Author Archives: Cactus Joe
For a few years now, I have wanted to join the band SUNSPOT’s road crew during their annual mecca to rock at the South by Southwest musical festival in Austin TX in mid-March. It always sounded like a blast. This year I finally checked that off my list, and it has been a total blast. Since I am going back to school in the fall to become a marriage and family therapist (a two year Masters program), I knew I wouldn’t be able to have this opportunity again for some time to come. So I made it my goal to go this year and they had room for me in their new tour van. I’m on board as roadie, designated driver, and unofficial biographer. But I also got to perform at an open mic in Nashville along the way, which was super cool. The tour is winding down now, but it has been a fantastic experience, which you can read about on my blog: http://joescoffeefix.blogspot.com.
Someday you will die (sorry if that’s news…). When that day comes, it’d be pretty awesome if you had achieved the lion’s share of your bucket list agenda items. So get out there and start rocking (in the metaphorical sense…).
Now that I’ve been accepted to graduate school, I am on a timetable to achieve some near term goals before classes begin in August, because studying is likely to be my full time occupation for a while after that. That makes getting my novel draft finished a much higher priority, and probably my main focus for the rest of the spring and summer.
I’m also going to try to do a few days of RAGBRAI, the massive week-long bike trek across Iowa, in late July. I fully plan to host my own annual bike event, BIKE WITH JOE, on Labor Day weekend. Even though I will have just started school by then, I should still be able to get away for the long weekend up at my folks’ cabin, a last hurrah before a grueling but fulfilling two years of hardcore studying and training.
Anyway, I hope you are happy and fulfilled and living the good life you want for yourself. If I can help you achieve that in any way, just let me know. I’m living my dream life for the most part and I’m happy to share my tips for success.
Although I am by trade and nature a rock-n-roll guy, I have always liked classic bebop jazz, like Charles Mingus, Cannonball Adderley et al., Dizzy Gillespie, and Oscar Peterson. The latter is actually the inspiration for me learning jazz piano and Peterson’s music is what you are most likely to hear if I am your Uber or Lyft driver.
Lately, I have started to LOVE bebop jazz and look forward to the day when I can perform it with a group as either a bass player (my primary instrument that I am quite adept at) or optimally a pianist (I still suck, but I am getting a lot better thanks to 30 minutes of practice daily).
Right now, I am in my study listening to the Cannonball Adderley Quintet “Live in San Francisco” on a bootleg CD my sister sent me years ago. I am definitely going to add this recording to my Uber/Lyft repertoire.
Jazz is definitely an acquired taste for many. I used to think it was distracting and scatterbrained and egomaniacal, but with the intense exposure to it I have had over the past few years, including my year long stint as the house bassist for Tuesday jazz night at the Mason Lounge (Madison WI), I have really tuned into its phenomenal awesomeness.
There is still some jazz that I have no interest in, like the atonal stuff Pat Metheny puts out. I am pretty sure that guy just throws a bunch of good musicians in a recording studio, unrehearsed, says “GO!” and releases whatever turds result. But if you are a Pat Metheny fan, more power to you. I am not there yet. That is more in the fusion genre anyway, which doesn’t touch my soul the way the old school bebop stuff does. Bebop is pure, raw, and organic. Because it’s often acoustically recorded and minimally produced, you are really connecting with both the music and the musicians at a much more intimate level. And musical intimacy is not for everyone. That’s why there is punk rock (which I also love to death).
I’m a pretty darn good musician and songwriter. I know how to play bass on a crap ton of songs and I’ve even won some awards. My musical colleagues often praise my bass playing, vocal talents, motivation, altruism, and reliability. I am an entertaining performer on stage and a genuinely nice guy. This is not to toot my own horn, but rather to point out that I have value as a musician and a person. It’s this value that people seek when they ask me to play music gigs with them.
Unfortunately, I live in a town with a music scene that grossly undervalues itself and its musicians (Madison WI), and that has made pursuing music projects difficult. My kindness and altruism are something of an Achilles heel that people have exploited to gain the benefit of my talents on the cheap. I realize that’s on me, because I should say NO to mediocrity, but I don’t like it. If I want to perform music shows around here, I usually have to settle for sweat shop wages and a lot of sh!tty music venues that view bands as commodities to sell more booze (there are a small number of quality exceptions). Or, I can have higher standards and choose not to settle for that kind of weak sauce, but rather play only high quality shows, albeit less frequently, often at alternative or unconventional venues (such as house concerts).
After far too many experiences playing with local bar bands for peanuts, I decided to establish some minimum quality standards for the musical services I provide, namely the provision of top notch bass guitar and vocals for live music projects (see these standards on the ABOUT tab of this page). Basically, I’m setting boundaries on what I’m willing to do and simply asking for a fair wage to do it. I’m aware that this might value me right out of the depressed Madison music market, but that’s OK, because it’s not a very good market if it doesn’t have the high end rock-n-roll products I offer. I can literally make more money for less effort (and less miles on my car) driving for Uber and Lyft on the weekends. It’s almost as much fun too. All I am asking of the music projects that hire me is to DO BETTER THAN THAT!
But I realized I can’t change the world, I can only change myself. I am taking to heart the touchy feely saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I hope I can lead by example to add value to the Madison music scene, but I can’t be anyone else’s keeper. It’s your life and you can do what you want. If you want to keep on devaluing yourself and playing shitty bar gigs, go ahead. The venues love the cheap slave labor. I’ve chosen to have higher standards and disenfranchise the weak sauce. As Derek Sivers says (paraphrasing), “If it’s not HELL YEAH, then it’s NO.” I have value as a person and a musician and I shant settle or have my talents exploited.*
*Exceptions might be benefit music performances for charity causes I care about, such as domestic abuse awareness or saving the planet.