Language barriers, cultural misunderstandings and onstage musical collaborations that don’t work out highlight a “failure to communicate.”

drowningpool3Drowning Pool

Despite running through singers the way Spinal Tap did drummers, Drowning Pool continues to be one of the consistent forces in the alt-metal scene. The Dallas quartet formed in 1996, and by the 2000s had secured frequent slots on the festival circuit, from Ozzfest to Wrestlemania.

"It was on a Sunday night in Salt Lake City, Utah. Friday and Saturday nights had been spent playing L.A. and Vegas. Not only did we play those cities, we took full advantage of the excess both cities offered. We pulled into Salt Lake on Sunday, sleep deprived and very hung-over...

"Everything came apart during the show. Speakers blew, guitars went out of tune. Our enthusiasm was gone by the end of the third song.

"Toward the end of the set, however, most of the crowd had come to life even though we were barely hanging on. Prior to the last song, Dave (Williams) had the audience fired up.

"'Give it up for heavy metal!' he screamed.

"The crowd roared back!

"'Give it up for alcohol!'

"The crowd roared louder! Dave had them right where he wanted them.

"With his final anthem, he cried, 'Give it up for Satan!'

"Not a peep from the crowd. It was one of those classic moments when you hear crickets chirp. We played the last song and walked off the stage in silence."

— Stevie Benton, Drowning Pool

John Scofield John Scofield

With dozens of acclaimed albums to his credit and numerous high-profile collaborations, fusion luminary John Scofield has joined the likes of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell as one of the most respected guitarists in modern jazz. The Ohio native and Berklee College of Music alum has made a name thanks to his nimble fingers and a distinctive, distorted guitar tone that is more muted than piercing. From 1982 to 1985, the guitarist scored his most significant assignment, recording and touring with pioneering jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Scofield embarked on a solo career thereafter, often collaborating with acts not initially associated with jazz-rock, such as Gov't Mule and Medeski, Martin & Wood.

"I've played amazingly hilarious gigs in my life, back before I was known as a guitarist -- when I was just jobbin' around as they say. ... I was a music student in 1970 in Boston. Me and my friend Dave Samuels (Spyro Gyra), a vibraphonist who is pretty well known in jazz (circles), we were both Berkelee students at Berkelee School of Music. We got a call to play a St. Patrick's Day gig in Chelsea, Massachusetts -- which is an Irish town right outside of Boston -- with some Irish drummer we didn't know. So we're just supposed to show up there.

"We showed up and set up our instruments, and the guy set up his drums, and he was the lead singer, too. So this is a weird instrumentation to begin with: vibes, guitar and a drums/singer. And this guy was Irish, as in from Dublin.

"We're in some Sons of Ireland ... hall in this real working-class place. So we pick up our instruments and people come in, and he says, (in accent) 'Let's start with 'Mrs. O'Flannery's Cow.'

"And we said, 'Well, we don't know that one.'

"Then he starts to run this list of traditional Irish tunes, and we had no idea what he was talking about, of course.

"So he said, 'Just FOLLOW ME.' So he starts to play the drums and sing. And we had no idea what to do. So we started to just play little chords and try to follow what key he was in. And we were fucking up. He's singing, 'And Mrs. Flannery went to town/And then came back in the mornin'.' And he's looking at us, and the audience is starting to look at us like, 'What the fuck? Everybody knows "Mrs. Flannery's Cow."'

"He went from one tune to another. Then the audience started to boo us. He was getting real mad, and said, 'Come on. Play with me. Play with me.'

"The audience is drunk -- they'd been drinking all day. So finally, this little 80-year-old guy says, 'Get the fuck off the stage.' And he pulls out this upright piano and starts to play with the drummer. So we just started to slink in the background, standing there with our instruments as this guy began to take over. Then we just sort of unplugged to go get in the car and leave.

"I can't believe that it happened, but it did."

— John Scofield

 

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lukas-nelson1Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

Lukas Nelson earned his first songwriting credit at the age of 11, when he contributed "You Were It" to an album released by his father, country legend Willie Nelson. He's been pursuing music ever since. Now the skilled guitarist and singer fronts his own band, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, which also features bassist Corey McCormick, drummer Anthony LoGerfo and percussionist Tato Melgar. The rock/blues/jam quartet released its self-titled debut LP in 2010, leading to recent appearances on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman," and high-profile festival slots such as Farm Aid.

"The worst road experience was this one time we went to Denver. We played ... I will not name the club. There was this unnamed guy -- we'll call him Jerry -- and he was a promoter. Jerry was a son of a bitch. ... My brother (Micah Nelson) has a band called The Reflectacles, and they had driven from California in just a car for that one show. It took them hours and hours. They were supposed to play right before us. So this promoter puts out this flier, and we see it right when we get to the show. He had been promoting it as, 'COME DRINK AND SMOKE WITH WILLIE NELSON'S KIDS!' It was super, super tacky. My brother was not even of age (to legally drink). It was just so bad. The sound was horrible. And (Jerry) had this girlfriend of his, and he put her band in front of my brother's band. So we got super pissed at him. ... The problem was just the complete lack of class. ... The sound sucked. I ended up sitting down on the stage (then) I left. I just walked off the stage."

— Lukas Nelson, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real

floggingmolly1Flogging Molly

Few bands have blended two seemingly unrelated styles more successfully than Flogging Molly, a rollicking mix of traditional Irish music and punk rock. Dublin native Dave King had established himself as the lead singer of 1980s metal act Fastway when he decided to team with some friends in '93 for a weekly gig at L.A. pub Molly Malone's. Eventually, the lineup became permanent, featuring fiddle player (and King's future wife) Bridget Regan, guitarist Dennis Casey, accordion player Matt Hensley, drummer George Schwindt, bassist Nathen Maxwell and mandolinist Bob Schmidt. Flogging Molly continues to enjoy an unusually loyal following, which celebrates the band's poetic collision of old world and new world sounds.

"One of my horrible touring experiences was in ... the U.K. We were on the bus, and you can't take a shit on your bus. So when you stop at a truckstop, that's when you have to do your business. We were driving, and I had one of those times when I woke up and 'you got to go.' There are no questions. I won't get into too much detail. We've all had the experience.

"I got to run off the bus because it just stopped. Perfect. I threw on my shorts and my flip-flops, and I run into the gas station. I do my business. I come out and the bus isn't there. I go, 'Oh, they probably went around back because they were in front.' I walk around back. The bus isn't there. I walk around front again. The bus isn't there.

"I don't have a cell phone. I don't have any money. I don't have any ID. I have nothing but shorts and flip-flops. Now I'm at this British truckstop. It's 8 in the morning. I'm hung over, and I look like shit. I realize the bus has left me, and I don't know what to do. With cell phones -- I'm sure people can relate to this -- you don't memorize numbers anymore. The first thing was like, 'I'll call somebody.' But I don't remember anybody's number! But it doesn't matter because I don't have a cell phone or any money for a pay phone.

"I walk in (to the gas station), and this grumpy old lady is behind the (counter). I said, 'I gotta ask you a favor.' I ask her, 'Can I call the U.S.?'

"She's like, 'Piss off. No, you can't use our phone.'

"I was like, 'But I really have to.'

"She was not having any of that.

"I walk out and there's a hotel across the street. I walk over and ask, 'Can I use your phone to call the U.S.? I was left by my tour ...'

"They just look at you like you're out of your mind -- drugs, or whatever they're thinking. I'm desperately trying to be calm and cool about it.

"They're like, 'No. No. No.'

"I'm panicking now. I'm walking around and walking around. By the way, we have laminates on the tour that tell you where your next city is. I didn't have my laminate. So I couldn't tell anybody where I was going either. I don't keep track of that -- you show up and you're there.

"I go to (another) gas station. They're like, 'No. Can't use the phone. Sorry, buddy.'

"I'm just walking around. An hour goes by. I'm panicked. 'What am I gonna do? I don't know where I have to go. I don't have any money, no cell phone, nobody's number. I'm in the middle of England, and I don't even know where I am in England to tell somebody to come and get me.' That made it worse when I would ask people where I was.

"Eventually, by my third trip back to the hotel, they realized I was pretty desperate. I was getting real serious, like, 'I'll pay you. I'll give you a credit card number over the phone. You can charge me a room. Do whatever you have to do.'

"They let me call, and I got in touch with our manager -- he's been our manager forever, so I knew his number. I called him ... and, of course, he didn't answer because it's L.A. He's not up. I was like, 'Son of a bitch.'

"They dialed the number again for me, and eventually he answers.

"I was like, 'Gary. They left me at a truckstop, and I don't know where we are or where we're going to go.'

"He was waking up, 'What?'

"I said, 'Just call Joe, our tour manager, and tell him they left me at a truckstop.'

"He does his thing, and he calls me back and (says), 'Dude, you're like a hundred miles away from the gig.’ ... The bus driver is sleeping. They got to sleep because they drive through the night.'

"He's really bummed out. So he's like, 'I gotta work this out. You're a hundred miles away. I got to try and get you a ride.'

"So eventually he gets me a cab that we pay through the teeth for to take me to the (gig). We paid like hundreds of dollars for that ride. I get there, and the kick-in-the-balls part was everybody was looking at me like, 'Hey, what's up?' ... Everybody is just acting normal. I was like, 'Don't you guys know what happened to me?'

"They were like, 'No. Did you just wake up?'"

— Dennis Casey, Flogging Molly

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Flogging Molly Worst Gig

newduncanimperialsNew Duncan Imperials

Pigtail Dick (guitar and vocals), Skipper Zwackinov (bass, balloons, and vocal) and Goodtime Dammit (drums, drums, drums) started New Duncan Imperials for a laugh, honing a campy brand of rock in the basement of Dick's mother's house. Soon they were named the best live band in the city by both The Chicago Reader and The Chicago Tribune.

"We did this show in Finland at a cultural center in Helsinki. They set us up in like an art gallery. It was really echoey, and we were all jet-lagged because it was right after we got there. It was so awful. They didn't like us. We didn't know how to charm them because we didn't know how to speak Finnish -- I don't think anyone speaks Finnish outside of Finland. Then we were so loud that we knocked this art off the wall. It involved these half egg shells glued into it. It ruined the work of art, and they wanted us to pay for it ... something in kronas. It was way more than we were getting."

— Pigtail Dick, New Duncan Imperials

bernardpurdieBernard Purdie

Bernard Purdie is known as the "world's most recorded drummer." He has literally played on thousands of songs, for artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Bette Midler and Bob Marley. The Maryland native is also known for inventing "the Purdie Shuffle." His intricate signature groove turns up on a number of artists' tracks -- Steely Dan's "Babylon Sisters," for instance. And, yes, that's him behind the drum kit on iconic tracks such as "The Hustle" to "The Theme from Shaft."

"Not too many people have ever asked me that. I can't call it the worst, but I’ll tell you the one I tried to mess up because I was angry. They asked me to play like I was a 14 year old. I was upset. Here I am the number one drummer in New York and around the country, and they want me to sound like a 14 year old. So I tried to mess up the song. That song has haunted me for (45) years: 'Hang On Sloopy.'

"They wanted me to sound like a beginner. They wanted me to sound like a trash band, a garage band. They didn’t use those terms then. ... What made it even worse is that the producer and a couple of the guys in the band had been smokin' and drinkin'. It made me very, very upset. So I tried putting fills in every place but where I was supposed to. Once I've told the story around, then people listen to the song differently and say, 'Oh yeah, you would normally never put a fill here, and not do this here.'

"That's what happened. But I was trying to mess it up. And when we finished, they were like, 'That's it! That's perfect! That's the one!'

"I said to myself then that as long you live, if you don't like something or don't want to do it with somebody, then don't take the job. You cannot go with the wrong attitude to do a job when somebody is paying you. If you don't want to do the job, don't accept the job. So that has been my motto."

— Bernard Purdie

 

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danzanes2Dan Zanes

If you don't know who Dan Zanes is, chances are your kids do. The former Del Fuegos frontman has undergone a career rebirth by immersing himself in "age-desegregated folk music." In layman's terms, that means songs that children love but adults can equally enjoy. Whereas Zane's Fuegos -- dubbed Rolling Stone's best new band of 1984 -- once enjoyed airplay on MTV with hits such as "Don't Run Wild," he has recently found a much younger fan base on Noggin and Disney Channel. The kids-aimed networks show his peppy, homespun videos on seemingly perpetual rotation. Zanes' creative philosophy evokes a time when families and friends of all ages gathered around their neighborhoods to play instruments and sing songs -- and the loose, social atmosphere of his concerts reflect that.

"This might have been somewhere in Kansas where we played a particularly uninspired show, and the next morning the headline of the article read: "Del Fuegos take crowd for a walk on the dull side." That hurt, but they probably weren't far off. That might not have been the worst show, but it was certainly the worst followup to a show. That's the one that stays with me."

— Dan Zanes

moby-grapeMoby Grape

Taking its quirky name from the punch line of the joke, "What’s big and purple and lives in the ocean?," Moby Grape became one of the primary movers and shakers in the Bay Area music scene of the late 1960s. Critics consider the band one of the standouts of the era for its lively mingling of folk, blues, country and psychedelic sounds. Founder Jerry Miller was recently ranked No. 68 in Rolling Stone's "Top 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time," placing him ahead of such heavyweights as Eddie Van Halen, Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and AC/DC's Angus Young.

"We did one at the Fillmore East where we sat down. (Promoter) Bill Graham had a fit. He said, 'All you guys needed was coffins.' But some of the new generation thought it was really alternative. They just shit a brick. They thought we were the coolest thing ever. Yet we didn't understand what we were really obligated to do, which was to come on and give people what they wanted: 'Omaha' ass-kicking like it should have been. That was a valuable lesson. ... The audience was the cream of the crop (in the Bay Area scene of the '60s) -- not so much the musicians. It was the blessing of the audience. They gave and gave. The Grateful Dead and Big Brother and Jefferson Airplane were oftentimes very sour -- and Moby Grape was from time to time very sour. We had no tuners and (the PA systems) weren't great. But the audience was right there with you, always."

— Jerry Miller, Moby Grape

tresure fingers 03smTreasure Fingers

DJ and producer Ashley Jones spent a decade on the international club circuit with the drum & bass group Evol Intent. He recently launched as a solo act under the name Treasure Fingers, employing nimble remixes and originals that stress punchy synth hooks and mobile basslines. The Atlanta/Brooklyn-based artist is best known for "Cross the Dancefloor," a vocoder-driven track that became a club anthem and spawned dozens of remixes.

"I got a new worst gig -- I used to have another one -- but I've got a new one as of this past January (2011). I was in Australia, and it was billed as a beach party. It was on Australia Day, which is kind of like their Fourth of July. So I show up, and it's in a warehouse, inside, like 3 or 4 p.m., there's no beach in sight -- (not) even outside. It would be the equivalent of like if someone decided to throw a party in a club in the afternoon on Fourth of July when everyone was off and having parties at the beach or whatever. It's pretty sparse, and the room that I was on, the guys actually before me decided to stop.

"They're like, 'We're done with this.'

"They left. So there’s no music playing in there. So they come and grab me to go start playing. I walk in there, and the guys had switched the flatscreen (TV) on the walls ... to show a cricket game. There are like three or four or five guys just sitting in the middle of the dance floor watching this flatscreen cricket game.

"The promoter is like, 'You've got to go on. You've got to bring this back to life.'

"I was like, 'This is gonna be impossible.'

"I literally just turned it on and put on a CD really quiet, apologized to the cricket fans and let the CD play for an hour, looping over and over."

— Treasure Fingers

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Treasure Fingers Worst Gig

billlynchBill Lynch

R&B guitarist/singer Bill Lynch has shared the stage with performers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bonnie Raitt, Bo Diddley, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bruce Willis, but he's probably best known for his longtime collaborations with keyboard icon Mike Finnigan. He is also fondly remembered as the singer of the theme to the Emmy-nominated "It's Garry Shandling's Show" (1986-1990). Who could forget the catchy ditty, "This is the theme to Garry's Show / The opening theme to Garry's show / This is the music that you hear as you watch the credits." Lynch currently fronts an all-star band called The Midwestern Icons.

"Harmonica player Juke Logan and I were hired to open up and play with Homesick James. He claimed to have written 'Shake Your Moneymaker.' The guy was in his 80s and so obstinate. He hated us because we were white. He refused to tune.

"When we walked out onstage I said, 'I have a tuner if you want it.'

"He took total offense. He said, 'Boy, I've got A-440 ears. Don't touch my guitar.'

"So Juke and I get out there and play half a dozen songs. Then it was time for Homesick James. This was at The Music Machine, and the place was absolutely packed with blues fans coming out to see this living legend. The three of us were sitting on the stage in chairs, and Homesick James was sitting between me and Juke. The whole time he was stirring up trouble. He'd lean over and say something to me then mutter something to Juke. The whole thing was just horrible.

"I took a walk between shows just to cool down. I didn't know if I wanted to go back in and play with this guy. But the show must go on. So I get back onstage with him, and the second set he was even more out of tune. It was horrendous. I had resorted to just making rhythmic noises. He'd lean over and say, 'Play.' He would change chords whenever he felt like it.

"So he blows in an ending out of the blue, and Juke missed it and played an extra note. James snickered and leaned in to me and said, 'Never send a boy to do a man's job.'

"With this, I figured, 'I am done!'

"So I grabbed the microphone and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Homesick James!'

"He appeared sort of disoriented because it seemed weird that I all the sudden turned into some kind of announcer.

"I said, 'Can you believe it? Right here on our stage, a living legend: Homesick James!'

"He was just staring at me. The crowd was kind of stirring.

"Then I said, 'I can't believe I'm sitting next to Homesick James!'

"Then I said his name over and over until he stood up, threw his guitar down and left the stage.

"They wrote a review of the show in a local blues publication. In the review I remember one line that I loved. It said, 'The second set was wrought with malice.'"

— Bill Lynch