When I formed my first proper band aged 17 we were almost ready to take on the world. By that point I’d written close to 100 songs (and bandmates John and Jase were writing good stuff too). But we had a problem.
With the exception of Mark on drums, we all played guitar. John was far and away the best lead guitar, but both Jase and played rhythm. We had no bass player. With hindsight it’s easy to see that either Jase or me should have switch to bass, even if just for gigs. A year later both of us independently bought bass guitars to use on our recordings and we both quickly learned to be quite good at it. I even enjoyed it (and still do).
The reason neither of us did what was so obviously needed is the same reason that other enterprises fail, be they bands or businesses: we were both totally stubborn and had fixed ideas about what we wanted to do.
Let’s compare this attitude with the early Beatles who faced exactly the same dilemma 26 years earlier. They had three guitar players. John’s artist friend Stuart Sutcliffe had played bass in the early Hamburg gigs, sometimes so badly that he’d turn his back to the audience so no-one would notice he’d be playing the wrong notes. But he had left to continue his painting and be with his German girlfriend, photographer Astrid Kirchherr.
So that meant they had no bass. Who was going to switch, John, Paul or George? It wasn’t going to be George because he was lead guitar which is something you usually can’t do when singing. As George wasn’t going to be a full-time front man it made sense for him to stay on lead. John was stubborn and refused as he identified the guitar as the front-man’s instrument. I bet he’d realised that it would be too hard to pay bass and sing too. I think that Jase felt that way too. In retrospect I should have been the bigger man, like Paul, who switched to bass without fuss. Paul’s genius with melody enabled him to play some of the greatest bass lines in popular music whist singing the main vocal line live. The Beatles then had the perfect line up to create their sound.
My band, The Jinx on the other hand, were stuck with two rhythm guitars and no bass, creating a thinner, trebly sound live with no low end to drive it. As I found out much later, I was perfectly capable of playing bass and singing live. If only I hadn’t put my fixed ideas and stubbornness in front of the big picture.
The lesson learnt: sacrifices may need to be made for success.
Having fixed, immovable ideas can hold you back. I didn’t want to play bass because I wanted to be the John in the band, not the Paul. There were even four members of the band because that was the magic number: anything to be like the Beatles, that was the model. But trying to shoehorn our quite different attributes and personalities into a preconceived model was foolish. It disregarded each individual’s uniqueness for the sake of an fixed idea. A decade later, I found that we were a better band as a threesome, ‘a power trio’. It took that long to break away from trying to follow the wrong prescription.
The lesson learnt: have a model to follow, but don’t make it above question and change it if needed.
The band contained yet another example of this. I’d taken the model of each member of the band being of equal status with Jase and I being the two front men (i.e. the John and Paul), John taking George’s role and Mark as Ringo. In many ways it would have better suited us if I’d been less fair on the spotlight and pushed myself forward as the singer/songwriter and had the rest, as ‘my band’. At the time, that model would have shown our uniqueness clearer to agents and bookers. But Cliff and the Shadows or even Bob Dylan and The Band were not my models. Putting as the main face could have been better, but so too could the idea of making Jase the figurehead. I recently saw a picture of a young Elvis Presley. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I’d seen a photo of Jase, circa 1989. Again, the arrogance and insecurity of my youth did not allow me to realise that we could have sold the band off the back of Jase being pushed to the front instead of me. His tall, dark and handsome Elvis look complete with quiff was exaggerated by his adoption, unlike me, of contemporary late eighties fashions which owed more to the late fifties than the then alienness appearance of sixties fashion which I was looking for. What’s more people came to see Jase, or more importantly, girls came to see Jase. They didn’t come to see me. I thought they should have done, after all, I was the songwriter and band leader. It took me years to discover that girls don’t care about such things. Not when there’s a better looking guy stood there.
The lesson learnt: get the right people in the right roles irrespective of your own ego.
Pride is a hard thing to swallow. Geeky-looking Manfred Mann pushed cool-looking Paul Jones and then Mike d’Abo to front his band. Noel Gallagher knew that his brother Liam was the face that would sell Oasis.
Bill Stainton picks up the best example of this in his book ‘The 5 Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made’ when he points out that the biggest thing John Lennon ever did, as an arrogant and confident teenager, on the lookout for success and girls, who already had a working band, was to let young upstart Paul McCartney into his band. Paul was better looking, more popular with the girls, a better singer, better guitarist and was also a songwriter like Lennon. Paul was the most deadly rival a cocksure and yet insecure pubescent Lennon could ever have faced. And yet Lennon was big enough, strong enough and far sighted enough to realise that sharing the front of the stage and sharing the glory with this rival would make a better band with a better chance of success. Lennon was proved to be right and was a far bigger man than I was at the same age.
The lesson learnt: bring in people better than you.
Book Ayd to speak at your event.
For more interesting info see: