The State of the Art - Jack
Interview With Lucky Oceans
June edition E-News15/6/2001
What would you say where your earliest musical influences?
A: The earliest sounds that I would have
heard would have been my parents' jazz records - classics from the 20s and 30s by Jelly
Roll Morton, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. I
discovered the blues when I was 12. Two
records provided the starting point for further explorations - a series on the defunct OJL
label called 'Really the Country Blues,' and a 'Best of Muddy Waters' lp which nearly blew
me out of my chair when I discovered it in the Philadelphia Public Library. I saw many
concerts when I was young - the blues revival was in full swing - John Hammond,
Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and many more,
but the concerts which
affected me the most were one by John Coltrane and another by Son House - both of them
musicians who held nothing back in their playing. I
also listened to small bits of country - Doc Watson and plenty of contemporary music -
Dylan, Beatles, Doors, Stones, etc... I
spent a brief period chauffeuring Big Joe Williams around when I was living in Chicago and
working at the Jazz Record Mart.
Q: Why did you choose the pedal steel guitar?
A: The Pedal Steel was
kind of a happy accident. I didn't listen to
any country music when I was growing up, but when Asleep at the Wheel first formed, I had
a 6 string lap steel that Kurt Linhoff, a college buddy from Texas had lent me. I was using it to play blues on, but as Asleep at
the Wheel mutated into a country band, I started learning country licks. Ray Benson who I co-founded the band with,
suggested I become a PEDAL steel guitarist, so we drove from West Virginia, where we were
based, to New York City, where Manny's Music had 40% off everything. I bought a single neck pedal steel from them and
worked out how to play it, mostly in isolation, with a few instructional records and by
How long where you with Asleep At The Wheel?
A: I was with the band from when we
started, in 1969 or 70, until I left at the end of 1978
Q: Why did you choose to settle in Australia?
wife, Christine, who I met in Nashville, is from Australia.
Born in a little mining town called Broad Arrow, she grew up in Perth from the age
of 6. When we had our daughter Leela, I took
some time off the road with the Wheel. That
broke my momentum and I found going back on the bus really hard after that. The band was in a slump and I wanted to do
something new. We took Leela to meet her Grandmother Eileen in Perth and I had a
wonderful type enjoying the sun and surf. I
also enjoyed the more laid back attitude and the humour of the people and we thought it
would be a better place to raise kids, so we settled here.
At the time, I wasn't thinking of it
as a career move - not a very smart one for a western swing steel guitarist, but things
have worked out fine.
Q: You seem prepared to take chances in your playing which often
leads to some very intersting improvisations. How do you describe your approach
A: I like to improvise with a clean slate
every time. Sometimes I paint myself into a
corner, but I love the thrill of not knowing where I'm going. I just try to clear my mind before I start, and do
something new - otherwise it's not improvisation, is it? Sometimes I rely on devices, like
licks, phrases, scales or tricks, but I aim to make
melodic and rhythmic contours that work in that moment. Sometimes it's great to play
within a style, other times it's better to mix up
all the different musical approaches that I love. In
the past few years, I've taken the latter approach, as it's more conducive to building a
Q: How did you become involved with The Planet?
A: I was an admirer of the show, having
enjoyed it frequently coming home from gigs. One
day, the show's presenter, Robyn Johnston, who lived near me in Fremantle, told me they
were looking for a part time programmer. I
knew that I would love to do that - listening to CDs and reading liner notes all day isn't
really like work to me, so I applied for the job. (Only
the second job I'd ever applied for) I got
the position as programmer, then Robyn went on holidays and was looking for a substitute
presenter. I had never broadcast on my own
before, but she told me that it wasn't as hard as playing pedal steel guitar, and besides,
I was a natural. When Robyn returned from
holidays, she went on to found the Sunday morning show, Melisma, so I stayed in the Planet
Q: Have you always had an interest in diverse musical styles?
A: Yes, my record collection betrays
flirtations with African, Latin, Celtic and Indian music, but since joining the Planet, my
interest has expanded greatly.
Q: How would you describe the shows format?
A: Each show centres on a featured disc. It explores this CD and things linked to it, then
it goes into other, often quite different musical areas.
It has a predilection for acoustic music and for things that are genuinely new
sounding and for music with heart and fire. Basically,
this could apply to lots of different styles, but we try to address those ones that aren't
getting a thrashing on other stations. That's
why we don't play much pop or classical. Each
show should have a logic and form of it's own that kind of unfolds as you program it - a
little journey. It's about contrasts and balance - kind of like a good gig or solo. The other important thing to know about the Planet
is that almost all the music is new and very little of it gets played twice. We don't operate from a playlist.
Q: Do you think that The Planet is addressing an area in music
that is largely ingnored by commercial and even community radio?
A: Yes - it's certainly ignored by
commercial radio. There are many fine shows on community radio, but I don't know of one
that daily goes the depth and breadth that we do. More
often , they are specialist shows, which stay in one genre.
The Planet is addressing an area that is probably not addressed so thoroughly by
any other national broadcaster in the world. (I'm
willing to be proved wrong on this, but I haven't heard otherwise)
Q: Would you say that your time at The Planet has given you more
insight into, and more knowledge about music from other cultures than if you had otherwise
never become a presenter on this show?.
A: Definitely. You spend a lot of time listening to music and
after a while you really want to be surprised. You
try to put your prejudices aside and appreciate things for their musical value. It has slanted me to liking things that are new
over things that are great recreations of some musical era of the past. From going to all these different places in the
world (musically) over and over, you really start to get a feel for the music and the
culture that they come from.
Q: What do you think about the current trends in music, the
strong emphasis on production and the future of the industry in general?
A: Before I started at the Planet, I
thought that music was going downhill. What
was probably the case was that I just wasn't listening to music like I used to. Since working here, I've discovered an overflowing
richness of music. There are musicians all over the world, with skills to amaze and move
us. They may not all be commercially
successful in a big way, but they seem to get by.
I can't really comment on
commercial trends, because that isn't what I concentrate on, but I do wish that commercial
radio stations played more contemporary material. As
to production, it's only a means to an end. Some of the best records are just well
recorded live sessions, but an artfully produced session can add back the excitement that
disappears when a live performance becomes a record.
Once the production dominates, I tend to lose interest.
The industry in general is
going through another crucial period, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from
here. The lowered cost of recording and
pressing cds and direct access via the internet has given independent musicians a much
bigger voice in the world. Now piracy
through Napster and other file sharing groups is giving the big end of town its biggest
scare in years, but I'm sure the industry will rise to the challenge. After all, back in the 20s, radio and
its 'free music' was going to spell the end of the record industry. Radio hired live musicians for its
programming until it figured out you could play 78s on the radio too! As long as people keep meeting to play and
enjoy music, I'll be happy.
Northcote - June edition E-News15/6/2001
WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS?
YEARS WHEN YOU GOT A WIFE & KIDS. WHAT ARE YA GONNA DO THEN... PLAY YA GUITAR?
Someone actually asked me this once. At a gig. At the bar.
A very valid question at the time. I was in my early 20's
and working as a salesman and guitar teacher at a suburban music shop. Occasional gigs
with a cover band or at the wedding reception would be a bonus ... if we got paid at all.
The break up of a relationship with the love of my life, Linda, had shattered me but also
made me determined. She honestly believed I would end up being a looser. Another broke
muso struggling to find the next gig.
Hey, I was that already! I lived with my brother and his girlfriend
and he would constantly help me out with rent, cigarettes and food. My best friend and now
a wonderful teacher, Frank Burgo, would pick me up in his car on gig nights, help me load
in HIS amp and HIS guitar and hang around until the gig was over, or go away and come back
when the gig was finished to pick me up. I owe a lot to Frank.
But I wasn't going to let some gorgeous woman
I hadn't even slept with yet (yep
she wanted to remain a virgin till she got
married ... god I must have been in love) win this little tiff. A lovers quarrel.
Then on my 21st birthday she left a note on my pillow saying she couldn't love me anymore.
She married an electrician the following year.
So if you ask me if losing Linda was a motivating force in my
endeavor to succeed in the business of music, I would have to answer YES. (It also helped
my sex life considerably.)
But no matter what emotional motivation you may receive, the
universe will never miss an opportunity to show you how to grow. How was I going to
be in 5 years and would I ever find love? What part would music play in my life? I
didnt really have to think about it much. I just went for it. I loved playing
guitar. I still do. It exhilarates me. But I wanted to be respected, if not by my peers,
at least by my girlfriend!
So how do you do it? Succeed in the music industry?
Its different for everybody. But for me I figured I could make
my one and only asset (guitar) my business and my lifes path. Hell, I loved it. It
was the only thing I could do well. (Although Im sure a few producers around town
would debate that.)
Simple observations of successful people, companies, organizations
will show you what the basics of running a business are.
Be on time. Dress appropriately. Learn all the songs on the tape.
Note for note. And even if you cant play great yet, make sure you sound good. Have good
gear. Be a nice, friendly person to be around. Have a positive enthusiastic attitude. Just
Its interesting in hindsight to see that is still all I
strive for do today.
I played in lots of cover bands in my 20's. I still do them today.
Cover bands are the best training for a session musician. You get to play all styles
especially modern top 40 material. Just whats needed for commercials and albums
today. So, I started working in a band led by Clive Harrison. Bass player wiz who played
on just about every album and jingle in the 80's. Artists from Melanie (USA) to Richard
Clapton to The Little River Band. Clive introduced me to session work. He recommended me
for the gigs ken Francis (fabulous guitarist doing most of the work around town at the
time) couldnt do. It just grew from there. Mostly word of mouth.
Some people say that to be successful you must either perform lewd
sexual favors on your knees, be in the right place at the right time or rip people off
till you have enough to squash everyone in your path. I refuse to believe that these paths
are going to lead to lasting success, in any form. Be it financially, emotionally,
physically, or spiritually.
I chose and continue to choose to give a quality service, and yes it
is a service. Somewhat similar to an electrician. (sic). If I roll up to a gig or a
session late, in my shorts and thongs (so I can get to the beach as soon as Im
finished), with one guitar (week old strings) and an amp that rattles (and only has a 1x12
speaker), then how would I sustain any longetivity in the industry, let alone success in
any area of my life. Id hate my life. Now Im not saying that Ive never
been late, swimming is bad for you, Strats are not versatile and a 12-inch speaker cannot
sound fat. But if I want to be respected and be able to make a good living out of music
(so it can pay for my guitar and gadgets habit) then I had better get my shit together.
Gees I love what I do. I dont ever feel like Ive been
hardly done by. Sure, I sometimes feel like a victim (and an idiot). I mean last month I
left my Maton Messiah in the back of a taxi and havent seen it since. But I know
that Ill just carry on, buy another guitar and continue to love my life and what I'm
doing. The poor barstard that kept the guitar has to live with the fact that he
didnt do the right thing and give it back. He saw it as a good score. And he may
occasionally have good scores. But hell always be looking for the next
few hundred bucks. Most people dont get it. Its not about getting. Its
not even only about giving. They are the same thing. Giving is receiving and visa versa.
If I give you a present we both feel good about it. I appreciate and acknowledge how
fortunate I have been. But I also acknowledge that unless I continue to give a quality
service, I will just fall into the role of a victim whose only saving grace will come when
everyone wakes up to themselves and realizes I deserve better.
I dont ever want to wait for the phone to ring. I dont
want to ever have to do a job because I need the money. I love what I do, I always have.
Thats why all the guys I worked for in my early years at the reception centers kept
calling me back. Thats why the guys I have worked with for 20 years still call me to
work for them, in whatever capacity that may be. Studio, live or as a consultant.
I would go to the Italian weddings early
enough to fit in 30 minutes of practice. People recognize and applaud good service, and
are sick and tired of it being lousy. Have you called any banks or telephone
companys recently? This is, in part, the reason why the live scene is dying.
You see money has nothing to do with it. It has never been about
money for me. I have done and continue to do gigs for nothing just for the opportunity to
play. Im willing to loose 8 hours of sleep just to get a few good moments of
productive, creative music in. Im willing to cart a quad box, an amp, a rack, a
pedalboard and 4 to 10 guitars to every gig. (I see it as exercise) Im willing to
dress in whatever is appropriate for the job and approach the gig with the professionalism
and respect that I would expect if I were the employer. Strangely enough I make a
fantastic living doing what I do. Not because I am a better guitarist than the rest and
not because I suck up to the right people, but simply because I love what Im doing.
The industry in Australia is small, incestuous and has a good
memory. One has to remain diligent, humble and honest to be able to make a good living. We
have to be very careful of what we say, do and think. What needs to follow is a
re-evaluation of our approach to our work/career. We need to establish a more abundant
attitude towards ourselves and others. By that I mean
there IS plenty of work out
there, (and don't be fooled by the general consensus) and plenty to share around - to the
right people. But we have to also change our views on the way we perform our duties, the
way we present ourselves as, not only musicians, but as professionals.
The one saying that sticks in my head whenever Im
working or even if I see someone unhappy in their job is
Love what youre doing until what you love to do comes to you.
What does that mean?
Well if you are in a job you hate, how would you ever expect to
succeed? On the other hand if you were to change your attitude (i.e. leave the small amp
at home and take the big rig to every gig, make sure you are on time, warmed up to play
well, have the songs learnt and prepared for any changes, not complaining about the
quality of the gig, cash on the night, lack of free drinks, and become totally
accommodating to the people around you,) you might just find you gain a reputation as a
consummate professional and may even get more gigs and recommendations for better ones. In
fact I guarantee it.
You are never a victim of your circumstances; you are only ever a
victim of your attitude towards your circumstances. Hell, you might as well love what
youre doing now. Its much less painful. You
never know what opportunities may come your way. So be prepared. So prepared that
youll know what to do when what
you love to do comes to you.
And if anyone asks you at a bar one night ... WHAT ARE YA
GONNA DO IN 5 YEARS?
Just tell em
Ill be playing ma
Jack Pledge. May Edition E-News 15/6/2001
Music Industry Skills.
For most of us this these words have very negative connotations:
boring lectures; stern teachers; irrelevant facts. I mean, who cares when the battle of
Hastings was, or what the molecular weight of Hydrogen is, or how to conjugate Latin
verbs? Isnt that why we got into the music business? Bob Marley, when asked about
his work, is reputed to have once said, "Work, man? I dont work! I
" But whether or not this is true, the fact remains that, like any
successful business person, Bob Marley worked at the business of his profession; otherwise
he would not have been successful! This is a given. Talent is the entrance fee to the
music biz, and judging from some of the successful acts out there making a good living,you
dont need much to get in...
whats the difference between those few who become successful and the vast number of
very talented people destined to languish in the club pokey rooms, hotel lounges and piano
bars that make up Gods waiting rooms? Business sense. Management. Knowledge. In
short, education. The fact is that this country, our glorious Oz, has a tremendous wealth
of talent. It isnt necessary to list the success stories, we all know who they are.
And for the rest, one only has to go out for a weekend pub crawl to discover a half a
dozen really good, creative and talented acts working for peanuts and enduring the slings
and arrows of outrageous fortune not to mention the whirr, click, and insipid music of the
venues poker machines. (Apologies to the Bard.)
has been said more than once in recent times that what the music business in this country
lacks is a pool of competent management to exploit and develop that talent, package it,
and market it to the world. To fill this need any number of programs have been developed
to teach the skills necessary to successfully manage musical talent in Australia.
Unfortunately, many of these programs are expensive: seminars costing upwards of several
hundreds of dollars a day, or private learning institutions with enrolment fees of $1500
or more per semester. So how does a poor boy (or girl) access this knowledge? Well, they
can learn by the school of hard knocks, the same way most of Australias (and the
worlds) music managers have learned their craft; by trial and error. But even this
free (albeit often painful) method can have some major drawbacks. For instance, imagine
sitting in a recording studio without knowing the proper vocabulary and trying to tell
players and engineers what you want! Damn near impossible
one can enrol in the Music Industry Skills course offered by the NSW Institute TAFE. In
their occasionally questionable knowledge and wisdom, the NSW government is now funding a
scheme to teach these business fundamentals to budding young musicians and managers. There
are several Sydney TAFEs offering these courses but the one I wish to talk about is the
Blacktown TAFE in Western Sydney.
Music Industries Skills Courses offered at WSIT Blacktown are part of the Business School
and although there are a number of courses offered covering practical and performance
aspects of the Music Industry, the main emphasis is on the business of music: Marketing
and Promotion, Copyright and Performance Rights, Business structures, Business Plans and
the management of creative projects all taught by Industry professionals with the aim of
showing artists and bands just starting out in the Music Business how to make or save
money in the practice of their careers.
the College held their annual Industry Day, a day of seminars and presentations featuring
professionals from outside the faculty invited in to talk about their areas of expertise.
This year among the guest speakers were Michael Smith, Associate Editor of Sydneys
leading street press Music Paper, The Drum Media; Owen Oford and Katherine Dale (recent
Blacktown TAFE graduate) of the Trading Post [booking] Agency; Dave Dwyer, an industry
all-rounder guitarist, engineer, producer, studio operator and independent record
company owner; Michael Napthall from the Grant Thomas Agency; and a representative from
APRA as well as performers and recording artists The Robertson Brothers, and Dave
McCormack (of Custard and The Titanics).
Smith spoke as a musician who by the twists and turns of a music industry career found
himself first a journalist and then an editor for The Drum Media. He spoke across a wide
variety of subjects related more or less closely to his work at the paper. Among the more
interesting things he said were that the punter has become the event witness the
mosh pit where the band and the music have become secondary to the spectacle of fans
throwing themselves into the throbbing mass below. He gave an interesting and very
informative talk on how to approach trade papers for promotional opportunities, how to
compose a press release, and how to organise material for submission to the publishers.
Oford and Katherine Dale from the Trading Post Agency spoke for a long time on the passion
they have for the work that they do and the music and artists they book, including an
extended question and answer time for students interested in the ins and outs of among the
most maligned of all professions in the industry, that of booking agent.
Dwyer, in my opinion, was the surprise find of the afternoon. Formally with 1927 and
Ian Moss, to name a few, Dave spoke briefly about his career, then at length on the
subject of diversification in the Music Industry; how his work as a tape boy at 301
Studios led to his career as a session guitar player and singer, design consultant to
Roland, and eventually to his current role as Creative Director, in house Producer and
Engineer for his state of the art digital recording studio located in Glenbrook, NSW. I
have noted two of his quotable quotes: Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet
(Henry David Thoreau), and a paraphrase of an old marketing quip: If the people who built
the railroads had realised they were in the transportation business instead of the
railroad buisness, they would own the airlines today, the point being that the most
sucessful people in the Music Business are those who realise that they are not in the
Music Business at all, but rather the Entertainment Industry just like movie makers and
about the courses offered by the Blacktown College of TAFE can be obtained by contacting
the College directly.
All enquiries - Pat Brown 02 9208 1836.
Jack Pledge. May Edition
Diploma Level course in
International Music Management.
Once upon a time, or so goes the faire tale, all you had to
do was to practice hard, play good and make people happy to succeed in the Music Biz. If
you did those things, eventually some enterprising manager or an estute A&R guy would
discover you, take you off to the recording studio with your great new songs, and
PRESTO!, you're a star! Well, perhaps that was once true. There is the legend of
Donovan discovered busking on the street, packed off to the studio and having his big hit
with Catch The Wind on the charts within a few weeks. And there are still occasional
stories of over night sensations; people with simply so much talent that they could not be
ignored. But most people succeeding in the Music Business do so because they treat it as a
business with marketing plans and clever promotional ideas and budgets and cultivated
networks of contacts within the industry. There is no doubt that Australia has a wealth of
(and I hate to use this term) World Class talent, but by the same token we are sadly
lacking enough people with the management and marketing skills to successfully exploit
that talent. To that end the New South Wales TAFE system (in concert with
Ausmusic) has incorporated into the School of Business a curriculum of Music
Industry Skills covering a wide variety of subjects including Management, Marketing and
Promotion, Finance and Copyright, as well as touching on such practical skills
as the operation of small PA and lighting rigs, commercial songwriting and entry level
group performance, all taught by seasoned professionals. There are several levels of
courses available from Certificate I up to a Diploma Level course in International Music
Management. Unfortunately, unlike Auto Mechanics or Hairdressing, graduates cannot be
assured that their TAFE Certificates will get them a job in the industry, but students
willing to put in the effort will be rewarded with a basic knowledge of how the industry
works, where the money is, and how to get their share. And, perhaps even more importantly,
they will learn how to learn these skills, all at a very affordable price. For more
information on courses and starting dates, contact the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE at
Blacktown, or check the Drum Media for the WSIT ads.
Myths About The Music Industry.
The following points lack actual name identification very deliberately
and are expressions of opinion only.
1. The music industry is an industry
The music industry is not an industry. (An industry has rules, regulations, protection,
laws, wage awards, workers rights, superannuation, etcetera.). In fact it functions
as a Dads army, pretending to be professional in its operation and
dealings. A tiny percentage of musicians and a slightly larger percentage of agents and
management personnel.make anything like a decent living from the music industry, and so,
not necessarily according to experience or skills.
2. For a recording artist, signing with a major is the road to
For a recording artist, signing with a major is not the road to
success. Most artists albums dont recoup their recording costs; only a
small percentage of recorded artists are released by majors; who knows what
percentage of recording artists recoup their recording costs or make any money at all.
Its not uncommon for a major to sign an act that they consider has
market potential, sink $100,000 to $300,000 into a debut album and either shelve the album
(not release it) or release it without sufficient budget left to p.r. the product so that
anyone gets to hear about it, AND hold the act to the contract, disabling the act from
doing anything til the contract is up. Crazy? Yep. Tax loss too - any
major record company needs legitimate tax losses in a financial year.
Legitimate to their tax accountants and the ATO.
3. If you pay a lot of money to an audio engineering school and you study hard,
youll get a job in the industry.
No, you may not. There arent many recording studios left, for one, because most new
studios are owner operated Pro-Tools or Paris set-ups in someones laundry or
wherever. Secondly, there isnt anything like the amount of work around equivalent to
the number of student engineers with a certificate spilling out into the
market hungry for work. As a hobby, fine. There are plenty of worse things to do in the
world. By the way, great recording engineers become so due to an intense love for music,
lots of experience, hard work, and learning from others.
4. If you attend major music industry events, listen to international speakers and swap
business cards with the movers & shakers that matter, youll get on
in the business.
It doesnt work like that. Save your money. For every example mentioned by a
keynote speaker, there are many more exceptions. Tori Amos finished her first
album after being gazumped by her major label half-way thru; the album went on
to be a big success and launched her career. Aimee Mann got screwed by her major label
with her album so she bought it back from em, released it herself and has had a
medium hit (so far). There are tons more stories that the music industry people wont
talk about. Record companies dont know what sells. They
aggressively market anything they have already committed big money to, forcing a
hit. Sometimes that hit act/product is good, often its
garbage. Lots of things get away in the market outside record companies
5. Theres plenty of work for everyone.
No there isnt. There is a glut of talented artists in Australia. Then theres
the untalented ones as well. Increasing numbers of people cant hear the difference,
or dont care. So talented, experienced artists are going head-to-head against
part-timers, semi-pros, complete charlatans, you name em, for the same job.
[It wasnt like this some years ago if you were good, youd definitely work,
probably as much as youd like]. People dont particularly want quality, they
just want the job done somehow. So the guy with a resume from here to Cairo and back is
competing with Johnnie Welshpool from St. Clair who left school 2 years ago.
Johnnies got a bigger MiniDisc repertoire ready to mime to, and his day job is right
near the gig, he might even have a better haircut, so
.Johnnie gets the gig.
Oh, plus hes happy to work for $100 for 5 hours. Level playing field? Yeah, sure is.
Regards, Sam McNally.
Jack Pledge - The State of the Art
So, where did we leave off? Oh yeah. Play for fun
A most unusual
thing happened last week. A friend of mine, a guitar player who had been away on a cruise,
returned and his wife threw him a surprise party to which my wife and I were invited. No,
its not that unusual that we get invited