How I Got Recruited to Play Guitar with Rock Royalty
Godfrey Townsend, right, with Jack Bruce, the Cream bassist, singer and songwriter.
Welcome to the first installment of Godfrey's Guitar Talk Corner.
Since this is my first blog for Guitar World, it might be a good idea to start at the beginning with a brief explanation of who the heck I am and what I’m doing here.
I’m just a guy who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the '60s, started playing piano at around age 9, happened to catch The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show," switched my main interest to the guitar, taught myself to play by listening to and figuring out licks and solos from my Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin albums, and 20 years later, went on to meet and work with most of my heroes of the classic rock and '60s pop genres.
Namely: John Entwistle of The Who, Jack Bruce of Cream, Dave Mason of Traffic, Alan Parsons, Todd Rundgren, Ann Wilson of Heart, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Joey Molland of Badfinger and Denny Laine of Wings, just to name a few.
How did I do it? Landing a gig in the early '90s playing in the house band at New York City’s China Club didn’t hurt. The original China Club was on Broadway and 75th Street, right under the Beacon Theater. Many celebrities and famous musicians would hang out there when in town.
As a result of helping to run the Wednesday Night “Pro” Jam, I got to play with tons of folks: Bruce Willis, Mick Jones of Foreigner, Buddy Miles, Noel Redding, Jason Bonham, Steve Lukather, Julian Lennon, Billy Squier, Andy Timmons, Bob Mayo, Corey Glover, Joe Lynn Turner, Skunk Baxter ... the list goes on.
Again, how did I do it? PERSEVERENCE.
What is that? Let’s put it this way: After working in several “original” bands for years without any real success, I decided to pursue a normal life. I got married, got a “real” day job and had kids. But I never lost sight of my goal of making music my career.
I spent my nights writing and recording demos in my living room studio and played the occasional bar gig on the weekend in an effort to try and keep the “live” chops thing together. This went on for about eight years. Then something happened.
It was one of those things that can seem like a catastrophe at first, but then, after a while, you start to realize it’s actually a blessing in disguise. I had gotten laid off from my job right before Christmas 1988.
Almost immediately, I received a call from an old musician buddy who was working the cover bar circuit steadily and was in need of a guitar player/singer.
“Jeez, but I don’t know your song list,” I said. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll call out a tune, yell out what key it’s in, and by the second chorus, you should have it down.”
Wow. "Count me in.”
We worked between five and seven nights a week and made at least $100 cash a night. (That’s $500 to $700 a week, tax-free -- not bad for the late '80s.) I worked with that band for the next five years (and played “Brown-Eyed Girl” more times than I care to mention).
But I was playing my guitar and singing every night, and earning a living doing it, learning more songs than ever and -- best of all -- I got to spend my days raising my kids myself.
Nothing can take the place of experience. Three one-hour sets a night, an average of 30 songs per night; multiply that by five years (or almost 1,500 gigs) -- that’s a lot of playing. It gives you the “ability” to “jump” on a tune you don’t really know, as opposed to having to say, “I don’t know that one.”
It provided the right kind of training to lead up to the Wednesday Night “Pro” Jam at New York City’s China Club.
Next week: An Impromptu Two-Hour Jam with John Entwistle of The Who.
Godfrey Townsend is a New York-based musician who has worked with dozens of rock’s most influential names. In the past decade alone, he has performed nationwide with John Entwistle, Jack Bruce, Dave Mason and Alan Parsons. His current instrumental guitar CD, Easy Journey To Other Planets, is available at cdbaby.com, and a new album is in the works. Read more about him at godfreytownsendmusic.com.
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