Sunday, February 21, 2016


I am a summertime busker – I am a wintertime gigger.  My gigs are usually bar gigs.  When I busk I rarely sing; when I do gigs I always sing.  Here is what I know about singing on the stage at a bar gig: For singers, it’s difficult to remember all the lyrics to every song unless the singer is constantly singing these songs.  I don’t do enough gigs to be constantly singing all my songs.  If ROGER DALTREY and PETE TOWNSHEND, LEON RUSSELL and LUCINDA WILLIAMS, BOZ SCAGGS and BEV ZIZZY can take a stand on the stage, then so can I!

For every stage performance I sing only my original songs (though sometimes tossing in an obscure cover on the playlist – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere in the style of GLEN HANSARD and MIC CHRISTOPHER when they were busking in Liverpool.  GOOGLE it). Even though I write ‘em, I don’t always remember ‘em.  Because this is my situation with my own songs, I always keep a music stand beside me on the stage.

Memorization is not my goal – Doing a good gig is my goal.

Isn’t it most important that I do my best?  And if that means setting up a music stand to conquer any angst, then so be it.

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Leon Russell and Lucinda Williams, Boz Scaggs and Bev Zizzy, all perform with music stands in plain sight on the stage.  Other performers such as Axl Rose, Ozzy Osbourne, and Bob Dylan use video monitors running their lyrics set at the foot of the stage.
These professionals know that having a stand in hand is better than singing the wrong lyrics!

Poets recite their material use a lectern; authors giving public readings never memorize. Philharmonic singers, symphony players and jazz musicians always use music stands.  Even  professional rockers use either tele-prompters or … music stands.
(Sitting always in the upper deck at the Casino Regina Show Lounge, I’ve seen numerous performers with big cheat sheets placed strategically on the deck.  As they tittup across the stage I notice even the top performers glancing down now and then to keep their spot in the song line.)

Does using a music stand affect my audience?
Is the club manager complaining if I take a music stand on the stage?  If not (and it’s never happened), it’s a non-issue.  Are the bottom lines of the band’s success being compromised?
Usually the music stand is there as a refresher just in case of the need for a word or two in a line address to the audience or lyric to a song.

Here’s my zero-sum choice:  Not to take a stand and make the occasional mistake or take a stand and never make a mistake. 

Most band members can perform and radiate themselves, even when burdened with a music stand. Of all the things audience members are going to notice about me as a performer upon a stage, the music stand is the least of my worries.  A liquor-goggled audience is hardly inspectigating such trivia as a music stand placed on a stage.  I mean, really, we rarely start a bar show before 9 o’clock!
Or to put it another way, if having a music stand on stage is the main concern of my audience members, I’ll be very fine, indeed.

Guitar thrumming I can fake; lyrics I cannot.  Methinks it better to check in on a cheat sheet now and then, rather than publicly stumble and mumble through some songs, being disrespectful to the audience members, my band-mates, and myself.

Some general guidelines for those of you relying on a music stand:

  • Bring your stand and only use it if absolutely necessary (a security blanket so to speak).

  • If you use a music stand, do not hide your face behind it like KILROY WAS HERE, simply park it on the side out of your line of vision to the audience in a north/south position, the fat side facing you, the thin side facing the audience.

Having a music stand on stage does not suddenly transmogrify me into a two-bit tin-pot performer.  In all my stage experiences, my band-mates have seemed to tolerate the wifty waddy who relies mainly on beautocracy to win over the babes and bromosexuals in the crowd.



(You, BUSKERS performing on the street, however, don’t ever take a stand,)

Sunday, February 7, 2016


A team is only as strong as the season is long is a phrase I coined immediately after my debut season as a soccer coach.  The team was the Capital Classics, an Under 8 team in the First Division city leagues (an elite team at the time).    

Right after that first season and following my amateur soccer coaching career over the next decade coaching the RTO Crunch (First Division) RTO-X (First Division), and AEK (Men’s Premiere League), my coined a team is only as strong as a season is long became my guiding principle, my epiphany, and my reflections on any teams thereafter, be they sports or vocational or recreational. 

Here is what I know for sure about sports teams.  First, players are concerned about the amount of their playing time, and so are their parents!  For first-time parents and players onto sports teams, playing time is everything.  These players and parents could care less whether the team is performing or over-performing statistically poor or average or sensational.  They (players and parents) are only concerned about playing time.

Once the players have acquired the technical skills to become average or above average players, the parent and player concern shifts to team status, their team as compared to other teams in the league.  Competent and gifted players want to play on winning teams.  It’s that simple.  And usually, if a team is under-performing, the gifted players and their parents attribute the team lack of success to having too many not-so-gifted players (forgetting too soon that most of them were fitting, just a season ago, that same condition of novice).

It is for these two reasons why players leave teams, the first to get more playing time and hoping there is less frustration on another team, and the second to get more status and recognition, perceived by being on a team more worthy of their personal excellence.

For reasons of playing time and status and salary, even super athletes leave their teams.  Hockey superstar, Bobby Hull, left the Chicago Black-hawks for the Winnipeg Jets.  Soccer superstar, David Beckham, left Real Madrid to play for the star studded LA Galaxy.  Players, when given the opportunity, will leave their team for more glory and more money. 

Think about it.  How can an NHL coach who makes between a mere million a year (Dave Cameron) and 6 million smackers a year (Mike Babcock) control the on-ice antics of a star player who makes 16 million a year (Jon Captain Serious Toews and Sid The Kid Crosby)?

Aside from the complex social nuances betwixt coach and player, and player and team-mates, and their ever present worldwide celebrity reputations, the answer is a simple one:  The coach has total control of an athlete’s playing time in every game.  The graven principle to winning sport contests is to always have reason to start strong with the starters, and to save the lead by finishing with the starters.

From the applied and practical literal of my experience with sports teams, I’ll now move to the pragmatic realm of metaphor to my world of work and recreation.  A team is only as strong as the season is long; this applies to bands and to gigs, of course, to busking, and … to all aspects of our social being.  I’ll begin with bands.

I’ve been in lots of bands, my first being Sharie and the Shades, then to The Grand Trunk Troubadours, then to Sea Horse, then to Phantom Tide, then to Black Brook Tides, and now to The Familiar Strangers.

Sharie and the Shades, a sixties cover band, went for about two years, breaking up eventually because the guitarist and bass player and drummer wanted to rise in the Regina music scene.  As far as I know, only two of the original band members of Sharie and the Shades are still active in the musical community, my band mate, Judy (The Grand Trunk Troubadours) and me.  Being a singer in Sharie and the Shades was really cool.  It was my first band experience.  All of us donned shades (sunglasses) and sang sixties British Invasion tunes. (Sharie was the leader and keyboard player of the band.)

The Grand Trunk Troubadours (GTT), a community service cover band, has been doing approximately 40 gigs every year for the last dozen years.  We’ve been on the retirement community and community cause stage for quite some time.  Though sickness and death has taken some of the members, two of the originals (Judy and self) are still performing on a bi-monthly basis.  I love my GTT band-mates!  (The Grand Trunk Troubadours were formed by three of us upon graduation from voice training at the University of Regina Music Conservatory.  The Conservatory is situated on College Avenue, formerly 16th Avenue, formerly the site of the Grand Trunk Railway station.)

Performing for 31 consecutive days and evenings on the mean streets of Victoria, British Columbia, my son, Baron, and I were registered under the name, Sea Horse.  Baron and I still do busk lots, and whenever we have to register, we always still gallop into whatever city on the Sea Horse moniker.  I must confess that summertime buskation in Victoria was the game-changing epiphany for me -- I learned both the glorious romantic and the gritty realities of being a busker!  (Baron and I auditioned under the name, Sea Horse, for busk performing on the Inner Harbor at Victoria.  I thought Sea Horse to be the perfect band name because I fancied myself as a cowboy and we were busking along the sea coast.)

Darren, a guitar luthier and virtuoso, and past work colleague, and I formed a quick band, Phantom Tide, for a one-time bar gig.  Since that time, Darren and I have shared the stage several times, and will do so for many years to come.  Darren is a stage and soul mate (inside joke ... Can atheists be soul mates? ... now an outside joke).  (Another colleague but not a band mate, thought of the name, Phantom Tide.  A thank-you to Greg, for that.)

And then came Mark, and the three of us, Darren, Mark, and I created Black Brook Tides, for yet another bar gig.   Mark and I have performed together many times on the stage, sometimes with Darren and sometimes not (depending on whether we’ve kicked him out of the band – an inside joke ... every time there is a disagreement I, the wannabee manager, kick him out of the band ... now, too, an outside joke).  (I’ve been to Black Brook Beach, the most beautiful beach in my world so far.  Darren is from there!)

Professionally, I’ve three more gigs booked for this year (before busking season).  For all three gigs, first being the Sheldon Kennedy evening of Champions for Mental Health at the Conexus Arts Centre, and the other two at the Bushwakker Brewpub, I plan on playing the title, The Familiar Strangers. Like all the band names previous, I am really adultently (somewhere between adolescent and adult) excited about the new name, knowing full well the ethereal nature of nomenclature and bands.  Band-mates for that evening shall be Cory (bass), Mark (fiddle), and Darren (lead guitar).   

(Jeffery Straker’s band used to be called Jeffery Straker and The Handsome Strangers.  I know Jeffery and I loved that band name, finally asking and getting permission to use.  Go nuts with it, “Jeffery said.  Before re-claiming it I Googled “handsome strangers – band”.  To my dismay, there were too many bands already out there under the Handsome Strangers, including that of Amy Helm, daughter of Levon Helm.  And so I decided on The Familiar Strangers, a phrase used in Psychology to identify people with whom you share common ground at a seemingly prescribed time.  Familiar strangers are  those persons you greet every morning at your bus stop and/or those strangers you see every day in the gym, being just two such examples.)

A season is only as strong as the season is long has other life applications, besides members of sports groups and the bailiwick sense in bands.  I mean really, if the Beatles can't stay together then what are the odds of any band, other than the Rolling Stones, staying together. The divorce rate for couples in the Western world is 50%.  Your colleagues at work will dissipate over a five year course at a rate of 99%.  The odds are 100% that over the next decade all your neighbors will change (all it takes is a move).  A season is only as strong as the season is long applies, too, to familiar strangers, for they will come and go at the cloned residual rate of 100%.

I cite all of the above as my reasons for being a busker.  

In summertime I recuse myself from the complicated stages of band or any other membership ... to be a simple and content independent Americano-sipping, sidewalk guitar-slinger.