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Author Topic:  Input on steel parts from other band members
Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 6:00 am    
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I'm currently playing a small number of shows with a group of talented and experienced musicians. They have broad musical horizons, but I think they all come from a rock background. They don't seem to have experience with steel guitar - either playing with one or focusing their listening on it when they hear it in recordings.

In learning these songs and creating arrangements for them, I've been on my own as far as deciding what to play (or if to play at all) and how to play it. It's nice in a way, but it would also be nice for them to tell me how I can fit into their creative vision for the songs. For example, I'd really like to know if they'd just like to me to do the steel guitar trope or if they want me to focus more on adding a later of texture.

It really has me scratching my head. I know that they can hear me in the songs because of the brighter tone of the steel and also because I'm careful to avoid the range that the guitars are playing in at the moment.

What should I make of it and how do I handle it?
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Jim Cohen


From:
Philadelphia, PA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 6:26 am    
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Have you asked them directly? In my experience, a lot of bandmates won't offer unsolicited suggestions (unless they are really unhappy with what or how you're playing) so, you need to invite constructive criticism from them rather than just hope you get some.

A productive way to ask for this might be to say something like, "Hey, which do you guys like better for the bridge? I could play it like this or else this other way. Which do y'all prefer?"

Or... "I was thinking of laying out completely until the bridge and then making an entrance. What do you think?"

A lot of other musicians are so mystified by steel guitars that they're just happy you're even there and don't feel competent to tell you how to do your job.
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Last edited by Jim Cohen on 12 Mar 2019 7:05 am; edited 1 time in total
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Andy Henriksen


From:
Michigan, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 6:54 am    
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I don't think that sort of thing is unique to steel. My bassist is always saying things like, "Do you guys think my tone is a bit too muddy today? Should I try my other bass?" and I'm always thinking, "Well, you weren't too loud, and you seemed to play the right notes, so it's perfect!"

The best musicians listen to the whole band carefully, but even very good musicians are frequently focused only on themselves and making sure they are fitting with the band. It could be that the rest of your band is just too busy concentrating on other stuff to volunteer suggestions. I'm sure if they DIDN'T like what you were doing, you'd know it, though!
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 7:44 am    
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Jim Cohen wrote:
Have you asked them directly? In my experience, a lot of bandmates won't offer unsolicited suggestions (unless they are really unhappy with what or how you're playing) so, you need to invite constructive criticism from them rather than just hope you get some.

A productive way to ask for this might be to say something like, "Hey, which do you guys like better for the bridge? I could play it like this or else this other way. Which do y'all prefer?"

Or... "I was thinking of laying out completely until the bridge and then making an entrance. What do you think?"

A lot of other musicians are so mystified by steel guitars that they're just happy you're even there and don't feel competent to tell you how to do your job.


Yup, I'm not too shy that I don't ask. I just get a shrug from them. And even when it's a question about something that's purely about personal taste regarding a particular phrase or tone, it's often something they haven't thought about before and so don't have an opinion.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 8:44 am    
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What ends up happening is I feel the urge to push the boundaries of what's appropriate playing just to see where I get a reaction from them... but I know that's probably no good.
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Gaylen James


From:
Portland, Oregon, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 8:53 am     My last band
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My last bandmates wouldn't say anything, ever.
So when I wanted to try a different kick off or ending I would get stares and little enthusiasm. I had to be the bad guy to improve our sound.
Takes all kinds I guess.
I say speak up and ask
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 9:05 am    
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Can you post a song so we can get an idea of the bands sound?
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 9:12 am    
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Pete Burak wrote:
Can you post a song so we can get an idea of the bands sound?


We haven't recorded any of our practice sessions. We're doing a set of Willie Nelson covers. Drums, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, keyboards, and harmonica - and steel. Our singer is good at channeling Willie and then we have a female vocalist doing backup as well.
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 9:30 am    
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I Can Get Off On You has some great Mooney licks.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLyg2scuZMo
Maybe play that for them so they know how it's supposed to sound, then let'er rip?
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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 9:47 am    
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In my experience, most of the other players know squat about how or where the pedal steel should be played.

You're kind of the boss of your own instrument so just do what you feel is appropriate. No one in the band will probably know what that is more than you. They should be happy to have you and the pedal steel in the group.

You seem to be very conscientious about your contribution and I bet you're doing just fine.
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 9:50 am    
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Generally speaking, there is not any Steel on most Willie songs, so that might be part of their dilema.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 10:05 am    
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Pete Burak wrote:
Generally speaking, there is not any Steel on most Willie songs, so that might be part of the dilema.


Exactly. Also the fact that playing in a stereotypically country way is going to alienate much of the audience. Willie has a special knack for being country without turning people off the way other country artists can.

At our last practice session, I asked them about the way of ending a song where the pedal steel goes super high and arpeggiates the last couple notes of the chord. I can do that on a bunch of the songs, but it will sound really Nashville. I think they were indifferent to it.
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 11:47 am    
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If it were me I might look for a project where the Steel is a better fit with the other players.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 11:57 am    
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Pete Burak wrote:
If it were me I might look for a project where the Steel is a better fit with the other players.


This is actually a great fit. I love Willie, they're good musicians and reasonable people, we have fun, and I can play the parts that I think fit. What more can a person ask for?

It's just a general issue of the rest of the band not offering guidance on what the want from the steel, for better or worse. I want to serve their creative vision, so if there's a way to get it out of them, I want to hear it.
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Jim Cohen


From:
Philadelphia, PA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 12:10 pm    
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Curt Trisko wrote:

It's just a general issue of the rest of the band not offering guidance on what the want from the steel, for better or worse. I want to serve their creative vision, so if there's a way to get it out of them, I want to hear it.

You may be giving them too much credit in assuming that they even have a "creative vision" for the band or, more specifically, for what you should be doing in it. After all, unless you're playing very early Willie, there's very little steel guitar in his recordings, so they've knowingly asked you to be the steel player in that setting, which means it's your job to define the role of the steel for the band. Play to suit your own tastes and abilities and they'll follow your lead (unless you finally hear from them!)
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Pete Burak


From:
Portland, OR USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 1:22 pm    
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I like Willie too, but with all the normal Willie instruments there, by the time you evenly split all the intro's, fill's, solos, turnarounds, and endings, with the acoustic, electric, harmonica, keys, and Steel, it would be be too much "laying-out" and not enough playing the Steel, for me.
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Jon Schimek


From:
Lyons, Co - USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 1:23 pm    
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Wait until you blow it or nail it on a song at practice and they say "wow I got carried away, don't be shy to let me know if I'm out of line"
Then play what fits. Play in sonic areas and styles not already covered in the band. Record your practice, listen to yourself. It it seems like you are playing well with others and you like it it sounds like you fit into their creative vision.


I think Jim's comments are on point but I would simply add it sounds like you need to manufacture a little confidence, so here you go:
You are a great steel player. You add texture and vibe to any song. You are invaluable piece to this band. Now go out there, crank up reverb, and mash those pedals!!!
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 2:51 pm    
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Whip out a bitchin solo for Night Life...🤠

If this is a Willie tribute band, the most important thing is to understand it is not about you or any of the other instrumentalists individually. The main thing is dynamics, which Willie’s band was incredibly good at. With that many players, you can do an awful lot, or you can do awful. Find your spot in the mix, add and subtract to the variance in energy, and be ready to do fills or take a solo when asked.

I wouldn’t approach the entire band with questions or suggestions on how what or when to play. Single out the guitarist or the keyboard player and work with them one on one for parts. Pete is right; there isn’t going to be a lot of spotlighting on the steel. But that doesn’t mean it can’t play a role in the dynamics of the band’s sound.

Every band needs a musical director with a vision for how to present every song and an understanding of what each instrument does. Hopefully you guys have that going for you.
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 4:29 pm    
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Quote:
In learning these songs and creating arrangements for them, I've been on my own as far as deciding what to play (or if to play at all) and how to play it. It's nice in a way, but it would also be nice for them to tell me how I can fit into their creative vision for the songs. For example, I'd really like to know if they'd just like to me to do the steel guitar trope or if they want me to focus more on adding a later of texture.

What should I make of it and how do I handle it?


Just like you've been handling it! They don't have the knowledge, experience, and imagination...so it's your job. Do what you think works best, and be glad you have a more or less free rein to express yourself. As Pete said, most all of Willie's many hit records didn't have any steel (except for two that I can think of), so whatever you can come up with won't sound wrong.

Go fer it!
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Stephen Williams


From:
from Wales now in Berkeley,Ca, USA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 8:17 pm    
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Seems like a perfect situation for you to try something new i.e. work out fills/licks with guitarist so you are not the guy that solos a little bit and the rest of the time turns it down. Make the steel guitar an integral part of the band, not just like a sideman.
It seems like you care and are discriminating so it could be a win-win. What I see is that they want someone to give a direction. And it can all be done in a respectful way.
Good luck and make some great music
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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 12 Mar 2019 10:52 pm    
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They may just feel lucky to have a tasteful steel player adding nice parts. They could be afraid that any "guidance" would jinx it.
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Tony Prior


From:
Charlotte NC..
Post  Posted 13 Mar 2019 1:00 am    
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b0b wrote:
They may just feel lucky to have a tasteful steel player adding nice parts. They could be afraid that any "guidance" would jinx it.



Or they may think, like many out there with no Steel Guitar exposure , that it is NOT A LEAD Instrument. "Just stay in the background with a few cool slides "

Guitar players are funny creatures, we are very territorial . We think the band and every song is about us. Notice I said " WE " ! Laughing
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 13 Mar 2019 11:34 am    
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Maybe I'm just giving the steel guitar too much credit for how it can shape a song.

I think Jim makes a solid point about not assuming the band leader has a "creative vision" that tells him what kind of steel guitar he wants. But at the same time, for music that's based on drums, bass, and guitar, the type of steel guitar you add can give it the feel of entirely different genres: classic country, new country, Americana, space rock, etc.. I just can't imagine someone wanting to do a song but not knowing what genre they want the audience to recognize it as.

And regarding the comments about steel guitar and this band doing Willie songs specifically, I'm not playing it on the fast songs... and for the rest, I've found that the people I play with really appreciate how adding an extra instrument like steel guitar can make their music sound less same-y as everyone else with drums, bass, and guitars.

One song we're doing where they gave me feedback right away was "Shotgun Willie" where my steel guitar is filling much of the role of the horns in the song. They wanted me to bring it up to the top of the mix!
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 13 Mar 2019 2:14 pm    
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Curt Trisko wrote:

I think Jim makes a solid point about not assuming the band leader has a "creative vision" that tells him what kind of steel guitar he wants. But at the same time, for music that's based on drums, bass, and guitar, the type of steel guitar you add can give it the feel of entirely different genres: classic country, new country, Americana, space rock, etc.. I just can't imagine someone wanting to do a song but not knowing what genre they want the audience to recognize it as.


I agree. "Creative Vision" isn't something I associate with a cover band. When you're doing recognized songs, it's probably a good idea not to stray too far with a personalized interpretation that throws it into another genre. Willie is definitely a country type, although how you precisely defined him could probably be debated, based on the song and the period.

Quote:

Maybe I'm just giving the steel guitar too much credit for how it can shape a song.


That's what I'm thinking. The singer's style and delivery, the drums and bass, and even the lead guitar all help to put it in a certain style or genre. We steelers have some influence and importance, but probably not as much as we think or would like. We're sorta the icing on the cake. But even without the icing, it's still a cake.
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