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If the blues was whiskey, and trouble was a bottle of gin. I'd buy me a 38 special and that's where trouble would begin - Roosevelt Sykes, Trouble and Whiskey Blues

Author Topic: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...  (Read 8291 times)

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Offline uncle bud

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #45 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."

Offline Johnm

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #46 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

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #47 on: December 01, 2009, 05:15:04 AM »
One word.........  Sampling !  :P
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #48 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).  ;)

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #49 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
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #50 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.

Offline RevGeo

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #51 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
Never stop playing if a fight breaks out, unless you have to shoot somebody....Chuck West

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #52 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

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #53 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?
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #54 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

Offline Mike Billo

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #55 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

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #56 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. 

Offline Coyote Slim

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #57 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:


Puttin' on my Carrhartts, I gotta work out in the field.

Coyote Slim's Youtube Channel

Offline jed

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #58 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. 

ok then:  http://jed.net

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: To Schtick Or Not To Schtick...
« Reply #59 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......
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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

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