Decided to play a few services pretending I was BB King this week. Normally I pretend I’m the Edge; but this past week I have been without my main amp head. Not because it broke down, but because the once apple red colored tolex has faded into what looks like the Brady Bunch carpet. And I don’t mean that as a joke…that’s simply how ugly it is. So, while a very talented friend of mine is working on it, I’ve been having to use my backup amp. It’s also a Holland, but it’s the Brentwood model (yes, I admit…I bought it solely because it was named after a community in Hollywood…a community really, really near the Holiday Inn that Al Pacino stays at in Heat…shivers…sad). The Brentwood is 6L6-based, and much more bluesy and American sounding than my main EL84-based head. I usually use it for my pad live, or as my plug straight in amp for small gigs and such. And then whenever my main amp goes down or needs attention, I just buy another EL84-based amp I’ve been wanting to try out, give it a review, and then gig it until my Holland is ready, and then sell the one I just bought. And I always convince myself that I am actually making money when I buy and sell these ‘fill-in-the-gaps’ amps. But…uh…as money is really scarce right now, it’s not the time to risk the fact that I may in fact be lying to myself.
And there’s no rule saying that you have to change styles when you switch it up gear-wise. But I thought it might be a kind of cool opportunity to stretch myself a bit…and to make sure I’m not boring the sweet goodness out of my listeners with my constant ‘that sounds like U2 but not as good’ riffage. So, for the couple gigs and services I’ve been without my main amp, I did bring my pedalboard for some of the songs that just have to have effects. But for the most part, I played effectless (I know…just typing that seems like heresy) with just strat into 6L6 amp. And I chose some songs that lended themselves a bit more to a Jeff Buckley ballad style or a BB King blues style. And the one service I played as the lead guitarist, I just told the worship leader, ‘Tough, bro. I’m copping jazz tonight. Deal with it.’ No, not really… It actually was great timing, and one of the reasons I took the amp in now…because at that church, the stage is getting re-constructed, so we had to have the night service in the coffee shop…perfect for BB King pretences.
(‘I’m horrible with chords.’ –BB King. So humble, yet so much soul. Talk about picking the absolute perfect note every time. BB King can rip your heart out with one bend, over the same chords that a lot of other guys use to play eighty-two double train-whistle bends that barely touch your heart.)
But it was a great experience to force me to change it up. See, you can do it by just telling yourself to change it up. But, I know at least for me, if there’s not some difference in the circumstances to force me to, I’ll usually forget that I was even trying. hehe But with this, it just made me look at each part of each song like…it was weird, it felt like I was playing out for the first time. You get into the habit of, even if it’s a new song, ‘Okay, the chords are going here…oh, that’s where I play this.’ And this past week, it allowed me to look at everything in a new way. And it was really, really fun. Which is a really important part that we don’t talk about very often.
So, maybe it’s a good thing to try every once in a while. Plug straight in for a bit, or force yourself to turn your amp up too loud so you have to nurse your volume knob as you play to help your dynamic mindset, or leave a delay on an untimed setting (low mix, of course) and force yourself to play with it, or change guitars to one you don’t use as much, or do all your lead work on acoustic one day, or whatever. Now, make sure the conditions are correct for you to experiment…if the worship leader has chosen ‘I am Free’, don’t say, ‘Oh, sorry bro. I’m not allowing myself to turn on my delay pedal today.’ Or if it’s a gig and a song you guys have written, you’ll literally kill (as in, they will die) your band if you decide today is the day for your flanger to be your ‘always on’ pedal. (Come to think of it, flange should just never be on. ) But if the conditions lend themselves to it, it can really refresh your mindset to change it up.
And for the record, would BB King have been impressed with my stellar, seeping with emotion out of the riff’s pores if riffs had pores, blues riffs? Eh…probably not so much. I think I did the same bend like, 6 times. He’d probably say something akin to what Edge would say if he ever heard me play (sorry, letting my personal fantasies get in the way here again). I always get excited when I have this dream…but then, right at the best part when Edge opens his mouth to congratulate me on my ‘owning it’, he says something like, ‘You know, I really like my ‘Walk On’ riff. And you…uh…found a way to fit it into every song. Four times each. Good…uh…job.’