It seems hard to believe, especially for me, that I’ve been performing music professionally for more than 30 years. My aspiring amateur status dates back even a few more years. Aside from qualifying me as a geezer, having played music since the 1970s means I’ve seen some major changes in the business, from the lower rungs on the ladder where I reside, all the way to the top, or what’s left of it.
When I started out, this rock music thing was still quite a youngster. Rock-and-roll is officially just six years older than I am, and I can still vividly remember the sounds of the 1960s that came through my little Sony transistor radio. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, the Stones, and the Doors—much to my parents’ chagrin—were the soundtrack of the life of an overprotected young boy who wanted to go surfing and skateboarding like the older kids were doing in Cocoa Beach in the mid-to-late 1960s.
As the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, we left Florida for South Carolina, and the music started to change. The radio stations in upstate South Carolina weren’t playing the stuff I really wanted to hear (like Dylan or Pink Floyd), but dadgum, there shore was a lotta Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker Band. Yee haw. While I have a deeper appreciation for their music today, I just wasn’t into the redneck rock thing. As I picked up the guitar for the first time, I gravitated toward the singer-songwriter element that was taking off in a big way: James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, Jim Croce, and all the Dylan I didn’t already know. I bought Joni Mitchell albums but I could never get the hang of her guitar style (it wasn’t until much later that I found out she had different tunings for practically every song she wrote).
Getting my first electric guitar turned me onto the world of Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and (later) Mark Knopfler. I loved the Fender Stratocaster, but all I could afford was a second-hand Fender Mustang (a way cool pre-CBS 1965 Fender Mustang). Plugged into a couple of pedals and an inexpensive amp, I learned my blues scales and started playing bad lead. (I got better.)
I spend all this time in the Wayback Machine to illustrate how different it is to be a musician today. Back then, an aspiring musician practiced until they got good enough to play and sing in front of other people, maybe found some other musicians to play with, started getting some gigs, then started working steadily, building a following, and (perhaps, with a lot of luck) getting the attention of someone at a record label or management firm. (Yeah, I’ve got a couple of “almosts” in my closet.)
It’s much harder today. First of all, aspiring musicians have to wade through so much non-musical crap on the radio (back then, we only had disco or “beautiful music”) in order to find something inspiring (or find it on iTunes). Then, once they get good enough to perform, they have to look good. Then, they have to try and find gigs (not as many as there used to be, especially the paying ones). Let’s not forget putting together some sort of recording rig and putting out a CD (the Big Three record labels aren’t doing so much of that since the industry has gone into a tailspin). Then there’s the endless promotional stuff—website, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, mass e-mails to a (hopefully) growing list of fans, street teams, and touring on convenience store cuisine and peanut butter sandwiches.
Or, for geezers like myself, nothing beats some great local venues that still book live music, and having a great band that really rocks. When I’m not playing, I’ll be updating the website, sending e-mails, and getting ready for the CD release party for the new John Bartus CD (early 2014). In the meantime… keep on rockin’!