Jim Mathis

Friday, November 16, 2012

Jim Halsey

I just got back from a 500 mile road trip to meet one of my long-time heroes, Jim Halsey. Jim started booking bands at the Memorial Hall in his hometown while still in high school in 1949. This was the town where I was born, Independence, Kansas, and I am sure my parents went to many of the concerts he promoted.

One of the bands he booked was Hank Thompson. Hank asked the very young Jim Halsey to be his manager. Jim saw this as his chance to see the world, so he joined Hank and the band on the bus and booked them for 250 dates in 48 states the first year. Jim rode the bus and handled all the details of touring.

He noticed that many of the people buying tickets looked liked that could better use the money somewhere else, like for food or clothes, but when they left the show they were different. For a few hours Hank as his band had taken them someplace where they had not been before, or not been for a long time. Jim realized that taking people to a place of peace and happiness for a few hours was a viable product, well worth the money spent on the price of a ticket.

He soon figured out that if he had a number of people capable of taking people to this place, and applied sound marketing and business principles, a lot of money could be made. And that is exactly what he did.

Hank Thompson introduced him to Wanda Jackson, who introdced him to guitar player Roy Clark, and the Jim Halsey Company was off and running.

Jim told about discovering the Oak Ridge Boys and the Judds, and stories of booking the first country acts in Las Vegas and booking country performers into Carnegie Hall. Jim Halsey bands were the first to play in the Soviet Union which had a big role in ending the cold war.

He has a wall full of gold and platinum records representing over 250 million record sales from the people he has managed. His son, Sherman, now manages Tim McGraw.

Jim is now teaching music business and has a book out titled "Starmaker, How to Make Money in the Music Business." I can't wait to get started reading it. I sure wish I had had access to this kind of knowledge forty years ago when I was first trying to figure out my career. The surprising thing was that the room was not packed with young people anxious to learn how to make their mark. Starmaker360.com

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is the music too loud?

Just about everybody who plays music or has any responsibility for sound has heard complaints of being too loud. Actually there is a logical explanation for this.

As we age our eardrums become less compliant. They become stiff like about every other part of our body. The symptoms show up in several ways. The obvious one is that soft or high frequency sounds become hard to hear. We have trouble understanding children or we have the TV cranked up high, or we miss a lot in conversations. We can adjust to this loss to a large degree with a hearing aid that amplifies the frequencies that we don’t hear.

Another way this condition shows up is that complex sounds such as music, especially at higher sound levels, tend to distort. The older eardrum and its associated components can’t react fast enough to transmit a clear sound to the brain. We think that the music is just too loud when the real problem is our hearing. The obvious solution is earplugs to reduce the sound level.

If or when I develop this condition I intend to carry a set of earplugs with me when I go to a concert. This is no different than putting on reading glasses to see fine print or to read street signs.

The problems arise when we don’t recognize the problem as a physical one and insist that the sound man is used to rock concerts, people mumble too much, or the printers intentional make the print too small.

My generation needs to get used to reading glasses, hearing aids, and earplugs. Complaining, stop reading, or stop going to hear live music is not a good choice.

Friday, July 6, 2012

After Taxes Band Launch Party

Almost eight years ago, some friends and I put together a Christian blues band called Sky Blue. Sky Blue has been one of the great joys and successes in my life. We have now played over 150 dates and expect to do many more. We just keep getting better all the time. 

But my deep background is country. I’m just a country boy at heart. My dad was a country singer who would remind you a lot of Merle Haggard. My early influences were mainly Grand Ole Opry people from the fifties and sixties.

Recently I decided that rather than try to take Sky Blue in a more country direction, I needed to start another, totally new band that would play not only some of the songs I grew up with, but original music that would take advantage of the influences that are dear to me. They tell me I sound like Johnny Cash and I love Marty Stuart. Waylon Jennings opened my ears and I can’t remember a time without Bob Wills. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Marshall Tucker made a big impression on me as well. 

I found some other guys who were sympathetic to the cause and “After Taxes” was born. We are going to have a band launch party on Friday, July 20 at the Oakshire Clubhouse at 95th & Nieman. This is just across the street east from the Oak Park Mall. The address is: 9555 Nieman Place, Overland Park, KS 66214. Food and drink will be provided and we will start playing around 8:00, so come around 7:30.

Please RSVP so we will have an idea of how much food to get. We will pass the hat to cover expenses.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Beryl Harrell

How many of you have heard of Beryl Harrell?

There is a great story about her in the fall issue of The Fretboard Journal.

She was born in 1918 in Washington but grew up in Los Angeles. She took steel guitar lessons from steel guitar legend and pioneer Sol Ho’opi'i. By all accounts she was gorgeous and a phenomenal steel guitar player. She played in several all-girl Hawaiian bands in the 1930’s and ‘40’s.

After the war, country music, and particularly western swing, became huge in Southern California and she became a sensation playing in all the famous LA clubs such as The Palomino Club. She hung out with Merle Travis, Les Paul, Leo Fender, and Paul Bigsby around the Los Angeles music scene in the early 1950’s.

When Las Vegas took off she started playing there as well.

In 1963 at the age of 45 she decided that she was too old for playing all the clubs and late hours, so she quit music and sold her steel guitar. She went to work as a telephone operator at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, but she missed playing music so much that she became very depressed.

In 1977, not yet 60 years old, she decided that life without music wasn’t worth living, and she took her own life.

To those of us past 60 and playing as good as ever, and nowhere near gorgeous, this is an amazing story.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

B.B. King

B.B. King is going to be in town next week. I have seen B.B. a number of times over the years, but I will never forget the first time.

It was 1976 and my wife and I were celebrating out fifth wedding anniversary. We had decided to fly to Reno for the weekend. It was the first time I had ever rented a car. We got a Chevrolet Monte Carlo and drove around Lake Tahoe. We checked the local paper and saw where B.B. King was playing at the lounge at the Holiday Inn. I remember Louise said, “Who is B.B. King?” and I said, “You’ll see.”

I had heard that you needed to tip the maĆ®tre de in Reno or Vegas if you wanted a good seat. So I gave the hostess a five dollar bill. In 1976, that was enough to get a front row seat in a hotel lounge. She escorted us to a table for two by the stage where we were enthralled by B.B.’s music and showmanship for the next 2 or 3 hours. My wife has been a B.B. King fan ever since.

The next night we went to see Roger Miller at the Golden Nugget where Glen Campbell made a surprise visit and they did a few songs together.

It was an amazing weekend.

One of the cool things about getting older is all the memories of great places we’ve been and people we’ve met.

And we’ve only begun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Playing at Homer's

It was nine years ago this week that I opened Homer’s Coffee House. Homer’s was a culmination of a 30 year old dream to open a smoke-free and alcohol-free music venue. The place was designed from the ground up to be a music venue for singer-songwriters and small bands. I wanted to book Christian and family friendly artists. Specialty coffee and food became part of the mix to pay the bills.

At the beginning I thought that if I had 4 or 5 bands that would each play a couple of times a month, we would be in good shape. But I was soon overwhelmed with the number of groups that wanted to play. I quickly had to develop some “filters” to determine who I should talk to and who to ignore.

An obvious one was whether or not they were familiar with Homer’s. If someone brought me a CD and a nice picture while they were there to listen to another band, I usually booked them because I knew they “got” what we were trying to do. If they had never been there, it was easy to turn them down.

I also found that it was easy to ignore emails. If somebody called on the phone, I asked them to send a CD and a photo. This eliminated a bunch. When CDs arrived, which as almost daily, if they had a no jewel case or had a handwritten label, or if they just generally weren’t attractive, I tossed them in the trash. If they looked good, I would listen to about 10 seconds of the first cut. If it sounded good, I skipped to a couple of other cuts. If they all had the same sound, the same tempo, or the same key, I would pop out the CD pop it in the trash. If I could listen to the whole CD without being bored I would call the group and find them a date. This happened maybe 5% of the time.

I would also ask bands for their web address. I would then check the site over several weeks, if it was not updated regularly, I figured they weren’t serious. MySpace and Facebook aren’t web sites for this purpose. If all you have is a MySpace page, I would probably not have booked you.

I soon learned to ask about the band’s mailing list. I doubt if I would have booked a band that didn’t have a couple hundred people they could invite.

It has now been two and a half years since I have been involved with Homer’s but people are still asking me to help them get on the schedule to play. I have decided that when I see another musician at Homer’s, either when I am playing or when I am there to hear another band, that I would introduce them to the manager and put in a good word for them. I have never had to do that.Apparently bands want to play at Homer's but not enough to come hear who is playing.

Sky Blue has played at Homer’s more than any other band, over 65 times. It would seem reasonable that if a band wanted to play at Homer’s, they would come hear Sky Blue to see what is expected. If they would, they would probably be surprised with the variety of music, the humor, and the way Sky Blue interacts with the audience.

So there you have it. I don’t know about the current criteria at Homer’s, but if you have tried to get booked and were unable to do so, you might now have a clue as to why you are having trouble.

I presume others music presenters think roughly the same way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Put on a Good Show" Part 2

I thought I would do a follow up to my last post. Apparently not everybody is familair with the tune "Cherokee Fiddle" about a guy who plays the fiddle in a train station for tips. Apparently the song was written by Michael Martin Murphy, but Johnny Lee had a big hit with it, and it was in the movie "Urban Cowboy."

I have seen Murph several times and he does put on a great show. By that I mean that he connects with the audience, plays with a lot of energy, and never does the same thing twice. In fact he seems to delight in surprising his band with his antics. He is a real genius.

The story of the song is about a Cherokee fiddle player who is able to gather a crowd of miners in the train station and keep them enetertained enough to make a living by passing the hat. Apparently it is true story.

For a number of years I booked bands at a local venue. It was fairly easy to find great musicians who played wonderfully, but those who could connect with the audience and keep people coming back was much harder to find.

That was my point of the previous post. Any comments?