Cherchez La Femme

How many girl singers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Answer: Just one, because the whole world revolves around them.

On the small-time cover band level that I’m on, girl singers are a mixed blessing. True, they allow you to perform Sheryl Crowe songs and lots of other material not easily adaptable to being sung by guys. You have to face it — when you’re doing covers, sooner or later you’re bound to run into an audience that wants to hear something by Alanis Morisette. Naturally, you’d say no to that request under pretty much any circumstances, but what about Tracy Chapman or Fleetwood Mac? No matter how much pride you have in your musicianship or the integrity of your song selection, eventually you’ll at least have to consider such requests.

I stopped working with girl singers 30 years ago, not on purpose, but it just worked out that way. When I worked with them, they always arrived late, left early, and carried nothing but their own microphone and maybe a tambourine. On the road they always got their own room, while the rest of us shared. On stage, they were always the complete center of attention, even though musically everyone else in the band had equally important parts. During performances they could never hear enough of their own voice in the monitors. In those days we were lucky even to have monitors, much less separate monitor mixes, so we all had to listen mainly to her.

To be fair, some of them had great voices, some of them had great looks, some of them worked hard to front the band and entertain the people. Self-centered whiner that I am, though, I grew resentful of them. I had to learn an instrument in order to be in the band. I had to buy an instrument to be in the band. And when I sang, I still had to keep playing the guitar. So it didn’t seem fair to me that the girl didn’t have to bring anything to the table but her voice, which she was born with and — in most cases — was completely untrained. Then during the breaks people would say to her something like “You’ve got a good band,” as if somehow the band — and I — belonged to her or were taught how to play by her. In my bitterness I turned to strong drink.

Childish, I know.

So to penalize me now, at this late hour of my life, the universe has thrown another girl singer at me. It’s temporary — just for one show — but things don’t seem to have changed much. We only had time to rehearse with her once, and she arrived almost an hour late for a three-hour rehearsal, and she didn’t even bring a microphone or a tambourine. Then it turned out that she hadn’t had time to listen to the CD I made for her or look over the lyric sheets I gave her. All true to form as I remember it.

It will be fine, of course. We invited her to sing with us because we think she has a following around town from her extensive work in karaoke bars, and frankly, we need to put some butts in the seats. This compromise of my principles is nothing compared to what I would do for a chance to play with Aretha or Tina Turner or Linda Ronstadt.

Our girl didn’t knock my socks off at the rehearsal, but I can see she has the pipes, and nothing focuses you like an impending gig in front of a live audience. The show is Wednesday this week, and she’ll have a microphone, a tambouine and her own separate monitor mix. I expect she will practice her parts like crazy until then, and come out rockin’.

And then the whole world will revolve around her.

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13 Replies to “Cherchez La Femme”

  1. Sounds like too much ego and not enough reflection. And, it seems to be one of those irony things – Everyone’s an individual while on a team. Maybe that’s one of the things a busker enjoys – his/her music, his/her instrument and his/her voice.

  2. Not sure what you’re getting at, Bill, but trust me, the girls don’t display any more egotism than I do. If not for my own outsized ego, why do I do what I do?
    And it must be said that I don’t really blame the girls for the way things are. It’s just the way things are. Even if you drop a good, talented, artistic, sincere woman into the girl singer slot, she’d still get her own room on the road and not be asked to carry the bass amp. And you know she’d still get all the attention on stage.

  3. I didn’t mean that I wasn’t brave enough or that I’ve been rejected (probably would be, though). I just meant I’m never where they are. I also am unlikely to get bitten by a greyhound, murdered in a casino, or break a leg in Europe.

    As for how many it takes, almost all girl singers are too big to even get in a light bulb, much less screw in it.

  4. Funny post, but maybe a little one-sided. I don’t doubt your experience with female singers, but I will say that your description could just as easily describe many male singers in the same situation. I don’t think it’s so much a matter of gender, but of personality, appearance, ego, and what people are willing to let them get away with.

    Do you think most male singers carry anything other than their own equipment? Or show up prepared and on time for every rehearsal? Or respect and appreciate all the musicians they work with. Or don’t think the world revolves around them? 🙂

    Certainly, not all singers are so self-centered. But regardless, most audiences will tend to focus on, or fawn over, the lead singer, whether male or female. They are perceived as the leader of the band, and as carrying the emotion of the songs, and they garner most of the attention.

    The singers who are truly dedicated, generous, and appreciative, are willing and able to direct a good bit of the attention toward the rest of the band. It’s a matter of talent, integrity, and mutual respect. It all depends on who you choose, and why. If you choose a singer based only on their popularity or attractiveness….then that’s what you’ll have to deal with.

    Another choice is not to hire a SINGER to front your band. If a male band wants to include a female voice, they should look for a talented female MUSICIAN with a decent voice. Then they become part of the band, and carry their weight as any other member would. If not, you let ’em go, as you would any other slacker.

    There are good female musicians/singers out there, (and I’m not talking about banging a tambourine) – women who play guitar, bass, keyboards, banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, drums, flute, horns, etc – you just gotta find the right fit for your band, and treat her with the same respect you would a male musician.

    Just my thoughts…..for what it’s worth.

  5. wolfcreek – Good points, and you’re probably right that male singers can be just as annoying. David Lee Roth probably is. But I’ve worked with a couple of male singers, and they carried stuff. It’s a guy thing: they can lift, so they kind of have to.
    Excellent suggestion, BTW, that I find a woman who plays an instrument. That would be a great solution, and I’m open to it, but it hasn’t happened yet for this band.
    Anyway, the gig went well. As I expected, she was a lot better prepared by the time she sang for the people. I arranged the show to give her the finale, and during the ovation she acknowledged the band.

    Still, she’d been down the road for an hour and a half by the time I’d packed up my car and pulled out of the parking lot.

  6. wolfcreek made some really great points. I can only imagine how annoying it was to put up with David Lee Roth (as you pointed out, LJ). Can you imagine putting up with Jim Morrison? Has anyone ever seen Almost Famous?

    But, I get your point too, Larry. But, I do have to say that a female singer doesn’t have to play an instrument to be respectful of the band and at least do what she can to help load and unload equipment. I speak from experience! You know, a lot of “cord loading” experience. 🙂

  7. I heard a band at an apple festival awhile back. They were called “On the Beach.” I wondered if they took their name from the nightmarish movie of a family terrorized on vacation, staring Gregory Peck. The guy who seemed to lead the band was old enough to remember it.

    They played and sang “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. They had a young woman singing backup. She was blond and wore a bluejean suit. She looked really happy up there, singing, harmonizing.

    They did Heart of Gold better than Neil Young, I thought, and then wondered if I was “stirring my brains with my dick” as Jim Harrison would say. All I’m saying is, a female vocalist can add something special to your band you’ll never get otherwise.

    If you need help with the amps, get one of those 2-wheel dollies.

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