Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Ross Rowley – Why do musicians hang it up after their formative years of playing music?

Why do musicians hang it up after their formative years of playing music? I’ve seen it all too many times. Local players will come to a crossroads in their lives where the pull of married life, the raising of kids or the responsibilities to their job takes them away from a talent they had excelled at.

I’ll grant you, continuing to play music, in a dance band setting especially, can be quite trying. There are the long hours associated with the night of the performance. A typical evening can run as long as seven or eight hours, not including travel time when playing in the far reaching areas of Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties. There is the situation of alcohol abuse when in proximity to an establishment that places an emphasis on selling booze. And there are the social situations one may become embroiled in when out in the public eye.

Every show business personality has its own set of groupies, that’s for sure. I’ve seen Humboldt Crabs groupies and I’ve seen Redwood Acres stock car groupies, too. Those worlds are pretty similar when someone has a skill that others would like to draw themselves closer to in intimate ways. Do surfers have groupies? Do stage actors have groupies? Do snow boarders have groupies? I’m going to guess, yes. And what about radio personalities? The answer seems certain.

After years of performing, most times at a hectic pace, the joys of playing music can become secondary to the grind. Between the drudgery of setting up and tearing down of equipment and the late hours, “the scene” also holds a host of hazards known only to those who are caught up in the cast. Whether or not, “the scene” has chased a good many players from the music scene, depends on the inner strength of the individual, I guess.

And age plays a part, too. Professional athletes have a limited career span. Former national champion tri-athlete Mike Pigg will tell you that as he wound down his professional career while in his 30s. That’s why senior leagues in say, softball and bowling exist. They’re designed for the joy of playing the game without the pain. There isn’t a senior league for bands, though. Not really.

We’re very lucky to have a large group of senior members of the musical community still performing. (If you’re over 50 and are eligible for a subscription to AARP’s Modern Maturity, then you qualify. Even if you still attempt to don those leather pants on Friday night.) Some of these senior members are battle-scarred veterans with years of playing under their belt and still performing between 35 and 50 times per year. Take my word for it that is a fair amount. It wasn’t that long ago when bands were playing 100 nights per year while gainfully employed in a day job. That will wear you down both mentally and physically giving you pause to wonder whether hanging it up could be an option.

A lot of these senior players have decided to stop performing except for on rare occasions. Sometimes, their own egos pull them up onto the stage and other times, they want to give it one more Hail Mary to relive their glory days. (And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that)

I think the perfect venue for many of these players is the Sunday afternoon garage jam at one of their former band buddies’ houses. The gigs start at 2 p.m. and rarely go past dinnertime. There’s cold beer and snacks and the wives, girlfriends, husbands and boyfriends tend to leave them alone to while away the hours playing music for pure enjoyment.

Many times, players will acquire brand new equipment or purchase that vintage dream instrument, usually sanctioned by a spouse, now that he or she is finally able to afford it. Playing on it once a week suits them just fine. At times, their project combos or reunion bands will venture out to perform at a wedding, usually for one of their own kids, or they’ll book a set at the North Country Fair, Arcata Fourth of July festival or the Trinidad Fish Festival. It’s really good to see them out and playing.

I had a discussion with a fellow who had just come off the road with the likes of Bon Jovi, Lionel Richie and Earth, Wind and Fire. I asked him if he was seeing young musicians out there working in that capacity. He hadn’t. He was amazed that the road bands and crews are all well into their late 40s and 50s. We wondered if this is the end of a generation. Would the next era, the next Rolling Stones, the next AC/DC’s, the next Aerosmith bands exist? Bands that continued performing well past their half-century mark. He surmised, “Well, if they do exist, who are they?” He sure wasn’t seeing them. The senior bands that are out there are working the casino circuit, Branson, Missouri, Las Vegas and not so oddly, the jam band festival circuit.

Old rockers never die, they just find a more comfortable place to play. Playing music shouldn’t’ hurt, but sometimes it just does. I’m not sure why Neil Young, in his song “Hey, Hey, My, My (Into The Black)” on the album Rust Never Sleeps wrote, “It’s better to burn out, than to just fade away.” Kurt Cobain quoted him in his impassioned note found at the scene of his death. Perhaps that’s a very prophetic view for most musicians. And then, there’s B.B. King.

My, my, hey, hey, Ross’s column is here to stay. (Apologies to Neil Young for that one.)


  Carol wrote @

There is a song by the group Jethro Tull that goes something like this:

“He was told old to rock and roll
But too young to die”

I am glad to see you are still writing, Ross. We miss 299 Opine and Ekovox.

  Monica wrote @

There’s one local “rocker” who wears leather pants. It makes me laugh. I wonder if Ross was referring to him.

Miss you, Ross!

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