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Country Blues => Performance Corner => Topic started by: Mike Brosnan on November 21, 2009, 06:23:25 PM

Title: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on November 21, 2009, 06:23:25 PM
So I've been playin' out off and on for a couple months now.  It's fun and all, but certain aspects make me cringe.  Like every time I have to talk to my band mates about schtickin' it up a lil' more. 
Personally, I just want to play and sing the music that I love.  Mostly in reverence to all the great musicians that we all worship (but it can be nice to get my own ego stroked too...   :P ).
The guys I'm playin' with would apparently love it if I would dress like I just walked out of the 20s, but that just ain't me.  Can't do it.  I can dig seein' other people dressin' up, but I'm feelin' really stubborn about this. 
They've also discussed adding a slide show to our performances.  I have a bunch of old black and white pics stored on my computer that play as a screen saver slide show.  They're talkin' about putting that on a projector to play behind or beside us on stage.  I've been hesitant about this but didn't put my foot down firmly until today.  Someone proposed adding more music history to the slide show while we actually play as silhouettes in the background!!!!  I really can't believe I just had this conversation and I guess I'm partially just venting right now... 
Please don't take anything I've said as a judgment of anyone else.  I do like some bands/performers that ham it up a lil' on stage.  It can be done tastefully if your heart's into it.  Mine just ain't. 
It's times like these when I wonder why I'm playing out at all...
Anyone else have thoughts/experience with this kind o' thing?
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: frankie on November 21, 2009, 06:39:08 PM
I personally don't see the point in dressing up in vintage clothing.  If it turns somebody else's crank, fine.  For me, it turns the whole thing into some kind of vapid performance art - ymmv.  Just because I may be walking backwards into the future doesn't mean I need to feel compelled to turn what I love into some weird caricature or cartoon.

At one time, I felt compulsive about "enlightening" my audience...  history is important, no doubt.  I'd rather play than talk, and sing rather than play.  No need to make a big fuss about the history of the music to get that point across.  I'm singing and playing right now.  If what I do sends somebody on a quest for the roots of the music, that's fantastic.  I play and sing because I love playing and singing.  I don't get a whole lot of time to do it - no sense whatsoever in taking time out from that to conduct an effing history lesson.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on November 21, 2009, 06:50:48 PM
Thanks, Frankie.  My sentiments exactly.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Stuart on November 21, 2009, 08:10:32 PM
Mike: If it ain't you, then don't do it. You'll just end up creating a bad caricature of yourself--and it won't even be of "yourself"--if you catch my drift.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on November 22, 2009, 12:06:27 AM
yeah, for sure, stuart...  i drew the line firmly with the funny hat/vintage clothing stuff.  i'm still iffy about the slide show thing cuz one place was actually really into the idea.  i dunno.  the idea of it makes me feel a little gross, so i think i better not...  an' i sure as frickin' hell ain't gonna be playin' as no silhouette!!  
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Richard on November 22, 2009, 08:52:26 AM
I think you have to be yourself and if dressing up or having a slide show is part of an extrovert you then maybe you might want to do it, otherwise as I say just be yourself.

By the way what is the translation of " schtickin' " for us in the UK!
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on November 22, 2009, 10:03:56 AM
The question has nothing much to do with being an extrovert or an introvert, but has a lot to do with the 1960s conflict between Kingston Trio Wannabes and us traditionalists, between what "Little Sandy Review" editor Jon Pankake referred to as "music as product" versus music as art. If your main interest is to "serve the music" (to use a phrase I got from Suzy Thompson), you're going to present it in a mostly neutral manner. If you're "using the music" rather than serving it, then why not dress up in clown costumes and show irrelevant slides in the background? In fact, maybe hire a stripper to interpret the music. Sex always sells, after all. 

Lyle
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: lindy on November 22, 2009, 10:33:53 AM

I agree with the others, if it don't feel good, don't schtick it, but I can also think of some contexts where you might consider it.

I have a friend who plays mandolin in a 3-piece jug band that plays for tourists at the Capilano Bridge Park up in Vancouver BC. He has to dress up -- in turn-of-the-century Klondike/gold rush clothes, bowler hat and suspenders, which is funny on many levels, but mostly because there's no real connection between the historical scenario and jug band music. He shrugs his shoulders, takes pleasure in getting paid to play jug band songs during the day so he can play country blues and other stuff at night, and likes the fact that maybe a tourist or two will learn about "Stealin'."

If you ever get hooked up with the local Blues in the Schools thing, if Portland has one, the slide show would be perfect, without dressing up the part. But for a coffee house or pub gig, no way.

Lindy
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 10:49:23 AM
It depends on your career goals and needs. If you're not looking to performing as a major source of income, then embrace your integrity mojo to your heart's content. If however you want a viable performing career, then you need to reckon with the reality that almost nobody gives a shit about this music, knows what it is,or is interested in being educated. Back in the '60's ( of blessed memory) a lot of colleges would put on concerts of old blues, and old timey music and it was sort of understood that you were there to learn something about this music which was just being re-discovered at the time as well as be entertained. Now when you get a gig its most often in a bar and you are there as entertainment. Charlie Patton didn't twirl the guitar behind his head while playing because he was intent on preserving the integrity of his art, he did it because it entertained the crowd. As far as I know none of the old guys had contempt for the idea of being entertainers as well as musicians. That doesn't mean you have to wear a stupid hat btw, but I don't know anyone's performance or audience rapport that was injured by some good in-between song patter or joke telling. Slide shows? Light shows? Dancing girls? Dancing Lemurs?  Bring 'em on! If you want to work, set loose your inner hambone or turn that chore over to someone in your band who has an aptitude for it. Just the advice of someone who's watched performers rise and fall for over forty years. Ahemm.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 11:09:30 AM
Cases in point:
Taj Mahal, Major hambone BIG BIG BIG personality and eccentric presentation...Tubas
Ry Cooder, Tubas and Rus Kunkel doing whatever the hell it is he does with percussion, and that sulfurous smell of Hollywood, but has he got the goods? Oh yes.
Leon Redbone, over the top shtickmeister extrordinaire (too much for me even) but can't argue with his Diddy wah diddy.
Ari Eisenger, His new '70's pimp look complete with electric blue fuzzy stetson hat, seemed to catch his fans by surprise but once he got some floppy sleeve interference issues out of the way it seemed to work, except for the Elton John-esque sunglasses. His green felt covered Caddy is a hoot too!  :P

Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: frankie on November 22, 2009, 11:27:35 AM
can't argue about the economic realities of the situation...  one thing is for sure, you probably shouldn't waste too much time navel-gazing about your intentions.  While you're in an existential tailspin, some chump with half the chops and a bowler hat and spats will get the gig.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 11:30:48 AM
S'right!
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Slack on November 22, 2009, 12:35:35 PM
Very funny image of Ari -- however, he Schtik's it up in his own ultra dry humorous way.  You gotta listen close. ;)  Performance is an art unto itself, as they say - and I think you should experiment, maybe do some incremental schtick.  If you look like you're having fun, it will be contagious, the audience will have fun too.  So I wouldn't discount the schtick - it will get you more gigs and make you more memorable.

Of course, this is coming from a guy who plays in an old farts rockabilly band - opportunities for schtick abound, obligatory even.

Now baby is you is
Or baby is you ain't
Gonna give me some
Of that pucker paint

They don't write 'em like they used to.  :P  
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Johnm on November 22, 2009, 12:50:53 PM
It's kind of a complex issue you bring up, Mike.  As far as schtick goes, there's nothing sadder than someone doing it whose heart isn't in it--you come across as an unsuccessful whore (especially to yourself, which is the worst of it).  If you're going to play in front of people for money, though, you probably, at the very least, need to be ready to present a heightened version of yourself, not necessarily an act as such, but a less edited or more extroverted presentation of who you are and why you're doing the music.  I see this as being independent of the historical content issue that frankie and O'Muck alluded to--you don't play "I Will Turn Your Money Green" because Furry Lewis recorded it in the 1920s, you play it because it knocks you out.  If you can communicate what it is that grabs you about what you're doing, (and I'm not talking about grimacing a la B. B. King) that can really be compelling.  It's important to recognize, though, that performance in public is not purely an auditory experience for the audience; there's the visual aspect and making a human connection, which can be every bit as important, or more, than the music by itself.  Good luck with working this issue out to your satisfaction.  Speaking only for myself, I would say it is definitely an area that has never been resolved for me, once and for all, to my own satisfaction.
All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on November 22, 2009, 01:56:36 PM
I absolutely agree that performing in front of a microphone and before people is much more complicated than playing in your living room. You do indeed have to find a way to present the music as well as play it -- i.e., to sell it. And you have to connect with your audience and entertain them. No one wants to watch performers who are studying their shoes while playing. The question becomes how to sell the audience on your music without popularizing it beyond recognition or presenting so many visuals (goofy clothes, slide shows) that the music is lost on the audience.

And it's really sad to hear of musicians selling their souls for the sake of meager pay at an amusement park or a bar where no one listens. The gentleman you meet at the crossroads may teach you to play demonic guitar, but he won't tell you how to make a decent living playing it. That's because even he doesn't know the answer.

And no one makes a decent living playing this music, even if they dress up. By my definition, a decent living includes the ability to afford health care, and it seems like I get invited to a lot of benefit fund raisers to help cover a musician's unexpected medical bills.  And these are superb, talented, hard-working musicians who are on the road most of the time, who are putting in much more effort for less pay than if they were pearl-diving in a restaurant kitchen. Serving The Music requires more stamina than most of us are willing or able to put into it.

Lyle 
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Richard on November 22, 2009, 02:13:55 PM
Quote
The question has nothing much to do with being an extrovert or an introvert, but has a lot to do with the 1960s conflict between Kingston Trio Wannabes and us traditionalists...

I do know a fair number of musicians who are quite extrovert but that was not the question. I fear you have read too much into my post since my point was far more basic in that the performer performs in his own comfort zone, whether or not that calls for getting into character and how far that is taken is a personal choice.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: dj on November 22, 2009, 04:15:25 PM
Hey, brosna, the mention of "clownsuits" earlier brought back a memory from 30 years ago when I was in college and playing baroque and renaissance music in a quartet.  We'd appeared on stage, playing renaissance music in accompaniment to a play set in 16th century England.  A year and a half later, someone hired us to play a series of receptions, and on the first date, when we showed up in suits and dresses, the guy who'd hired us came over and said in anger and disappointment "I thought you'd be wearing your clown suits".  Which taught us two things:  People have long memories, and any shtick you do will follow you.  AND, more important, that guy was buying entertainment, not music.  We were very careful after that to tailor our dress and our repertoire to the occasion, asking the person hiring us if it wasn't readily apparent.   
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 04:55:27 PM
Well holy sackbutt what a tale! I hope that krumhorn got what was coming to him. I bet he paid psaltry wages too. Therbos the neighborhood.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 05:01:41 PM
sorry.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on November 22, 2009, 06:19:07 PM
It is complicated, isn't it?  Lots of good feedback here.  I've been questioning myself a lot more about all this lately.  I'm certainly not trying to build a career with this and I don't think I have the stamina to attempt it...  I will most likely continue to play out for some time and I definitely don't want to become known as "that guy with the slide show". 
I think I want to learn how to use photo shop just so I can bring that mental image of "Big Pimpin' Ari" to life
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Bill Roggensack on November 22, 2009, 08:20:27 PM
Hi Mike:
I'm going to offer my comments from the perspective of an audience member.
First, you've gotta be you - it needs to be apparent that you're sincere about the music you play. If your motive is to play for others, you need to understand that makes you an entertainer, so you have to entertain. If you play for you, that makes you either an artist or self-indulgent, or both. I've seen/heard your fine playing/singing, and I know you're very sincere about your music. To take it out to the world means you will need to address some of the expectations your audience will have - first and foremost, the need to be entertained! Now there are many paths you can follow to achieve that objective. But you sure don't need period clothes to play acoustic blues. You should spend some time figuring out how you want to interact with your audience between selections - talking about a song and what grabs you as JohnM has suggested, or giving a little historical context, or spinning a short anecdote that ties back to the song. Some performers get so good at telling short stories that I can listen to them several times without getting bored or put off. Regardless of what fashion choices you make, remember one thing - people like to see your face.
Second, pay attention to audience reaction and adjust accordingly. In general, I think audiences respond better when they feel they have a rapore with the artist. Some people burn through several songs without so much as a word being spoken. If you were Paul McCartney playing to baby boomer Beatles fans, you might get away with presumed familiarity. But let's face it - PreWar Country Blues isn't exactly mainstream. That doesn't mean you can't grab people's attention, but telling the story behind an unfamiliar song will help people listen more carefully, remember what they've heard, and remember you.
Third, put some thought into your set list so you can build continuity and create opportunities to segue from one song to the next.
Fourth, re: your band mates - tell them to lose the vintage clothing and slide show crap. This is art, after all! You have to maintain your dignity.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 22, 2009, 09:23:17 PM
Quote
This is art, after all! You have to maintain your dignity.

You could perform in a tux like classical musicians do. Oh wait..the classical audience is dying out rapidly and not attracting new recruits. Major record labels are dumping even such high profile performers as YoYo Ma and are threatening to close down their classical divisions altogether. If its a choice of hearing Beethoven's Pastoral with musicians dressed in paisley robes and a light show or not being able to hear it at all, gimmie the light show anyday.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on November 23, 2009, 01:36:11 AM
Quote
This is art, after all! You have to maintain your dignity.

You could perform in a tux like classical musicians do. Oh wait..the classical audience is dying out rapidly and not attracting new recruits. Major record labels are dumping even such high profile performers as YoYo Ma and are threatening to close down their classical divisions altogether. If its a choice of hearing Beethoven's Pastoral with musicians dressed in paisley robes and a light show or not being able to hear it at all, gimmie the light show anyday.

Ha! Well said.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: eagle rockin daddy on November 23, 2009, 10:51:40 AM
this is a great topic, and something I've thought about alot, even though I don't perform frequently.  For me, I try to look at performers who I really like, see how they develop a connection with the audience, and then apply that type of thing to my 'show'.  I think of how Roy Bookbinder does it, he's the best IMHO, compared to say Paul Geremia, who is an amazing player but doesn't always relate to the audience in the same way.  I also think of Bruce 'Utah' Phillips and how he used dress and humor, as well as killer songs to educate his audience.  Copying these experts is impossible of course, and not even desirable, but studying their performance styles helps me figure out what I want to do.

I have thought about buying a cheap black suit, white shirt and skinny black tie like Rev. Davis though......

Mike

Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: CF on November 23, 2009, 11:33:55 AM
For me the issue of dressing up or no is a non-issue if the performer has the chops & the knowledge & feel down. What I'm not digging lately is what I call a 'scenster' type of performer in which the vintage clothing & the gonzo presentation are there to offset a potential mediocrity as a folk musician. Dressing up can really put you in a certain mood too which is very conducive to good music-making & performance. I'm not into 'characters' when they're not even serious (or 'talented' or 'interesting' ) musicians to begin with.   
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Johnm on November 23, 2009, 11:59:42 AM
Hi all,
One other thing that strikes me on this topic is that the impulse to entertain is not a bad thing.  It is a generous impulse to want people to have a good time.  The goal is to come up with a performance style that is entertaining and that feels right for the person doing it.  I'm not a big fan of haughtiness in performers.  It's a bit too much to pay to see someone make music and then be dealt with with thinly veiled contempt.  I've walked out on great musicians whose attitude I felt made any real communication impossible.  I once saw the ancient (at that time) Jazz great Benny Carter, and he was a living object lesson on how to conduct oneself as a performer.  He was always gracious and inclusive with the audience, not underestimating their ability to pick up on things, supportive and visibly interested in what his fellow band members were contributing to the show.  I'm came away feeling, "Wow, if I was in Benny's band I'd move mountains for him.  What a great guy."  His friendliness and respect for everyone he was dealing with was refreshing, and I'm sure everyone who saw that show remembers it and Benny Carter very fondly.  It's something to think about--friendliness goes a long way.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on November 23, 2009, 12:25:35 PM
Two quotes from Johnm (I don't know how to put the quotes in a box like the rest of youse guys):

"It is a generous impulse to want people to have a good time."

"Friendliness goes a long way."

Amen. Back in the 1960s, when rediscovered musicians from the south performed in front of a city audience, they wore the best clothes they had. It was an acknowledgment that their appearance before an audience was an important event.

Most of us revivalists, when we play in public, usually dress in mufti. But the clothes don't matter much if you follow Johnm's principles.

Lyle
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: dj on November 23, 2009, 01:39:06 PM
Quote
the impulse to entertain is not a bad thing

I'd go even further, John, and say "If you don't want to entertain, what the #%*@ are you doing onstage?"  That's not saying that you can't be true to yourself and entertaining at the same time.  But you have to figure out how to connect with your audience and give them something they'll enjoy.    

Lyle, to quote, click the second button from the right in the second gray row above where you're typing your text.  It'll say "Insert Quote" when you hover your mouse over it.  Then paste the quote in between the sets of bracketed statements that appear in the text field.  Click Preview on the buttons below the message area to see if you've got it right.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 23, 2009, 01:48:49 PM
I think we've outlined  usable criteria here. Communication, respect for the audience, engagement, some humor and or history by way of song intros makes the audiences experience better. This assumes of course that the musical pieces are in place. After that, costumes, special effects etc. use 'em if ya wants 'em, if not ...not.
Unless of course we all agree on an appropriate country blues uniform. Hmmm overalls or Armani suits?
We could start the Weenie fashion line along with a Union, the Union of Rural Blues Revivalists or the UORBR. We could really lay down the law to club owners then! >:D
Title: House of O'Muck
Post by: eagle rockin daddy on November 23, 2009, 04:15:19 PM
Quote
We could start the Weenie fashion line along with a Union, the Union of Rural Blues Revivalists or the UORBR.

Some sketches please?

Possible fashion lines:  The Rev:  Black Suit  The Blake:  Tux

My favorite, as a young upstart fashion house:

The Lindley:

http://www.davidlindley.com/cgi-bin/pgallery.cgi?pd=vol3&rf=photos.html&pi=13.jpg (http://www.davidlindley.com/cgi-bin/pgallery.cgi?pd=vol3&rf=photos.html&pi=13.jpg)

We could be a chapter of the IWW. 

Grandiose?  NOT!

Mike
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Bill Roggensack on November 24, 2009, 08:28:55 PM
Mr. Dave as a fashion maven - too funny! But he always looks sharp, and definitely looks like Mr.  Dave. Fortrel is always in style in his world. I've always wondered what he wears when he's not on stage.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Bald Melon Jefferson on November 25, 2009, 08:05:35 AM
Mike, Just pray your band-mates don't see the video Norfolk Slim posted in Unwound Third/Jam Sessions/ "Had to share this."
Then again....


I bow to Sire OMuck's psaltry humour.


"Use a pun heteronym, go to jail."
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: playon on November 27, 2009, 01:02:36 AM
I say don't do anything that you are not personally comfortable with.  Sometimes you can stretch your comfort zone but it still has to be something that you don't feel stupid doing.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 27, 2009, 02:46:55 PM
Quote
still has to be something that you don't feel stupid doing.

Anything worth doing probably has the potential to make you feel stupid.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: blueshome on November 28, 2009, 03:30:24 AM
I'm a latecomer to this thread but I might as well throw in my 2 penn'orth.

In the UK it seems to be obligatory to wear a hat on stage to play blues, nothing else seems to matter - doesn't matter whether you can play - just stand up there with a hat and you are real bluesman!

Surely the important thing when putting yourself in front of an audience is respect, both for them and for the music you are playing.

For the former, I believe it is important to at look smart and look as if you care (a suit even) and treat them as intelligent, dressing like a parody of a sharecropper or a 30's street hustler does nothing but reduce the respect you show for the music (and we may be getting back near to the blacking up argument again).

For the latter, my experience has been that good presentation and performance usually win through, as has been said you don't go out for a history lesson but to enjoy yourself. If I go out to a gig or a concert the last thing I want to hear is someone explaining why they are playing a song and what it means to them, when they first heard it......., it's the music stupid! In between patter is something else if well done it can make the show go with a swing.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Billo on November 29, 2009, 07:29:34 AM


  Well said, Blueshome. I completely agree with every point you made.

  When I was a mere youth, in the late '60's and obsessed with the Blues, I had the good fortune to have a thriving Blues scene across the Bridge, from my home (in San Francisco), in Oakland.

  The Bluesmen were very gracious in taking many of us young White kids under their wing).
  They thought of themselves as professional musicians, first and foremost and as exponents of a specific musical form, second.

  They taught us that you must always present a good appearance and that, costumes of any kind, were strictly for "Cooch Dancers" (i.e. Dancing Girls, that were still popular on the African-American club circuit, who usually earned side money as "ladies of the evening")

   Most of these "old" Bluesmen (who were, in fact, younger than I am now. HA!) had migrated to Oakland, from the South becuase of the job opportunities in the shipyards, during WWII.
  Most of them had actually been sharecroppers.
  The idea of convincing any of them to perform, dressed as a sharecropper, or in any fashion from the '30's, would have been unthinkable. Totally out of the question.

   I think they were correct, that, costumes are best left to the "Cooch Dancers"  ;D
   
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 29, 2009, 03:23:01 PM
Quote
They taught us that you must always present a good appearance and that, costumes of any kind, were strictly for "Cooch Dancers"
Quote
  The idea of convincing any of them to perform, dressed as a sharecropper, or in any fashion from the '30's, would have been unthinkable. Totally out of the question.

Leadbelly & Big Bill Broonzy both appeared in overalls as a costume. Maybe they had less integrity than the guys you knew? Maybe they weren't as good as musicians? Maybe they were forced into it by economic & social circumstances? Or maybe they had some insane idea that they were actually in some branch of show biz and wanted to be successful even if dressing like a hayseed was distasteful and smacked of racism? Had they known that they were the upholders of a sacred tradition, however I'm certain they would have behaved with more decorum.
A classical musician's costume is his tux or her black dress and discreet string of pearls. Does that mean they can't play the shit out of their instruments? Take a look at clips of Horowitz or Rubenstein playing and see if they are devoid of showmanship. What about Professor Longhair or Screamin' Jay Hawkins?
But good..you guys keep doin' just what you're doin'. Bigger audience for me and my dancing dog and pony medicine and light show should I ever decide to start performing again ;D. Meanwhile I bet I'll be hearing plenty of bitching and moaning about the lack of an audience for this music.


Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Stuart on November 29, 2009, 04:09:59 PM
I can't count the number of times that I've gone to see someone play and come away saying to myself, "The music was really great--couldn't have been better--, but I wish they'd have schticked it up more." ;)

But sometimes schticking it up goes a long way to enhancing and contributes to the overall performance or show. However, the devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. The visual associations certainly can enhance the audience's experience of the performance if done the right way--but the catch is figuring out just what is the "right way."
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Billo on November 29, 2009, 06:16:57 PM

  One of the disadvantages of the printed word, in forums such as this, instead of face-to-face conversation is that, when somebody chooses to reply in sarcasm, rather than the topic being discussed, it's difficult to know which of their statements are facetious and which were meant literally.

  Take Mr. O'Muck's posting as a case in point.

  "Leadbelly & Big Bill Broonzy both appeared in overalls as a costume.   Maybe they had less integrity than the guys you knew?"

   Are you suggesting that, because they were famous, that couldn't have been the case
   That the famous have, by definition, have greater integrity than guys whose names you don't know?
   
   Wasn't Leadbelly a Murderer, in and out of prison, for many years, due to repeated violent behavior?

   Not many people would use that guy's "integrity" as the cornerstone of their argument.

     But, because of the overall sarcastic tone of your post, I don't know whether you're serious, or, displaying your wit.

  Oh, and by the way, as regards   "Meanwhile I bet I'll be hearing plenty of bitching and moaning about the lack of an audience for this music." 

    You'll hear no such complaints from me. Bookings and gigs are going great. Thanks for asking, though  :)
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on November 29, 2009, 07:39:33 PM
Leadbelly was vigorously marketed by Lomax, with publicity pictures of him sitting on a bale of cotton in overalls. He also let it be known that this was a dangerous murderer on stage, in order to titillate an audience that probably would not have paid any attention to Leadbelly's music without that shtick.

As I remember, Leadbelly did kill someone, but it was probably manslaughter rather than premeditated murder, the sort of thing that can easily happen if you're leading a sporting life. He was imprisoned twice. The first time, he was paroled or pardoned. The second time, John Lomax sprung (sprang?) him to bring him north to thrill New Yorkers.

My impression in reading about Leadbelly is that he was a man of significant integrity. As a stranger to the North, it's unlikely he would have dressed up in overalls unless Lomax told him to. As to how much integrity Lomax pere and Lomax fils had, that's a more complicated and vexing issue, particularly given their penchant for copyrighting their informants' songs. But that's another topic.

Lyle

Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: dj on November 30, 2009, 02:28:20 AM
Quote
Leadbelly & Big Bill Broonzy both appeared in overalls as a costume. Maybe they had less integrity than the guys you knew?

The late 60s, when Mike was meeting blues musicians in Oakland, was a far different time from the late 40s/early 50s.  I doubt that Leadbelly or Broonzy would have consented to appear in overalls after the civil rights movement had happened.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 30, 2009, 04:01:19 AM
Buddy Guy in overalls.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 30, 2009, 04:12:56 AM
Point being that it really didn't matter much then or now if it was seen as helping the artist sell records and make a living. That's beside the more obvious point that overalls as a way of proclaiming one's agrarian roots might actually be something to be proud of, whether or not that was the intent of the Lomaxs. To the left wing audience that Leadbelly , Broonzy, Sonny & Brownie & Josh White played for, celebrating the proletariat was good business. 
The children of that audience became a large part of the audience for the rediscoveries of the sixties and some of the same values persisted.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Bunker Hill on November 30, 2009, 04:24:55 AM
Leadbelly & Big Bill Broonzy both appeared in overalls as a costume.
BBB wore overalls as part of his job as a janitor (mopper, as he referred to it) at Iowa State University.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on November 30, 2009, 04:35:52 AM
True. A good object lesson I guess, about the vagaries of making a living as a Blues musician schtick or no schtick.
Though I'm guessing that was in the late forties and by the early fifties thanks in large part to his European dates he was again able to support himself by music alone, at least thats my impression. Can't wait to see the bio.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: uncle bud on November 30, 2009, 07:57:00 AM
Probably better to avoid sweeping generalizations about stage dress. Lead Belly certainly was photographed in overalls for publicity shots, and let's not forget performing in prison stripes under Lomax's direction. Indications are that he disliked this (especially the prison stripes, naturally). A cursory flip through Lead Belly: A Life in Pictures shows photo after photo of Lead Belly as a very natty dresser, suit and tie, bow tie, three-piece suit etc.

However, John Jackson can be seen performing in overalls, plaid shirts with bolo ties, suits, dress shirts with suspenders, whatever. He looks great in all and never appears to be playing a hayseed or other role.

While some players may have dressed in suits as a sign of respect for the audience, others may have done it as an indication they could: i.e., "I'm making good money, I'm no country fool" or "I'm cooler than you -- watch out ladies". Let's not forget the preening nature of some people who are drawn to the performing life - present company excepted.  ;D

Seems to me one common element is that performers try somehow to appear different from an audience -- from a subtle touch like a bolo tie to a sharp suit (or overalls) to the full on David Lindley madness or Screamin' Jay Hawkins crazy alluded to in this thread. This is natural and even desirable, IMO, for creating the illusion that is "the show."
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Johnm on November 30, 2009, 08:30:28 AM
Hi all,
I think what we find acceptable with regard to schtick is finally no more explicable or rational than who we like or love in our personal lives and who we can't stand.  For performers we like, we're willing to bend over backwards to justify their every career move, essentially giving them a pass. Performers we don't like get cut no slack at all, no matter how accomplished they may be.  Yet everybody is just trying to get along, regardless of our like/dislike for what they do.  I suppose this doesn't speak to the question of whether or how much to schtick or not, but rather the response to schtick.  If you're lucky, some people will really like what you do, and you can be reasonably certain some people won't like it.  But as a performer, you may end up not having any trustworthy insight as to what produced those different responses.  Most audiences will not willingly submit to post-performance market research.  So you make the choice that suits you the best and live with the results.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 01, 2009, 05:15:04 AM
One word.........  Sampling !  :P
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on December 13, 2009, 12:18:30 AM
Just wanted to check back in with this thread real quick...  First of all, much thanks for all the great replies everyone posted.  I figured this would get a good response, but my expectations were exceeded.
 
So we just played a couple gigs this week... The first one was kinda miserable.  Freezing cold, terrible sound, no one paying attention...  But they wanna hire us to play once a month, so...  I guess we'll be back.  After getting used to playing two hours in exchange for two beers, $25/person plus a meal AND two beers is a major improvement.  (Sad as that may sound.) 

But here's the best part...  My bass player had mentioned the slide show to the guy who booked us and he was all bent outta shape cuz we didn't bring it.  He wanted to hook up the slide show to the TVs all around the room.  We ended up watching cartoons while we played instead.  So... Since this place isn't really a choice venue and since my collection of old black and white photos is actually more relevant to this music than Scooby Doo...  I guess we're actually gonna do the slide show next time!!  After all that fuss!  But it will be just the pics, no freakin' history lesson an' we sure as hell ain't playin' in the dark. 

The second gig we played was a lot more fun (aside from the meager "two beer" compensation).  The sound was great.  Temperature was perfect.  Little kids dancin' all around.  (This adorable ten year old girl who's starting a band of her own kept coming up to the stage to ask questions:  "What do you call this music?  I love it!!"; "Do you have any advice for my guitar player?")  Room full of appreciative listeners.  Sold a couple more CDs and got a generous tip from a guy who said "I kept lookin' around for the second guitar player." 

No way I would even consider doing the slide show at that place.  But I could see a different variety of schtick working there (with the broadest definition of schtick in mind).  It was my harp player's wedding anniversary and he kept begging people to buy CDs so he could afford to take his wife out to dinner (moderately successful...).  And people seemed to get a kick out of our brief banter when he kept calling attention to my mistakes.  I stopped short of telling harmonica jokes, but next time I won't.  (My current favorite: "A true gentleman is someone who CAN play the harmonica, but DOESN'T.")

I've been seriously questioning whether or not I even want to continue playing out with the band (or even solo for that matter).  But I'm starting to make my peace with it. 

I'm still resisting the vintage clothing idea and I don't think I'll bend on that one.  I wear a black T-shirt, blue jeans and dirty brown work boots on stage.  I might buy some new boots eventually, but that's it.  No funny hats (unless I can score one like O'Muck's).  ;)
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 13, 2009, 01:11:05 PM
I'm glad to see that at least Blues musicians wages have resisted inflation since the '60's although I recall all you could drink being the policy in most places.
I'm glad you're going ahead with the slides,except for $25. a head?@#$%*&%$#@!
Here's what you do...go to the pound and ask for the most flatulent stinkin' dog they have, if he pisses and drools all the better. Arrange for him to be tied up close to the club owners olfactory apparatus and tell him that he has to remain there in case you experience a seizure. After you collect your pay, sneak off leaving the unfortunate animal to the tender mercies of the club owner, change your phone number and meet your band on the next sunny day at a well travelled public spot and start to play. I'd be surprised if you didn't clear more than $25 a head. If you don't want to involve a poor dumb dog, and thats understandable, some day old fish discretly wrapped in newspaper and hidden in several locations around the bar would also be a way to go. UNION NOW! Good luck Mike. Maybe you could post your slide show?:D
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on December 13, 2009, 05:29:25 PM
Yeah, it's pretty pathetic, isn't it?  After I threatened to end the band altogether, the bass player offered to give me his share of the dough anytime we play out.  Quite tempting (especially since I'm working at least twice as hard as he is on stage...), but I don't feel right about that.  Yet...

When you factor in the meal and the drinks, I figure I'm getting paid quite a bit more than I make at my day job (night job in my case, I work swing shift...). 

The meager compensation does make a good case for playing solo, but they'd probably pay me $50 instead of $75 if I were on my own.  Good thing I'm not doin' this for the money.

Re: posting the slide show...  That'd be a whole lotta pics.  Not sure how to do it aside from posting them one at a time which would take quite a while.  I've got a random sampling of the pics posted on my facebook.  I'll gladly friend any Weenie that's interested (PM me).  It's just a bunch of stuff I've found on Shorpy.com, Stefan Grossman's Archival photos, and any other cool old pics I've found along the way.  I had some copyright concerns, but my graphic designer bass player assured me that we have no need to worry about that end of things.  Obviously I wouldn't use anything that clearly states: "This pic is the property of...".  And I'll drop an email to Grossman and Shorpy to thank them and let them know what we're planning.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: RevGeo on December 20, 2009, 08:09:38 AM
$12.50 and hour + drinks and food for playing guitar ain't too bad for a part-timer. I've had part-time jobs that didn't pay nearly that well and I was damn glad to have 'em (sorry about the last phrase, my dad came screaming out of my brain..).

Thought I'd dredge this thread back up because I didn't read it when it was new.
I'm one of those 'entertaining is where it's at' types. I have a cool (not 'funny' to me) hat and I wear a suit a lot of the time on stage. It's not a 'vintage' suit. I wouldn't even know where to buy a 'vintage' suit.
Since I wear a hat  all the time anyway, I find nothing unusual about wearing one onstage. I've always enjoyed clothes and dressing up onstage is really fun for me. I've gotten to the age where I can dress eccentrically all the time and not get my ass kicked by rednecks.


My wife and I front a band that plays country blues, ragtime, jug band music and traditional New Orleans jazz. Kind of like a mixture of Leon Redbone, Dan Hicks, Jim Kweskin and Maria Mauldar. We do comedy routines as part of the show and that is fun as well.
My wife loves to dress the part of a blues diva and we have fun with it. Our band members really get into it as well and folks seem to enjoy what we do.
Entertainers have traditionally dressed the part for stage work. The only clothes an entertainer can deduct from taxes are those deemed 'unsuitable for everyday wear'. We don't take it that far, but I think of Elvis in gold lame', Elton John (well, maybe not..), Porter Wagner, Dolly Parton, Brian Setzer, John Lee Hooker, Liberace (definitely not..) The Beatles.. Remember those pants Jimmy Page wore back in the 70s? I wouldn't have been caught dead in those things even back then!
To me this music is fun. I think it was, for the most part, intended to be goodtime dance music. Integrity? Sure. But I think of folks like R.L. Burnside, Sonny Boy I, and Blind Blake as having fun entertaining the folks but their music was filled with integrity.
When most folks talk about going to a music show they say 'I saw so-and-so the other night..' not 'I heard so-and-so..'
Musical shows have always been heavily into the visual and even more so today.
Dress and act as you choose, just mean what you do. You can't fake that.

Rev George
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on December 20, 2009, 11:29:15 AM
Since the topic has been resurrected ...

A whole lot of years ago, I bought a paperback copy of Joe Klein's biography of Woody Guthrie, but there was a housekeeping frenzy for some reason, and it got put on a bookshelf before I got around to read it. I recently started in on it, and ran across the following account, from p. 221, of a 1940  appearance by the Almanac Singers before the New York Meatcutters' Union annual banquet.  The book quotes Arthur Stern, who was a member of the Almanacs at the time:

"The Almanacs showed up, as usual, in boots and work shirts, studiously sloppy. ... The lights lowered and we started to sing our first number, and somewhere in that first number we heard this crash onstage. It was followed by another crash, and then hot and heavy. They were throwing china off the tables, actually skimming plates at us. They were doing this because we looked like shit and all these people were in evening clothes. ... Working-class people dress up and they don't want their entertainers to look worse than they do during the work week, and we were putting on this big romantic, proletarian affectation. They finally told us to get the hell off and leave. They never even paid us."

Lyle
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on December 20, 2009, 11:41:33 AM
Great story! I've been meaning to read that book. Does he say how he knew it was thier clothes as opposed to say, the music itself, or the political content of the music?
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on December 20, 2009, 12:24:00 PM
No, the book doesn't say how they knew it was because of how they were dressed, and that, admittedly, is of significant relevance to the topic at hand. Still, as I pointed out earlier, the real folk that were revived in the 1960s wore their best clothes when appearing on stage, so I believe that the costumes had some relevance.

Since Woody led a very interesting life, I expected the book to be more of a page-turner than it is. The writing is a little wooden.

Still worth reading, though.

Lyle
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Billo on December 21, 2009, 05:24:03 PM

  Brosna; May I offer a suggestion?

  Find a busy street corner in your town. Start playing. Put a couple of bucks in your guitar case so people get the idea.
  I'd be willing to bet that, in two hours of busking(the same length of time as your "gig") you'll make, close to, or better than, the $25 that you make on your "gig" that has you asking about "schtick", thinking of preparing slide shows, whether or not to keep playing in the band, etc.etc.
  Best of luck  ;D
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on December 21, 2009, 06:33:29 PM
Yeah, I've done the busking thing.  Hit or miss in my limited experience.  And it's a lot more appealing when the weather's good.  Winters in Portland, OR are wet, cold and nine months long.  I have messed up hands from all the repetitive factory and farm work I did before I started playing guitar.  I can't play for long when the temp drops below 60 degrees.  And I have asthma so I can't project my voice very well.  Singing without a mic doesn't go so well for me. 
Thanks for the "suggestion", Mike.  I'll be busking more in about six months.  In the meantime...  I'm not taking these "gigs" too seriously.  It's just something to do for "fun" and for the "experience".  And as the Rev pointed out, this "gig" is actually paying better than my "real" job. 
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Coyote Slim on December 30, 2009, 02:35:28 PM
I just noticed this thread for the first time today.

I've always found it's good to have a style of dress that identifies you in some way -- whether it be loud or subtle is up to your own sense of style.  When I'm in San Jose wearing a western shirt, jeans and cowboy hat it's unusual (but only because I'm not Mexican).  Around Tulare County I just happen to be one of the only young people around.

I would have said "no" to the slide show but it sounds like it worked for you, so what the hell.

<<the meager compensation does make a good case for playing solo, but they'd probably pay me $50 instead of $75 if I were on my own.  Good thing I'm not doin' this for the money.>>

I'd rather have $50 than nothing.

Mike Billo says: <<Find a busy street corner in your town. Start playing. Put a couple of bucks in your guitar case so people get the idea.>>

This can work in the City (San Francisco to the rest of yous) or other towns that have lots of foot traffic.  Also people have to be amenable to the idea of giving money to street performers.  Often people do not get the idea.  There's a lot of people don't want to give money to "beggars".   Good busking spots are very difficult to find.  I've busked in Palo Alto for as long as six hours a day and come up with nothing more than $25.  Sometimes less.


Anyway, back to the schtick topic...

Here's some guys with a schtick:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5fIMDaSP9U
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: jed on January 02, 2010, 12:28:13 AM
Great clip!  I've seen Louis Jordan in a movie or two, but I've never seen him dance - wotta ham!  Of course, Jordan was also a great writer, player and bandleader, who honored his muse and shared his gifts by creating a large pile of great jump blues and swing tunes, many of which have been covered by countless famous and nameless artists.  Also, to my ear, Jordan's solo phrasing and composition were Little Walter's major rhythmic and harmonic influences. 

So music and schtick can coexist, in proportions and hues that are up to you, and they must work for you.  Regarding a few specific issues: 

(Eh) The NoCal Broz cut his teeth on streetcorners, day after day for (what I'm told was) years of busking - at the right time, yes, and schticky as hell, yes - but his persistent playing out and consistent image made him the first - likely still the only - songster earning six figures per annum (even before his multi-cultural days) - and it ain't because of that beatific baritone voice (in truth, it's not his playing either - his success comes from what he does with what he's got);
(Bee) Start swimming.  If your bronchia can handle the chemicals, you'll be able to increase your lung capacity by a third or more;
(See) Voice lessons - yep, those technical exercises - will accelerate your ability to get around a host of common limitations, including but not limited to the fact that projection is mostly muscular (it's not about the air quantity, it's about how to push it); some people are born with relaxed voices; the rest of us have to spend years finding them. 
(Dee) Swim hard - your improved circulation will warm cold limbs - esp. as you ease into Old Bluesman-hood   ;D. 

IMHO, dress any way you want, as long as it's the same way you dressed the last time - and the hat keeps some 40% of your body heat from flying away in the wind of the ventilation system; the hat is also good for passing around in the absence of (or to complement) club-sponsored "compensation." 

One last thing, in the "Ain't he done yet?" category:  Decide who's the boss - you or your audience.  Is it about what you want to say (or to channel), or how you want them to feel?  That can drive your wardrobe choices, as well as your entire approach.  Kristina Olsen said it really well (because she was quoting Gamble Rogers):  "Your owe your audience everything.  Your audience has just given you their most precious gift, the gift of their time, and you owe them everything for that."  Brosna, you already have the "I mean what I sing and play" part down; just decide who else you want to hear these truths, and no one will be able to challenge whatever schtick you paste on. 

Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mr.OMuck on January 02, 2010, 06:40:41 AM
Interesting point regarding the Little Walter connection. Sounds about right. Voice lessons too. There are some people who have naturally pliable, good sounding voices and for the rest there is the opportunity to improve what we've got through the same kind of practice you devote to guitar playing. Why not? Having suffered serious vocal degradation  ;)as I've gotten older, its something I've looked into as a way of getting some usable midrange back. Every professional singer I know has gone to a voice teacher at one time or another. Soon as I can afford it......
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Mike Brosnan on January 29, 2010, 05:11:28 PM
First off... Thanks again for more great feedback y'all.  Plenty to chew on here...
At the risk of highjacking a thread I started... Just wanted to give a quick update on this monthly "gig" I've been referring to.  All went well last month.  Tonight was the night for January.  I was just sitting here practicing the set list, getting excited about bringing the 12 string out for the first time...  Then the bass player calls and tells me the "gig" is canceled.  This place has only been doing live music for a couple months and apparently BMI/ASCAP just now caught up with them.  When they saw the royalty fees they were about to get hit with, they just decided to cancel all live music from now on.  So much for public domain....  Sigh...
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on January 30, 2010, 06:25:44 AM
Sorry to hear that. Tolstoy's opening to "Anna Karenin," where he states that all happy families are more or less alike and all unhappy families are different, he's referring to a similar situation: success in an endeavor requires all kinds of things to be right (including degree of schtick), while failure only needs one little thing to be wrong (the music industry, in this case).

Lyle
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Coyote Slim on January 31, 2010, 07:21:16 PM
First off... Thanks again for more great feedback y'all.  Plenty to chew on here...
At the risk of highjacking a thread I started... Just wanted to give a quick update on this monthly "gig" I've been referring to.  All went well last month.  Tonight was the night for January.  I was just sitting here practicing the set list, getting excited about bringing the 12 string out for the first time...  Then the bass player calls and tells me the "gig" is canceled.  This place has only been doing live music for a couple months and apparently BMI/ASCAP just now caught up with them.  When they saw the royalty fees they were about to get hit with, they just decided to cancel all live music from now on.  So much for public domain....  Sigh...

Oh yeah, those lawyers are really helping musicians out. . .  Makes me glad no one can understand what I'm singing so I can't get sued.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Chun on March 17, 2010, 08:40:38 PM
Just wear a suit and a proper tie.
Purchased at Sears.
Essentially that's what they're wearing in all those old photos. Modern clothes for the time.
That's my opinion and that's what I do.

Otherwise...it gets really kooky. Mine as well black face while your at it if you're going the other route.
Title: Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
Post by: Lyle Lofgren on March 18, 2010, 09:36:19 AM
A few weeks ago, I saw the Carolina Chocolate Drops performing before a full house in an auditorium in Rochester, MN. I got the impression that most in the audience had not heard them before, although they'd spent almost a week giving free performances in libraries and schools around the Southeastern Minnesota area.

They wore street clothes, so costume was not part of the entertainment. They were selling the songs rather than themselves. I thought they'd loosened up some since the last time I saw them (about 2 years ago), which improved their rapport with the audience. Dom Flemons, particularly, has developed some Uncle Dave Macon moves that add liveliness without distracting from the music. He also dances and plays the bones at the same time.

Their program was eclectic, but did not bastardize the styles they were presenting. They were able to entertain and enlighten a general audience without alienating a traditional-music snob like me. Now that's a schtick worth copying.

Lyle
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