People always ask me, "What is it like? Tell me the story of the road!”
Well, in short, it's, “Pack up a bag of shirts and shoes, lace up them sneaks and play the damn blues. You've got to drive, eat, sound check and sleep, get back in the van and play for the peeps ..."
Beyond road clichés, how you make it is an important question. Now more than ever, the on-ramp to the success highway lies literally through the road. I hear all the time that the modern music industry is like the Wild West. I agree: The game is wide open, the rules have changed; in fact, there are no rules. Head out on the dusty trail and see what you can turn your future into.
Everyone’s path is different. Some make it overnight on YouTube if you've got a hit. We can look at the successes of musicians like Lana Del Ray and other YouTube sensations that incubated and blew up online and say, "Damn, that’s easy."
It really can happen that way, true true, but then again, you've got to ask yourself, is this a lasting kind of success?
My short answer is no. The key to long-term success in this crazy-ass business lies in developing a fan base, connecting with people. And where better to do this than in every freaking venue and club across this country?
I spent eight years in the back of a van. First the old maroon Ford cargo van in which we traversed this great country, coast to coast for two years. Later, when that beast had too many miles on it, we started renting Budget vans. We upgraded to a cargo van driven by our stage tech, Nate Solod, rest his good soul, and a 12-passenger for the band driven by our good TM, Richie DeBraccio.
It's the story shared by so many up-and-coming bands that I came up with. Do it on the road, clock the miles, hit every town, radio station and record store. Coast to coast, four to six weeks and then a week off. Year after year after year after year.
After eight years, my first tour bus pulled up in Phillytown outside of the old Sonic Studios on Delaware Avenue, where we recorded our third record, Yeah, It's That Easy. The bus was brown and I was bummed. All I wanted was a jet-black bus. Ha!
I was the luckiest kid on the scene. A fucking bus, a bunk, no more eight-hour drives and a show for dessert. The work we put in in the van paid off, and getting into a bus was huge! HUGE with a capital "H."
Since then, we’ve had about a hundred different buses, and every time I count my blessings. See, I'm not trying to get back in that van again ... oh no!
The reality is that while the bus is without question more comfortable, it also allowed us to keep bringing the music to the people. More shows, more miles, more days on tour. See, the same theme applies to keeping this music thing going: You have to hit the people. You have to bring that great show to all corners of this great country. As the days and tours and years drifted by, I had my head down, playing each show like it was my last. Living for the gig. That's the way it always was, the way it still is and the way it's always going to be. It's the only way it CAN be. Period.
As the tours went on, sometimes the crowds got bigger, sometimes they were smaller. Sometimes Jeff would look at me and say, "Tough tour, the draw is off." I never really noticed. All I ever cared about was getting the chance to get up on that stage night after night. It's a grind, but I fucking love it. I live for it and most important, it’s what allows us to keep doing it.
This is real. It's not always glamorous, and most days it's far from glamorous, but it's a living and I do what I love. I play music. I don't give a goddamn about Rolling Stone or Spin picking their favorite flashes in the pan, the trend of the season or any of that shit. I play my blues, I write my songs and I love music! I love my people! I love to see that first trickle of sweat drip off my eyelash by the third song. I’m alive, nothing else matters. Live it or die.
See, that's what you're looking for. They want great music brought to them, wrapped in a passionate "leave it on stage every night" attitude. If you do that, you can touch people with your songs and your sweat. Get onstage, give it 1,000 percent, be original, do it for yourself, live the music and it will love you back. When that music loves you back, mark my words, you'll make the people happy. Make them happy enough and they'll come back. It's simple. Do that night after night and you will last. That's the key to success. It's the only way to last.
Yeah, yeah, yeah ... Lana Del Ray and a million others. I'm not hating, I'm a fan, but I've seen them come out, get the cover of Rolling Stone, be hot for a year or two then they're gone. Me, I just keep plugging away. I keep on trucking, guitar in hand. No one can stop me, no one ever will. I've played every small town and big city practically around the world. I fucking love it! It's my life.
So in a way, it's simple. If you want to make it, stop looking for help and book a gig. If you've got what it takes, one gig will lead to the next and the next and hopefully you can get in a van and then the bus (not the other way around!). If you want to make it, think about a slow percolate. Think about the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffet. Those guys played 300 shows a year for 20 years before the crowds started to swell. The people found them on their own. The shows became family events. There was no hype, little radio, no videos, just love from the people. Because of their persistence on the road, the shows became annual events. People come year after year. After a while, your fans become your best friends. That's real. That's real love and support.
I sometimes wonder what would've happened if my first record dropped and I became a millionaire. Honestly, I think I don't know if I would still be around. Now it's 20 years later. The music is all I've got. And the chances of having a hit on the radio and a big-selling record get further away every year. But really, who cares about that? I get to get up onstage every night and play my damn guitar, and that's love. In the end, you're going to live and die by your show, and for most there's no easy road. You just get on it and away you go.
Good luck and keep on jamming!!
G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, has been the front man and founder of the alternative hip-hop blues group G. Love & Special Sauce since their inception in 1993. Widely known for his upbeat hits "Cold Beverage," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Hot Cookin'," G. Love returned to his blues and country roots on his latest release, Fixin' To Die (Amazon, iTunes), produced by Scott and Seth Avett. A road dog if one ever existed, G. Love performs roughly 125 shows a year all over the world including Australia, Japan, Brazil, UK, Canada and the U.S. G. Love teamed up with Gretsch to create his own signature model, the Gretsch G. Love Signature Electromatic Corvette, which features a pair of TV Jones® Power'Tron™ pickups, deluxe mini-precision tuners and a cool Phili-green color scheme with competition stripe that would make ANYONE from Philadelphia proud! Check it out here.