Author: Campbell, Bruce

Step Right In

Itís not uncommon at a festival for a band onstage - even the big time acts Ė to introduce one of the players as a fill-in for a regular band member who was not available for this particular show. You know the words: ďLetís give a big shout out to Percy Klamperer over here on the fiddle, filling in for Klem Percival Ė heís doing a real fine job isnít he?Ē

Nine times out of ten, unless youíre a huge fan of the band and know all the players, you wouldnít have noticed the substitution if they hadnít mentioned it. How the heck do folks jump into these hot bands and pick up the slack without missing a beat?
But the more I got into playing bluegrass, the more I realized that the need for a competent fill-in player on a one-off basis is fairly common. And Iím still fascinated by how well and how often this works out.

The genre helps, of course Ė there are a lot of songs that are pretty well known, and there are a lot of common patterns and tendencies. You hear them expressed

in shorthand vernacular when teaching someone a song they havenít played before: ďItís in a A, basic 1,4, 5 pattern, chorus starts on the 4, thereís a 2 before the 5 on the verses, and it start with a 1-5-1 turnaround.Ē. Youíre already ready to go on this song, arenít you?

The instrument you play makes a difference, too. I do a fair amount of fill-in work on bass, and itís not that tough to listen to the clues above, and the clues in the melody and watch the hands of the other players in the band.

But what about when the material is more complicated, and youíre expected to help out on vocal arrangements, and kick-offs? Then, a more profound set of gifts is called for, and amazingly, there are players who can make this look and sound easy. Having a good ear for melody is important. I know several players who, after hearing you sing a melody line, can play it instantly on their instrument, and/or contribute a tenor or baritone part.

I did a gig this weekend, filling in on bass, and due to some family issues I didnít have a chance to even meet more than one of the players, let along rehearse with them. But, I knew at least 2/3rds of the songs on their setlists, and most of the others were reminiscent of other bluegrass songs I know. I think I only got crossed up a couple of times. And it was fun - the folks in the band were fun, and the event was fun Ė it was a Bar Mitzvah. And it wasnít the first time Iíve played with ďHava NagilaĒ with a bluegrass band!

Yep Ė itís always best when the whole band can make the gig. But we humans are busy and lives are complicated. So, now and again, we get to treat audiences to a Very Special Guest.
Posted:  5/22/2013

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