Cover Bands: BE the Jukebox

Cover Bands: BE the Jukebox

A younger rockin version of myself

When I was about 20 years old, I had just come off a run of playing every week at my own coffee house (The Morning Glory in Toledo, Ohio). It was a perfect environment for a young songwriter: instant feedback; I knew what songs worked and why, as well as what songs didn’t work and why not. For example, one coffee house regular came up to me one night after a performance and said, “Hey man, you know I like your songs and I love the lyrics. But I think you write too much about ‘White Light’.” He was right. Of course, the main benefit of having my own coffee house was a seemingly endless supply of similar-aged hippie girls who, well, loved long-haired singer/songwriters.

But I wasn’t satisfied being a big fish in a small pond. I wanted to branch out and play other venues. One summer I took a gig in a bar I’d never been to. I knew that when I played outside the coffee house I needed to play songs people knew and then toss in a few of originals. I had the typical repertoire: James Taylor; Beatles, Stones, Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills and Nash.

However, when I arrived at this particular gig I realized that patrons wanted ONLY country songs. The closest thing I had to country was James Taylor’s “Country Road.” I did one set and then the bar owner and I came to a mutual agreement – more mutual on his part than mine – that I should have a beer and call it a night.

On my drive home I had time to think about what had happened. Clearly, if I was going to play out, I needed to know what my audience wanted to hear. At the coffee house, or when I occasionally opened for name bands, I could play originals. But at bars and most other public venues people wanted, essentially, a live jukebox. And it was my job to know the popular selections. This revelation was a blow to my ego, but it was a boon to my pocketbook.

From then on, I realized that I was a “commercial artist” and the audience was my client. I give them what they want, they give me a job. Pretty simply.

But when I started playing out again recently, many years later, I forgot that lesson. At least for a while. Our band plays almost exclusively classic rock. And that usually goes over pretty well. Usually…

“50 Shades of 60”: Stephen Smoke (L), Jay Rockbank (C), Randy Winters (R)

One night we were playing at a club and a group of early-twentyish women came into the club. They were pub-crawling. At one point during a set I noticed two of the girls desperately pounding on the jukebox to get it to work…while we were playing! At the end of our set, one of the girls came up to me and rattled off a number of requests. I told her I knew those songs, but we did not know them as a band. After a moment she said, “What do you know?”

She said, “Okay then, what DO you know?”

I had to laugh. At my age, I don’t take this kind of thing that seriously. In fact, I think she wasn’t trying to be rude. I think she wanted to see our song list so she could choose a song for the girl whose birthday they were celebrating.

Even more recently we played at a Happy Hour at a new venue. Two days before the gig we spoke with the person who booked us. She said their clientele liked classic rock but they also really liked certain country songs, particularly songs they could line dance to. We knew none. However, two nights later we were armed with “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” “Elvira,” and a waltz (“Take it to the Limit”). The gig started sluggishly. Then we did “Boot Scootin’…” and suddenly we were off to the races. The crowd loved the country songs, as well as our classic rock. In fact, we were asked for, and delivered, two encores. And we’re playing there 3 more times over the next few weeks.

The bottom line is that when you play out, take time to know what your audience wants to hear. Then learn a few new songs and deliver. A gig is always more fun when the crowd likes what it’s hearing. 

NAMM Show 2020 Wrap

NAMM Show 2020 Wrap

This was my third NAMM, second with Old Guys Still Rockin. I can honestly say this was, by far, the best. 

One reason is that I knew what to expect and how to pace myself. 

Media Day was great. Two hours for media only to see and touch new products. Instead of the tens of thousands of people walking around during the official show days, there were a couple hundred. Very manageable. 

The next thing that made the experience so productive was the NAMM Media Center, Powered by JBL. Sometimes it can be hard to hear on the floor, because of all the people and the sounds of hundreds of instruments being demonstrated. And even harder to interview people.. The NAMM Media Center provided a trailer where the noise almost disappeared and everyone could be heard. Calm in the center of the storm. It also was a place where we could literally and figuratively recharge (our phones and ourselves). Finally, the people at the NAMM Media Center, particularly Carrie and Roslyn, were great. They made us feel welcome and helped us juggle our appointments. 

As usual, the Godin, Fender and Gibson rooms made us feel like kids in giant candy stores. So many guitars…so little time. 

Gibson at the Anaheim Grove was definitely a highlight. Don Felder and Slash playing the famous duel solo on “Hotel California”? You kidding me? And Billy Gibbons and Slash trading blues licks? A night for the ages and we were there. 

The hardware and software for people with home studios get better every year and we did our best to share some of those new choices with our OGSR readers and members. . 

Gibson NAMM VIP Party @ The Anaheim Grove

Gibson NAMM VIP Party @ The Anaheim Grove

Billy Gibbons (L) and Slash (R) Photo Credit for Photo Above: Gibson. Gibson Live At The Grove, Getty Images (Phil Farone)


By Randy Winters

It’s January and that means it’s time for The NAMM show in Anaheim, California. As usual it is crammed to the walls with excited buyers and musicians all wanting to see, touch, and feel the latest equipment that drives the music industry.

As a Contributing Editor to the Old Guys Still Rockin I do my best to provide interesting stories and reviews for guitar players who have passed the 50-year mark. When I found that I was on the VIP list for Gibson’s private party at The Anaheim Grove, I was excited at the opportunity to hang out with, and listen to, music industry royalty.

The word was that Gibson was throwing the party to announce changes aimed at driving them forward after a few years of financial setbacks.

The Anaheim Grove is a high-end, theater-style restaurant with VIP parking—which I appreciated after negotiating the parking quagmire that always surrounds NAMM.

Don Felder (L) and Slash (R) Photo Credit: Gibson. Gibson Live At The Grove, Getty Images (Phil Farone)

To my delight I discovered that dinner was included. I followed the crowd into the dining area where five different buffets offered everything from salads to lobster to prime rib. I settled on the salmon and started making some new acquaintances. We were all talking about Gibson guitars, of course. After all, I’m an Old Guy Still Rockin, and I play a Les Paul. The rumor was that after dinner we were going to be treated to some music by Gibson guitar celebrities including Slash, one of my favorite guitar players.

The concert began with a couple hours of great music from a variety of Gibson guitar players. It was expected that Slash would probably be the last performer, so we were all surprised when the announcer introduced Eagles’ guitarist Don Felder, winner of four Grammy awards, including one as the co-writer of “Hotel California.” Felder often performs with a Gibson Les Paul and his famous Gibson EDS-1275 (double-neck 6 and 12 string) electric guitars. Gibson named two re-issues after him in 2010: the “Don Felder Hotel California 1959 Les Paul” and the “Don Felder Hotel California EDS-1275”. Felder is an avid guitar collector, and owns several hundred models .

The former Eagles guitarist opened with “Pride and Joy,” a song made famous by Stevie Ray Vaughan. While I was impressed at what a great blues Felder is, like everyone else, I was thinking one thing: Is he going to play “Hotel California”?

As he announced the second song he brought out that famous white 12-string Gibson he used on so many Eagle songs. When he announced “Hotel California” the energy in the room jumped about 20 DB. We were getting a lot more than what we expected.

But wait a minute. What about that legendary dual solo at the end of “Hotel California” played by Felder and Joe Walsh? Who’s going to play Joe’s part? Then Felder stepped to the microphone and said, ”I’m going to need some help with this one. Here is my friend Slash.” The crowd went nuts. Hundreds of iPhones shot up into the air and locked on to the stage.

The first thing I noticed as the song began was how articulate and clean Felder plays guitar. The man is truly is a master of the instrument. It sounded so much like the record. I was to another time. I was at the LA forum years ago when the Eagles were on tour introducing the “Hotel California” album.

When the famous dual solo began, Slash ripped the night open with his aggressive style. We all shot up a dose of history being made right here, right now. To me the song never sounded better or more powerful. Felder and Slash took it to the limit. 

One more time. 

We were still energized by what we had just heard but Gibson had one more surprise: ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons! When “The Bearded One” took the stage, the crowd erupted again. I don’t think anyone else could have shown up that would excite me more than Billy. He is quite simply my favorite guitar player. I love his style of playing: How he expresses so many melodic phrases and gets so much out of his homegrown style.

Billy and Slash were only few notes into ZZ Top’s “Waiting for the Bus,” when the iPhones came out again. Even the waiters stopped to watch this magical musical moment.

When it ended I was left thinking of Les Paul and how he would have enjoyed this show. To see what he started and how the Gibson Les Paul guitar, in the hands of great players like Fielder, Slash and Billy, have kept the sound and power of the Les Paul guitar driving the music industry.

So, to all you Old Guys and Gals out there, tune up your Les Paul and get playing.

It’s not over yet.




OGSR Covers Felder – Slash Playing “Hotel California” @ Gibson NAMM Party

OGSR Covers Felder – Slash Playing “Hotel California” @ Gibson NAMM Party

When “Hotel California” was announced the energy in the room jumped about 20 DB. Don Felder and Joe Walsh’s signature duet on that song is legendary. Felder was already onstage. Who was going to play the other part? I half expected to see Walsh come out on stage. Felder stepped to the microphone and said, ”I’m going to need some help with this one. Here is my friend Slash.”

The crowd went nuts and hundreds of iPhones locked on to the stage. 

The first thing I noticed as the song started was how articulate and clean Felder plays guitar. 

Suddenly I was having a déjà vu moment. I was at the LA forum years ago when the Eagles were on tour introducing the Hotel California album. I was here…and there. Living it all again.

When the famous duet began, Slash ripped the night open with his aggressive style. We all shot up a dose of history being made right here, right now. To me it never sounded better or more powerful. Felder and Slash took it to the limit.

One more time. 

Ace of Cups – 60s Girl Band Reunites

Ace of Cups – 60s Girl Band Reunites

From 1967-1972 Ace of Cups shared billing with Jimi Hendrix, The Band, Grateful Dead, and Mike Bloomfield, to name just a few. The all-girl group was smack dab in the middle of the psychedelic Haight-Ashbury scene. 

Ace of Cups band members with OGSR’s Stephen Smoke (far right)

Last year, more than 50 years after getting together, the band released its full-length debut studio album to widespread critical acclaim, including features on NPR All Things Considered and CBS This Morning. The album was produced by Dan Shea (Mariah Carey, Santana, Jennifer Lopez) and features contributions from long-time friends of the band, including Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna), Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Peter Coyote, and Steve Kimock.  

But it’s not just about the old days with Ace of Cups. The group has a new album coming out this summer and the list of contributing writers and musicians (including Bob Weir) reads like a wall at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Read more about the band here: Ace of Cups claim their rightful place in rock ‘n’ roll history and rekindle the hopes of a different time

Old Guys Still Rockin plans to do a lengthy piece on this ground-breaking band, so stay tuned.