There’s a reason that singers have their own bands. Singers depend on their bands for lots of important things – like knowing their arrangements and, sometimes, even the words.
Two cases in point.
Back at the end of the ‘70s, Mike was playing with Ace Cannon (http://plunkchronicles.blogspot.com/2007/06/not-mike-you-thought.html) at a club in Nashville called Possum Holler (really). The club was owned by country music legend George Jones whose lifelong nickname was Possum. Don’t ask me; I just relay this stuff.
One afternoon, Ace was notified that George was in town and would come by the club that night to sit in for a set.
No rehearsal, but they could fake it. Mike said he had played some George Jones songs, and that they were pretty standard country music chord progressions so he was doing OK.
It’s no secret that at that time in George’s life, he was heavily into alcohol and some other consumables. There are stories of his people taping him tightly from his hip bones to his armpits to keep him upright on stage because they were so afraid he would simply fall over while trying to perform.
So there they were, keeping up with his music and trying to get through the set. The curious part was that at the end of almost every line, George would turn and look, bleary-eyed but hopeful, at Mike. Mike would just shrug and smile. George would turn around, mumble through some words, then turn again to look at Mike.
Mike’s best guess was that George was accustomed to turning to the person in George’s band who stood in that spot and who would feed him the next line of the song. Unfortunately, that was never going to work with Mike who would have provided lyrics if only he’d known them.
And then it was 1992. The band Mike was playing with was flown to L.A. to play at the surprise birthday party for Roseanne Barr at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They were having a grand time spotting celebrities and had rehearsed with Chaka Kahn who was scheduled to sing a few numbers that night.
As the evening went on, Roseanne insisted that party guest -- the amazing Stevie Nicks -- sing her megahit, “Dreams.” The band had naturally heard the song although they had never played it, but with a brief conversation as she took the stage, they were sure they could handle it. They're pros.
And all was going well until Ms. Nicks felt that it was time to end the rendition. They figured this out because she started turning, looking at the drummer, Gary Adair, and circling her index finger in a “wrap it” signal. She did that a few times.
You see, in the years that she was with Fleetwood Mac, her former boyfriend Mick Fleetwood was the drummer. He obviously knew their arrangements. He was the one to take them into the song’s ending. Great drummer though he is, Adair didn’t know any of those things.
Mike said they kept playing the instrumental part of the song, and she would sing, and they kept trying to follow her. He said it was interminable – or at least the longest 10 minutes of his life. It was like being stuck in a musical revolving door. Finally, the guys all made eye contact and, with a nod of the head, just stopped. It was a bit of a jolt, but, hey, it was Stevie Nicks. Roseanne got another of her birthday wishes, and everyone loved Stevie.
The moral of this story is: Singers, be good to your bands. And you might want to think twice before taking the stage without rehearsing.