Touring musicians who live in Music City call it the “Nashville Christmas Present,” that joyful period just before the holidays when artists replace band members for a variety of reasons. I dodged that bullet for 20 years before the headliner I played for decided to take a year off. Well, better to be laid off than tainted as a band member who “didn’t work out.” But I still need to reckon with sudden unemployment, and hopefully salvage a music career for 2014.
I finally realize that playing guitar for a headlining act for so many years has spoiled me. Once you’ve toured at the top, it’s depressing to think about going back to clubs, afternoon slots at festivals, or sad casino gigs. Given my AARP status, it is time to be pragmatic about my place in the music industry. If I want back in the headlining tour game, flexibility is in order. I reach out to my industry contacts.
What eventually occurred is humbling.
I get a text inviting me to audition for a guitar-tech position on Miranda Lambert’s summer tour.
What? An audition? As a tech? Not as a guitar player? Was this music-industry speak for “Hey, cowboy, it’s over. Hang up the hat, box up the boots, and while you’re at it, get rid of those ridiculous leather pants”?
But I need a gig, so I show up at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena—the same place where, a decade ago, my former bosses Brooks & Dunn conducted their production rehearsals. I meet Scotty Fowler—the guy I’m auditioning to replace—who is moving on to tech for Garth Brooks. He tells me that Miranda’s longtime guitarist Scotty Wray has three McPherson acoustic guitars and three Fender Telecasters that need tuning and maintenance for the tour, and that there’s a guitar change for almost every song. Fowler also tells me, “Look, there’s a sh*tload of guitar-tech vets blowing up my phone wanting this gig. Eddie Van Halen’s former guy wants it. So does Eric Clapton’s tech. But there are four guys in our camp vouching for you, and it looks like you can handle it. You’ve got the gig. Don’t disappoint me.”
This moment is a textbook example of the power of relationships. It trumps talent. Even though there were other candidates with more experience specific to guitar maintenance, I had people in the Miranda camp vouching for me. They were confident I’d show up sober, early, and prepared. I’ll say it again: Talent doesn’t mean dick if you don’t have the connections to put yourself in play. So play nice—on and off the stage. As a wise man once said, “The toes you step on today could be connected to the ass you kiss tomorrow.”
Next time: My life as a tech.