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Playing out in the 60s and 70s

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by NorthenLights, Apr 20, 2021.

  1. NorthenLights

    NorthenLights Tele-Meister

    Oct 25, 2017
    I'm born in the mid 80s, so I thought some of you guys that were there could describe the way things worked back then. Was it mostly cover gigs back then, or were there more venues for people performing original music?

    Whenever I hear of artists of old, they were always playing their songs at different bars and clubs in whatever place they were living. Nowdays, the few places that put on shows for not established artist only want cover acts. Was it like this back then as well, and that just gets lost in the story, or was the general public more interested in original music?

    The irony is that it is mostly boomers that seems to demand cover songs. If someone comes up and complains I haven't played this or that artists song, or that I'm boring for not playing Whiskey ib the jar, it's always a way to drunk man or woman in their 50s or 60s. You'd think that the generation that boasts about creating rock'n'roll should be more apreciative about creativity.
  2. burntfrijoles

    burntfrijoles Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 12, 2010
    Somewhere Over The Rainbow
    Bar and club bands played covers back in the 60s and 70s. I can’t recall any places that featured bands playing original music. In larger cities there may have been coffee houses or clubs that featured original acts/music.

    Unless you were visiting clubs in the “Village”, the “Troubadour” in LA or Nashville, you likely weren’t hearing original music.
    fjblair, GibbyTwin, fretWalkr and 7 others like this.
  3. Mr Perch

    Mr Perch Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 11, 2011
    los angeles
    I played professionally in the 70s, then retired, then came out of retirement in 2011. Audiences haven't changed much -- their tastes are shaped by top 40 radio. The business model, however, is totally different. Back then, you got a band together and found a booking agency which would keep you employed in clubs that featured live music 5 nights a week. The agency took 15%, which wasn't so bad because all the musician then had to deal with was making music. There was also the musician's union, which you had to belong to in order to play the clubs. It was of no benefit whatsoever to the average working musician; they decreed a minimum wage ("union scale") which the clubs never paid, so there was a system of "double contracting" where you filed a fake contract with the union, and then there was the real contract which said what you were actually getting paid. If you didn't like this arrangement, you could go on strike and they would hire a different band. The only people that really benefited from the union were members of symphony orchestras, which could actually strike for better wages, and the upper echelon musicians working in studios, or big name touring bands.

    Nowadays it is different, and judging by life in Los Angeles, much worse. There are lots of low-grade bands, desperate for "exposure", who will work for next to nothing. Club owners know this, and they think it is a smart business practice to hire a ****ty desperate band for peanuts, rather than to pay a reasonable amount of money to get a better one. Apparently they think that audiences can't tell the difference. I assume that the musician's union still exists, but it plays no role at all in the average club that features live music. Bands are supposed to spend most of their time promoting their gigs and hustling business to the club, which used to be the club's responsibility. It is now common for clubs to ask bands how many customers they can guarantee before hiring them.

    Maybe outside of L.A. the music business is more forgiving.
    Piotr, adjason, GibbyTwin and 9 others like this.
  4. bottlenecker

    bottlenecker Friend of Leo's

    Dec 6, 2015
    Boomers are not the generation that created rock and roll.

    I've mostly played and attended venues that have mostly original music. Where do you live?
  5. 4pickupguy

    4pickupguy Doctor of Teleocity

    May 12, 2013
    Fort Worth, Texas
    The late 70’s through the early 90’s there were entire streets of clubs that featured original bands. Even those bands would throw a cover or two in, usually ‘their version’. It was a fantastic time for music in D/FW, Denton. Many of those bands did quite well. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter what you play as long as it’s entertaining the folks that paid hard earned money to be there. It is becoming like that again downtown where you can pay a cover and see original bands like Mark Lettieri, Kwinton Gray, with the crowd hanging on every note. Nothing in music is better than that IMHO.
  6. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    One big difference back then, at least in the Southeast US, was there were a lot more bars and other venues wanting to hire live bands. Even a lot of "hole in the wall" joints hired bands for the weekends and the better ones had live music every night. Also, drinking age back then was 18 in most places, not 21 like it is today, and there were popular promotions like ladies nights and 2-for-1 drinks that are not permitted now in many areas. This meant more younger people were in the bars. Most bands were cover bands, maybe with some originals thrown if the songwriting talent in the band was strong enough.

    Some venues supported originals more than others and that's where you went if you wanted to see up and coming acts. For example, I got to see some lesser known southern rock bands like Wet Willie and Grinderswitch and some that became bigger like Molly Hatchet and Dixie Dregs. I guess some of these venues had some kind of association with Capricorn Records.

    With the rise of disco in the late 70's and into the 80's some bars began to switch to DJs, lights and sound and dance floors. This proved to be more profitable and consistent than hiring flaky originals bands. Over the next 20 years, live music bars began to slowly fade away, especially those that supported originals.
  7. brookdalebill

    brookdalebill Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

    Nov 15, 2009
    Austin, Tx
    I started gigging in 1973, when I was 16.
    Bars were very loud and very smoky.
    Most bar patrons, staff and band members smoked.
    Me too.
    Not smart, and stinky.
    People talked loudly to be heard over the band.
    It was usually futile.
    Fights would occur with alarming regularity.
    It was almost always between a couple of very drunk guys, and over a woman.
    Gun play was not unheard of.
    Clubs never had house PA's, or sound men.
    The drinking age went from 21 to 18 in roughly 1975, the year I turned 18.
    There were lots of 16-18 year olds in the bars, as it was a new and exciting thing, for them.
    The 16 year olds were often successfully posing as 18 year olds, with fake ID.
    I was one of them.
    I used a friend's draft card.
    He and I was roughly the same height, weight, hair and eye color, but he was 2 years older.
    I used the ID to play in the bar, not drink in it.
    Luckily, I''ve never been much of a drinker.
    Pay was almost always $50 (per member), for a 4 hour gig.
    Usually it was from 9PM till 1AM.
    I did soft rock gigs in restaurant bars between the ages of 16-18.
    I just played lead guitar, and never sang.
    These were mostly duo gigs with my older (he was 21) friend, John B.
    We did mostly covers of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and folky stuff.
    I played in rock bars between the ages of 16-21.
    Again, playing covers.
    I never saw any violence in the rock bars, perhaps strangely.
    I started playing in country cover bands at 18, and by the time I was 21, I mostly played in country bands.
    I saw almost regular violence in the country bars, but there were way more country gigs than rock gigs, around central Texas.
    I followed the money.
    Many venues either had house bands, or regular bands on regular nights.
    I was playing up to six nights a week by the time I was 25.
    Things are way more civilized now, by comparison.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2021
    Piotr, swervinbob, Daddy Dom and 12 others like this.
  8. blowtorch

    blowtorch Telefied Ad Free Member

    May 2, 2003
    This has been my experience as well, except when playing with country bands.
    There are no original country bands :)
    Chicago Matt and Dr Improbable like this.
  9. uriah1

    uriah1 Telefied Gold Supporter

    Feb 12, 2011
    I didnt start to late 70s since in service.

    However, to me, back then there were 3 band types.
    Modern (sort of) local and larger city touring acts for bigger pubs,
    small pubs with some local content rock and blues, and Holiday Inn bands.
    (Holiday Inns paid very good)
    Chicago Matt likes this.
  10. rarebreed

    rarebreed Tele-Afflicted

    Jul 26, 2010
    I played my first gig in 1965 or 66, I was 12 or 13, my memory gets a bit foggy when I go back that far. We were a cover band. While we played at dances and clubs for teens, we played a lot of places that catered to the adult crowd as well. There were a couple of times I was in places playing music at 15 that were strip clubs. If my mom had known that's where I was, I probably wouldn't be here posting this, she would've killed me. But back then you could play every night of the week, except Sundays. Most groups played covers, every now and then you'd hear an original, but for the most part it was cover tunes.
    puddin, uriah1, Chicago Matt and 2 others like this.
  11. Ronzo

    Ronzo Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 10, 2016
    South Florida, USA
    Nope. Not in my experience in the NYC Metro Area and the Fort Lauderdale/Miami/Palm Beach metroplex.

    DJs killed a lot of live music in the late 80s and 90s. When clubs could make a single investment in a sound system and bring in a DJ with a following, it permanently changed the business model. From a musician’s perspective, much for the worst. Events like weddings and bar/bat mitzvahs, except at the top end, rarely hire live bands these days. And those higher-paying gigs were, for some of us, the justification for playing low-paying bar gigs - honing your stagecraft, managing and pacing the audience, and gaining a following by word of mouth.

    Where can young musicians learn their craft today? One more thing: I agree that original music is a very tough sell and only works in venues known for it. If you want to play original music, don’t expect to get paid. You’ll
    be playing for exposure. To the equivalent of Artie Fufkin from the Spinal Tap movie, but 20 years younger.
  12. Fiesta Red

    Fiesta Red Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 15, 2010
    I didn’t play in the 60’s or 70’s (born in 1970)...I started playing in 1989, and started “bar gigging” in the early 1990’s...

    I noticed how many original songs (my preference and forte) were tolerated/enjoyed was dependent upon two things:

    (1) The quality of the songs (a highly subjective subject).
    (2) The venue and the audience that venue attracts.

    Some of the places we played were geared toward cover bands; those were the gigs we played more of the recognizable cover tunes within our repertoire until they were drunk enough to tolerate the lesser-known covers and originals we preferred to play.

    Some venues encouraged original or obscure music...we’d do the opposite of what I wrote above.

    ...all of this was contingent upon the crowd/audience that showed up. Bachelorette parties (some of the worst audiences ever) usually wanted well-known party tunes. We’d do our best to make them happy, but it was sometimes exhausting.
    drlucky, 4pickupguy and Chicago Matt like this.
  13. Bob M

    Bob M Friend of Leo's Silver Supporter

    May 11, 2011
    North of Boston
    I played in the Greater Boston area in the early 70s. Believe it or not lots of country rock and even straight country going on. Some original bands but most of us needed covers to work. Pay was kind of up and down. There were a lot of venues. Almost every bar had live music. It was a tough way to earn a living.
    Chicago Matt and brookdalebill like this.
  14. nojazzhere

    nojazzhere Doctor of Teleocity

    Feb 3, 2017
    Foat Wuth, Texas
    Generally what @brookdalebill said.....but I'll add, there seemed to be more venues to play in the sixties and seventies. There were bars, clubs, military bases, even "youth" clubs. Bill's also right on about PA systems.....bands brought their own, NO house PA's or sound men. We played mostly covers, although we mixed in originals and "original, unique" versions of cover material. Occasionally, we threw in less "danceable" songs, and crowds weren't happy, but usually reception of our originals was pretty good. We were pretty versatile, playing anything from clubs, private parties, and even local fashion shows and Oktoberfests. It was TRULY a fun time to be a gigging band.
  15. bgmacaw

    bgmacaw Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 11, 2006
    Near Athens GA USA
    Most seem to be doing it online via YouTube, Instagram, TikToc, Spotify etc. While they have good video creation skills, what they end up not developing is stagecraft. For example, I watched a live stream of a band my son likes (kind of Slipknot-ish metal style). While they could play OK (not my type of music though), they had trouble handling the performance itself, including engaging the virtual live audience (about 1000 people) and handling technical glitches smoothly.
    nojazzhere likes this.
  16. Thoughtfree

    Thoughtfree Tele-Holic Silver Supporter

    Feb 27, 2020
    Minneapolis MN
    Born in 1952.

    I had many of the same experiences as the other over-60s here have described so well.

    One thing not yet described. Bad AC power. Crawling on your belly to find a miswired 2-prong plug 20 feet away from the stage, that you had to power the whole band from. Followed by massive 60 Hz hum, blown house fuses, and extremely painful lip shocks between the mike and your guitar.

    I think venue wiring is better now, by and large.
  17. buster poser

    buster poser Friend of Leo's Platinum Supporter

    May 1, 2018
    Tewa Land NM
    I think it's also true that there were numerous ASCAP/BMI lawsuits against establishments which had live music and didn't pay songwriting royalties*; sued the bejeezus out of Steak & Ale, where I played live weekends as a kid in Dallas. They still do it, based on a cursory google. Real cut off your nose to spite your face move imo.

    *I'm told this is why some other song is performed vs Happy Birthday (a protected tune) when wait staff do those insufferable celebrations at restaurants.
  18. Chicago Matt

    Chicago Matt Friend of Leo's

    Aug 23, 2014
    It was pretty much the same for me as Bill ^^^, but I'm 8 years older. I started playing professionally in 1965. People wanted to hear hits of the time where I was playing in the Chicago area. We played at other high schools and in hotels. When I moved to Atlanta in my early 20's, most bars had live music so it was easy to find a gig. I joined up with a guy that had been a singer in The Tams and travelled on his '52 Greyhound bus around the Southeast playing clubs and universities. After that, in the mid 70s I got a house gig at a club in south Atlanta. We played six nights a week doing two shows per night and three dance sets. The guy we played behind did a Johnny Cash show, an Elvis show, and a 50s show. I learned a lot playing in that band. It wasn't until the 80's that I got in a band doing all original material. We got some local airplay in Atlanta and were on national TV a couple of times. I made less money in that band than any other.
  19. Telekarster

    Telekarster Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 14, 2019
    You said pretty much everything I was going to say LOL!!! This is as I remember it too. Funny though, today the going rate is 100 IME... if you're lucky! Just had this convo with a buddy of mine last night in fact. The pay has little changed over the years, but boy the food and drinks have sure gone up! LOL!
    brookdalebill likes this.
  20. DjimiWrey

    DjimiWrey Tele-Holic

    Aug 15, 2020
    the ascap/bmi "agents" were smug mercenaries with a rapacious attitude towards clubs. they and their association were zero benefit to local musicians tryna get an opportunity to "play out". i can't remember the cost of the mafia style "tax" because i wasn't the one who had to pay it, but it was confiscatory. this based on meeting two of them in austin in the 80s.. one at the broken spoke and another at the (closed) south bank bistro.
    and i'm not sure how much, if any, of that money went to the actual creators of the covered playlists... i never saw any part of the arrangement that wasn't a scam to everyone else.
    sorry, that's a longer rant than i'd anticipated.
    cyclopean likes this.
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