Gig Journal #1: Feeling Sorry For Bruce Springsteen

bruce-springsteen

I’ve easily played 2,500-3,500 live gigs over my career, I can’t accurately count.  For a number of years during the mid-to-late 1970s I was living and Boston and played 250-300 gigs a year, all across New England and well beyond.  Those gigs ranged from performances at the Hatch Shell in Boston before 7,000 people to hideous, interminable gigs at total shit-hole bars under bizarre circumstances.  I many times played for a rapt audience of 2,000 people one night and the next night might find myself slogging it out in some bar where people would ask the bartender if I would stop playing so they could watch the TV.  I kept somewhat active Gig Journals during those years, and they record some remarkable experiences.  Many of these journals were written shortly after the gigs; others, years later.  Many of them are, I think, utterly hilarious.  Some are horrifying.  A few might even be called inspiring.  If I can figure out a way of someday turning this into a blog where other musicians can post their own recollections, I’d like to do that.  Some of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard are from fellow musicians.  I wish I could share just a few of the stories sidemen have told me about being on the road with famous musicians, but that would surely lead to multiple lawsuits.  It’s a book no one can ever write, but it’s an amazing one.

I have tons of Gig Journals.  Here’s one of my very favorites.

Union College — October 19, 1974

My band’s Boston agency, Lordly and Dame, booked us a couple of nights in upper state New York, at Union College.  We were booked to play Friday night “unplugged” at the Union College Coffee House, and then the following night we were to play full band in the Union College Chapel, as opening act for an up and coming singer-songwriter named Bruce Springsteen.  He had recorded a couple of albums but I had never heard of him.  He seemed to be more of a local New Jersey phenomenon.

We had a blast on Friday night at the Coffee House gig.  It was really nice and intimate, maybe 100 people there.  We joked with them about how we had just come off several gigs opening up to the Jefferson Airplane offshoot band Hot Tuna, and how during our sets their fanatic fans (more than once) were screaming “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!” 

The next afternoon we did a sound check and then Springsteen’s band came in for theirs.  They seemed kind of disorganized.  All they did was a quick run-through of about one-third of “There Is A Rose In Spanish Harlem” and they split, apparently satisfied.

Not knowing anything at all about them, I thought maybe they were a cover band.  They were traveling in some kind of shitty tour bus.  I wasn’t paying too much attention to them, but it didn’t seem like they were living in the lap of luxury, just like us.

Our opening set that night was really kick-ass, and it was obvious we had a lot of fans in the audience, because more than once we heard friendly voices taunting us with “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!”  After we received our third encore, though, I suddenly worried about the Springsteen guy.  I was hoping he would be able to put on a decent show and win over the room, because at that moment it seemed to be totally ours. 

We off-loaded our gear into our van because we had at least a 6-hour drive ahead of us going back to Boston, which meant we would arrive home around 4 in the morning.  As the other guys were finishing up the load and warming up the van, I slipped back into the Chapel for a moment to check out Springsteen’s scene.  I took a seat at the very back of the Chapel.  It is a beautiful room, I’m guessing 800 seats or so, classic New England elegance.  What I heard blew my mind.  To the best of my recollection, Bruce opened up with a ballad.  I recall at one point he was down on his knees.  Regardless of what he was doing, it was an utterly transformative performance, and he had the whole room in his hand.  So incredibly powerful and human and vulnerable.  An astoundingly happy musical moment for me.  And far as I could tell, our band was immediately forgotten!

I was around Bruce a couple of times after that and I neglected to ever ask him about that gig and about that opening song.  Soon he would become “The Boss” and 10 years later when I had moved to LA and saw him perform at the LA Coliseum, it seemed like all he did was high octane material.  I wish all my friends could have been with me that night in Schenectady all those years ago. 

Good luck to you, Bruce!  Hope your career turned out great!  Feel free to post a Gig Journal here any time you want.  Sorry our keyboardist walked off with your dopp kit!

Postscript:  It tuns out, that concert was legendary to many Springsteen fans.  There are a number of bootlegs available from evening and many testimonials online, none of them mentioning “Tuna.”  For an example, see http://brucespringsteenserenade.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/excerpts-from-glory-days-a-history-of-bruce-springsteen-in-the-capital-region/

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“NO STRAIGHT LINES” Album Release April 14th

No Straight Lines Album Cover (low res) copy

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here.  My sincere apologies!  I actually created a really detailed post a while back with great visuals and links about how many pieces of equipment broke down during the making of “No Straight Lines,” my upcoming album.  But I somehow exited WordPress without saving and you know what happened.  If you see the humor in this you are surely my kind of person.

Regardless, my “long-awaited”new singer-songwriter album NO STRAIGHT LINES is coming out April 14th and now the fun part (for me, at least) starts.  The sharing.

I’ve pasted in below some of the early publicity about the album.  If you are inspired to click on the colored hyperlink above you can hear excerpts of all songs off the album.  For each song you will also find album credits, lyrics and session notes about either the writing or recording of each particular song.  Hope you enjoy!  And if you subscribe to my Mailing List you’ll get updates, bonus tracks and other stuff over time.  Salud!

Bill Gable: A Map of Life with No Straight Lines

Straight lines. They’re a man-made conceit – highways, railroads, the quickest distance between two points. But nature likes to meander, to take a slower course. And No Straight Lines is a path that suits musician and singer-songwriter Bill Gable. His new record is inspired by those destinations never quite reached.

“Every record is a journey,” Gable remarks. “I wanted to carry the listener with me. I often thought of these lines from a poem by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa: ‘To be great, be whole; exclude/Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are/into the smallest thing you do. The whole moon gleams in every pool./It rides so high.’ Through attention to detail in the storytelling and production, in my own small way I tried to do that.”

Gable began writing No Straight Lines in 2004, a year after his second disc, This Perfect Day, was released. Much of it was composed in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, in the hotel rooms where he lived, soaking in the countries, their culture and their music.

That travel resonates through the songs. The lyric of “I Threw Your Heart,” for example, burrows deep into the pained flamenco tradition, while on “I Was Born To Love You” Gable’s voice takes on the cracked patina of a flamenco singer, with cajon and footwork providing the rhythmic base.

“I read a lot of flamenco lyrics, a lot of Lorca, Pessoa and Sufi poets.” Gable recalls. “I let them seep in and this is how they came out. But in everything I tried to include influences from where the songs were composed.”

And that includes America, where the fragments of two songs came together to make “A Million Miles Away,” the easy warmth in Gable’s singing evoking ‘70s era Stevie Wonder. It’s a disc of shades and moods, pop music in the same way that Brazilian MPB is popular music – sophisticated and intelligent, with heart and depth. Its music dives into the soul, rather than gliding over the surface.

But that’s probably no surprise. Raised in the Midwest, Gable is a classically-trained pianist and cellist who played in symphony orchestras growing up before heading out to the West Coast with a literature degree in his pocket. He worked with jazz group the Yellowjackets on many albums, garnering three Grammy nominations, writing a number of compositions for them and other artists ranging from Chicago to the DeBarges.

In spite of that background on piano, the songs for No Straight Lines were all written on guitar.

“It’s more intimate,” Gable says. “It gives a more personal song.”

And the tracks of No Straight Lines are studies in emotion and life. The characters in Gable’s songs are people on the trail of certainty, but rarely finding it. “I realized I’ll be on the very verge of beginning/every second the rest of my life” he sings on the album’s title cut, a summation of the understanding that comes with age.

It’s a document of a journey that can never end, but he has some strong companions along the way. Along with Gable’s own voice, guitar, cello and Portuguese guitarra, Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny Group) and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Bruce Hornsby) play bass, Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones) contributes on piano, and Greg Ellis (Beck, Mickey Hart) adds percussion, along with several other guests, and the Eclipse Quartet delicately grace “Road Of Pain” and “End Of The Day” with strings. Not to mention a special appearance by Motown legend Leon Ware (I Want You) on background vocals.

Gable is a traveler with an open heart and open ears, and he pulls the listener along with him, conjuring up the sights and smells of Fes with the shadings of the oud or the ney flute, the crisp palmas of Granada, or the cumbus and clarinet of Istanbul.

Finding musicians to provide some of the more unusual instruments sometimes proved a challenge, even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles.

“I knew I wanted flamenco footwork on some of the songs,” Gable says, “but there wasn’t anyone here who really knew it. Finally a friend called me up and said ‘There’s this guy called Manuel Gutierrez who’s just arrived from Spain. He’s the real deal.’ The minute he pulled those little wingtip dance shoes out of that bowling bag I knew he was.”

For all the care in the details of the arrangements, Gable acknowledges that No Straight Lines is very lyric-driven, like all my albums.” They’re the picture and the music provides the frame. And powerful pictures they are, too, such as “Like a snake, my heart has split its skin/somewhere far away it blew” (“Came So Close To Loving You”) or “The truth was never true enough/and you were never you enough” (“Sustenance”).

It might have taken 12 years for the words and music to finally surface, but the wait is worthwhile. It’s easy to understand why Steely Dan’s Walter Becker called Bill Gable “a great songwriter [with a] marvelous ability to incorporate exotic musical elements and seemingly disparate influences.” Not going in a straight line makes for a much richer journey.