The best part of being a solo performer

The first time I played on stage was in an electric blues band with some buddies back in 1994. That was actually pretty easy. None of them knew the music very well, so in the beginning, they just did as they were told. And it’s really not hard to get up on a stage when you have your best friends up there with you.

Of course, they eventually started having ideas of their own, so that was problematic. Even before that started, it irritated me that we always had to play the songs as we practiced them; there was no room for changing things on the fly, because nobody other than me had any idea it was about to happen.

A few years ago – after a couple decades of just playing music at home – I had the opportunity to join a band as a “mandolin slinger” to add some tasty leads and make the other folk sound nice. I basically had no input on what songs were played, so I assumed I would enjoy sitting back and noodling along. Wrong again. It annoyed me that they weren’t doing things the way I thought they should.

Then more recently, I thought I’d start a duo, where we’d be two people with equal control. At our first practice, the other guy offered up some suggestions of songs we could do. I’d also been doing a lot of solo playing at this point, so this sudden input gave me a twinge of “Oh? He gets to pick too?” (Because I’m an egocentric bastard.) it also turned out that I really didn’t have time to put together an act with someone else, so I called that quits.

And here we are. I had done a lot of open stages, but I was very nervous about doing a full set of just me. As I often like to say, “That’s a lotta Paul.”

But, dude, the freedom!

Each song is a living, breathing organism that I can change on the fly. I can play it faster, slower, I can add more instrumental breaks, or remove them all. It all comes down to my mood at that particular time.

Often when I’m doing a song, I’ll totally stop playing the instrument and sing an a capella line. Other times, I’ll stop singing and let the instrument finish the line for me. It’s a fluid conversation between voice and instrument, and it’s all about feel.

There are a lot of bands that can pull this off, but it’s just easier on my own. When I’m feeling glib, I’ll tell people that I play solo because I’ve figured out that some musicians are arseholes.

In my more reflective times, I’ll wonder if I’m the arsehole. Obviously, that can’t be right. 

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