John Cate was born in Liverpool, England, to American ex-pats who settled in the Boston area. John formed the van Gogh Brothers with guitarist Paul Candilore in 1995.
The van Gogh Brothers include Paul Candilore on lead guitar, Clayton Young on bass, Steve Latt on fiddle, pedal steel and mandolin and a number of rotating drummers including Andy Plaised (Dennis Brennan), John Sands (Aimee Mann), Mike Levesque (7 Mary 3) and Dave Mattacks (Paul McCartney, George Harrison).
John's songs are featured on network television, film and DVDs, including such projects and programs as “American Idol”, “NCIS”, “Melrose Place”, "Num3ers", “Haunted”, "Dawson's Creek", "Touched by an Angel", "All My Children", "Touching the Game", and many others.
Enough from us - here's John's first column on getting your band's shows moving.
So you’ve got your originals-only band going and you sound pretty good. The problem is gigs. You play the multi-band nights at the hippest bar and beg all your friends and family to come down to cheer you on, whether you suck or not, and you wait around until the next time you get to play for free for 25 minutes at the same place. Then you get a gig on a Wednesday night at a great club that books cover bands on weekends, and you beg the same 75 people to come hear you play but only 5 show up. The club doesn’t want you back. How does this ever work out?
Usually, the clubs you know and hear about aren’t the best match— for you or the club. What you want to do is: a) get your band so good it can play anywhere; b) play a club where people show up to hear music, whether it’s your band or someone else; and c) play somewhere that will book you based on how good you are not on how many people you bring in.
Where are these places? They’re usually the places where musicians hang out when they’re not gigging, and where better musicians play on weekday nights. They’re usually tiny bars with no cover charge and small (or no) stages, and very often they are dives in crappy neighborhoods, instead of on “the strip.”
Why play these places? Because you can get good at your game. Since musicians hang in these rooms, you really need to work yourself hard to avoid the eye-rolling. Since you can often book back in, you might even get a residency or a monthly gig and your band can develop consistency, which gives time to really gel. Hey, you might even build up a following as you improve, which is good for you and the club. Since you’re usually not getting paid, or you’re passing the collection bucket, you generally get paid what you’re worth.
After ten years of touring and doing the odd opener, playing multiple gigs at multiple clubs and bars, my band played one bar every week for about a year in a city just west of us. It wasn’t until we did this that we started getting really good as a band. Having had this experience, we started looking in other cities and we now have three or four rooms like this one, where we play every month. The other gigs fit in around these, and we’ve found that having had the experience of weekly gigs to fine tune the band, the other rooms are easier to get into and to keep playing, and the audiences and the clubs are happier with us as a band.
Remember, the Beatles did the Cavern lunchtime shows in Liverpool every day for over a year. There’s nothing that beats playing to make a band great.