Sunday, February 18, 2018

Being a Hired Gun

I am currently on my third viewing of the amazing documentary called Hired Gun. For those who don't know why this is occupying my Netflix time I would suggest you get a peak at the trailer:

I really enjoy the movie because it lays out the reality of being a working musician in terms of what a musician has to deal with and expect from the outset. From P!nk treating her musicians like family to Billy Joel treating his band like brothers, until he no longer had any use for them, to the fact that gigs come and go quicker than a high school relationship. Aside from that it also shows how musicians who work in high profile settings rarely become famous themselves, usually get little to no credit on the songs that they perform on while not making as much money as one would assume they would make because they are not a fully invested partner in the projects they work in. This movie has it all as far as I'm concerned and so far I have learned something new at every viewing.

Stepping Into This World

My first taste of being a hired gun was in college when I was studying Music at El Camino Community College and working in my own original projects. Both of these experiences gave me the chance to meet a lot of musicians and before I knew it many of them would approach me from time to time about doing everything from session work to casual Jazz gigs. The best experiences I had was when I worked with older musicians because they pushed me to do better by showing me all that I didn't do well. It wasn't always the most comfortable experience but it let me know on the spot what I had to start focusing on both during my practice sessions and in terms of all of the other things I had to learn about being a working musician.

In my late 20's I then focused most of  musical time on being a hired gun as I used that time as a way of earning extra for my now growing family. At this point I was doing much more studio work and live performances all over Southern California from big shows at places like The Viper Room to private parties in San Diego. It was a very busy time and a great way to make extra money.

Today I am very active in the Tucson music scene doing live shows in the Country Music and Jazz/Fusion scenes to studio work at multiple locations as I am lucky enough to be on call with a couple of local producers. So I guess you can say that I've done quite a bit these last several years and learned a bit about what it means to get around so to speak. So here are some of my observations that I can confirm and/or add on to many of the things shared in the film in terms of what one has to expect if they are going to work as a hired gun.

It's Business: Nothing More and Nothing Less 

In the Hired Gun movie some musicians shared how the artist they worked for seemed to do a 180 degree turn on how they treated them. On a personal level it is always hard because the more time you spend with people the more you develop relationships with them. Your respect for them both as a great musician and as a professional cause you at times to have a certain amount of affection for them and there is nothing wrong with that since that is part of being human. MUST keep in the back of your mind that this gig is no different than any full time job that you had in your lifetime. Maybe it feels a little different because you're playing music but is still just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the structure is not a band as much as it is a brand so once you accept that you will at least understand why you might be let go or be more willing to move on and do what is best for you.

Sometimes it's hard because the band you're working with is in the midst of doing well in the music business rat race and you are proud of the fact that you helped propel this brand into becoming a well respected entity. That and because the one in the group with the most leverage and/or management treats you well and even goes as far as expressing their gratitude on a regular basis. That's fine and I'm sure in most cases it's very sincere but again, this is no different than many of the employers we have worked for in the past. When business is good we are useful and even appreciated. The same can't always be said if business is bad or if something goes wrong and those in charge are looking for someone to blame. In other words, a musical brand is no different than corporate America.

The best advice I can give for this is to remember the truest statement that has been conveyed to musicians for years: always have your eye on your next gig. You never know what's going to happen. You might miss a few gigs and the sub they bring in works out really well. It is no different than a back up quarterback that fills in and does a better job than the starter. When that happens the team at times will ride to wave created by the replacement. It's not good or bad as it's just the way of the world.

Continuing with Business: Keep Networking  

The last thing you should do is get comfortable with your gig. Again, anything and everything can happen so NEVER stop networking. When you're onstage, yes, you need to do your job and do your best for the band but you are still performing and representing yourself as an artist and you never know who is out there watching. Aside from that, keep up a good looking website and/or some type of music networking site that features YOU, not the band(s) you are playing in. This site is about putting your name out there so while you can refer to the bands you play in make sure the site is all about you in terms of what you are currently up to as well as other things you have done in the past.

Keep your business cards handy and pass them out to any musician, producer, recording engineer, promoter, etc. that you encounter. Be courteous and professional regardless of how others present themselves. There are certainly times when another person's attitude leaves a lot to be desired but at the end of the day you are representing yourself and people do notice how musicians conduct themselves. As the saying goes, personality defeats talent every time. 

On a musical level, don't ever settle in to your gig and think it's going to last forever. Aside from working on material for the bands your are working for keep developing your other musical skills. Even though most pro musicians are diverse when it comes to playing different styles of music rust will set in if you haven't worked in certain genres in a while. Aside from keeping your chops fresh playing different styles of music on a regular basis improves a person in their totality so even if a gig does last several years your musicianship will always get better if you continue being a well rounded musician. Aside from that, since we can never predict when a door opens or closes one must be always be ready to deliver the goods.

Even More Business: Public Behavior 

Even though I strongly encourage people to be as detached from emotion as possible when it comes to musical relationships I know that we will always take things personally when we are mistreated. It is no different than being treated like a product in the work force, which also hurts because most people put a lot of pride into their work and want their efforts to be acknowledged with more than a financial reward. Work is part of who we are and for many of us it can define us.

With that being said, yes, there are times when we might be fired, given ultimatums that we are not comfortable with or mistreated in one way or another. When these things happen continue with being professional in your dealings with others even though a big part of you wants to react differently.

The first thing you should NEVER do is air out your feelings publicly. Don't sit with your friends at a club and rant about the way you were mistreated. Music is a public business and you know that your words will NOT remain private. We all have trusted friends for a reason and if you're smart you'll share these feelings with your non-musical friends and a spouse or significant other who also understands the importance of keeping your feelings private. When people ask what happened be as vague as possible: It was time for a change, everyone wanted to go in a different direction, etc. And for God's sake, DO NOT post your feelings on social media. There is nothing wrong with announcing a change in your performance life but keep these announcements short and sweet. Thank the band and wish them well while also thanking their following but do not start with calling people out for anything because that is almost guaranteed to backfire in one way or another.

Musicians are a self-centered bunch and the most important thing you can have besides talent and a professional demeanor is a good reputation. And that is the thing you will lose faster than anything if you allow yourselves to react. This world is no different than the business world where human resources people will look at your social media pages while also being aware of your personal behavior and we already know what will happen if your behavior risks the company's good name. So, while you are an artist you are still a business person so it is important to act accordingly.

Final Thoughts 

Gigs are fun and when you find a gig where the band has some serious chemistry it is totally unforgettable. But reality is not so kind, which is why I always see great moments like this as nothing more than just a moment in time. It's almost like looking back on a great day you had with some amazing people that brings a smile to your face before you nod your head and say, yes, that was a good day. 

Band leaders can be finicky so changes are almost a given from changing song arrangements to members. Band members themselves are always on different paths so while you're locked in to a gig and enjoy each member of the band someone has an eye on something else and before you know it they are out of there and doing something else. It's just the way of it is so it's more important to accept that instead of trying to change it because it's never going to change.

So enjoy your moments and hopefully when you have a chance to look back you will not only have great memories but also know that you and your professional demeanor were part of what made those moments great not only for you but for everyone you worked with. 

Carlos Solorzano

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Coming Home to the Tony Corrales Band

Last week I was enjoying a nice evening at home as I sat at my desk and did some writing. It was the end of a great day as I had just arrived home from an appointment with my orthopedist. My fractured leg was now fully healed and it was now time to focus on physical therapy. I was relieved to finally have that walking boot off when I received a text from a dear friend...Tony Corrales!

We went back and forth a bit with a little bit of small talk and then continued our conversation the following day via email as I was on a bus taking my St. Augustine Catholic High School Thunder Wolves Percussion Ensemble to the State Capitol for a performance at the Catholic Schools Rally. Soon he brought something up that I suspected might be on his mind and that was the idea of putting the Tony Corrales Band back together.

Some of you might recall in one of my recent blogs that I had planned on stepping out of the country scene for a while: But, I also know from many years of experience that when one makes a change in their life musically that it usually leads to some type of surprise. This was not the surprise I expected and I am most grateful to say that this was a most pleasant surprise.

I can't put into the words how much the possibility of this happening excited me because I have missed my band of brothers for the past year but, most people already knew of my plans to have a much less demanding schedule once I returned to the stage. Before I could bring that to the table Tony stated that he too wanted to work with a schedule similar to mine as did the rest of the guys as we are all people with families and a home life (this also leaves me room to work with Sonoran Sol and to still have lots of time for my family and my own creative endeavors).

My response, to put it mildly...I AM SO IN!!!!!!

There are so many reasons why this band means so much to me. I started working in this group back in 2012 and had been with them through early 2017. From the first rehearsal we had a very special chemistry and I knew right away we'd have a great run once we hit the stage. Playing music with these guys was such a gift and that is why every gig felt like a party.

During that time we also had our moments of stepping out of the music scene for various reasons from taking time off for family activities, illnesses, the passing of some of our loves ones, lineup changes or other bumps in the road. Still, no matter what happened we always found our way back to each other.

Finally, the thing that has always meant the most to me is the absolute transparency that we've had with each other since the first day we got together. I have never been in a band where business was so easy due to the fact that everyone has always been straight up with each other. The guys are also quick with compliments and with picking each other up when we needed it and just as straight with each other when anyone dropped the ball. It wasn't always comfortable but it was real and that's why there was always great trust within our circle.

Therefore we all know that we have a bond that cannot be broken and that came from not only playing lots of gigs together but also experiencing life's ups and downs just like a true family. Some of those rough spots were the struggles that come from being involved in the music business. Many people are completely unaware of the fact that even a working local band must have a united front because of the tough business practices that are still a reality for such bands. I was always proud of the fact that the members of TCB always had each other's backs, which meant that if you crossed one of us you had to deal with all of us.

Aside from the gigs the other thing I had missed were our rehearsals. These were the moments when it was just us in our sloppy clothes in the same room facing each other as we played music together. Sometimes the songs sounded great and sometimes they didn't but it didn't matter because the brothers were together and having a great time. Of course we had breaks in rehearsal or just hung out a bit afterwards and whenever that happened it was always full of joy and laughter. Then those goodbye hugs were as real as they got and...yeah, I should stop before I start cutting some onions.  

Of course the man whose namesake is written across our banner, the great Tony Corrales, is the both the face and the voice of the band. He has amazed so many people for years with his amazing voice along with his great stage presence and I know that there are so many people out there who are more than happy to hear that he is going to perform again. The man loves the songs he sings and everyone could always see that during his performance. Having the chance to return to the stage with him again will definitely feel like a homecoming because when it comes to playing country music I know that this is the band I belong with and his voice is the defining factor of this band.

Then there is the amazing Joey Cota whose lightning leads and powerful stage presence brings a special type of energy to the band like no one else. He is a true brother to me as we have done over 130 shows together. People love Joey's playing and stage presence and he is the kind of performer who really feeds off of the crowd so this is even more reason for me to be excited about our future gigs. I have always enjoyed throwing down a groove and watching my brother move along to my beat. More than that, we've always had those moments on stage where we just lock eyes and smile when we knew that we are feeling it.

Robert Rojas will continue with the band on rhythm guitar and vocals but that alone doesn't display the musical talent that this brother has. Aside from being the best rhythm player out there he brings a knowledge of music that enhances the sound of the band while also filling in spaces that only he can do. He is also the most precise of all when it comes to pulling a song apart so with his help we always  play the songs correctly, even when that means accepting his comments about my tempo. 😆 Aside from that, he also has a very unique and dry sense of humor and is able to rib me in ways that... well let's just say that he gets me good.

Finally, we welcome new bassist Alex Quinonez, who is someone I played with (along with Robert) in the Rock scene a few years ago. We had a short run together but created a special bond within our groove so once TCB knew that we had to find another person to handle the bottom end I jumped at the chance to tell the guys about my boy Alex. Alex brings both great skill, experience and enthusiasm to our group. I can't wait for you all to hear our groove once we hit the stage.

(An important side note: I need to give a shout out to the other members of the family. Mike Yanoska, AJ Gonzales and Thomas Charbonneau. Love you guys!) 

I have always cherished my time with TCB so to have another chance to saddle up with my brothers again is such a blessing. I know we will create even more amazing memories and we can't wait to share it all of you who will be join us for the party...

...and the party begins on April 13th at Casino del Sol in the Paradiso Lounge.

We hope to see you all there!

It is so good to be home!!!

Carlos Solorzano

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Return of Sonoran Sol

It was the summer of 2006 and I had made the decision to post an ad in the musician's wanted section on Craig's List in Tucson. It was about a month before I was going to move my family from the Los Angeles area to the Tucson desert and one thing I learned about working in that highly competitive Los Angeles music scene was that if anyone was not on top of things that they would be left behind. Being a teacher even back in those days meant that I had some time on my hands so I figured it would be in my best interest to start networking for gigs in what was soon to be my music scene.

It was at this time that I met an amazing guitarist named Dan Griffin as he was one of the first few people to respond to my ad. Right away we seemed to be on the same page musically so we decided to get together some time after I was somewhat settled both at home and at work. Thanks to Dan I was able to meet some great musicians as we put this new Jazz/ Fusion band together. I came up with the name Sonoran Sol as I was thinking both about the desert we lived in and the fact that we had so much sun around here!

Prior to my move I have investigated the Tucson music scene and had some idea of the best places to play for such a musical group. Of course being a native of the Tucson area Dan gave me an even greater insight on what I needed to know before both of us got in touch with those in charge of booking bands and before we knew it our group shot out of the gates. We performed at a lot of city events, at the 4th Ave Street Festival, at local cafes and even a few times on public access television. Every time we performed we got great reviews and I credit the fact that Dan and I always recruited great players to work with us who not only had great talent who also carried themselves like real professionals.

Once things slowed down a bit thanks to the economic crash of 2008 our gigs were off and on and the nice thing about the way the band had always operated was that we never believed in what I call musical monogamy. In other words, everyone was allowed to work with other groups so long as they committed to whatever gigs Sonoran Sol had already booked. There were even times when we didn't work together for a couple of years because the reality for instrumental groups is that performance opportunities could be thin and that leads such musicians to look for work elsewhere. That or the fact that one of us scored a really good working gig for a while so we gave that person room to earn some money. In other words, it was never personal because that's just the way the music business works.

Of course now that I've been living in the Tucson area for over ten years, like Dan, I have made a lot of musical contacts over the years. And, since Sonoran Sol was always known to be a solid band these contacts always seemed to remember us when they needed a band like ours for an event.

One thing that I believe helped our band stand out was that Dan and I never wanted a group that focused on straight ahead Jazz or standard Latin tunes. We always wanted to have an edge to our sound so we always made the point to create our own arrangement of a famous standard while also adding funkier instrumental tracks such as Jeff Golub's version of "Cold Duck Time," Billy Cobham's "Crosswinds" or "Cissy Strut" by The Meters. In other words, our group has great energy but it's not overwhelming as we are always conscious of dynamics.

So as 2018 arrived we were all in one of those extended breaks when an email showed up in my inbox from a good friend named Jonas Hunter, who is someone we had worked with in the past. He was already looking for bands for his Summer Concert Series at Main Gate Square on University Blvd and once again asked if we were available. All it took was a simple text message to Dan and away we go...again! It also took Dan about ten minutes to recruit the amazing Bobby Elias to join us on bass guitar with all us being very excited about performing together.

We are scheduled to begin performing this coming April with our first performance being on the Tucson Morning Blend television show. We will then perform at The Artful Space before our scheduled performance at Main Gate Square. You can follow our updates as well as see our current performance schedule at: 

We are looking forward to seeing you all at one of our shows real soon.

Carlos Solorzano