Mental Tricks to Defeat Boredom On Stage

This is Bob Hempker with today’s newsletter.

I know many road players and guys who work the same show day in and day out can relate to this. I’ve fought the boredom thing on stage for years. We play the same old songs over and over. I’ve sometimes forgotten that we even played a certain song. How do we keep our mind fresh, and our enthusiasm up?

When we would go out on the road, sometimes we’d do 40 plus one-nighters in a row. That meant playing without much rest, and sometimes driving all night to get to the next gig. A lot of my road work back then was in a station wagon with 5 of us, and pulling a U-Haul trailer. Needless to say, things have gotten a lot better for the road players in the last 30 years or so.

For 24 years, I worked and traveled the road with Loretta Lynn. When I first went to work for her, she hadn’t had that many hits, so as a result to fill time, she would do other peoples’ hits or what many refer to as “cover tunes.” That kept us on our toes. As the years went by, she compiled more and more hits of her own. We would have a different audience every show, so the songs were fresh to the folks in the crowd.

It could really get to be a grind to those of us on the stage, including Loretta. Sometimes I would really yearn just to play something different than the same old intros and turn-arounds that were required to be played on her show. Most C/W music artists want their intros and turn-arounds played pretty much like the recordings. Signature licks have to be there, also. That leaves your fills pretty much to your own taste and discretion.

I fought the same thing the eight years I worked for Roy Clark. Sometimes I would say to myself, “If I have to play that darn ‘Thank God and Greyhound You’re Gone’ one more time, I’m going to scream.”

One year, I worked 400 plus shows with “Country Tonite” in Branson. I also did a morning show with Jim Owen. We did the same songs each and every show, over and over. Again, the fighting the boredom, and trying to keep your head in your work.

I have found little tricks down through the years I play on myself to keep from getting bored, and my mind wandering in the middle of a song. Sometimes, I will zero in on my tone, and try to really make it big and fat. Not just with amp settings and such, but with my own technique.

I’ll place my hands in different spots comparing the difference in the sound of the notes. I may use different fingers or my thumb for a lick I usually use another finger, or my thumb for. I’ll swap bars around . I have a 7/8″ bar and a 15/16″ bar. I’ll compare the tone and the way they feel. Sometimes I’ll pick block a passage instead of my usual palm blocking.

One of my favorite things to do to keep enthused in playing on a set show, is to think about my heroes. I can remember playing “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and thinking about how Buddy Emmons would have played it. Again the intro had to be like the recording, which Hal Rugg played on, but the fills were of my own discretion.

I always would fill every other verse. There is no actual chorus to the song. I might try to fill the first verse the way I would imagine Lloyd Green would have played it. The second verse, maybe I’d try to imagine John Hughey or Jimmy Day playing it. The third verse, maybe Weldon Myrick.

It was all according to which one of my heroes would pop into my head. I would sometimes play almost the whole show like that. I did this on Roy’s show, also. I can imagine so many of my favorite players’ styles on “Tips of My Fingers.” There was no steel guitar solo on “Yesterday When I Was Young,” but Roy said he always wanted one on it, and asked me to play something on it.

I thought for a while, and I concluded that Jerry Byrd should have played on that song. I played a solo the way I imagined maybe Jerry would have played it. I’m nowhere near in the league with Jerry or any of these other great players, but it is fun to imagine. I’ve done it a lot down through the years.

I don’t know if any of the rest of you have tried this or not, but it is a good mental trick to keep from me getting bored and fighting fatigue on the stage. I know it’s a condition we all fight from time to time, but we all have our own ways of dealing with it.

I’d like to hear from some of you, and hear your ideas about how you deal with this.

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