Those of you who know me well know that, when I’m not playing music, I’m either writing music, listening to music, or reading about music.

In his autobiography A Cellarful of Noise, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein recounted a rare visit to a Fab Four recording session. Epstein had the effrontery to remark from the control booth that something didn’t sound right. John Lennon, in his now-famous reply, responded, “You stick to your percentages, Brian. We’ll look after the music.”

I mention this because pretty much the same thing is happening here in northwest Pennsylvania. One bar in the area asked to see my setlist before they would book me. Another local watering hole informed me that they don’t allow any original compositions!

When I inquired why, I was told, "Our goal is to keep people here." This drives me crazy for two reasons. It assumes that (1) meticulously crafted original songs won't keep people in a venue, and (2) boring covers of "Wagon Wheel" will.

Since when did venues get into the business of dictating the musicians’ repertoire? This makes about as much sense as me instructing them how much sauce to put on the hot wings, or telling them when the fries are done.

On the plus side, however, it does explain why so many musicians in the area play the same dozen songs (“Sweet Caroline”, “Last Dance with Mary Jane”, etc.)

So... bars in the tri-state area continue to be unwilling to book me. To be honest, I find myself missing it less and less. Bar crowds aren’t what they used to be.

Among other things, I’ve found that they speak in a kind of code, which I’ve managed to translate for your edification. Here are some examples:

“Turn it up!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the volume onstage just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“Freebird!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the song selection just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

“One more!”

Translation: “I am a total rube. I don’t get out much. I wish to control the duration of the music just like I do on my home stereo. Please pour a beer over my head.”

So… I haven’t been playing in bars. Where have I been playing?

I play at senior homes throughout Crawford County 2 – 3 times a month. I also play at the Venango General Store on a semiregular basis. Then there’s the Little Church on the Hill.

On the third Saturday of each month, the Elk Creek Historical Society organizes “Coffee House on the Hill” – an event featuring potluck and local musicians at the historic (1855) “Little Church” in Wellsburg, PA (just north of Albion).

I myself used to play here when I was taking my first baby steps as a live musician, playing lead guitar for Dave Devine back in 1999. I used to joke that the average age of the crowd was somewhere between 70 and “dead three days ago”. Not that big of a deal (except that, if there was a fire, I’d pretty much be looking at certain death).

These days the Elk Creek Historical Society is in the hands of new people who are trying to cater to a younger crowd. When I reached out to them to play at the Coffee House, they were receptive to the idea - although, at the time of this writing, we haven’t booked a date yet. Once we set something up, I’ll post it on the website.

In the meantime, check out the excellent work the Elk Creek Historical Society does on their Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/LittleChurch/about/?ref=page_internal

Finally, I hope all of you reading this have a joyous holiday season. And, if your holiday list contains that hard-to-shop-for person, the perfect stocking stuffers are right here:

https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/FrankMarzano 

Rock long and prosper,

Frank

Summer got off to a rocky start this year. My May performance at the 215 Restaurant was cancelled the day of the gig. The explanation was that they had been hit with licensing fees from BMI, ASCAP, et al.

If a bar, restaurant, or coffeeshop features music – either live, prerecorded, or even FM radio – they have to pay a fee to the performing rights organizations: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC (referred to hereafter as the “PROs”).

The amount charged depends on many factors: seating capacity, cover charge, dancing, etc. You can see how BMI does it here:

https://www.bmi.com/forms/licensing/gl/ede.pdf

A lot of people (venues and musicians alike) perceive the PROs as “bad guys”. But if you’re going to make money off of someone else’s music, you should pay for the privilege. Music has value.

Unfortunately, the PROs think that music has more value than many venues are willing to pay. The result is that many places are foregoing live music altogether rather than pay the licensing fees.

This raises an interesting question: I’ve been a performing musician virtually my whole adult life, but I don’t recall the PROs being this aggressive previously. It appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon, during the last fifteen years or so.

What else happened during the last fifteen years? The digital music format enabled people to download music without paying for it and make exact copies of compact discs. YouTube is pretty much an infinite jukebox. Musicians can make professional sounding recordings on a computer without booking studio time, and distribute their songs worldwide without radio airplay or a record deal.

It seems that the PRO’s (who, no doubt, are in cahoots with the radio stations and record companies) decided to recuperate lost revenue from CD sales by going more aggressively after live music venues.

In this life, only three things are certain: death, taxes, and the perennially disappointing music lineup at Celebrate Erie. Consider this year’s headliners:

1) The Ohio Players – They were cool… about 40 years ago.

2) Dan + Shay – A fairly big name in country music, but we’ve had bigger.

3) Sugar Ray – Two-hit wonder who forfeited any claim to street cred when they appeared in “Scooby Doo”.

What makes Celebrate Erie different this year, however, is an increased commitment to community inclusion. They’re using local vendors whenever possible, and featuring local musicians on four different stages.

Alas, my application to play at Celebrate Erie was not successful. (The Erie music scene remains highly politicized.) But if the organizers deserve credit for hiring more local musicians than previously, we need not begrudge it to them.

Fortunately, I don’t need to depend on Erie to play music. The Venango General Store books me on a semi-regular basis, and gigs at senior homes in Crawford County have been rolling in.

Thanks again for your support. Drop me a line (fmarzano2003@yahoo.com) and let me know what’s happening with you. I really do read every email I get (and do my absolute best to reply to same).

Rock long and prosper!

Earlier this year I was doing my taxes, and I was delighted to discover that, for the first time ever, I made more money playing music than I spent.

There are other local musicians who make more than me, and I suppose I could have done a better job managing my finances than I did, but one thing of which I am justifiably proud is that I’ve never panhandled.

I’ve been seeing a disturbing number of fundraising pages (Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Patreon) used by musicians to raise money for recording time, to buy equipment, or play out of town gigs. Whatever happened to working your ass off, saving your money, then pursuing your dream?

Pampered millennials? No, because my generation is just as bad. After the Riverside Inn in Cambridge Springs burned down last year, a GoFundMe page was established to rebuild it. Isn’t that what insurance is for?

I myself had a love/hate relationship with the Riverside Inn. The silver-haired coot who owned the place actually yelled at me for reading the newspaper in the dining room, but I loved the fact that they hosted the Riverside Music Festival every spring (organized by local musician Justin Moyar).

I myself was booked to play at this festival in 2016, but cancelled when an opportunity arose to play at the Bullseye Records 30th anniversary party in Toronto that same night. I have no regrets; the Bullseye gig was one of my best shows ever - maybe even the best.

However, despite the demise of the Riverside Inn, Moyar is still keeping the festival going, with performances taking place at various venues in Cambridge Springs.

As you can imagine, my no-show at the 2016 festival severely weakened my bargaining power when negotiating a slot at this year’s festival. I was eventually able to book a slot for Saturday, June 16 at 1pm. Not exactly a time when rock musicians are at their creative best, but hey… sometimes you gotta bloom where you’re planted!

Check out the festival website at

http://www.cambridgespringsmusicfestival.com/index/

I frequently tell people that I’m a cross between Elvis and Einstein… I sing like Einstein and I teach math like Elvis! When most people hear that I teach math and play music, they usually respond that math and music go together. But I think this is a myth. Mathematics is the epitome of logic, while musicians are basically irrational.

Take Alzheimer’s disease… My grandmother, my aunt, and my father all suffered from Alzheimer’s and I fully believe that, one day, it will get me too. You would think that Alzheimer’s research would be more important to me than, say, music. But I only think about Alzheimer’s research a few times a year. I think about music every day.

That’s why I was honored to be invited to play at Crawford County Care Center’s “Longest Day” festival on June 21. June 21 is the “longest day” of the year; that is, the day with the most hours of daylight (in the northern hemisphere, anyway).

It’s also the day chosen by the Alzheimer’s Association to coordinate events around the world to raise awareness for this disease. I’ve played for worthy causes before, but this is the first one in which I actually have a stake.

For more about Longest Day, check out:

http://act.alz.org/site/TR?fr_id=10935&pg=entry

Thanks again for your support, and remember to always make time for music.

 

I’m often asked what kind of guitar I play. I find this is less because people are interested in my guitar than that it gives them an excuse to talk about their own instruments. Today, therefore, I’d like to turn the table and discuss a couple of my guitars.

My main guitar is my 1963 Gibson ES-120T. It’s the bottom of the line of Gibson’s ES series, but that’s like graduating last in your class at Harvard. It’s not terribly expensive for a vintage instrument – some used copies on Ebay are as low as $1300 – but it anything happens to it, they’re not making any more!

I used it when I played with Seann Clark and Brenna Bone at the “Nashville Next” competition at Doc Holliday’s back in September. It’s one of those smoky, “beer and a shot” places where you feel a fight might break out any minute. When I had to go to the bathroom, I took the guitar with me!

To prevent this sort of thing from happening again, I recently purchased an Epiphone Dot Studio. It plays and sounds beautifully… and if anything happens to it, I’m only out $200.

The Dot Studio made its debut last month when I sat in with Seann and Brenna’s other band Sonny’s Fugitives. Their lead guitarist Tony Kellogg and I have been friends for years, but this was the first time we’d ever played together onstage., unless you count open mic at the Villa (and I never count open mic at the Villa).

Brenna – who more or less swept the Rock Erie Music Awards a couple of years ago (Best New Artist, Best Country Artist, Best Original Song) – recently relocated to Nashville, but I’ll be playing with her and Seann at the Edinboro Hotel Bar on Thanksgiving Eve. If you’re in the area, you should check it out. If things go for Brenna the way I think they will, there won’t be many more opportunities to see her in a small venue.

Since I left my old Chicago band Childhood’s End in 1991, the other three guys have been recording under the name The Vinyl Goods. I played bass on their 1994 album Coming Home.

Earlier this year they revisited the master tapes for that album and made some tremendous sonic improvements. Don’t have Coming Home? Buy it at their website https://www.vinylgoods.com/store. Already own it? Buy it again. It’s that good.

It gave me the idea to go back to my 1999 album Foul Weather Friend to see what could be done to it. First off, I’d like to record new drums. The bass guitar parts are basically mud. There are also some out-of-tune guitars, and my singing throughout the disc is pretty poor.

So, I’d have to redo bass, guitars, vocals, and drums… Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If I’m going to do all that, I might as well record a new album from scratch.

Which is exactly what I’m going to do! This way, I wouldn’t be bound to any particular tracklist, and I’d be able to transpose the songs into keys I can actually sing them in.

Why do I want to do this? I’d like to have a decent sounding representation of the songs I wrote between 1991 and 1998 (something I don’t have at the moment).

So, in conclusion, thanks again for your support. If you’re driving anywhere for the holidays please be careful, and remember to always make time for music.

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