Official - Blues Men Takes To The Streets
It often sounds very romantic. Picture the scene - the blues man performing on the streets just like years gone by. See what it's like practically and also what you need to have to make a go of it. Jim Bruce relates a little about his life as a blues singer on the street in France. Everything you need can be found underneath - the equipment, where to play, practical tips and that crucial ingredient - attitude!
First Of All, Essential Basics!
This is a short list of some things I think are indispensable for a street playing blues guitar man:
Guitar (of course) - Chair- Amplifier and mic - Tuner - Something with wheels to carry everything - Sunglasses!
It goes without saying, you may include other things you
feel you may need , but bear in mind that you'll have to transport
everything. I use a shopping trolley and fasten everything to
it with elasticated chords. I can pack it all away in under 5
minutes (if I have to!)
A basic amplifier with 2 channels , assuming that you want to
sing. I started out with a microphone with a stand, but it was too
heavy and cumbersome. Nowadays I favor a microphone attached to
my head , which costs around 50 dollars for a reasonable
Channel one has basic tone and volume knobs - use for the voice,
and the other sports volume, gain, low, medium, and high gain
controls. This second channel is great for balancing the string
sounds of an acoustic guitar. The cost is great value at $120.
Bear in mind whereabouts you will be performing with your
guitar . Ask yourself , could it be damaged? It's very possible!
Could someone steal it ? These things happen - anything's
possible. One time I mislaid a special instrument on the
metro in error, as I was tired and not paying attention. Needless to say that I never recovered it.
My current street guitar is a Martin 000X1AE, which incorporates a
strip pickup under the saddle and tone/volume controls inside the
sound hole. The top is spruce, is not varnished (or hardly at all )
and could be delicate, but the neck, and rest of the body is some
kind of man made material - not wood at all!
The sound is definitely Martin no doubt about it, with very nice basses. This parlor size guitar is great for picking the blues, which is all I play. Best price tag is around $500 - go for it ! (No, I'm not trying to sell them.)
Where To PlayThis is a tough one, as it depends on your location. Let me explain how I approach it. First of all, if you see a some folks playing outdoors, then you can assume that it's at least tolerated by the authorities. After that, there's nothing left to do except get out and do it!
I walk around a good deal and observe people as they cross crossroads, etc, or on the edge of a pedestrian shopping area. It'll help your cause a lot if people can pause to listen without obstructing the natural flow of other pedestrians, or motor traffic.
I nearly always perform next to market areas in the city center - this is a lucrative spot for a street blues man.
OK - Now We're Ready!
I prefer to have something at my back, removing the possibility of people doing something you don't like behind you, or trying to steal something while you are distracted. Remain vigilant, this is the city!
You attract some funny looks while preparing to perform, as folks are really curious. It may require a little gumption the first few times, but gets easier every time. It helps if you bring some attitude to your occupation . When setting up, I'm generally smiling and chatting to people and give the impression that I belong there.
It's my place , it's where I perform and I have the right to go there. Of course, you don't have any right to be there, but if you put out some good sounds, and not oppressively loud , the police will (possibly) let you stay as it brings a little interest to the activities and to the overall ambiance.
Kick off with some music that's simple and nice to hear - it won't help much if you try and perform something very complicated and mess it up! Play up to 75% of your capabilities until you get into it. This way, your performance will be confident .
Is It Possible To Make A Living?
Living from playing blues guitar is mostly hard and can only be managed by earning rather small amounts from several related activities. For me, street playing has really delivered an important portion of my total income.
However, performing on the street just for tips will not cut it. You need to offer something tangible, such as a a CD at a cheap price. This often doubles the amount earned with street performances . Some of my other activities include live gigging and guitar tuition, and I have a lot of contacts from my street playing. More often than not musicians may ask me about blues guitar lessons and some others offer me gigs at private events, parties and in their bars or cafes.
I'm pleased to say that blues music is my living.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Bird is a blues fanatic and spreads the word about the best of the blues through his articles.
Blues guitar lessons with Jim Bruce