A few months ago, I got a call from England and was invited to join a band whose first gig before touring Europe was to be a charity event at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I haven’t played in an actual band in quite a few years. (Let’s put it this way, last time I played in a band the phrases “digital modeling” or “digital modeling guitar” were a mere glimmer in the eyes of the creators of that technology. At that time, I was thrilled to have an amp that not only had a master volume but the ground-breaking capability of switching between two channels!)
For years now, my music career has encompassed doing only what I lovingly refer to as playing for “giggles & grins.” This might mean laying down some tracks on a friend’s recording project, sitting in with a local band or spending time messing around with products in the beta-test stage. On the rare occasion, I’ll actually gather a bunch of musician friends, book a gig and play a bar just to blow off some steam and have fun. But whatever the case, I am usually doing “my thing,” using my guitars and amps to get my tone rather than being too concerned with replicating anyone else’s sound. But the enjoyment I get out of playing music comes from doing it with good musicians and having fun.
And this gig could be some serious fun. The musicians being gathered to perform in London included Alan Clarke, Phil Palmer & Chris White and were all – with the exception of drummer Steve Ferrone – official, card-carrying members of a rather large & growing worldwide organization known as the FMO’s – as in “Former Members Of” Dire Straits – musicians who played with the band at some time in that band’s history. The idea was we would do a set of the best known DS material as well as be the “house band” backing up a roster of special guests scheduled to appear. So the gig would require not only re-learning a chunk of DS material but learning a long set of hits & classic songs by other well-known artists. In some ways the gig felt like a very high caliber “cover”band. Because it would require playing tunes from a wider range of styles than just the DS material, as faithfully to the originals as possible. Every last vocal harmony. Every last hi-hat tick. Every multi-tracked guitar part.
Last time I played in a “cover” band was the year after I got out of music school. Most of my career I’ve played in bands that did originals or cover tunes that were highly stylized or re-arranged. I’ve never been a “note-for-note” player – not that I feel it’s below me as a musician – quite the contrary. I’m always amazed at players who can whip off perfect renditions of recorded parts, but it’s not a skill I personally felt compelled to hone. I was always opting to learn the lesson behind what was being played and then try to bring my own slant to the material. But I digress. That’s a discussion for another blog or to have over a bottle of vino or three.
Which brings me to the other reason for being interested in joining the band…
An FMO Gets a JTV
This project was custom made for the James Tyler Variax. I would have been one of three guitar players in the band but my role would be to handle the “color.” This means I’d be the guy who plays all the rhythm, acoustic, alt tunings and various weird shit that lurks in the layered multi-tracks of so many recordings of hit records.
Within the set, I would need to cover an acoustic 12-string part then switch to power chords using a Les Paul® through a super-distorto, compressed Marshall® double-stack Then on the next song I have to whip out a capo’ed acoustic six-string sound. Then there’s a Strat® through a small Fender® for “Sultans” and a Les Paul® through a half-cocked wah pedal jacked into a Marshall® and a single 4×12 for the “Money For Nothing” riff. And that’s just FOUR songs!
So I thought, what better way to demonstrate the James Tyler Variax capabilities than to go through some of these songs and show how I planned to use the JTV-69 along with the new POD® HD500 to program all the sounds I needed. The combination of these two incredible pieces of gear allowed me to move seamlessly and instantly from one sound to the next regardless of different guitars, effects, amps and most incredibly to me: tunings.
Postscript: in the end scheduling conspired against my being able to join my fellow FMO’s on this gig…but you can check them out
and hear them play live from the the Royal Albert Hall, Sunday, May 22nd 7 pm London time.
Next blog: From a whisper to a roar and few stops in between! I’ll talk about getting my sounds together for the live show and how it all went down.