Delta Riffs, Texas Sagebrush, American Blues
European Tour 2013
This was our second tour of Europe, the first one completed in January of 2012. All of the shows on the first tour were in the Netherlands, thanks to a booking agent that saw some promise in us. He only books shows in the Netherlands. On this return trip however, he managed to get us a show in Belgium, and one in Germany, outside of his normal venues.
Touring outside the states is logistically challenging: it's not easy to take all of your instruments, amplifiers and merchandise on the airplane with you. So, I packed a few effects pedals, a box of strings and slung my guitar over my shoulder and called it good.
Luckily, I was introduced to a German guitar amp builder who likes to work with American artists touring the EU. He makes fantastic amps, and was even willing to let me borrow his Les Paul knock off in addition to his amp head and speaker cabinet. Ralf from Tonehunter amps also assembled a pedalboard with some of his and some of my pedals. He knows that it is tough to get started playing in Europe, and he is willing to help artists get started. He also benefits from people seeing players use his gear. Ralf's equipment is fantastic, and I even bought one of his amps after this tour was finished and he's shipping it to North Carolina for me! It is really important to have these kinds of relationships to get the ball rolling for a foreign act.
~Tonehunter Head and Cabinet~
On the first tour we hired a Dutch drummer, Theo Thumper to round out our three piece band. This time we decided to bring Chris Leighton from Seattle with us to pound the skins. This means that we had to rent a larger vehicle, get more beds in hotels and find a drum kit! Luckily on the last trip we made a great friend from one of the venues we played in eastern Holland who is a drummer. Anko Lammers from Almelo was kind enough to let us use his kit, stay at his house and rehearse before the tour. To us, Anko is a great example of the people you get to know through touring over there – he loves music and making new friends. Even though his club (Café Dr. Rock) closed down, he was happy to see us again. We love Anko and his family; they are fun to hang with. He actually wears wooden shoes. (Size 13) Also, he has quite a collection of Whiskeys and Scotch- and we helped him deplete his supply! Whaaaaahaha.
After flying into Cologne, Germany, I spent the day with Ralf from Tonehunter. We got the guitar gear together and he also lent us a bass amp for John to use. The record label sent CDs to his place to sell at the shows, and the t-shirts (made in Germany) were shipped there as well. The next day, I loaded up the VW Transporter and headed for Geleen, NL to visit some other friends we made on the last tour to pick up the Left For Dead CDs and Highway 99 DVDs we left with them. After a nice breakfast, I headed to Schipol airport in Amsterdam to pick up John and Chris.
We spent the first night at Anko's place, rehearsed and sampled some of Anko's whiskey. He has a nice apartment above a garage-like structure on his property where his band rehearses.
The next day we headed south to a town called Groesbeek to play in a small bar where the Bluesmoose radio show interviewed me and recorded us playing about 15 songs. (Note to self: do this towards the end of the next tour after we hit our stride.) A few people came to watch the taping, and dropped a few Euros into a hat for us. We stayed above the bar in guest rooms that night. It is common to play a bar that is owned and operated by a family that lives in the building. The atmosphere in these venues is not unlike playing at their house- each bar has it's own unique personality that is a combination of the owner's tastes and the history of the building itself. Most of these are several hundred years old! Another example of Dutch hospitality--they fed us before and after the show! The after show meal was a huge pile of different sausages, not sure what animal or what part of the animal was used, better not to ask.
The next day we drove through some farm fields by a few Belted Galloway cows. You don't see those very often. We hit a music store in Rijmegan (try to pronounce that correctly) to get a couple of drum heads and a tambourine stick on our way back to Anko's place in Vriezenveen. (We called it freezing brain.) That night we played at Café Belgie in Almelo. We had a nice crowd that night – the place was 75% full, and had a nice stage and monitors.
It was a short drive the next day westward to Dordrecht to play the Jazzpodium, a blues and jazz place we played last year. They were happy to have us back, and said we had made a good impression last time. I was a bit surprised by this- they have a lot of quieter acts, and if you read the blog from the trip in 2012, you'll remember that they have the sound meter that will cut the power if you are too loud. They had to disconnect it last time to get us through the gig.
The place was packed, and we played a couple of encores. We stayed again at the historic Hotel Dordrecht which is not the plushest place you will ever stay, but has an unmistakably old word charm to it. Dordrecht has some of the oldest architecture we saw, and many of the brick houses that line the streets are canted at odd angles because of their age and the soft ground. Chris and John climbed the 200 foot tower of Grote Kerk, a massive cathedral built in the 1400's, and then found themselves locked inside. Luckily they were rescued and were able to play the gig.
The next morning we headed east into Germany to Isernhagen, a town just outside of Hannover, where the record label M.i.G. has its offices. We were looking forward to our first show in Germany, but were disappointed to hear that the attendance would be low because two German soccer teams were playing that night in the international championship in London.
But there were about 70 that attended, and they struck me as the 'hard core' blues rockers. A couple of them had the first Left For Dead CD's that I had made and sold to a German mail order catalog before I signed the deal with M.i.G. We were not prepared for multiple encores, and only played two. Next time we will have 3 or 4 up our sleeve.
The venue in Isernhagen, the Blues Garage is owned and operated by a guy named Henry (we nicknamed him Baron von Henry), who built the venue in an industrial warehouse that he was using to store his massive American car collection. He has a neat old Cadillac limo and a Cadillac branded mobile home, among other things. He struck me as part Dale Chihuly, who almost obsessively collects all kinds of strange items. The stage is built on top of a '67 Caddy, and the soundboard is housed in an old Pontiac. We stayed at his "Motel California" where he lives, which looks like a traditional motel, but is only for bands. I haven't seen a better collection of rock and blues memorabilia outside of Seattle's Experience Music Project!
Each room was decorated with a dense collection of guitars, posters, amplifiers, movie projectors, etc. all of which worked. John stayed in the "Southern Rock Room", decorated with paraphernalia from Dickey Betts, Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, and Chris got the "Drummer's Room".
The motel lounge was done up in Victorian style, with huge stuffed chairs and ornate cabinets. It was crammed with Rolling Stones mementos, posters, snow globes, throw pillows.
And a snifter of brandy...
Rising early, and having breakfast in Baron von Henry's 1950's diner room (complete with an extensive model fire truck collection) we hit the autobahn and headed back to the Netherlands for an afternoon gig in Assen. Assen is a cute little town, and we played in a bar that has been under the same ownership for 35+ years. The matron of the place lives upstairs, and fixed a nice dinner for us. She had an old jukebox with 45's from the 50's that Chris and John thoroughly investigated.
Sunday afternoon gigs start around 5 or 6 pm. They are a bit tougher to play, especially when we don't get enough sleep the night before, but this one went smoothly.
The next day we drove to Baarn to do an interview and performance for a radio show. The weather was nice, so we hung out in a cafe where coffee turned into beer...
That night after the radio interview, we headed back to Anko's place and slept until 11 AM the next morning. We decided to take the train to Amsterdam and visit the Rijksmuseum, where there is a great collection of 16th century paintings, including a huge Renoir.
Getting a late start, we didn't hit the museum until about 2:30, and just as we were about to see the huge Renoir, the alarm went off and we had to clear the building. I suppose it was a drill, because they let us all back in in 30 minutes, but not before we could snap a few pics out front.
A bit tired from 6 shows in a row, we called an audible and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express on the outskirts of town so we could sample an Argentinian steakhouse and stumble through the city at night. The town was bustling with tourists, and it was fun to wander the city streets and canals.
Back at HQ, we were pleased to hang out with some of Anko's band members, and we sampled some fine Whiskeys. We slept like bags of rocks...
On Thursday we drove south to Belgium. The rolling countryside and steep hills made Verviers visually a contrast to the flat Holland landscape. That night we played "Spirit of 66", a blues rock venue that has been around for awhile. Notables such as Walter Trout, Joe Bonamassa and Government Mule have gigged there. The stage was great, complete with a big PA and lights. Being a weeknight, and also challenged with the fact that this was the French part of Belgium (all of our press had been in either Dutch or German), the attendance was sparse but engaged.
One of the best breakfasts was waiting for us though- French pastries! Oh yeah. I finished all the chocolate croissants...
Originally we did not have a gig on Friday night, the 31st of May, but fortunately we ran into Liesbeth val Hal at the gig in Dordrecht. She asked if we needed to fill any dates, that she knew a place in Oss... So we got lucky and played a nice little club called The Machinist, which was right by the train station. Thank you Liesbeth! Also, we stayed at the nicest hotel of the trip there- Hotel de Weverij. I wanted to ship the cool purple chair in my room back to the states. Some day all of the hotels should be that nice! The place was packed and we were happy to play three sets, remembering some old stuff we used to play in our side project, The Quantum Mechanics. This was also the first club we played where everyone was smoking... ughhh....
Saturday found us heading south and east to Zeeland (locals are quick to point out that Holland is to the north) in a town we played the last time around called The Lane. Tired from the night before, we headed straight to the hotel to take a nap before sound check. Apparently, this was a faux pas, the owner of the club Jaap took this as an insult, and came and unceremoniously woke us up. So much for our nap...
The Lane is a cool little place run by a single family. They have a performance hall behind the bar and a blues club with enough members to support international acts. Great stage and PA as well. I have to say, for me this was the best gig of the tour. We had worked out all the kinks at this point, and had a nice array of hand signals and cues for dynamics and song ending punches. We even pulled out the James Brown "hit it and quit it" five-punch! Hahaha...
The next day was pretty nice outside (most of the trip was cloudy and rainy- like Seattle weather) and it made the drive north to Spijkenisse beautiful. We saw with our own eyes how the sea on one side of a dike, and the land on the other, some 30 feet or more below sea level. Creepy!
Our last show, not too far outside of Rotterdam was in the Cafe des Fles, a quasi-biker bar. It was a lot like the Machinist- small stage, lots of smoking, but everyone had a great time.
It seems like once we hit our stride, the tour was over. The next trip will definitely have more shows, so maybe we can really do some damage as the tour progresses.