A few months back I was invited to join a cowboy band, not a band that sings country western but old-school cowboy music like Cool Water, Tumbling Tumble Weed, Ghost Riders in the Sky and many others songs that I’d never heard of before. In addition to cowboy music, the band also has an extensive repertoire of Hawaiian Music.
The band is made up of five of us—a lead singer (and organizer) who plays acoustic guitar, someone who plays electric bass guitar but doesn’t sing, someone who plays a steel guitar but does not sing, a fellow who sings baritone and then me, singing bass.
They are actually very good musicians and so I was surprised by the invitation. I guess Steve, the fellow who organized the band, had heard me sing in the church choir and decided I’d be a good addition to their intimate ensemble. In truth, I like to sing and so why not.
Before I started rehearsing with the band, Steve took me out shopping and outfitted me in black wrangler jeans, a belt with a big western buckle, black and red western shirts, bandannas and a ten-gallon hat. I tried to tell him that I’d be happy to reimburse him if he decided I wasn’t a good fit for the band but he ignored my comment and told me I’d be fine.
Well, I went to the first rehearsal and realized two things: First, I don’t know most of the music. Second, there are no written notes on the pages of music, just words with guitar chords written above the words. I realized that I’d need to figure out how to make the sounds coming out of my mouth harmonize with the other vocalists.
We had our first performance a few weeks back, a 50-minute Hawaiian program on an outdoor stage with three or four hundred people either in the audience or listening as they milled about the venue.
I faced another challenge that day. The man who sings baritone was out of town. It was me and the lead. I was told it was easy. “Just sing one third step below the lead.”
Okay. Easy for you who have been doing this music for years now to say. But it was new to me. Figuring out the bass with someone else singing baritone was one thing. But figuring out a good “tight harmony” (as my fellow band members call it) to Steve’s melody when the words and tunes of these songs were pretty new to me felt like a stretch.
But what was I to do? I even thought back to my blog post from a few weeks earlier about skiing down the mountain. My friend told me it was okay to not look good. I get that. People like to see examples of others being less than perfect. True enough on the ski slopes, but this was a performance.
I remember listening to another band perform before we took the stage—they were wonderful. Joe, our bass guitar player, told me that the lead had been a professional singer his entire career. He and the woman who played and sang beside him had beautiful harmonies.
Oh boy. I got up and walked around and talked positively to myself—”I have a good voice. I’ve been rehearsing this music. I’m going to get up there and … what? … enjoy myself.”
It came our time and we moved up on stage. I sang to the best of my ability. There were times I knew the harmonies and moved close to the mic. There were times I was unsure and backed off a bit. But no matter what, I smiled. Some of the audience smiled and even chuckled right back at me.
I felt good because I stood straight and tall and gave it my best. I decided to support myself no matter what. I think I got a good dose of no matter what. (Some of you who go back years with me may be chuckling that I was finally getting my comeuppance.)
I remember packing up after the performance. I told Steve what I thought—I felt confident in some parts and was unsure in other parts. What’d he think? Now Steve is a very kind man. “Yeah, that about sums it up.” He had to leave immediately to go to a wedding so we didn’t talk more.
Well, I’m still in the band. Our next gig is on the largest stage in town in front of a thousand people attending the national convention of the Son’s of the Pioneers.
I tell Steve, during our rehearsals, that I want his feedback and instruction. And then we finish another song and he smiles and tells me it’s good enough. I kinda like good enough. And for sure, if its good enough for Steve, its good enough for me. Besides, I can always fall back on “Oh well!”
How about you? Do you have a good “Oh well!” story?