(Warning – I use some shocking language in this post. Don’t worry I won’t use it at the dinner table or in front of your kids.)
I have story that have wanted to share with you for a while. It’s about “beating the Devil” with your guitar.
As with many life lessons, I recently had to “re-certify” that I learned this lesson.
Harlem NYC & The Preacher
In 1992-93 I played guitar steadily in Harlem NYC in the organ trio of Jimmy “Preacher” Robins.
I learned a lot on this gig. It was ugly at times, and heavenly at other times. It taught me things I could never have learned in school.
(I just saw they issued a Jimmy “Preacher” Robins compliation CD here🙂
Alchohol, the “Ignorant Oil”
Preacher would usually start off the night having a few drinks and still play and sing well. However, the evenings became a miserable experience for everyone in the band and room after his 6th shot of Johnny Walker Red.
He never expressed anger towards me, but he’d go into control freak bandleader mode, telling both the drummer and I how to play, every note, every second of every song, fuming with alcohol induced anger.
“Play quieter, turn up, you’re too slow, too fast!” And, if my eyes went away from him for even a second he’d say “Watch Me!” – I think James Brown had a similar disposition.
Constant disapproval of the situation as a whole and the need control were the norm. He’d also abuse the drummer verbally (and there were several drummers), so this added to everyone’s pain.
It’s such a pity, because when he was “on” he was great, but this made it hard.
Playing For Survival
I was paying my rent and eating with what I earned on this gig. The “art years” of college were over. Mommy was not paying for life any longer.
All my other gigs in NY for me were one shot deals, but this was 4 nights a week, steady. Few guitarists in town had a gig like this. I could not walk out.
While it may sound like no big deal to have a bad work situation, music is different. You have to constantly expose your soul when you play, so to be in “defense mode” the entire time while playing music is miserable and exhausting.
Not only was I under pressure to play well, but I had to constantly shift gears to keep his moment to moment whims satisfied.
I was 21 and playing with a beloved Harlem entertainer in his 60’s who was the big boss, and who was an out of control alcoholic.
What could I do?
“Cook On Him!”
I went to the payphone on a set break and called my mentor, Mike Longo and needed advice on how to deal with this miserable situation.
“He’s drinking the ignorant oil again, huh?” he said.
“Yep” I replied.
Mike’s advice was, “Cook on him! Go back in the ring like Muhammad Ali and kick his ass, with your guitar!”
Not only is Mike a world class musician, but he’s seen some stuff in his life 🙂 That’s what world class mentors are for.
Back in the Ring…
Well, I followed Mike’s orders. When we got back on the bandstand I played the blues harder than ever before, grooved deeper than ever, and dug as deep inside myself as I could to serve up a musical “ass whoopin.”
I had to use all my strength and positive energy to strong-arm the situation and give Preacher and the drummer no way out.
This was not a sensitive musical give and take. It was war. I was determined to make that entire club pump with soul, whether he was with me or not.
Victory of the Spirit
Much to my astonishment, the harder I played, the more the Preacher started grinning and grooving, and between songs he finally screamed “We overcame the Devil!”
On the set break he was hugging me, and the club patrons were happy. The “joint was happenin” and all was well.
He of course had no idea how this happened, and what hell I had to go through to “pull us” into a positive realm..
This was an incredible lesson on the power of music and mind. Here’s what I learned:
Forget the details, as changing those won’t solve the core issue. Put your focus on the heart, soul, and flow. Problems dissolve from entering a different paradigm altogether.
Still Applying the Lesson Today
The “Devil” still hangs out looking for it’s opportunities to do it’s dirty work. It lures me in from time to time, and I occasionally have to pass some “re-certification exams.”
It’s the self doubting mind that starts churning when I have too much time to think, (usually when I am off tour.)
The Devil is inside us, not outside…and he loves to
- pose questions that are unanswerable
- lure me into comparing myself to others
- stir up feelings of “being less than so-and-so”
- make me discouraged at what I can’t do
- does not want me to acknowledge the blessings I have received
- wants me to regret things I should have, could have done
All of which leave me feeling dis-empowered, separated, and un-groovy.
Whether it’s you, me or someone else – this is exactly what the Devil ego mind wants – for us to feel a feeling of “poor little me”, to be an un-empowered victim.
“He’s not happy until we’re unhappy.”
Another Test, Another Victory
Recently I got into in a tailspin of working on right hand position and bass tone. A few nights ago, I hit a peak of it being unsolvable, no matter what I did.
Nothing seemed right, and I was like the Preacher, in my own mind…I saw fault everywhere, in all I did. Poor little me 🙂
It was a feeling of unsolvable hopeless. Was I crazy? (umm…don’t answer that please…)
I took a practice break. How could I solve this?
My memory called up the night I and Preacher “overcame the Devil.”
Ascending Back into Musical Heaven
With a decision to groove and chase the demons away, I played with as much soul as I could. I told the problems “Your time is up!” and dropped it all.
The decision to abandon negative thoughts is like willfully leaving a mess in the kitchen, putting on some music and saying “the hell with it, I’m dancing in the living room!!!”
But…as you dance, imagine the kitchen magically vanishes, like a mirage that was always non existent. The problem was never there, it was only in the mind.
With the decision once again to “cook” on guitar and to kick ass, just recently, I was back on the magic carpet of groove.
All was well again. All it took was that decision.
Once again, I beat the Devil.
At the beginning learning stages, of course you must use a cognitive approach. But, there may come a time when you have to abandon the mind, giving up, and going for “flow” or “feel.”
By going deep into a flow and forgetting detail oriented solutions, sometimes the “unresolvable” gets resolved in a fresh and unexpected way.
Techniques, tones, melodies and ideas reveal themselves. Just leave the mess in the kitchen and go dance.
It’s not that things “change” and it’s not that finally something “out there happens.”
A new perception happens from within you, and from that – your world changes.
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