When I learned that I was allotted two carry-on bags for my flight to London, there was no doubt in mind my guitar would be one of them. I brought my much beloved Ibanez Jazz guitar. It is an electric hollow-body guitar, with a beautiful sunburst paint-job. Because it is a hollow body guitar, it is essentially a cross between an acoustic and an electric; which, is the best of both worlds as far as I’m concerned. I must thank my parents for the originality of this guitar, as it was a Christmas present I had received many years ago, and although I was hoping to get the same guitar George Harrison used around 1966 and the Revolver sessions, they purchased this one instead. At first, I was a little disappointed, but as the years have gone by, I have learned to cherish it. Thanks, mom and dad! It certainly has a vintage look, that of a guitar George Harrison may have used in the mid-60s if it was presented to him, but no one has made it famous yet or their signature guitar. So, there is still time for me! Frankly, wherever it goes, I go, and I knew I would utilize it every day in London. The music scene in London, so far, is incredible. Where I’m from in Ohio, people claim there is an up and coming music scene, but you really must search for it and be on the lookout. London, on the other hand, is nothing like that. Whether you are on the street side of Leicester square playing for tourists as they stop for 10-60 seconds of their time, or you are playing at the Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch to a crowd of 100 as they dance, sing along, and demand an encore; music is everywhere in London. It stares you in the face. Considering I brought my guitar, and I met my mate Max in history class who plays the guitar and is very knowledgeable of Rock n’ Roll music; I knew I wanted a piece of the scene.
It was the first day of my ‘Divided Society’ history class and we were doing icebreakers. Scanning the room, I noticed a Grateful Dead skull sticker on this Buddy Holly looking fellow’s laptop, and I knew he may be worth approaching. As we did our ice breakers it got to me, “My names Logan and I like music”, I said, and then my teacher asks, “what kind of music do you like Logan?”. I gave the obvious answer I always do in an effort to be funny, yet it gets more serious and truer as the years go by, “good music”, I said. After the brief laugh, I elaborated. Next, it got to Max and he said, “my names Max and I play the guitar and like good music too”. It was a fantastic coincidence. After class, I approached him, and within a minute we had found out that we both brought our guitars, liked the same music, and made plans to jam within the week.
Conveniently living in the same hall as me, Max and I jammed a few days later. We did the obvious stuff right off the bat, some classic Rolling Stones, Beatles, even a cool song called “Lonesome LA Cowboy” that I have never heard before and now really enjoy. Initially, I could tell Max was a much more capable guitarist than I was. He is a fantastic improviser and knows exactly what to play for what the song calls for, yet still providing a unique twist. After our first practice, it was unsaid but obvious he would be the lead guitarist, I would be the rhythm guitarist with some clever licks here and there, and that we would trade off singing with me singing lead more often so he could solo more freely. I even incorporated the harmonica I brought along, which now serves as a vital part of our sound. We knew our first gig would be an open mic. The first show we played was upstairs of a pub called the Reliance. It wasn’t exactly the most vibrant venue, but it was the perfect place to demo a fresh sound. We performed the Rolling Stones’ “Country Honk”, as well as “Lonesome LA Cowboy” by New Riders of the Purple Sage. Immediately we were labeled the “American Country Boys” at a British open mic. I didn’t like it at first, but I’ve come to learn it’s one of our strengths. The host of the open mic was really keen on our performance, and it really helped boost our confidence as our performers. We even stuck around for a second time to perform again, this time with the host assisting on the drums as he really wanted to play along with us, and we wanted him too as well. We did the Beatles “One After 909”, and Wilco and Billy Bragg’s version of “California Stars”. After that, we knew we were ready to move up.
The next week we were hoping to do a highly regarded open mic at a real hip venue called Old Street Records; however, we did not get there in time for the signup. We learned that it was a high demand open mic, and well worth playing. We went next week extra early and just made the cut. We had the choice to go second or second to last. We decided second as it was a good way to “set the tone” and kick off the night. We did “One After 909”, which people sang along too, and then hit them with Lonesome Cowboy right after. I think we did quite well as we got really good responses. In an effort to grab people’s attention and knowing we would probably only have 2 songs to perform, I decided it might be humorous to bring sunglasses on stage (my pair of black wayfarer Ray-Bans), and not put them on till the second song. Since I have been here, I’ve been told I look like or resemble Paul McCartney in some way or another, several times, something I may never escape from. The first show at the Reliance before I even got off stage a man was already showing my friend group in the audience a picture of young Paul McCartney on his phone and saying, “your friend looks like him!”. I’m flattered to look like my hero, but as you get older you realize you want your own image. However, the upside was that it was easy to dedicate the next song to that man (the Beatles’ One After 909). So, in an effort to stray away from this image, as I have no problem with inspiration or hints, but do not want to be a direct replica or rip off, I started to incorporate sunglasses in my performance to get a more Keith Richards or Bob Dylan type vibe. Plus, who doesn’t look cool with a guitar and Ray-Bans on stage? It’s effortless. Either way, I knew it would be cheeky to whip them out for the second song, and Max and I found it amusing to get people analyzing something that has no meaning at all. I could tell people were starting to think, why did he do that? Is he about to kick it up a notch? Is he embarrassed to sing the song? In fact, since we started to play Old Street Records so often, the last show we did there a group of people who come weekly started to cheer and say “woo” as I was putting my sunglasses on, knowing it was coming. My “alternate persona”. Old Street performances were going really well, with positive responses from audience members and the occasional approach from someone saying, “you guys did really well!”, or “you guys rock!”. This was all I needed to hear to start considering a real gig for us, once we got enough songs on the back burner.
As time went on I found myself one night lip-syncing along to The Stone Roses’ “She Bangs the Drum” at a fun ping pong bar called Bounce. I was at the bar getting drinks with my friends when I noticed the guy next to me was lip syncing as well. He said, “good song right?”. We then proceeded to talk about music while we awaited our drinks, and he told me his girlfriend is a DJ at the local radio station in the part of London I lived in, “Hoxton Radio”. I told him about my music goals and my new partnership with Max, and he told me that his girlfriend would love to have us on so we could perform some music and get exposure. I gave him my information and heard from his girlfriend the next day who checked out the music from my band back home. Approving of it, she agreed to have us on her show that ran from 7-9 pm on Tuesday’s called “the Student Surgery”. We were given a two-week heads up. Not knowing whether we could play songs that weren’t ours on the radio without getting licensing approval from the owners (yes I worry about this stuff), I decided it was time to write a song for me and Max. With not much time, I decided the easy route would be to find a common phrase for the song title but put a spin on it. I decided “Breath of Fresh Air” would be a fun name for a song and began writing it. First, I knew Max and I sang well together in G, so I wrote it around those chords, pulling inspiration from "Lonesome LA Cowboy" with the great G to F chord change the song has, as well inspiration from "California Stars". I put a capo on the first fret, to at least change the key, and began writing about a really “hip” hypothetical 21st-century girl. One who doesn’t go to clubs and doesn’t listen to pop music, but one who knows about all these cool underground places, dresses unique and probably listens to a lot of Velvet Underground in her free time. I was satisfied with the end product. I played a few originals for Max, but he really responded well to this one. It gave the perfect opportunity for our signature harmony, and Max added a cool riff at the beginning of the song that almost sounds like he’s fingerpicking it moves so fast. We decided we would do four songs, with the original being second, and then our trademark songs that were by British bands but had a kind of Americano sound. For example, Dead Flowers by The Rolling Stones. Although we were having trouble getting Max’s lead guitar to come through the microphone, the show went well. She loved us and really encouraged us to keep going, even saying she could get us a live show in May ran by Hoxton Radio, which we certainly will do. We even talked on the show, and though we felt nervous and uncomfortable, my friends and relatives who listened in claimed we came off as “charismatic”. I begged to differ, but I’ll certainly take it. We did the original the next day at Old Street and people really dug it. I noticed someone started to record us on their phone at the next chorus as if they knew it was coming and enjoyed it.
Given all the encouragement we had been receiving, one day I woke up early and walked all around Shoreditch, going into pubs and clubs and asking to speak to the manager or the person who books their live music. Because they must receive tons of emails from artists every week, I decided my best luck was to go in face to face, and present myself as confident and business savvy, even if that wasn’t the case. I had recently been reading some of Andrew Loog Oldham’s writings, and something about Brian Jones running all around town booking shows and trying his best to put a band together really excited me. I am also reading Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr’s biography, who was such a determined musician and ran all around town just as Brian Jones did. So, I felt I should do the same. I think the managers and adults really respected the face to face interaction and a nice handshake rather than an email. It wasn’t easy, I often felt like I was intruding, but it did not matter because I knew the reward outweighed the cost. I received several cards from managers interested in booking us, and even walked into a meeting a bar was having about how to attract more people and spice up the place, so coincidentally the guy thought live music was a great idea and a positive coincidence. This bar was a large two-story club called “Trapeze Bar”, which has a circus theme throughout, and the manager and I talked about the music we would play, where we had played prior, and by the end of the conversation he said he’d love to have us play next week. Fear of asking for money, we agreed free drinks and food was a fair trade-off. Free dinner goes a long way for me these days, how could I say no? Especially when I’d play anywhere for free. Money is nice but the experience is far better. We agreed on an hour set, and he told us he’d vouge for us at the next meeting. Given we do not have an hours’ worth of songs, Max and I have been working a lot towards this gig, just shouting a song we like out and the other saying “sure let’s give it a try”. I should hear back from the Trapeze Bar manager soon, in the meantime, I have no problem taking a nice walk through London and nagging other pub owners to let us play. Hopefully next blog I can let everyone know how these upcoming gigs went, and where Max and I are at. In the meantime, "All My Blogging" I will send to you. Also, in case you are curious, here’s the link to the performance we did on Hoxton Radio, music starts at 39:55.