"Being a singer-songwriter has made me poor, my ears are filled with constant ringing from playing in loud bars and 40 is right around the corner," said Gregory Page in Gigging for a Living: Candid Conversations with Independent Working Musicians, the new book by local musician and writer Steve Denyes. "I have made 11 albums and sold a dozen of each. I should have stayed in college and had a real life, a real relationship and a real future. Making music is wonderful. The rewards suck. Wanna hear more?"
There are thousands of San Diegans who are actively pursuing big music dreams. Very few are born with silver strings in their hands (lookin' at you, Norah Jones). Some will have it thrust upon them, possibly by parasitic agents looking to capitalize on their hottie factor, regardless of talent deficiencies.
Most, however, will have to find their own way. And no matter which introductory course they choose-Julliard or The Casbah-they'll probably find the path to be long and fraught with pathos.
They'll learn early that they'd better have:
A) A huge passion for what they do;
B) A day-job and a girlfriend or sugar daddy to support their starvation-prone habit;
C) Patience; and
D) Talent-because, after all, there are only 12 notes to create with.
Gigging for a Living may be of some interest to those trying to make it as musicians. In the book, Denyes speaks with more than a dozen local artists who are working and making a living without being signed to a major label. The book is not the holy grail of answers, as the interview sections are too brief and leave the reader hungry the ever-elusive Golden Insight. It is, however, interesting to learn how some of San Diego's most popular musical cats got to where they are and why the hell they keep on doing it, poverty be damned.
Denyes himself has spent more than 15 years balancing his life and checkbook with his passion for music. After finally accepting a teaching position a couple of years back, a steady income allowed him to indulge in creative projects he had put off for years, like performing a one-man play based on his last album (Waiting for Arleen) and, of course, writing the book.
"When I was doing [music] fulltime," he says, "I spent so much time on the business side of things-arranging gigs and tours-that I was always strapped for time and always broke."
The book was written, he says, both to give insight to young musicians and to the working musician who too often feels isolated because of their hectic public life.
Those interviewed include 7th Day Buskers' frontman Shawn P. Rohlf, Leucadia's one-man-blues-band Steve White and local jazz guitar virtuoso Peter Sprague-all of whom showed up at the Encinitas 101 Artists' Colony on July 20 for the book's release party.
"I just never really had much of a choice. I knew I was going to do it from the time I remember anything," says Rohlf, who admits being raised on a steady Minnesota farmboy diet of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, watching Hee-Haw and making his mama comb his hair just like Glen Campbell.
After early success and playing with the likes of Chick Corea and Al Jarreau, Peter Sprague made the conscious decision to come back home to San Diego, essentially foregoing commercial opportunity in favor of a better lifestyle.
"The music that I love is not popular music-it's pretty out there," says Sprague, who just released Pass the Drum, the 16th album under his own name. "It's jazz and not accessible to normal people. So if I wanted to-if what was really important to me was making it-I would have shifted my gears and done something like smooth jazz."
The guitarist has been forced to cut back his performance schedule due to the effects of arthritis in his hands. Now, he also runs his recording studio, Spragueland, out of his home.
Gigging for a Living also delves into the whole ball of personal hooey about being a musician, from the chaos in trying to have a "normal" relationship (explaining to your significant other why they'll always play second fiddle to your guitar), having to work every damn holiday and almost always hurting for scratch.
The book is a specifically local peak into the "real world" of those musical souls who dared follow their hearts. Those looking for answers in its pages may be disappointed; if commiseration from likeminded strugglers sounds appealing, however, there's plenty of it.
"The toughest thing is making enough money," says Rohlf, "but you can't let that ruin your whole life. Because you either wouldn't do it or you would kill yourself."