There was a time in my musical career when I’d have proudly stood up on stage and sung my lungs out with my version of Herman’s Hermits version of “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” and then waited for the teen adulation to come pouring up from the crowd at me feet. Of course, I would have been fifteen years old at the time and the song would have been climbing the charts. These days, some forty plus years later, I’d have to be drunk and on one of those jobs where you end up playing to just the bartender and I’d have to be paid a lot of money. Otherwise, ain’t no way I’d make a fool of myself that way.
When I first introduced the idea of using MIDI files to my duo partner, I was met with skepticism and doubt, as well as a degree of disdain. After all, we’d both been professional musicians for more than thirty years by that time. My partner considered using MIDI files as cheating, so to speak. He envisioned us playing along to the MIDI files and getting unbelieving stares from the crowd. He thought surely they’d know something wasn’t right here and that they’d boo us off the stage or at the very least, hold their noses on their way out the door.
I can go back forty years and recall when our four-piece band first recruited a keyboard player. Unlike the rest of us, he was trained and schooled in the fine points of music. That is, he could read it and play it better than any of the rest of us could have ever imagined was possible.
Normally my column is not about promoting any specific instrument or brand name of a product or company. But when it makes what I do easier, I figure I have to pass this information along to the rest of you who may be considering doing a solo MIDI gig. I told you in the past about my Yamaha keyboards and how they made the job easier by being so user friendly that you almost didn’t need the manual to get up and running. I think I have found the ultimate guitar to help my MIDI act run smoother and with less effort.
On December 9, 1980 I woke to the news of John Lennon’s death the night before and immediately turned on the news. All three networks covered the murder of my rock hero and I was devastated. When they interviewed one kid from Wisconsin, his quote was something to the effect, “Music is the soundtrack of our lives.” That got me to thinking about my own life and the soundtrack that would go with it. I’ll start my soundtrack with 1963, since that was the first I’d heard of the new English group, The Beatles.
I heard an oldie on the radio the other day and from the little bit I heard I assumed it was Santana because of the Latin-Rock flavor of the tune. Turns out it was actually a song by a group called Malo and the song was “Suavecito.” I was partially right about who I thought was playing it since Malo featured Carlos Santana’s brother, Jorge. And that got me to thinking about all the other relatives, siblings, brothers, sisters and other family member in the music business.
For the most part, I’d have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my experience of playing live with MIDI files. However, there have been some moments that have tried my patience. Moments that made me wish I was still in a live four-piece band. Moments that made my ears hot and my face flush and my nerves jump. But all in all, I have to say that I wouldn’t and couldn’t go back to a four-piece band after having experienced the freedom of a solo act using MIDI files.
I’ve written several articles about the use of MIDI files to replace several band members who may have grown out of the band thing. I’ve written about duo acts and solo acts filling the voids left by departing members. But I hadn’t even thought about MIDI taking just one member’s place. I did mention in an early column that I’d seen Steppenwolf perform live without a bass player but that I’d later learned that the band had the bass parts sequenced.