Sunday, November 25, 2012

November 2012 Soundcheck, Autumn Musings (Gloom, Despair N Agony & The Floorboards)

The Soundcheck, November 2012
By j. Gabrielle

Autumn Musings

What a whirlwind Fall this is turning out to be!  This column will be part confession this month.  I have been SO covered up; I’ve not been able to make the rounds to live shows that I usually do.  The beginning of October was the Virginia State Fair.  I would love to offer you a review of that!  I saw Diamond Rio, The Kentucky Head Hunters, Starwood! (A John Denver Tribute), The Rhinestone Roper & Lucky Joe; a fabulous Wild West show, and even a genuine FREAK SHOW!  Then it was back to Roanoke for several gigs and packing for a cruise as a face painter at the end of the month.  In the middle of all of this, Mac Daddy and I did manage a Friday night out to catch a couple of bands.

Gloom, Despair N Agony at The Village Grill was our first stop.  The power three-piece is very tight and has just the right sound for “punk-billy, surf”.  Their 10-song CD “Love Songs for the Zombie Apocalypse” is the perfect soundtrack to a stormy October Monday morning.  I have to say I am enjoying hearing the nuances and lyrics to these well-written songs, something I missed at the live show.  I have already made a mental note to myself to see these guys at a big stage.  The Village Grill is a tough place for me to enjoy music.  The sound is always terrible, too loud, too distorted.  There is a tidal flow to the room as smokers periodically exit en masse to the deck.  Lead singer Chad Jordan had a good sense of humor about it and seemed to enjoy entertaining friends and family.  Bassist Randall Houchins sang a couple of songs, including a unique arrangement of “Folsom Prison Blues”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear a word he sang.  Same case when drummer Michael “King” Pendleton took the vocal on a Dead Volts tune.  The band has a good look and Chad is able to converse comfortably with the audience.   I detected no arrogance from the band - like they should be playing some place better – but they should be. 

Our second, and last stop of the evening was a benefit show for murder victim Anthony Hall and family at Growler’s.  The turnout for the event was HUGE for the three bands.  Another confession; I was already kicking myself as I entered the door for I realized I had once again missed Valley Blend writer J.D. and his band Madrone!  Forgive me J.D.  I’ll get there!  We did, however, make it in time for The Floorboards.

This was a band I knew nothing about except I loved the name and I knew drummer George “RockSteady” Penn.  George is one of those magical people to me that I just know whatever he’s involved in, I’m probably gonna like it.  Sure enough, just minutes into their set, I was all happy feet at the lyric-based country rock.   Tunes like “A Woman Named Whiskey” and “Pistol and a Bottle” are catchy and radio ready.  The band bio reads, “The Floorboards marry rock n' roll and country roots music with the sights and sounds of southern mountain towns. Jake and George shake the leaves from the trees. Bob wails like steam whistle cutting through the pines. Patrick coaxes stringed cries from the hills and hollers. Matt tells the story.”  Excellent description!  I hear comparisons to Uncle Tupelo, and locally, to work by Michael Mitchell and Clayton Ellers.  Must be the fiddle?  Jake Dempsey is on bass, Bob Chew, steel guitar, dobro, vocals, Patrick Turner on fiddle. mandolin and vocals, Matt Browning is the lead singer and rhythm guitar.  Back to that dreary Monday morning, this band is the perfect soundtrack to disappearing broken clouds and sunshine comin’ down.

I promise to revisit these bands at a later date.  Both are far more multi-faceted than this short musing can tell.  They deserve more space and they deserve more fans!  C’mon Roanoke!  SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC!

October 2012 Soundcheck,, The Music Police

The Soundcheck, October 2012

The Music Police
By J. Gabrielle

The recent article in The Roanoke Times about BMI’s (Broadcast Music Inc.) lawsuit against a Roanoke nightclub for copyright infringement made my blood start to boil…again.

There are three licensing agencies: BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. 

It was in 1909 when recorded music was in its infancy and the Copyright Law was passed.  This law said that 2 cents off of each sheet music and later, recordings, would be the “mechanical rate” and it would go to the songwriter.

Two cents!  Here’s the shocker.  That rate has moved higher over the years.  The last raise was in 2007.  It is NOW 9.5 cents per unit.  Yes, in 103 years we’ve given songwriters a 7 cent raise.

Now onto the licensing!

Anyone entertaining the public at large in a venue MUST pay licensing fees.  Because all songs are licensed by one of the three companies, fees must be paid to all three.  Fees run from a couple hundred dollars a year for a small store to $500-800 for a medium-sized club.  The scale increases for bigger clubs.  Who else pays licensing fees?  Also, movies, circuses, places with a jukebox and any establishment allowing live music pay.  Coffee houses. Television stations.  Satellite. Cable.  Sirius.  XMRadio. Grocery Stores. Drug Stores.  Does your bar have a T.V.?  You need a licensing fee.  Play music while a customer is on hold?  You owe!  The minimum is $283.  The maximum is over $8,000.

If you don’t pay your licensing fees, these companies will send you letters inquiring why.  They will send a representative who looks very much like a customer.  He will sit in your establishment writing down the songs he heard.  They will bring suit against you.

This happened to Shirley Thomas at The Iroquois Club in the early ‘90’s.  Shirley would not be played.  I was there the night the ATF came to seize the club’s door earnings (set aside for the band) to pay the licensing company.  It has not been substantiated, but it is said the cash got stuffed into a certain redhead’s bra as she was sent to the ladies room to hide until they left.  Shirley switched to an all-original venue thereafter, arguing that unlicensed songwriters owed them nothing!

In the early 2000’s, I was running the honky-tonk Briz’s in New Castle.  The licensors came for our little club.  They came and counted the chairs and multiplied it by seven nights a week.  They wanted $800 a year.  I argued that we weren’t full seven nights a week.  I bade him to come to WWF on Monday nights with just drunk Larry and me.  Finally, I showed him our jukebox over half full of local music.    I identified myself as a BMI writer.  I asked where my royalties were?  Surely if they counted “All My Rowdy Friends” they counted local music?  Or did they just skip that?   I told them that I was not “hostile”, but I was not cooperating until I saw some revenue for the local artist.

Funny.  They went away. 

In the last decade, BMI sued Gillie’s and Champs in Blacksburg.  Champs paid $10,500 in fines.  Fees per song in violation range from $750 to $15,000.  Champs now spends $1,000 a year in licensing fees.  BMI has also pursued Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea for an Old Time Music Jam.  The music performed there is now in the Public Domain.  Artists retain rights for life plus 70 years unless someone applies for extension (this happens in the case of Elvis or Michael Jackson, etc.).   After that, it is in the Public Domain, and no one owes any licensing on anything.

On a local level, these licensors contribute to preventing local musicians from making a living.  Each live music venue that has to pay out anything in an already stressed budget is diminished in what it can afford to pay local artists.  The three licensors pay all these collected fees to a 1% of the at large musician population.

When will we unite as musicians and club owners and turn this thing around?