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I think I saw some old man and he was real good on the guitar, on the chords, and he didn't sing that good, just play something like that, and I copied some of that and put the words to it. And Blind Blake used to have something kinda in that style. He would play in that style and I thought he was a real good guitar player. Nice chords. Played finger style. - Jesse Babyface Thomas explains how he wrote Blue Goose Blues, interview in Shreveport, La., ca. 1989

Author Topic: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...  (Read 8276 times)

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Offline Mike Brosnan

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To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« 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?

Offline frankie

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #1 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.

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #2 on: November 21, 2009, 06:50:48 PM »
Thanks, Frankie.  My sentiments exactly.

Offline Stuart

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #3 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.

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #4 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!!  

Offline Richard

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #5 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!
(That's enough of that. Ed)

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #6 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

Offline lindy

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #7 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

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #8 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.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #9 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

My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline frankie

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #10 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.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2009, 11:30:48 AM »
S'right!
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline Slack

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #12 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  

Offline Johnm

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #13 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 

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #14 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 

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