[Harp-L] Re: Reality check?

I guess I should weigh in on Iceman's 'Reality check' post, the questions
about how things in the Biz have changed as well as, can we make a living?
have come up as well as the 'tightening' of the global economy.

    My career has been interesting in that I've had day jobs and have also
made a living with my Music on many different levels over my 40+ yrs of
playing music for the public and in the studios.

    I started out playing for money as a Singing Harmonica Player at age 15,
Jr. High Dances and Battle of the bands, I learned how to FRONT bands and
forty yrs later I'm still learning. I had no formal training with music from
age 14-21, I taught myself Harmonica, Guitar, Piano & Voice by playing
mostly Blues, Soul and Rock Music. I supplemented my income in High School
and College with Frat Parties and playing Dances and Coffeehouses...but
still needed to work as a Clothing Salesman to pay for my college...I ended
up with a degree BA in Sociology. I was doing some good gigs profile wise
during this time period opening with my band for BB KING and SLY and the
FAMILY STONE...as well as concerts with a young BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN...but not
make enough to support myself.

Between age 22-28 I realized how little I knew about Music and decided to
take Guitar lessons and Harmonica Lessons to learn how to play other styles
and read music. Since I was now married and out of my own I needed
cash...while working odd day jobs I hooked up with a society (wedding band)
and learned how to play and sing 'Standards' but still kept my Blues Band on
the side. My fellows Blues Player gave me LOTS of heat about 'sellin out',
but I cared not as I was making Triple what they were making on Blues gigs.
I finally kept my day gig at the clothing store after answering an AD in the
Village Voice for Harmonica Player in an Off Broadway Show called MEMPHIS IS
GONE.....the did that for $100 bucks a week in 1977 and then it closed to
mixed reviews in the NY Times.

    I also added Chromatic Harmonica to my arsenal of harps and this opened
up a NEW world as to STYLES of music I could now play...with reading skills
being developed and living in the NY Metro area, I wondered if I could get
in to work on Broadway shows of Session work with my Harmonica. I also
landed a gig using my Sociology Degree, I became a Juvenile Probation
Officer for a few years and was still gigging and starting to make new
contacts in NYC. I studied Chromatic with Cham-ber Huang & Bonfiglio and by
1980 played on my first Jingle after walking around NY with a Cassette tape
I made of of my different styles of playing. I started hearing about players
already established in NY like Blackie Shackner, Bonfiglio, Toots and Don
Brooks. I knew I had a long way to go to play like these guys....but that's
when the light bulb went off. I was already doing good paying Society work
as well as lounges....so what if I tried to sell myself in NY as a
'versatile' harmonicist? One who didn't specialize in just Jazz, just
Classical, just Country etc.....Bingo! It worked...versatility paid off,
Even though I wasn't as good as these guys I could sound pretty good on any
of these styles for a soundtrack a solo or a 60 second Jingle.....sort of
what Tommy Morgan was doing on the West Coast in LA.

    Still holding on to the day gig I decided to learn about computers and
get outta the social work gig, I loved helping' the kids but it was TOO
heavy emotionally. I got a call to play in a new Broadway Show called BIG
RIVER, but just had my first child and needed the benefits from my day
gig...so I turned the show down....The show was heavy Country Harp so Donnie
Brooks was the obvious choice. I called Donnie and introduced myself and he
told me since they liked my playing a lot that I should be his number one
sub in the pit. Now were up to about 1984 so I subbed on Big River 3 yrs
till it closed in 1987 and became good friends with the late Don Brooks.

    Now things were getting BZ, by 1987 I was doing Broadway, 1000's of
weddings in the 80's and a day gig and when Big River closed, some of my
friends who were out on the road with David Clayton Thomas and Blood Sweat
and Tears wanted to start a band to play BLUES when off the road in NYC.
That band was THE HUDSON RIVER RATS we became pretty popular creating a much
need BLUES scene in NYC. That lead to more jingles and meeting all the yop
session players who wanted to sit in w/ the band and play some blues.
We made $60 a man (a 9pc band) doing a steady wed night. Word got out and
soon we had guests looking to play some blues; Julian Lennon, Carole King,
Phoebe Snow, David Clayton Thomas, Paul Shaffer, Lou Marini, Will Lee....the
place was mobbed....Blues was BACK in NYC and the clubs started to open.
Manny's Car Wash, Chicago Blues on 14th St...

        I was getting calls now from Producers and Contractors and Jingle
Houses who had heard me at the club and wanted me to work in the studios
I got my 2nd call to do BROADWAY, this time the WILL ROGERS FOLLIES on
Harmonica with a 26 piece band with music by Cy Coleman. I quit my day gig
and took the job...Keeping my Blues band The Hudson River Rats together I
decided to partner up with a drummer I met at the Jam: Bernard "Pretty"
Purdie. He needed a musical director for his own projects and offered me the
gig. My first gig was MD for the first Jazz & Blues cruise on the SS NORWAY.
With several bands; Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Jay McShann, Johnny Otis,
Johnny Adams and many more....what a fun week we had!

    Well, I apologize for the mini-bio and now fast forward to answer
Iceman's questions.....can we make a living playing music? Hmmm?
Hell yeah!!!! Is it EZ? Hell No!!!!! The reason I took the time to discuss
my past is to show folks that there is NO set way, NO formula you have to
use your OWN strengths and talents and be fearless in marketing them via
gigs, networking, practicing and in MY case Diversifying is what led to my
success in the music business. No, I never made it BIG, but I figured out
how to make a living with my talent and support my family.

    When I turned 55 last year I took 2 pensions one I earned at my day gigs
and one from the musician's union. For the past 10 years I have worked a lot
locally in clubs and private parties and artist recording work with
occasional jingles as that industry has dwindled away. I took more to the
road, I got a Call from Lou Marini and Steve Cropper from the original Blues
Brother Band this is not a reunion band or tribute band by THE band that
originated when the movie was made The band is owned by these principals and
Dan Ackroyd and The Belushi estate...I was asked to front the band and
toured with them internationally for 7 years. I left 3 years ago when David
Clayton Thomas decided to leave BLOOD SWEAT & TEARS and I have been fronting
that band that has been going for 40 yrs again this is not a tribute or
reunion band the only original member is Steve Katz.

     I have toured Europe & Asia with my own band The Hudson River Rats and
just returned from Japan as MD for THE CHUCK RAINEY/ BERNARD PURDIE PROJECT,
I did this gig last year and notice about a 30% drop in Bizness in Japan in
general due to the Global Economic Crisis

    When I'm Home I play locally here in New Jersey and here are my
observations.....The Clubs and restaurants I play are hurting in general but
the LIVE music NIGHTS are packing them in....all my local gigs have been
packed and they're buying food & drink.

   I must say I don't think I could have done all this with JUST my
HARMONICA, I developed my Voice and Stage Skills and this has been
invaluable for me. My real heros are TOOTS, BONFIGLIO, McCOY, ADLER, LEVY,
They make (made) a living with just a tin sandwich.....my hat is off to them
and they have my ultimate respect....

    I'm not going to preach that MY career path will work for everyone but
hopefully it will give others the courage to follow their dreams.....I DO
believe you CAN make a living and it beats working a job that doesn't
motivate or utilize all your talents. Saying "Music is great but don't quit
your day Job" is a cop out in my book and an excuse to NOT follow your
dream....no don't just QUIT your day job, but make a plan, work at it and
then GO FOR IT.....YOU CAN DO IT and at least you can say you gave it your
best shot. I do agree that the MONEY the BIG money is in the WRITING your
own music, but I chose PERFORMANCE....I like to see the SMILES on the
Good Luck to all....follow your Dream, the beauty of music is it's YOURS it
doesn't matter if it's full or part time in your basement or at Carnegie
hall it brings you joy, the paycheck will follow.....

Thanx to Iceman for a great topic and nice post, I'm seeing some good
responses and we can all learn from them & see how others are coping with
music, money and the changing entertainment world.

Rob Paparozzi

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