I’m Performing Solo. Yikes.


Seriously, dude — where’s my band?

Anyone have much experience playing solo instrumental guitar gigs?

Even though I’ve been playing since the Pleistocene, I’ve only performed solo once since I was a teenaged classical guitarist. But I’ll be making the stumble leap this Wednesday, Sept. 11th, when I perform north of San Francisco at the Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax. I’ll be a guest at Teja Gerken’s monthly fingerstyle guitar showcase, performing alternating tunes with Teja and Mark Goldenberg. (Gig details here.)

Both Teja and Mark are gifted players and composers — check out the evidence here and here. I believe they’ll be playing acoustically, while I’ll be dragging up my whole frickin’ looping/synth rig. Because what could provide better counterpoint to an evening of refined and intelligent fretwork than a goddamned electronic racket?

Oh — that one solo gig? It too was a multiplayer solo guitar night featuring some astonishing players: Will Bernard, Jim Campilongo, and Buckethead. Will, Jim, and Brian were as amazing as you’d expect. Meanwhile I put everyone to sleep by performing the entire Bach A Minor Lute Suite on steel-string acoustic. (I’m sure the audience was duly impressed by my formidable memorization skills as they nodded off.)

I’m not repeating that mistake! This time it’ll be fuzz and feedback, with a double side order of ring modulation!  :pity:

So got any survival tips for performing solo? Any good jokes for during the inevitable laptop crash and reboot?

If all else fails, I can borrow a trick that the late, lamented Danny Gatton once shared with me in an interview: A lifelong tinker, Gatton built a stompbox designed to blow the power in any club. If he didn’t like how the gig was going, he’d click it on, plunging the venue into darkness and calling it a night. (Or so he claimed.) Hmm — maybe that’ll be the next tonefiend DIY project….

32 comments to I’m Performing Solo. Yikes.

  • smgear

    “Apparently the tech isn’t able to keep up with me tonight….”
    “Steve Jobs never did like my music…” (too soon?)
    “I’ll have it back up in a moment… I’m going to need a screw driver, a hammer, and a geek. Anyone?…”

    Anyways, awesome gig. ‘twer I in the area/continent, I’d definitely stop by. Any chance you’ll have a recording device somewhere in the chain?

  • Erik Smyth

    Great to hear. I live in Fairfax and will come check it out. I will spread the word! If you figure out that Gatton pedal please share the schematics 🙂

    • Freddie Lentzell

      I read the story in GP. What the pedal did was, if I remember correctly, just shortening the mains to ground, blowing any fuses in the process. Apparently he did it once in a club, and the next day they found the owner had changed the whole electrical installation. And of course, he did it again and went home. Quoting from memory.

  • If I’m ever doing a solo gig, I spend a week or two beforehand trying to do daily “studies”, just pressing REC and treating it as a gig, no stops, no do-overs. It’s a really quick way to see how robust your collection of “plan B”s is, and to see how much true improvising you really want to do.

  • I seem to remember that the Gatton gig-ender was a standard Fender momentary switch that he spliced a standard wall plug to. You hit the button to short out the whole circuit in the wall. I think I’ve still got that issue of GP…
    Playing solo is really very liberating, and with your looper you’re really doing of a band of you’s, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I added a looper to my solo-gig-rig and was immediately floored at how easy my job had become; it’s the beginning of the end of my fingerstyle chops! 😉

    • Oh yeah, give ’em hell! And what way to shake up a fingerstyle showcase than to bring the noize! Ballsy!

    • mwseniff

      The gig killer pedal was probably built by Danny’s dad as he was the tech expert, he built the control box on the Les Paul. I used to see Danny and the Fat Boys in DC when I lived there and we should be so lucky to play like Danny on a bad night. I still have a red vinyl copy of “Redneck Jazz” in my vinyl collection. His suicide was a tragic loss.

  • Ric

    Joe, I love your story about playing the entire Bach piece.
    I too have memorized reams of classical music although I’ve never done any “classical” recitals. The thought of playing in a church for a bunch of elites in my hometown of NYC is terrifying even though my day job is playing 8 shows a week in a theater on Broadway. The turning point for me was when I bought a %13 FTR 37 and made the mistake of having it shipped to one of the premier rehearsal studios in the city. The day that the amp came there was a herd of studio and touring musicians hanging out and the manager of the studio said, “Ric! Come show us this beautiful amp!”

    “Oh crap,” I plugged in my strat, dimed the clean channel and with generous amounts of tremolo arm I played Melodie by Grieg with a pick and fingers in my best Segovia imitation. Those dense chords filled the room and splashed all over the place. All I could think was “Nobody knows this so I can improvise.”

    Since then I have arranged tangos by Nazareth as depression era stomps for resonator guitar, Bach partitas as country hoe-downs and Latin American solo pieces as bluegrass reels. The best thing about learning this stuff and adapting it in unorthodox ways is when you unlock the structure by playing it in a couple different keys. Ted Greene was a real soloist who could blur the lines between prepared and totally improvised fingerstyle guitar. His understanding of popular song structure was legendary. Any of his arrangements is a gold mine of deep guitar music.

  • I’m sure you must be one of the best yikes soloists in the world.

  • NotSoFast

    Have the vocal track to “Pieces of Me” on a loop and launch into it if things get awkward. Do a little dance and exit stage left….

  • “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.” Never done a pure solo set. I’m sure you’ll nail it, though. Your looping demos are a pretty apt proof of concept. Go get ’em!

  • I highly doubt you need anything resembling a tip in anything.

    If you break a leg, make sure it’s someone elses (and make sure to blame it on the venue) ; )

    Seriously – have a great gig!

  • w.r.

    I’ve done a fair share of solo instrumental guitar gigs, but mostly as musical wallpaper. And nothing in the kind of company that you’re keeping, for sure. I’m sure you’ll slay ’em!
    BTW, do you have any tips for developing “formidable memorization skills”? please do tell!!

  • Oinkus

    Good luck , hope everything goes well.

  • Freddie Lentzell

    Best of luck. And as the inmortal line in an Ionesco play goes (“The bald prima dona”, I believe): “Mind the flowerpots”.

  • joe

    Hey guys — thanks for all the kind wishes and good jokes! For better or worse, smgear, I DID get to use your Steve Jobs line in one of several episodes of digital crash-and-burn. But in the end, all was cool.

    And man — the two guitarists I shared the stage with were fabulous. I was familiar with Teja Gerken’s imaginative and virtuosic fingerstyle playing, but it was a treat to hear and see him from about two feet away — especially his lovely take on Coltrane’s “Naima.” And I knew Mark Goldenberg was a great session player, but MAN — I was absolutely floored. He’s sort of a hybrid classical/jazz player with an astonishingly rich harmonic palette, breathtaking dynamics, and a ravishing tone (via a lovely old ES-125). And he played so many of my favorite tunes: “Mood Indigo,” “Shenandoah,” “God Only Know.” Wow. I am a SERIOUS fan.

    • How was your set (other than the computer crashes, that is)? Glad to hear you enjoyed the other performers. I just did my yearly ‘pretend you’re a frontman’ gig the other night; musically great evening, except in the quieter bits you could hear the crickets chirping in the largely empty room. I have to take another look at my (fatally flawed) social media strategy…or just quit playing so damn loud.

      • joe

        Actually, we didn’t really play sets — it was a round-robin format, trading songs, with a “micro set” for each of us midway through. Teja explained that it was a well-honed strategy designed to keep the audience from leaving during the break — but it was musically satisfying as well.

        I wish more shows were structured like that. Not only does “alternating artist” make for a interesting program, but it brings out aspects in the performers that might not otherwise emerge. The most fun TV gigs I’ve ever played were for “Later with Jools Holland” and “The White Room,” two British shows that use that format. There’s really no equivalent in US televisions: Multiple acts set up around a large, open room and trade songs. You get weird mixed bills of the sort that haven’t existed since the ’60s. Playing with Teja and Mark reminded me of what a satisfying format it is

        • I noticed my ‘sets’ gaffe immediately after I pressed ‘Post Comment’ – Doh!
          Big fan of ‘Later With Jules Holland’; where else will you see Hole, Mumford and Sons and have Iggy and Ozzy drop in for chats in the same night?

  • Sebastian Enriquez

    Wow! seems you got a great gig; I don’t know much about Jim, but I love the style of Will; and Buckethead is one of my favorites guitarist, do you know which songs did he played?
    About performing solo: you don’t need any advice, you play great by yourself, just plug in the looper and do what you do better 🙂
    Good luck, Joe!

  • It was really great to have you up in Fairfax, Joe! It’s always fun to share the round-robin with two players who are totally different from what I do, and last night was a perfect example. And thanks for playing on the Satie Gymnopedie!

  • I was there, Joe RAWKED comme toujours:) Joe you don’t need any “quipment” to send us all into an altered and wonderful state…just you and that guitar is alll you need…however, what you did with the “quipment” was mind bogglingly amazing..loved it:)

  • NicPic

    I cant play classical on guitar worth a F~~~..but if things look dim..just announce shot gun weddings will be held out back by the house chef after the gig 😛

  • Carlos

    Hi, thanks for this great blog! My favorite album´s solo are for example ;Marc Ribot -Silent Movies. Ryan Blotnick “Solo, Vol. 1 ” John Fahey´s acoustic albums…. Any other recomendations ?
    Thanks again for your work Joe, i still remenber your fantastic articles in guitar player circa 90´s !!

    Regards from Spain

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