The Manager’s Corner

| September 1, 2014 | 2 Comments

subdudes

by Chris Daniels

I’ve managed my own band for 30 years and I’m in the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. While all that’s nice, today’s music business is changing at light-speed and you have to know what’s going on. Careers are still built on some tried and true elements: great music, performance and timing. But today’s artists must work harder than ever before to succeed. And we have new tools to help young musicians grow their fan base. The book I wrote for my class at CU Denver on artist management is called “DIY: You’re Not in it Alone.” While you are ultimately responsible for your own career, these days there is help out there.

Sex, drugs and rock n roll – F#@king A!!! That was the mantra. From “Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl” to “It’s Getting Hot In Here So Take Off All Your Clothes” to “Honey Let Me Check You For Ticks” – Bessie Smith to Brad Paisley the sex thing is pretty easy to figure out. And there are even some great pushbacks against the stereotypes, like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song”- It’s both funny and a little disingenuous. One way or the other we seem to have the sex part of the equation under control.

Rock n’ Roll’s been part of our world since before Ed Sullivan refused to show Little Richard or Elvis pelvis gyrations. Whether it is the wonderful eastern European influenced rock of Denver’s own DeVotchKa or the Americana flavored Lumineers or the EDM force of Pretty Lights we’ve got that covered here in Colorado. This is a region that loves music. We support it in some of the best venues in the country.

But, “drugs” (and alcohol) … I’m not sure we have that figured out yet. It might be time we looked closer at what it means to glorify drugs in the mantra. I don’t drink or do drugs (I quit 30 years ago). I remember it well and fondly. It was fun. But I quickly developed a problem with it. Substance abuse was a way for me to deal with the pressures of touring 300 days a year and all the pain in my life at the time. (My son’s mother died of cancer right about then). As a single parent I realized I needed to be there for my son and that was impossible with drugs and alcohol in my life. Being an addict is an expensive way to deal with problems: so I got help.

Robin Williams (when he was Mork) used to come to my band’s shows at the Blue Note in Boulder. He cracked us up – emptying the local dealer’s $500 cocaine vile into the noses of everybody in the ‘green room’ all the time cracking jokes and riffing. As Robin once said about those years, “I was on everything but skates.” What’s remarkable is that the party never ended for a lot of people. And there has been a pervasive attitude in the entertainment industry that drugs are sort of an accepted work place hazard … something we all go, “wink wink – nod nod” about because we are – you know… musicians.

This all came home for me with Williams’ suicide and the heroin overdose death of one of the best songwriters I ever knew, Johnny Ray Allen of the Subdudes. Admittedly there is no evidence of relapse at the time of Williams’ death, but he was suffering from depression and had been in and out of rehab during the summer. He even made us laugh about it saying, “I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open.” (wink wink, nod nod) I know his demons were bigger than just drugs or alcohol but whether it was a good merlot or a ‘shot of Jack” the added depressive elements of those chemicals are well documented.

Like Robin, I have a dark side – I came from an alcoholic family. I still carry those tendencies with me – coffee, chocolate, or waffles you name it – if it can be abused, I can abuse it. I’ve been lucky because I’ve known that for 30 years. I can consume an entire family-pack of M & Ms in one sitting – ha, the demon! But I’ve never gone back to drugs or booze. Once Williams ‘went out,’ during a movie shoot in Alaska, the game changed. It was only a matter of time and timing – a heart surgery – a canceled TV show and the depression he lived with all his life that took control. All of us wish we could have grabbed him and said, ‘please don’t do this – we need your voice to help us make sense of it all.” What concerns me is the point of view that excuses his relapse because of depression. We know what happens when we see people headed that way – Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix – we know the end of the story. And it’s not just Hollywood, it’s right here in Colorado.

Johnny Ray Allen was one of the founding four members of the Subdudes. The four-piece band relocated from New Orleans to Ft. Collins in the mid 1980s and in 1989 they got a major record deal from Atlantic Records. It was a huge deal for the time – close to half a million dollars. Herman’s Hideaway was our home base and we all celebrated the night they signed the Atlantic deal. Johnny helped write some of the Subdudes most memorable hits. Johnny played with the band until 1996 when the band officially broke up. The original Subdudes reunited this past spring for a series of very successful and critically acclaimed shows including several Colorado dates. John was just 56 years old when he died on August 8th 2014. He had so much more music to write and play.

New Orleans was and is the home of Mardi Gras… party central. There is also a long history of NOLA musicians involved in a drug culture that played with the ‘hard stuff’ like heroin. We all thought Johnny was clean. And when the original Subdudes got together to do this series of reunion shows we all thought the same thing, FANTASTIC! They sounded amazing. In retrospect, I’ve talked to some who saw him and they were worried. I had not seen Johnny in years but was hoping to catch up with him when we were to play together on August 16 and 17 at the New West Festival. I never got the chance.

And here is my point. I have no idea what pain or suffering Johnny had in his life. But I can no longer accept or excuse what happens to artists when they use drugs or alcohol to excess and it affects their ability to play or write or even function. This is not a “nanny state” rant. I am not proposing some legislation for a musician or entertainer annual psychiatric evaluation. Your choices are your choices. But the business of music seems all to willing to excuse Janis or Amy or Robin or Johnny because of some pain in their lives and I think that is wrong. As Williams said, “It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Every famous musician, comedian or performer I have ever known personally – didn’t perform better high. Every local or regional musician who thinks they are playing better high, is kidding themselves. Williams said it, and riffed on it. He also talked about how recovery was not easy for him saying, “It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘it’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK.” The toughest thing for me to see is someone I know who stood up and said – yes, I am an alcoholic or addict” … or I suffer from depression – and then went back out with drugs and alcohol. Those are the ones that we keep reading about: Johnny, Robin, Amy, Whitney and on and on.

Life is tough. We all have pain. Four years ago I was told I had a 10% chance of survival from Leukemia. They told me that no matter how well I do, Leukemia can always come back and kill me. That sucks big time. I could either act like a victim or realize that I’m going to have to live with the fear of cancer, chemo and all the awful stuff that goes with it.  My choice … squeeze as much life out of every hour I get. As Tim Robins said in Shawshank Redemption “You either get busy living or get busy dying.” Since coming back from eight months in a hospital I have produced 4 albums (two to be released in 2015) been nominated for a Grammy, won the award for Excellence in Teaching from my College and been inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. I’m getting busy living because dying is easy…living is hard.

So that is my plea for musicians. If you have a drug or alcohol problem you know it in your heart…even if you tell everybody you are just fine and to fuck off – you know it if you have a problem. And you also know you’re not creating the music you are capable of making. And too many of us excuse this as some aspect of the musician’s lifestyle… bullshit. Make the choice to get the help you need to get back to making the best art you can. What I wanted from Johnny, what I wanted from Robin, was another great recording – more of the powerful creative force that they brought to the planet … not to be watching some damn internet feed on their death. I want to hear more music from Colorado artists young and old. You get one shot….about 650,000 hours …that’s a long life. That’s it as far as we know. I don’t ever want to read another headline about an artist who died because we said “oh, they had problems.” As Robin said, “Major league Ca Ca!” … it’s really time for that to stop. Sex and rock n’ roll fine. Drugs are a much more complicated issue and if you have a problem with them or depression or a combination and it is threatening your art and your life, you know it, for god’s sake get some help, because we really do want to hear the music … we want to hear your voice…not your obituary.

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Category: Shop Talk

Comments (2)

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  1. Paul Honeycutt says:

    Thanks for saying this, Chris. We live in such a “party culture” it makes it seem like that’s how it’s done. It’s BS. If you can’t play or go to a show or a party and have a good time sober, you need to take a long hard look at your self.

    I didn’t know Johnny, but his music touched me in many ways. Such a loss, such a waste.

  2. Andy Blanton says:

    Chris,
    You have hit the nail on the on the head!
    A non-public (secret) subject that affects all of us who entertain and who are entertained.
    If you need help its available!
    Understand the need can only be met if you reach out and ask. This takes the power of the (secret) addiction away.
    Brings it into the light. Millions have done just that with great success , know your not alone.
    Your not terminally unique!

    Find recovery thru groups NA ,AA ,Musicares
    or a qualified recovery center
    or a professional rehab counselor

    “Get Busy Living”

    I want to see and hear your Passion

    Andyb

    KRFC Fort Collins CO 88.9fm DJ Volunteer

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