If you’ve ever seen the movies 20 Feet From Stardom or Hired Guns, some of what you’re about to read will not sound all that outrageous. However, if you’re not familiar with these two documentaries, then it’s possible you’ll think my veracity is suspect.
A few years back I was doing auditions for bands signed to major labels. There times when they’re about to go on tour and need a musician to replace someone.
There’s a couple of guys in the LA area that are the main sources of getting these auditions out to the musician community. Now quite often it’s the musicians who want to go on these tours that are scrambling to get the auditions by any means they possibly can. That wasn’t my method.
I started getting called up to do these types of auditions. I didn’t know it at the time, but a friend of mine that I had gone to music school with and was now working A&R for a major label told me: “If you’re getting called to do an audition, you are on the A-list.”
Apparently it’s rare for a musician to get the call. Remember, a moment ago I wrote that most guys are calling and scrambling to get these things.
I was driving down Melrose Ave when I got a call to do an audition for an artist. I had heard of him. And I thought, that’s cool, but why would he need a guitar player? He is one, and a damn good one at that. Either way, I was in the middle of a call with another musician friend, a bassist. When I got back on the line with him, I mentioned the audition and he freaked out. He pestered me to find out if they were looking for a bassist too. I told him I’d ask.
I got home that afternoon and a CD was messengered to me. I called to thank the person in charge and put the feeler out for bassist needs. Answer came back they were only looking for guitar players who could play keys or keyboard players who could also play guitar. See it really helps to be a multi-instrumentalist. As you know, I’m primarily a guitarist, but I can play piano too. Which is probably why I got the call.
I had about 48 hours to learn 3 songs and be ready to play them for the audition. Which for most auditions I’ve been called for is 40 more than normal. Those are other stories for other times.
Did my homework, got the songs memorized and went off to the rehearsal spot for the audition. Come to think of it, there were several of these auditions in that exact same room.
When I showed up and was shuffled into the room, there were other people there besides the band. I was quickly introduced then got my guitar out and strapped on. As I was grabbing my cable, the bassist walked over and asked me about an item I had on the headstock called a FatFinger. I explained to him that it was there to help tighten up the low end of the guitar and increase the sustain. He thought it was cool and wanted to get one.
Shortly after he turned away, John walked over and started counting the number of strings on my guitar. He found that I had 7 of them on the guitar that I brought with me. He mused “Seven! We don’t have enough seven string in my band.” Then introduced himself. Yes, that is how I met John Mayer.
We all hopped on stage, plugged in and proceeded to play thru the songs as he called them. I had an immense feeling of satisfaction while playing with him and his band. I was smiling and having a good time. I know that I nailed that audition. Everyone seemed quite pleased. But the best part about it was – I didn’t dwarf him.
See most artists that I had auditioned for were actually not very tall. So at 6’4″ it’s often the height difference that can be the reason for not getting a gig. However, John and I – same height. Whew.
I was told they’d get back to me.
Not long later I did get a call about it. They had gone with a keyboard player who could play guitar, but if he didn’t work out, I needed to be ready. Unfortunately I never got a third call. However, I did enjoy that time and getting to jam with John. He’s a super talented guy and the band he had that day was amazingly solid. Playing in a situation like that is pure joy. The reason? It makes playing easy. When everyone is a monster player, it’s like magic. It’s rare.
The saying says that the man who does what he loves for a living will never work a day in his life. For me I get the joy of creating music as my living. Which is meant to say that I don’t apparently work.
If I were to tell other musicians that I’ve played with or produced, that I don’t work, they’d call bullshit. More often than not the most common phrase I hear is that I work super hard and I expect the same from them.
Wasn’t Always Pop
I wasn’t always into pop music. Before I became a musician I actually avoided pop music like the plague. There was a terrible belief that it lacked authenticity and real talent. Both concepts couldn’t be further from the truth.
I can’t give you the exact date when I dropped that bullshit theory into the trash. However I can say it didn’t happen overnight. It took months. Possibly even a year or two.
The first song the really started going into a more pop route would be Falling In. One of the more popular songs from my release Practical Insanity. Though it’s not a pop song in the traditional sense. Not buried in synth sounds, which is a common falsehood.
There’s a simplicity to the underlying music that took me a long time to make sound super fluid. I have posted about the impetus behind how I created the song, but the hard part was making it sound fluid and dynamic. That took practice and to sing it at the same time – took even more.
The next song in my catalog that really started me on the path of wanting to sound more accessible and popular was Hero Unexpected. This song went thru over nine re-writes before it settled into the finalized form it got recorded into.
I should specify that it was not the chorus that got that many re-writes. No, that pretty much was nailed in the first draft. It was the verses and some of the musical content that got all the tweaks. Got all the parts of the music tracked then worked with my buddy George Leger who played the producer for recording my vocals with me.
Tracking done, I spent a good deal of time working on the mix making sure it was delivering the song in a fashion that powered the song beyond anything I had created prior. Fortunately for me I had also recently befriended Gavin Lurssen who is a major mastering master. We had a good long chat about the goal of the song and its sonic destiny.
The fork in the road was complete. Once I released Hero Unexpected I was fully on the road I never that thought I’d find myself on.
As I continue making all kinds of music, I do find myself doing additional turns in the road but always keep coming back to the pop world as it seems to lack boundaries of what can be done sonically. That lack of boundaries is what allows me that joy to be creating popular sounding music.
To most musicians, being unknown is the kiss of death. Especially if no one beyond your family and a few friends know who you are. To that end, a lot of musicians are constantly working to expand their network and often get a little boost from instrument and gear makers. This is often called getting an endorsement.
I have multiple musician and producer friends who look at me and admire my ability to secure endorsements. It’s all perspective really. I don’t think I do it all that well. But I’m not on the outside looking at me. Part of the reason for that is because of how long it took me to get a particular endorsement from a major guitar maker.
Playing a bunch of shows around the LA area, and getting a little award got me feeling like I was on the right path for a bit more name recognition for my music.
For three years I was attempting to court Taylor Guitars because I really loved their guitars. Each time I was able to talk to them and show them what was going on, I’d get a we’ll get back to you response.
One night I was at a venue in San Diego for a songwriter’s event and performance with a bass playing friend by the name of Seth Horan [he’s one talented motherfucker if you ever look him up].
We happened to see a guy named Steve White who was playing this awesome acoustic blues stuff with a box on the floor for his feet for percussion. In turn, he watched each of us play too.
Steve, Seth and I were sitting next to each other shooting the shit for a while during that event. Somehow the subject of Taylor Guitars came up as Steve had one and Seth and I were interested in them. As it happened Steve was endorsed by Taylor and told us he’d help us out in terms of getting in the door, provided we’d be at NAMM.
A couple of months later NAMM rolled around. As it happened, Steve was performing at the NAMM booth. I showed up to catch the tale end of his performance. As he finished, I walked over to him and he walked right up to me and said it was nice to see me again. At that very moment Taylor’s A&R guy, Bob Borbonus, walked up.
Before things went any further Steve immediately introduced me to Bob. We shook hands and at that moment two other friends of mine that I didn’t know were Taylor Guitar endorsees walked up. Now the 5 of us are all standing around chatting and I’m sorta the odd one out. I did have a press kit to give Bob, but instead he asked if I was performing somewhere during NAMM. I mentioned that I was playing at the Marriott Hotel in the lobby that evening.
Bob said that was the hotel he was staying in and that he’d stop by to check me out. He didn’t want the press kit, he wanted to see me live.
That evening rolls around and I’m about halfway thru my set when I see Bob walk into the area. He stops for about 30 seconds and walks off to the bar around the corner. The song I was playing at the time “Sex (everybody ‘s talkin’ ’bout).” Yes, I very specifically remember that. As in my head I thought, fuck I must sound like shit for him to not stick around. Mind you, I was also playing a borrowed acoustic guitar, not a Taylor.
When my set finished, I walked over to the bar area to try and find him.
I found him and the first thing he says to me is: You need to be playing a Taylor!
We started chatting about life and some music related things. Bob is a really cool guy and he’s really easy to chat with.
While we were chatting the Australian Taylor Guitar rep came up to us [mind you he was pretty toasted and drinking] and says: “Mate! Your fuckin playing is brilliant! But stop playing that shitty guitar and get a Taylor.”
To which Bob interjected: It’s already taken care of.
And just like that, I was inducted into the Taylor family and have been very happy ever since.
Video games are big business. As a kid I was a master of quite a few video games. Then I got into music and never thought of combining my musical skills with the creation of video games. Not until a friend of mine, Robert Navarro, put it in my head that I should find an agent get into it.
Robert was busy courting a major agency that represented more well known video game composers. He finally got someone’s ear and landed a spot with the biggest of the big. Being the super helpful dude that he is, he offered to have me meet an agent that was courting him from a much smaller agency. Her’s.
She wasn’t actively looking beyond Robert, but decided to take a chance on me and took me in. It’s one of those moments in a musician’s career that makes you feel real good. To have someone who’s supposed to actively find you work is a wonderful concept. One that was foreign to me.
One of the first gigs she gets me is as a singer for a video game. Not exactly the composing type thing I was looking for, but the pay was good and it was a moment when I got asked to do it, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
The job entailed singing 7 songs on the soundtrack, several with me as the only vocalist and a few that I was to duet with a female singer. She introduced me to the composer of the songs who sent me the demos which included the melodies and lyrics I needed to learn.
Always do your homework before going into the studio. That’s a lesson I can’t stress enough to green musicians. I’m a master of doing my homework for gigs. The music was fun stuff for the game. The melodies were all within my vocal range, but some of the lyrics were a bit out there in left field. Some didn’t make any sense. The reason? They were translated from Japanese.
The fortunate thing is that the composer Norihiko Hibino was more than happy to have me help give some lyrical help so that it wouldn’t be complete nonsense in English but still remain close to their original Japanese meaning.
I got to the session a few minutes early and they shuffled me into the vocal booth. The plan was to record the four songs that I would sing solo, then duet the other 3 with Aubrey Ashburn when she got there. What transpired was a little different.
Because I had done my homework, I sang all the songs including triple tracking all my vocals in various styles in substantially less time than they had allotted to get it done. So we decided to track all my parts for the duets as well. We got all those done before it was time for Aubrey to be there.
The studio engineer at one point joked and wondered out loud where was I 6 months prior when he was tracking a singer singing soundtrack stuff for a Sylvester Stallone movie. I thought about it for a second mentally going over where the studio was in relation to my house and replied, about a mile that way [as I pointed in the direction of where my house was from his studio].
I didn’t really think much about the game afterwards. I never actually got a chance to play it. There are videos of gameplay online. Which is as close as I’ve gotten to playing it. Though I did get a copy of the soundtrack that still sits in shrink wrap.
Once in a while I get a fan of the game who will reach out to me via email or social media and ask if I’m the guy who sang on the game. There’s a wikipedia page for Go Vacation and my name appears on the page. However, I do not have a wikipedia page so it doesn’t link to me anywhere. [If you’re a wikipedia wiz, you should start a page for me.] 🙃
People will tell me how much they enjoyed the game and/or the music. How it was a major influence on them as a kid, those kinds of things. Hearing stuff like that is super flattering. I didn’t compose the music, but I had a hand in bringing it to life. Knowing that it made people feel good to play it and listen to it is a wonderful vibe.
How did I manage to live with a famous singer in Los Angeles? A question I tend to get when people find out one of my good friends and former roommate is Jeff Scott Soto.
Getting disappointed living in Boulder Colorado after graduating from music school, I was looking around for places to go. Two things happened. First, I was still friends with a musician named Julie whom I met at school and we would chat on occasion about music and life. Second, I got an offer from a guy who had a teaching situation that he was wanting to give up in Los Angeles.
Item two gave me a good reason to get out of Boulder. Another reason of wanting to leave was I was having a difficult time finding players that were into the music I was into and had a strong sense of musicality. I didn’t fit in there. Despite loving the area.
Back to item one. At the same time Julie and her boyfriend were living in Florida and wanting to move to LA. I had briefly met her boyfriend the winter before at NAMM and again a few months later in New York. Anyway, he was from LA and she knew the area fairly well.
The plan was for me to meet up with Julie in LA to have help looking for a place to live. Timing wise, she flew out and I drove down. For several days we’d go tooling around the Burbank & San Fernando Valley area looking at various apartments. Mainly for her and Jeff, and by proxy, I might get lucky and get an apartment in the same building to have a couple of friends nearby.
There was one moment of frustration when we were driving south on Laurel Canyon. We were coming up on an apartment complex she wanted to check out, but traffic was rough and she got a tad demanding. I ended up turning too sharp to get into a parking spot and popped my front passenger tire on the curb. FUCK!
There’s a whole story behind the adventure of getting the tired replaced. Maybe it will appear in a book about my life.
The apartment complex where I popped my tire ended up being a bust as well.
A day later Julie finds a condo in Burbank. We go check it out. She totally digs it, but the price was beyond what her and Jeff could afford. Jeff at the time was in a u-haul driving across the US with their belongings and was going completely on her word about the place.
She’s so enamored with the condo that talk comes up of asking me to be a roommate. I liked the location and the condo as well. I decided I’d be willing to split the rent 3 ways and live with them. Jeff arrived a day or two later. We signed the lease and moved into the condo overlooking Burbank and the entire valley.
It was weird being the youngest tenants in what seemed like a retirement neighborhood. It was quiet, it was safe, and we all got along.
That’s how I ended up being roommates with Jeff. The rest as the saying goes, is history.