Netherlands Adventure 2012
For American musicians a tour of Europe is quite like a trip to the 'promised land' – There is an old running joke you tell after a poor showing at a gig "Well, they're BIG in Europe." And of course the David Hasslehof head scratcher – "He's HUGE in Germany?!" Who would have thought?
In my last band, OmniVoid, we even made a poster making fun of being BIG in Europe:
The text below the photo says silly stuff like "Who the hell is OmniVoid?" and "I hate American music! If this is not a polka, I will not listen to it! These people are stupid!"
All jokes aside, most American musicians hope/dream/scheme of touring the EU.
So, I got lucky. My label is German, so how hard could it be? Well, not easy, that's for sure, even with a record deal. I was turned down my numerous booking agents. Why would they take a chance on some band that may suck? Luckily, I was just finishing the mixes for the Live at Highway 99 DVD, and posted some vids on YouTube privately that an agent could use to help get gigs. I figure, once I get my foot in the door all will be good!
So I luckily found an agent in Holland that was willing to give me a shot. He used the videos, and got some great gigs. Not many- just 8, but a start.
Part of the difficulty of making such trips is that the costs are high to get there in the first place- my airfare was $750, my bass player, John's was around $850. Then we have to rent a vehicle, rent some gear, pay for hotels on the nights we aren't playing, pay for food and super-expensive gas, etc… The costs are really quite high. The Dutch do pay well for their live music, so on this first trip our goal was to cover the costs, or break even. Then, on subsequent trips we could stay longer and perhaps start to make some decent money, and get some greater exposure. The first trip is really an investment, and a test to see if it will work. Did we bring the right stuff, did we anticipate the expenses reasonably?
One really lucky break came in the form of "superhero" Ralf Reichen of Tonehunter amps and effects. He is someone that my friend Randy Hansen discovered in Germany that makes super-high-end amplifiers and effects pedals. He is trying to grow his business, so it makes sense for him to sponsor touring artists, so that people will see them playing his amps. So not only do I have free gear, I have about the best free gear you could ever hope to get! (And let me tell you, after playing his amp the whole tour, I was blown away- it may be the best sounding amp I have EVER played.)
So the first stop was a visit to Cologne, Germany (or Köln as it is known in German. BTW, it took me awhile to figure out how to type umlauts!) I met Ralf and his wife Kristin and employee Tobias. They helped me ready my pedalboard with a couple of his pedals and a few of mine.
Ralf was also nice enough to lend me his Tokai Les Paul for the tour (sweet!)
After getting the gear all set, he took us out to dinner at a nice traditional German restaurant, where we had some great beer and schnitzel! That night we stayed in a small hotel run by one of Ralf's friends, which was fantastic because there was a convention in Cologne that day, and the hotels were all booked.
Speaking of hotels – there's a bit of an adjustment for an American who is used to big rooms and beds. The places where we stayed all had small beds and small rooms. Reminds me of living in a dorm… It was actually really cool – we didn't need big rooms, there were so many things to do, places to go, people to see.
The next day we headed back into Holland, to Arnhem, where we were to practice with our Dutch drummer, Mr. Theo Thumper. 20 + songs in 5 hours? Can we do it? Yeah, sure. The beats are not difficult, but our arrangements are. You have to chart them or memorize them. We don't do the standard 12 bar blues thing. You gotta know our songs.
We would have like to have taken one of our American drummers with us, but financially it was not doable on this trip. Lucky for us, Theo drove himself and his gear to all the gigs. Thanks Mr. Thumper!
Our hotel near Arnhem was right next to a McDonalds, so we McDrove over there to take a look and meet an unusually friendly Ronald…
The next day we drove to Enschede, where the first gig was scheduled. I met my main man, Bernd Ramien there at the hotel. He is the guy who brought me to the MiG label. He has his own label with his friend Dr. Rock, called Dust on the Tracks. They do mostly progressive rock, so Bernd thought I would do better on MiG's String Commander label. We work closely together to bring my flavor of blues to the world…
Dudley and Mr. Bernd Ramien
He set up an interview with Nineke Loedeman and photographer Jan Van Eck in the hotel.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WEvz-D8rLwIt was great to get the word out at the beginning of the tour. No doubt in my mind that Nineke's press helped attendance for the rest of the tour.
Why did my label guys have to come to the first show!? Why couldn't they wait until we had worked all the kinks out? Oh jeez… Luckily, the first show turned out well. It was at Café Rocks in the city center of Enschede. A small bar, but seriously packed to the gills… It was a great way to start the tour.
The next show was interesting because it was in a smaller village called Sint Michielsgestel, which means "St. Michael's Castle." There used to be a castle there, but most of it was torn down to build a convention center, except for the Church, which is still there – and that's where we stayed. (Nicest hotel of the trip.)
In Holland they have gigs on Sunday afternoons. I was a bit skeptical that people would actually show on a Sunday, but no worries. The attendance was almost to capacity on both of the Sunday shows we played. This first Sunday show was in Wageningen – home turf of my booking agent, and at the Club XXL which has had a great many blues artists play there. I knew the audience would be a bit more 'educated' if you will. Sometimes that can work against you if you lean to the rock side of blues rock, but the crowd held, and bought almost all of the t-shirts I brought with me. The dude that paid me the money after the gig asked if I had an XL t-shirt, and there was one left, which he took without paying for… so that must be a compliment!
Here's a pic from the show – I stood up on one of the bass bins, and whacked my head when I jumped back down (note to self: check clearance before climbing anything!)
About to bang my head in Wageningen
The next two days, Monday and Tuesday we had off, so that we could travel to Hannover and meet the record label staff and do some promo work. We drove into Germany again, enjoying the raging autobahn. Well, we really only went about 140 kph, which is about 87 mph… Fast enough for us. I had my iPhone with me, but set it to airplane mode and turned off data roaming so that I would not rack up a huge phone bill with Verizon back in the US. I did have some great music on there, and John and I listened to some old Django Reinhardt and Stephan Grapelli.
Here we are coming into Hannover:
We had a great time hanging with the MiG staff. They took John and me out for beers and dinner, and only made me sign 200 CDs… I did an interview with Uli Kneip from the national radio station NDR, channel 2; He has a blues show on the weekend. Getting prepped for my first tour of Germany…
Wilfried Pinnau, me and Manfred Schütz of MiG Music
Our next gig was down in the southeast corner of Holland, in Zeeland. A little town named Oostburg. There's a family run bar with a performance room called Penny Lane.
For a Wednesday night, we did not expect much of a crowd, but were pleasantly surprised. This was one of the clubs where the owners have built rooms for artists to spend the night.
The next day, we stopped by a little town called Breskens on the ocean to check out the dyke. Not too big of a dyke, but cool to see nonetheless. We kept trying to figure out if the town was lower than sea level.
We then drove into Almelo for a great gig that night at Dr. Rock, a new venue that just opened in December of 2011. The proprietors, Anko and Helga were charming, and we stayed in a little apartment above their garage. This video was shot the next morning, after we messed the place up!
Our next stop was Dordrecht to play the Jazzpodium. They put us up in the very nice Hotel Dordrecht, like many building in Holland, it was old and had an interesting history. It was all explained nicely on the placemats, but I can't for the like of me remember what it said. More coffee, please…
Oh crap, where's my hat? – Breakfast in Dordrecht
The venue was just on the edge of the city center, where you cannot drive your car. Cobblestone streets surrounded us with throngs of people riding their huge Dutch bikes.
On one side of the club sits this huge church, built sometime in the 1500's. It is leaning about 6 feet to the left… yikes!
Church in Dordrecht
The Jazzpodium is run by guys who love jazz, and I am sure have an affinity for the blues. But I got the feeling that a blues rock band scares them a bit. They have a security measure in place for LOUD bands, and it looks like an old prop from the Starship Enterprise…
The decibel meter will cut stage power of you are too loud!
I think my Mom wishes she could have had one of these babies back in 1980…
After the staff discovered that we really weren't that loud they turned the thing off. It most certainly would have shut they power off when the crowd did this:
The next day, John and I had some free time before we headed to Oude Meer, so we walked around the city center and took a few pics.
Street in Dordrecht
Super-old building from the early 1600's
Canals of Dordrecht
Check out the cow on top…
The Dutch like to ride BIG cruisers…
Dordrecht Spaceport with transport to Alpha Centauri, and Orion's Belt…
Then we drove by the Schipol airport for the next gig at The Shack. At this point, I was a bit worried that my voice would give out. I am used to playing weekends, and have not ever done 5 shows in a row. Even though I sounded a bit ragged in the mornings, I think I was getting more and more in shape. Gotta do the vocal warm-ups though; thanks to Sue Carr and her Art of Screaming DVD!!!
The Shack was a cool little joint. I loved the décor…
Stage at The Shack in Oude Meer
Now we were coming down the home stretch. Only catch is we wouldn't be able to take a little nap before sound check, as the Sunday shows start at 5 PM. Gotta power through it…
Our last show of the tour was in Geleen, in the south western part of Holland, not too far from the German boarder. Like many of the other places we played, this was a family run bar that had a small flat upstairs for the bands. The proprietors, Gabi and Skinny really had a great stage there. Killer light rig, big PA with subs, separate light and stage power. They video'd the whole gig. The Netherlands YouTube vids on my page are from this gig. The place was packed; I am pleasantly surprised by the initial turnouts. Blues Rock is alive and well in Holland, I might even say thriving. It was such a great pleasure to do this tour, and I am patiently awaiting the next one, and the next one, and the next one…!
Harm painted a picture of me…!