I went and saw singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield the other night. I was surprised that there were only 45 people at the show (I counted). It was an amazing set, too. She was in the bands Some Girls, Blake Babies, and The Lemonheads…but her solo work is better. She’s had hits with “My Sister” “Universal Heartbeat,” and “Spin the Bottle.” The album “Become What You Are” is a classic. And here I’m watching her, with less than 50 people in the crowd.
I saw her 10 years earlier and there were about 400 in the crowd. I walked in, and she was working the merch booth. I had brought 3 CDs for her to sign, so it was convenient. As she was standing there autographing them in front of the merchandise, I figured I’d buy a T-shirt. After all, these folks are trying to make a living.
She didn’t sign autographs after the show last week, but it got me thinking. If you have musicians you like and they’re playing small clubs in your town – go! You’re going to see a great set of music, often at the same price or just above, the price you’d pay for a movie ticket. You can usually bring your favorite album or two, and get them signed. Instead, we get people that try to get U2 or The Eagles to sign albums after a concert at the arena. That’s not going to happen. Not only would security keep you away, but even if you were right there, the band would probably blow you off.
Now, I’ve gotten Chris Robinson when he’s played solo…but when he’s with his band The Black Crowes, they all blow us off and just walk right by us (his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson, is the worst).
The Eagles have gotten tough over the years, but were nice in their early days. Even solo shows are hard.
When Don Felder played the House of Blues in San Diego, I went against my number one rule. That is…if you have a T-shirt from the band, wear it. It immediately lets them know you’re a fan, and not going to sell their signature on eBay. I had a Hotel California shirt (which was $38 at an Eagles concert!). He wrote the friggin’ song! I forget to wear it, and when he came out, he stood right in front of me. I held out the two albums I had. He said, “No. I won’t sign. I’ll sign before the show tonight.”
He then got into a taxi.
There was a person there that got a guitar signed, but he had been talking to him online for the previous week and was brought backstage during the soundcheck.
Another guy there was a friend of mine. He went back before the show, and surprisingly, Felder signed for him. All four albums, too. I wasn’t going to the show, so I didn’t have that option. It was bizarre to be walking away downtown, and seeing him in the cab at each stoplight! Now, had I been wearing the T-shirt, I’m sure he would’ve just signed. Instead, I looked like an autograph dealer.
I thought about this after the Hatfield show. So many bands I loved in the ‘80s and ‘90s, play at smaller venues, and their so accessible. Except for my friend that always brings damn guitars for signatures (which most hate to do), it’s a great way to get signatures.
One of the most underrated singer/songwriters around is Stan Ridgeway. You all know his song “Mexican Radio” from his band Wall of Voodoo, but this guy has lots of amazing songs from his solo career (Google them, and thank me later). He’s a storyteller, and I say it’s like putting Raymond Chandler to music, in a 5 minute story.
The number of times I’ve gotten him to sign stuff before and after shows is ridiculous. And, you’re seeing a great band, too (his long time wife Pietra Wexstun of “Hecate’s Angels” plays keyboard).
I’ve even seen people ask Ridgway to sign Wall of Voodoo albums he didn’t appear on, and he informs them of that. Many still want him to sign (in which case, he’ll draw his own caricature standing by the other band members).
Nancy Sinatra played a venue that holds 700 people. It was close to selling out. There were signs stating she’d sign autographs after the show. It was a nice signature she slapped on my “These Boots” album, but she was selling her latest CD for $5. Can’t beat that, especially when you can get that signed, too. I was embarrassed when an autograph collector I see at many of these shows was asking her to sign a blank CD of songs she had burned off the internet. Yeah, nothing artists like more than you asking them to sign a CD that they didn’t make money from.
Going to see these artists at smaller venues is really the best way to go for the autograph collector. For example, every member of The Eagles (aside from Don Felder), signed when playing solo. Yet when I tried to get singer/drummer Don Henley to sign…from a friend that plays poker with him many times a year in Arizona, he told him, “Sorry, I don’t do the autograph thing anymore.”
When somebody turns down his OWN FRIENDS for autographs, they’re going to be tough to get. Yet when they’re playing a show at a small venue, their mindset often changes.
Kenny Rodgers played that same venue as Nancy Sinatra (Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach). The show sold out, but he signed some autographs and took photos before the show (even though he could barely walk from bad arthritis and other medical conditions). I got there late, but all I had for him to sign was a poker chip (clever, huh?). My friend said his manager told him, “He already signed autographs, but…I’ll take your album on the bus and he’ll sign it.”
It was brought back with a signature.
Obviously, most people won’t have a T-shirt of the band they can wear (who the hell has, or even wants, a Kenny Rodgers T-shirt?), but…here are some other tips. Don’t bring 10 albums. It turns them off. Don’t bring guitars, drumheads, or other instruments. They think you’re an autograph dealer. For example, Annie Lennox (Eurythmics), showed up. Me and one other guy were waiting. She smiled at us. She signed my CD (I only had one of her solo records, and wasn’t a fan of The Eurythmics). She looked at the other guy’s microphone and turned him down. So, he just wasted an hour standing there with nothing to show.
Try to have a ticket for the concert, and if you do, have them sign that FIRST. This way, they see you’re a fan and aren’t just some ebay autograph dealer. My friend said Taj Mahal made him show a ticket to prove he was going to the show (he wasn’t going). He said, “I left it in the car.”
Taj didn’t buy it and walked passed him. My friend, realizing he had nothing else going on that day, went and bought a ticket for $40. He waited 45 minutes, and when Taj was done with the soundcheck, he showed him the ticket. Taj smiled, and signed the 7 items my friend had.