigs.  For their $50 budget — for the band, they weren’t used to getting a vocalist like Rena to come in and blow them away.  We were actually playing “below” our level a bit, but I was enjoying every minute of it.

Several years later, Dan and Rena had to exit The SoundWaves and I tried to keep the band going with new members so that I wouldn’t lose the momentum and the gigs we had acquired.  I happened across some awesome female vocalists in Tiffany Carlson and Melanie Rae and convinced them to give this thing a go.  I also borrowed the drummer and bass player from a local band called Seymour, and we had a 5 piece that did both covers and originals and we were having a pretty good time of it.  The wheels sort of fell off after we got all primed for a series of gigs that got cut back to one gig — argggh!  But I always felt we weren’t stretching our “level” too much.  The key for me was hooking up with great singers and other musicians so that very little of the whole thing depended on just me.  I just had to nail down the rhythm guitar, play a few leads and try not to screw up the background vocals.

After The SoundWaves experience was over, Tiffany had connections with a local restaurant in Tualatin called Haydens and was asked to play.  She asked me if I wanted to join her and Melanie for a gig there.  I declined.  To appreciate why I declined, you’d have to have experienced what goes on at Haydens on a typical weekend.  There’s a duo that plays there – Tim Ellis and Jim Walker.  Ellis’ guitar playing is on par with Erick Hailstone’s.  There isn’t much Tim can’t do.  He can shred.  His timing is always perfect and he rarely makes a mistake.  His library of tunes is endless.  Pair that up with a top notch singer like Jim Walker and you’ve got entertainment.

Consequently, the expectations on the guitar player at Haydens are sky-high.  If some locals came to see live music on a weekend expecting to see Tim Ellis and all of a sudden it was Bill Toner, wow, would they be disappointed.  I just couldn’t do it, much as I liked the idea of playing more gigs with Tiffany and Melanie.  Instead I referred them to a friend of mine, Gary Lapado, who is quite the shredder on the guitar himself.  Gary is more the right “level” for that venue, not me.  They took me up on that suggestion, used Gary, and did great.  I even went down to see them myself, ever-conscious of that little league experience and playing up a level before I was ready.

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