There’s a very interesting responses from Pete (USA) about ‘stagecraft’ (“Who played what?” below). He says about his playing in the early 1960s: “I really don’t think I became aware of just how to read an audience and how to construct sets as to get the crowd out on the floor until years later.”
I’m interested in how we learned those ‘craft’ skills – not musicianship, but performing ‘live’ to best effect. I think it took me a long time, because almost nobody ever contributed.
My ‘career’ as a largely semi-pro musician was odd. For 3/4 years I played mostly in a very occasional acoustic folk-blues duo until in October 1967 I joined my first ‘real’, properly organised band, Harlem Speakeasy which, about nine months later was a fully pro, recording act, touring the country. I don’t think I had a clue about performing.
I had another interestingly ‘steep’ learning curve in Rosemary (1969) when we signed a contract with (Warner) Chappell publishers and started working with a guy called Phil Pickett on recordings (made but never issued). I sang some Rosemary stuff OK, but some I didn’t – I always thought the gentler stuff didn’t really suit my voice, but Phil Pickett was the first person ever to suggest that maybe it was the chosen keys that didn’t suit me. I’d never heard such an idea before – I had no idea you could pick a key to suit the singer and that was just 18 months after going ‘pro’!
Then in the early 1980s in Steel Mill, by which time I reckoned I knew what it was all about, I had a mate who was a very impressive, experienced drama teacher. He didn’t like our music much (Noel Coward was more his style) but after seeing us play, he ripped into me for bothering to dress up for the gig and then not engaging with the audience (you know, shoe-gazing, eyes shut all that stuff). I learned a trick from him about either picking someone in the audience to sing to or, in cases of self consciousness, picking a spot between someone’s eye and ear and doing the same!
Only once in my life have I not been the ‘front man’, making announcements etc and that was the tour backing Country Joe when I sat at the back mostly with my snare drum, harmonica and washboard. Boy I can’t tell you how much I loved the freedom of that, while Joe was the star, but I guess over the years those stagecraft skills have been handy.