[Photo above courtesy of Greg Vorobiov]
Whether you’re looking for a great software engineering job or a cushy job with a law firm, it’s not always easy finding work you love. Good work is hard to find. It’s no different in the musical world. We all know that guitar player who is always looking for a gig, or maybe “almost” getting a great gig, but most of the time “unemployed.” Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum…there’s Shane Theriot.
Granted, Shane has been doing it for awhile. He says “I clearly remember watching a Beatles documentary when I was about 9 years old and that night I asked my parents for a guitar. I was originally a drummer and played trumpet back then, but once I got the guitar it was over. I’ve been pretty serious about it since I was 11 years old.”
But we all know that time alone doesn’t make you great at your craft. Shane put in the time and excelled, graduating from GIT and moving into a teaching position there after none other than Scott Henderson recommended him. After that gig, it was on to playing for 8 years with the Neville Brothers.
He continued to hone his playing as he became proficient in both studio and live settings. Shane says “I’ve always thought that one sharpens the other. To me the studio gigs keep your playing precise and consistent, but the live gigs are what keep your ideas fresh and spontaneous. My favorite players are the guys that can straddle the fence in both worlds.” Shane has been on both sides of that fence. “I recently did a 6-day recording session with Rickie Lee Jones and though they weren’t the easiest sessions I’ve ever done, it’s nice when you work with an artist that has a real vision rather than just going in and banging out as many songs as you can do in 4 hours. She’s a real artist. But I enjoy playing live gigs too. Right now I’m fortunate enough to be in a band with an unbelievable catalog of songs that you don’t get tired of playing each night (with Daryl Hall and John Oates) and that makes it enjoyable.”
Over the years Shane has enjoyed gig after gig that would make most other players envious. I asked him what advice would he give another player looking to score some sweet sideman gigs. “In order to be a good sideman you have to be able to play well, but that’s a given, there are a lot of great players out there nowadays. I would say that attitude is really what separates the guys that get a lot of work from the ones who maybe don’t get a lot of calls. No one wants to be on the road with someone that is a downer all the time. You have to be easy to get along with.
It’s the same in the studio. You have to know when to offer a suggestion, but also when you should keep your mouth shut. Some people just can’t do this and I’ve seen it happen even with great players.”
Any other things you would tell a player to work on? “Work on your sound and tone. Make sure your time is together, that you have a good feel and can play in time and in tune. Try and get the best sounds you can out of what you have and know your gear inside and out. Experiment with different styles and instruments. If you want to tour and go on the road as a sideman, you will be at an advantage if you can sing backup vocals. Take some vocal lessons, they will payoff someday. Learn how to read music or at least basic chord charts.
Be confident and professional. Particularly in ultra-competitive towns like L.A. and N.Y.C. you have to learn to walk into any situation and be ready. And if you have all of that stuff down, which a lot of guys do, then it simply comes down to being in the right place at the right time. Just make yourself available and meet everyone you can.”
One of the coolest gigs a musician could have is being the guitarist and musical director for “Live from Daryl’s House.” With all of the amazing guests they have, it keeps Shane on his toes. “Shooting an episode is anything but laid back for me…haha. It’s a full day of running through tunes with the band and correcting arrangements, keys etc. Once the guest artist shows up though, it’s a lot of fun. Then it gets a bit more laid back. We don’t do each song to death and beat the spontaneity out of it. Daryl likes to keep everything down to 1st or 2nd takes so what you see and hear is pretty much what went down that day, if there is a mistake here and there, so be it.”
All this time touring and gigging as a sideman has led to many epic jams. I asked Shane if there was anyone who he’s played with that makes him really smile. “Oh man there’s lots of players! Scott Henderson from way back, he was super intense especially since I was 20 years old at the time,
but I learned so much from playing with him. Warren DeMartini from Ratt is another. Trading licks with Willie Nelson, that was fun and I was smiling inside. Dweezil Zappa and I finally met last year at a guitar festival that we were both teaching at and we had a good time playing together. Larry Carlton has that tone and command of phrasing that will grab you; it was fun working with him. I love playing with Mike and Leni Stern. They’ve been friends of mine for years. Now that I’m in NYC a lot, I go to their apartment about once a week and we all sit around and just play each other’s tunes. John Scofield has always been one of my favorites too.”
Shane is not only a smokin’ guitarist, but in 2015 he won a Grammy… as a producer for the Jo-El Sonnier record. “We worked really hard on that record and it was nice to be recognized, Jo-El really did deserve it. I get asked now and then to produce records and it’s something that I’ve enjoyed.”
Is there any slowing down for Shane in the future? No, that is not how someone who always has a cool gig rolls. They are in demand and keep busy. Besides working on more “Daryl’s House” shows, Shane has some new music of his own in the works. “I’ve been writing a lot of music for my next record. I think I have some strong tunes and I’m looking forward to getting into the studio with some new musicians and doing some live shows with my own band. That’s really my priority for the rare free moments I have to work on my own music at the moment.”
Trying to find those free moments is tough when you are the guy who always has the great gig. With Shane’s knack for being a great team player, and just a great player, those free moments will most likely always be at a premium.