My first encounter with Stu will stick with me for a long time. It was one of those spur-of-the-moment kind of things that could easily inspire a scene in a future sequel of The Hangover. Stu won me over that night.
Ali and I were at Musicmesse, the mega music convention in Frankfurt, looking for European partners and artists. The show was closing and we just happened to bump into Stu as everyone was headed to dinner. He and a bud were headed to a local joint, off the beaten track, that served big mugs of German draft beer and delicious pig-knuckles. They invited us to join and while I had trouble connecting the word “delicious” to “pig knuckles” we tagged along.
Sure enough the beer was magical and the mugs were massive (they are very serious about their beer there in Germany). Somehow, countless shots of vodka worked their way into the equation. And yes, Stu and I went with the pig knuckle deluxe special. The others, not so courageous.
I’m not a big drinker and so things went a bit foggy for me after the third round of beverages (see movie for precise details of the night’s adventure). I do remember the tavern’s proprietor goofing with us and thoroughly enjoying our broken-German (he finally let on that he spoke English better than any of us). I remember scarfing down those pig knuckles with Stu (indeed delicious!). I remember the best Crepes Suzette I’ve ever tasted (isn’t that French?). Most of all,
I remember Stu cracking us all up so many times that my jaws hurt for the rest of the week.
I don’t exactly remember when I asked Stu to work with us, but I must have at some point during the night, and he must have said yes because we’ve done five projects together since and currently working on number six.
Over the following years, I was repeatedly impressed by his musicianship and musical intellect. When performing as a sideman, he performs the role impeccably. And when it’s his album or tour, he’s as generous and dynamic a bandleader as they come. I was also impressed by how well-read, educated and articulate he is — whatever the subject, Stu can chime in with the best of them.
He’s also one of the hardest working musicians in the biz today. Stu’s either traveling the seven continents as a performer and educator extraordinaire, or he’s in the studio tracking a new project. No moss grows anywhere near the House of Hamm.
Given his vast experience as a pro musician, I asked Stu to write up and share with Riff readers what he thought were the 7 Deadly Sins of Pro Musicians. He happily complied with the sidebar article you see herein. Incidentally, Stu drafted the article on the plane from LA to a gig in Mexico City and then finished the piece on tour through Chile, after which he returned to LA to start work on the next album.
Where in the world will Stu be next? Wherever it is, I hope you too get a chance to share a beer and plate of pig knuckles with him. Stay away from the vodka though…
If you ever get to a place musically where you think that you have nothing left to work on musically and have your instrument mastered, it’s time to look for work elsewhere! Being a musician should be a continuing journey to improve and grow, so like a shark you have to keep moving to stay alive. Try playing the same song in a completely different way at least once a week. Swing your Bossa Novas, rock your ballads, try to solo like Hendrix the Cannonball!
#2 – AUDIENCE APATHY
You would be shocked at the number of musicians who I have seen “phone it in” and perform with little or no enthusiasm or respect for the audience. This is totally disrespectful to the people who are putting down their hard earned money so that you can make a living. I have also seen too many musicians adapt an attitude that they are “smarter” than their audience and relish in playing complicated music in casual social settings that does not entertain, but instead alienates the listeners. I’m not saying that you have to play “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” at every gig, but there’s nothing wrong with playing music that the audience can relate to and will enjoy – in fact — that’s the point!
#3 – NEGLIGENCE
Gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’
Amen Bob! The musical and technological landscape is rapidly changing and you must keep up with current trends in social media and marketing if you expect to continue making a living.
#4 – SELF-ABSORPTION
Playing music is being involved in a conversation, and no one wants to have a conversation with someone who monopolizes the conversation and does not listen to others or let them contribute. This
#5 – SHORTSIGHTEDNESS
I am often asked what I regret and what I would change if I could go back in time. My answer is that I wish that I had started doing yoga at a younger age and had become aware of the physical aspects of playing music much sooner. It may seem like a macho thing to do to carry that 8×10 cabinet up the stairs by yourself when you’re 20, but it will come back to bite you in the back when you’re 50, IF you’ve survived all of the other body beat downs that happen to a working musician. Start developing a warm up routine and listen to what your body is telling you and you’ll be able to have a longer pain-free playing career. I recommend The Bassist’s Guide to Injury Management, Prevention and Better Health by Dr. Randall Kertz.
#6 – EGOTISM
It is a sad thing when people confuse their own personal opinions with fact. I know musicians whose egos will not let them listen to what others are playing and adapt and react, and believe me, they are a drag to play with and it is disrespectful to the music and the other musicians. Lighten up. You are not better than anyone else because you have sold millions of records or can solo over “Giant Steps” in any key — we are all fellow travelers on this road and need to help and respect each other!
#7 – DEPENDANCE
I have reached the point in my life where my friends and peers are dropping like flies. Do I really need to list all of the great musicians who’s lives were cut short by drugs and alcohol? What would Jaco and Jimi have accomplished if they had lived longer? It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt and I’m not against mood and mind altering substances by any means, but if it starts to RULE you and RUIN your life (and skills) then get help immediately. As I heard someone once say, “Play you instrument every day. Avoid a serious drug and alcohol problem. Keep your overhead low.”