Saturday, September 19, 2009

Another musician friend back from L.A.

One of my high school friends, JD, is back from living in LA after more than 25 years out there. The reason? No work for JD.

Which is strange. JD is a professional musician. He has a college degree from North Texas State in music instruction and guitar, as I recall. He taught for years at the prestigious Musician's Institute (or more exactly, the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) at MI). After graduating from college, JD made the LA move and although he was already a master guitar player at the time with a college degree from a recognized music university, he attended GIT and completed their 9 month program.

He did that to make contacts, and contacts he did make. I've known JD since 9th grade, and he's an awesome player. He was awesome in 9th grade, able to play any tune on guitar we wanted him too. I was in my first "real" band with JD at age 14, and by real band I mean a band that played well enough to get paid and that people actually thought sounded good.

But JD was heads and shoulders above us in ability, even way back then in 9th grade. As we grew older, although many of us took lessons and did a lot of playing and greatly increased our prowess on our instruments, JD's progress was always WAY ahead of ours.

I've known several "natural" musicians, with a gifted ear and often multi-instrumental abilities. JD is one of those kinds of guys too.

So after moving to LA and completing GIT in the early eighties, JD was impressing stellar guitar folks like Tommy Tedesco and Howard Roberts, to name a very few. Tedesco, Roberts and a few others, at that time, had lots of the TV and film scoring work tied up, meaning they played the guitar soundtracks as some of the "in demand" guys in L.A.

Now, historically, being a union studio musician playing soundtracks and jingles and doing sessions as a hired gun with various music stars was a pretty good paying profession. Those who managed their money or had side interests like the LA Session cats that owned and operated places like MI and the Dick Grove School of Music ended up doing ok financially as sidemen and teachers.

So JD got hooked up into this group of fellows and for several decades, has had more work than he could stand. JD taught at MI for several decades, leading to his writing several guitar instruction books for one of the biggies in that biz. Although not a college or junior college, MI is a technical school that has had many students go on to very successful music careers.

Running professionally with this group, JD had no spare time. In addition to working at GIT a few days a week, he had a busy daytime teaching schedule. He did jingles and the occasional TV show or soundtrack and was always trying to get more of that work. He played lots of recording sessions with all kinds of famous and failed musicians and got paid for all of it. One of the things he did a lot of was appearing with stars in the bands their musical directors put together in big towns for those acts that toured without a band.

He also played in some popular "party" bands, bands that worked the LA circuit of clubs and private parties. Clubs don't pay so well in LA, but the private parties do.

About 15 years ago, JD began easing into the digital age. It was becoming commonplace to use ProTools, and if you had a good computer and a knowledge of ProTools, often you could record your sessions at your house, with the work being emailed back and forth.

But JD said that it just started drying up all the way around this year. Things had been slow in the past few years. Sessions began decreasing. Parties payed less and often featured DJ's and rappers. He got laid off from the MI gig and wasn't getting anything through the union, although his reputation is still excellent and he is just as burning of a guitar player as he's always been. He's never fallen into any of the booze or drug traps that messed up many a Hollywood musician's life. In short, it was like nobody had any money anymore, and those who did have it were being very picky about who they spent it with.

JD still had students, but in the last year, they began falling away. Either they or their parents were losing jobs, and didn't have the money to pay for lessons any more.

So although he had some money coming in, he wasn't getting to play much, and he was quickly blasting through his savings. He said he was getting so bored that he was attending "jam nights" and "open mic stages" at various clubs just to do some playing with other folks. His business plan of not being in a band that worked for so long had run out of gas for him. At least for now.

So JD is back in Texas. He's doing some gigging all across the state. And trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

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