Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Uncle Johnny's Tips for Musicians" (Scene) October 2008

Update: This entry is from my column that originally appeared in the Northern Colorado entertainment magazine The Scene. While I'm not doing this column anymore, I'm still as involved as I can be in the Fort Collins area music scene in general.

This edition’s topic: Uncle Johnny Answers Your Questions
This month I've decided to answer some of the questions sent to my MySpace* account. Thanks especially to Morst and Amy.

Q) What do you eat/drink to stay healthy on the road? A) I drink a lot of water and try to eat well as often as possible. Some of us like to have a cocktail here and there (wow! what a surprise!) and I try to balance out the erratic sleep hours and alcohol with rest, re-hydration and a healthy diet. I'm so thankful for tours where we play college or hippie-centric towns, because the fare tends to be healthier. Unlike those long drives through the Midwest, where sad bands can be seen wolfing down Hostess Cupcakes or Pop Tarts in gas station parking lots. I try to eat my biggest meal of the day a few hours before the show (it's hard to sing with a full stomach) and I eat little or nothing after-show. (This helps me sleep better.)

Q) What music do you listen to on the road? A) Depends on my mood like anybody I guess. Sometimes I can't stand listening to rock music because I play it myself every night. Other days I can't get enough, especially if it's something new that I'm obsessed with. I really like Backyard Tire Fire, Beck and The White Stripes. From the old school I listen to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Pixies, The Smiths, Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones. To relax or escape from a bad day, I listen to Dead Can Dance, Bonnie Prince Billy or Nick Drake.

Q) Do you listen to music when you're trying to get inspired to write music for your next project? What else is inspiring? A) Sometimes, but the new music I come up with almost never ends up sounding like what I've listened to. Sometimes simply listening to any music can get you in the mood to write. I come up with a lot of rough ideas on the road but it's a challenge to finish anything. I need some solitude for that to happen and there is not much solitude there. I often hand whatever guitar riffs I've come up with to my partner in Cracker, David Lowery. He's a great songwriter and a lot more prolific than I am. Peter Buck from R.E.M. once told me that when he tries too hard nothing happens. He gets his best musical ideas just sitting and watching something like a baseball game on television with a guitar in is hands not really paying that much attention. Strangely, I often come up with music when I have a fever. The fall is good, so I'm glad Cracker is recording this fall and winter. The Canadian Geese that start flying overhead here in the Colorado fall never fail to give me a strange creative melancholy. I like their cacophonous honking. It's musical chaos, but in a good way. If I had to translate this into advice, I'd say don't bother with what works for others. If inspiration strikes, make the time somehow.

Q) So, is the whole "groupie" thing a reality, and if so, how do you react to it? A) Every band has their stories.... I myself happily take pictures and flirt a little with "friendly" fans. The aggressive, really drunk or scary types, we generally let the club deal with. For those who don't take the "Thank you, but I'm happily married" hint, I have a few stock responses. I reach for my cell phone and ask them, "Let's call my wife. Maybe it will be OK with her?" Or I ask if they would like to help move some amps please, or perhaps do my laundry. No takers yet….

Q) What are the best and worst things about playing in a band? A) To me one of the worst things is the physical toll the traveling takes. Being away from family and friends can be a disorienting, difficult and lonely experience. Living out of a suitcase is something I've been doing for most of my adult life, but it still sucks sometimes. For me the best aspects are playing shows, knowing you are a part of people's lives. I love meeting new people every day. Another great thing is waking up in that hotel room somewhere and remembering that I make music for a living. When things get rough I silently remind myself that I don't have to do this. I GET to do this.

Uncle Johnny, over and out.

Johnny Hickman is the co founder and lead guitarist for the band Cracker. Info at,
*Update: FYI, I really don't check my MySpace anymore.