Wednesday, July 5, 2006 road blog 8

6/20/06 "SITTING IN" Ahhh.... I have been invited to "sit in" tonight with my friends Counting Crows. They are co-headlining a show with The Goo Goo Dolls at the legendary Red Rocks amphitheater on July 5th.

I first met Counting Crows about thirteen years ago when they rolled up in a cluttered, crowded van behind a great club called Ziggy's in Raleigh/Durham North Carolina in the fall of 1993. They were there to begin a run of shows performing as Cracker's opening or "support" band. Our second album "Kerosene Hat" had just been released but had yet to ascend to the level of success it gradually afforded us over the following year. Counting Crows had just finished recording what would become one of the most successful debut albums of the decade "August And Everything After". At that moment though, there back at Ziggy's years ago they were simply our new, relatively unknown opening band. Always keen to meet the people we were to be sharing a stage and traveling with for the next month or so, I went over to say hello. David introduced me to them, having had a small connection with them from the San Francisco area where his former band Camper Van Beethoven were local legends. They seemed eager, excited and friendly enough. When I caught their show for the first time that humid southern evening I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a young band that had refreshingly little in common with the "grunge" sound that was so prevalent, much imitated and overdone at the time. Nothing against the talented originators of that scene, but these guys seemed to draw much more inspiration from The Band or Van Morrison than from Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or Nirvana. Here was this dread-locked young guy with a strong, soulful voice flailing and wailing over a gorgeous, swirly mix of organ, bass, drums and guitars. The songs were steeped in deceptively simple, seductive melodies. The guitars rang more than screamed. The singer emoted and phrased in his own sweetly broken yet powerful kind of way, supported by a band that possessed an intuitive sense of dynamics, seducing the crowd with a quiet, steady hypnotic groove, building to massive mid song crescendos, then ending with a whisper. Over the next few weeks I remember thinking to myself that if there was any justice in this unpredictable, often corrupt business (there rarely is) these guys should succeed. Little did anyone know back then how successful they would become or that that David would co-produce a great album with the band "This Desert Life" years later and that by that time they would be known the world over.

Over the course of a few tours with Cracker, Counting Crows scored big with their first radio hit "Mr Jones" and we began opening shows for them. We were soon fortunate with the success of "Low", followed by "Get Off This" and also moved ahead a square on the big chess board of the music business. This happens a lot in our world. As we soared past bands we previously opened for, so did Counting Crows and so will many more new bands to come. I actually like this aspect of our huge and fractured profession. It is our version of the time worn "be nice to the man in the elevator on the way up for you will most assuredly meet him again on the way back down" adage. In our business it is a constant, clamoring sea of competitive musicians vying for attention. The effect is often dizzying and frustrating but also hopefully gives us all a healthy and humbling diet of pragmatism. It is part of the difficult dance of ego and reality. On the one hand, I've seen unchecked ego destroy potentially great bands barely out of the starting gate. On the other hand, you have to dig your bad self to some degree or you will never succeed in music or for that matter, in any business.

Cracker and Counting Crows, like very few of our contemporaries have managed to slowly garner and be honored with a loyal following of fans all over this and other countries that come to see us live whether or not we have a hit on the radio at the time. Both bands have survived a decade and a half through turbulent ups and downs, band members managers and crew members being replaced or leaving for various reasons, record label turmoil, a business that has undergone tremendous changes, not to mention marriages, divorces, break ups, births and all manner of personal and emotional upheavals. We have all somehow weathered things that would have splintered most bands years ago. When I see my friends Adam, David, Dan, Charlie and Immy I will remember the nights when as a little boy, my now 18 year old son Hans would shake them down for quarters to play foosball or video games in the small clubs we played. They remember the times when Hans would fall asleep, earplugs intact behind dad's amp as Cracker roared mere feet away. I remember putting cardboard pizza boxes along his mattress on the tour bus to keep him from rolling off the high bunk as we flew through the night to the next city. He would sometimes wake before the band and play with his leggos in the back lounge. I remember once waking to him whispering "Hey, Dad...the guy from the magazine is here. I got him some coffee and told him you would be right out". Such is the life of a rock and rollers' kid. Such is my life. I'm not rich but I get by just fine. I suppose I'm kinda famous, but only to the point where I get the occasional "Hey Johnny!" and some friendly conversation from smiling fans while walking through major cities or airports. I have friends all over the world that I adore. I work with a brilliant and prolific song writing partner who also has a mathematics degree (much like Mick Jagger but on a smaller scale) and watches the bottom line so that we can survive as a company in this fiercely competitive business. I'm one of the estimated 20% of North Americans that actually love their job...well, most of the time. Several days in a row of little sleep, early morning radio interviews and on air performances, hauling equiptment at 2 AM and long drives will always suck but at the end of the day I remember that I feed and clothe my kids with rock and roll. Lucky.