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Lessons Learned: Good Out of Bad

Sometimes a gig, be it at a day job or in a musical situation, just isn’t a good fit. It could be an issue with clashing personality types, a lack of enough education or training to adequately perform the job, or any number of intangibles that come into play when people get together to work. Sometimes, you can make the decision to leave that situation.

And sometimes, the decision is made for you.

A little over twenty years ago, I moved to North Carolina, and a phenomenal bassist/dear friend had lined up a two-night gig for me the first weekend I was down there. I would be subbing in a Blues guitar trio (the guitarist/bandleader shall remain nameless), and I was able to get some tapes of the material in advance. I felt fairly well-prepared for the gig. Friday night we started playing, and after the very first tune, the bandleader turned around to me and said, quite annoyed, “Y’all are playin’ too much and you’re playin’ too loud. This here’s the blues.” I was a little taken aback, as his volume was pretty loud right from the start, and I didn’t think I was playing much more than the guy on the demo tape, but from that point I tried to keep it down, and play a little less.

It didn’t help. In fact, NOTHING helped. No matter what I did, this guy wasn’t happy with me, and as the night went on, he played louder and louder, and pushed the boundaries of unprofessional, inappropriate on-stage antics. My friend was getting more and more disgusted with those antics as the night went on. I got nothing but negative vibes and frowns from the bandleader, and I wasn’t looking forward to the next night.

At the end of the night, as I was tearing down, he handed me my pay, and said, “Hey, man, I’m not going to be able to use you tomorrow night.” I suppressed my smile of relief, nodded, and said “Ok.”

Years after the event, I was able to come to some kind of understanding about the whole situation. Yes, the guitarist/bandleader acted inappropriately, unprofessionally, and in an abusive manner, and I was dumbfounded by it for years.

But what triggered him? I’m convinced that it was this: he was a gritty, down-home, unschooled, truly blues-y musician, with all the slop and dirt (and I don’t say that negatively) that goes with the traditional genre. To him, I must have played drums like an educated city boy who just didn't understand the Blues. And he wasn’t wrong. His treatment of me certainly was, but I can now better understand where he was coming from.

So, although it took some years, I learned a valuable lesson from the experience, and gained some insight from it. Getting fired isn’t fun, and it can hurt. But when it happens, we need to take a good, objective look at what happened (and look in the mirror!), try to learn as much as we can from it, and apply what we’ve learned as our lives go on.

Maybe you’ve got your own tale to tell about this. When thinking about it, keep these things in mind:

  1. Not every gig is right for every person

  2. We ALL get let go from a gig sometimes

  3. Be sure to learn from your experience, and apply those lessons in the future

Sometimes the lesson is as simple as: “Don’t take it personally.” Sometimes, it’s “Avoid this kind of situation in the future.”

But always, part of the lesson is “Keep on keepin’ on.”

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