Not My Best Gig


Senior Member
I know there's at least one thread with people sharing stories of their worst gigs, but I'm not able to find it now, so please bear with me as I admit right here and now that my worst gig ever was just two days ago, last Monday night.


I'm 66 years old. I've been pretty successful in showbiz, and although it hasn't been as a drummer it all started because of my playing. I retired from my non-drumming scene after heart surgery last year, and my wife and I moved to a little tourist town known for its art and music.

Since we got here I've been jamming with local and visiting pros, mostly at home. Last December I played an experimental music gig in a 200 person auditorium in Seattle, which until Monday was the smallest venue I've ever played in. I've been looking for a band to gig with more permanently, and a friend recommended me to a local middle-aged Lady Jazz Singer. LJS got in touch, said she wanted to put together a trio to back her, and that she had work lined up, starting at the end of October. It sounded like just what I wanted, so I said, "I'm in."

The Bad Gig:

It's not the end of October yet, but the Lady Jazz Singer called Monday morning and asked if I'd accompany her at an Open Mic at a club in town that night, so we could meet and get some experience playing together. Said she'd have a piano player but the bass player she wanted had told her he only worked when he got paid. Having been burned a few times in my life, I feel the same way. But I was interested in trying something new so I said I'd be there.

Now that I was on her side, LJS launched into a familiar, and tired, tale of personal woe. Last week, she told me, she was fired from her day job, suddenly and unjustly. Upset, she went out and had "just one drink," started home - and ended up spending the weekend in jail for DUI.

"I never drink too much," she said. "And I never take drugs. Only smoked weed maybe 6 times in my life. But now I'm unemployed and have nowhere to live because I need to spend all the rent money on a lawyer. Everything's gone to hell and it's not my fault."

When I say this story is familiar, I mean it. It's the same story every addict I've ever worked with in any aspect of showbiz has at one time or another told me. The only variation was that she copped to having smoked pot 6 times instead of the usual 2 or 3.

I knew the real meaning of this story: Trouble.

And that I should back out of Open Mic Night. But since the venue was literally 3 minutes away from my house by car, I went through with it.

Open Mic started at 6 PM. I got there at 5:45 with my smallest kit, a Sonor Tiger thing. 16" tom-turned-bass. 12" and 13" toms. A PDP maple snare. Decent Zildjian hats, old A Custom ride and crash. (Needed two cymbal stands to mount the two toms on.) The good news was that the club has a drum rug as well as a piano, and a P.A. system. The not so good news was that the place is only slightly larger than my living room. A dozen tiny two-person tables and a three-foot bar.

I was setting up when LJS arrived. We figured out who each other was, said hello, and then she walked away. Maybe I was out of line, but I'd figured she'd want me to sit near her so we could discuss what we were playing - before we, you know, played - and maybe out of courtesy since the club was a place where the same people came to play every week and everyone knew each other but me.

Instead, when I was done I looked up and found LJS in the middle of a group of people. She shrugged me off when I walked over to them, and I ended up sitting alone on the periphery while waiting for our turn. I had a tequila on the rocks but didn't order any food because I didn't want to have to abandon it in mid-chew when we were up, and I didn't know when that would be.

Two hours later, after listening to three songs each from assorted folk singers, Irish pipers, and poets practicing for a slam, my "boss" for the evening came over to tell me the piano player hadn't shown up but that we'd be joined by a 7-string guitar player who, who, she confided, couldn't keep a beat, and that she was going to play piano even though she'd never sung and played at the same time before.

I knew the real meaning of this: More trouble.

But instead of backing out I said I needed a few things to make this situation work for me. I needed her to count down the opening so I'd know the tempo and that the three of us would be starting together. I needed her to signal me when she was on her last chorus so we could end together. Oh, and, yeah, it would help to know what we were playing.

LJS nodded as though she was listening, and walked away. A few minutes later it was our turn. I took my place at the drums, took out my brushes, because what else would you use when accompanying a Lady Jazz Singer, especially in such a small space, and waited for the name of the song and the countdown.

Instead, LJS looked at the guitarist, nodded, and they started BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER together.

I admit it. I hate that song. It's bloated and overblown and reminds me of Elvis's last, horrifying Vegas days. But I joined right in and immediately realized that LJS not only didn't know how to play piano and sing simultaneously, she didn't know how to play the piano at all.

She also couldn't keep time any better than the guitarist. I tried to do the right thing - follow her since she was the "star." But she kept changing tempo one way while the guitarist went another. Compounding matters was that in this small room even the brushes and the very muffled 16" bass drum were way too loud. Hell, the chik of the hats was way too loud too. I considered forcing a tempo, but that went against the grain, so I ended up playing into my Vegas Elvis nightmare, trading the brushes for mallets, doing the quietest possible cymbal rolls so I could create some kind of quasi-dramatic effect.

The good news this time was that LJS had a solid jazz voice - right up there with all the wedding singers you've heard. The not so good news was that didn't keep the song from being 7 minutes of musical agony in which, because they'd played it together before, the singer and guitarist ended pretty much at the same time while I...well, having gotten no signal and not being guided by tempo in any way, I ended a final half-hearted crescendo just a tad early.

LJS shot me a look. (It was the only time she looked at me, actually.) Then, into the mic, she informed me (and the rest of the room) that the next two songs "are ballads Pete (the guitarist) and I have practiced, so you just sit out."

First time in over 50 years of drumming that I've been told not to play over a live mic in front of the audience. All I could think was, "Wow."

And wonder how quickly I could get the hell out of there.

After the other two songs were done - with me sitting and watching from behind - the audience did the usual applause and LJS left not just the stage but the building with a guy who'd been sitting next to her earlier. Well, she was going to be needing a place to live soon, so that made sense to me.

Time for my getaway. But I didn't want to be a jerk tearing down the drums while more hopefuls took their place onstage. I decided to wait till everyone was done. I mean, how long could that take?

Answer: Another two hours, that's how long.

But this time I ordered one of those silly gourmet pizzas clubs like this have, and it was pretty damned good.
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Senior Member
There were some positives to this experience, but I didn't want to ruin a good story by including them in the post.

A couple of acts during the remaining two hours were damned good, and when they got onstage they asked if I would join them. Blues players, the whole lot, all instrumental, no vocal. I abandoned brushes and mallets in favor of sticks and the feeling of, "Screw it. I'm a drummer. I make noise," and had a good time.

At the end of the night the MC thanked me for coming and bringing the kit. Evidently it's been a year or two since they'd had drums there.

And the next day - yesterday - one of the blues guys got in touch to see if we could play again. Looks like we're getting together this weekend at his practice space to work things out with the rest of his peeps before we play together in public.

But I won't be playing with Ms. LJS again.

Nor listening to her next tale of woe.


Platinum Member
I am just a beginner but that is a situation where a little more upfront conversation could have saved lots of headaches. Like in business, it's the personalities that make the deal work or not.

Give yourself credit for trying something new at that stage of your life and it sounds like there will be some reward for your effort.


Senior Member
I am just a beginner but that is a situation where a little more upfront conversation could have saved lots of headaches. Like in business, it's the personalities that make the deal work or not.

Give yourself credit for trying something new at that stage of your life and it sounds like there will be some reward for your effort.
Thanks. I'll take all the credit I can get.

You're right, of course about the "upfront conversation." Having more of it would save a lot of headaches throughout most if not all areas of life.

But to have that conversation all of the parties have to want to both talk and listen. And all too often - like this time - that just doesn't happen.


Gold Member
Wow! Man, my heart goes out to you! But you did the noble thing and hung in there and it seems like the MC or whomever really appreciated your being there. Sounds like you got some good contacts in the Blues people also. Great story!


Silver Member
just talking about this the other day...when you are stuck in a hopeless, waste of time jam or super pissed at a bandleader. there is no easy way to "get the hell out of there" ("i am done...goodbye") like a flute player can do. you have to take the time & pack up (while fuming or embarrassed)! instead of the HipGig kit, we need a PissedGig™ kit (packs up in 60 seconds) for those questionable "uh-oh" gigs that go south in a hurry. :)


Platinum Member
"Everything's gone to hell and it's not my fault."
Whenever I hear anyone say this, in any context, even if it's true, I take notice. It's usually a revealing statement about the person who says it.

Anyway, sounds like you handled the situation really well and made the best of a crap gig.


Platinum Member
That was a pretty incredible story. I often wonder how the lives of people like this jazz singer's can get the way they do. Were they like this as kids, or did they hang out with the wrong crowd that influenced them in a bad way. I'm certain that the addictions didn't help things, but was it a cause and effect situation?

I'm glad something good came out of it for you. If it were me I'd be boiling inside after the way this person shafted you. we've all had bad gigs, and usually it is because of something we don't have control of. But in this case, the singer had total control over the situation, and decided to screw you and not even explain why or apologize. Truly sickeing behavior.


Senior Member
But this time I ordered one of those silly gourmet pizzas clubs like this have, and it was pretty damned good.
Wow, way to stay positive through food!

Haha sorry to hear of your troubles. And its good to hear the Blues gigging might work out. The World operates in mysterious ways.


Staff member
PissedGig™ kit (packs up in 60 seconds) for those questionable "uh-oh" gigs that go south in a hurry. :)
Hahaha, inflatable kit, I'm on it :) :) Cymbals might be a challenge though.

Good story my Hip' friend. I can honestly say I've never been in that situation, but I have been involved in a few gigs that have gone bad for different reasons. I think you did the honourable thing, & it sounds like you'll be justly rewarded.


Senior Member
uhhh I hate that person who is not only wrong but thinks you're wrong. There isn't much you can do, you try and force a tempo they'll wander in and out, you go with them they'll still wander in out.
Oh well, you got through and had pizza, not a bad night imo!


Platinum Member
You acted with class and maturity,but if I ever saw her again,I'd punch her lights,and tequila:not so bad.A few hours out of the house,and some new musician buddies.I'd say you scored.Somebody handed you lemons and you made lemonaide.Cheers.

Steve B


Silver Member
Hahaha, inflatable kit, I'm on it :) :) Cymbals might be a challenge though.
oh yeah...i did see that inflatable thing. i thought even MD reviewed it ?

is a good story, HipshotPercussion & what you documented is an invaluable lesson. i am imagining Gigging 101 taught in music programs around the country...heh.