Back in June 2008 we had stumbled upon a great article of some mystery-promoter dude that, instead of explaining how bands should promote and book their shows, explained on the contrary what bands should not do in order to get booked. Suddenly out of nowhere in December, this mystery author revealed his identity and landed a comment on that post we did about his article.
The dude’s name is Chris Walker, living in Memphis and who’s got a doggy named Danger (mruff to Danger), and we got in touch after that on several occasions. I asked him if he would be up for a little interview, seeing how he’s been a booker, a promoter, a club owner and band member, and he gracefully accepted.
So this is his condensed story. He explains how he got into booking bands and how he got into owning a club that hosted weekly Jeff Buckley gigs (though he’ll cover those anecdotes more in detail in future posts I hope :)
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into music
I have a big brother who is the best kind of brother to have. Instead of picking on me or resenting me for taking away my parents attention, he let me tag along with his friends and shared his passions with me like film and music and drawing. He gave me my first record, Destroyer by Kiss. He got into the punk/new wave scene around 1977. Being six years old, all I would do is sit in my brother’s room listening to Devo, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Blondie, The Dickies and watch him draw crazy/hilarious cartoons and laughing the night away.
He took me to my first concert, Kiss in 1979 on the Dynasty tour at the Mid South Coliseum. When I got into punk rock as a teenager, not able to drive, he took me to the Antenna club, (the only punk club in Memphis at the time) to see Black Flag. I couldn’t get in, but they would let me stick my head in the door and catch a few songs. Kim (my brother) would go to punk shows and pick up t-shirts for me by bands like The Exploited and The Vandals. When I was able to drive, The Antenna started hosting all age punk shows. From 1985 to 1988, I frequented The Antenna.
How did you get into the music scene, and how did you manage to go from being in the band to becoming the booker and club owner.
I wanted to be in a band. I got into speed metal towards the end of high school and my friends from school and I started a speed metal band. We had never played a show but we had befriended some of the local punk/metal bands that we’d seen play around town. When we finally got up a 30 minute set with some originals and covers, we set up our first show by renting out the Southaven Jaycees building in Southaven, MS (a suburb of Memphis, thirty minutes south of Memphis) and inviting four other locals to play. We called it “The Thrash-A-Thon” and it was a smashing success. We ended up with 300 people at $5 a head and our expenses were around $800. We delightedly split the money up with the other bands and everyone had a blast. We made a whole bunch of new friends and we played local shows with the bands on that bill for years afterwards.
The success of that show had a massive impact on me. I have no doubt that if that show had been a negative experience, my life would be drastically different.
After a few shows with my band around town, we got our first show at The Antenna and I made contact with the guys in charge of booking the club. Around this time, if I wanted to see most of the bands that I liked live, I would have to drive to St. Louis, Dallas, Atlanta, or New Orleans. That got expensive and I started looking into how much it would cost to book the bands here. Memphis is what booking agents refer to as “a secondary market”. We get fill in dates in between the cities I listed above. When I started trying to bring bands to town, I would call The Antenna and try to set up a show with a bigger national act and I would put my own band in the opening slot.
This went on for a couple of years. I got tired of having to deal with the club so I borrowed some money and bought a little redneck hole in the wall named Barristers (it used to be a lawyer hang out) where I had started doing shows. I owned the place for 2 years before I had a child and had to get a real job. I opened another club a few years later called Last Place On Earth in 1999 and closed it in 2001. In that time, I managed to bring some really special shows to my hometown and I’ve been very fortunate to have parents and family support me in the way that they have.
What was the most satisfying job in your experience? (between being a band member, a club owner and a promoter)
That’s a hard question to answer because my whole adult life, I’ve been at least 2 out of the 3 of those at the same time and for a few years all three. I guess being a promoter would be the answer since I’ve always been that to this day and I’m not in a band nor will I be owning a club anytime soon. But if you ask the big time promoters around here, they would say “Chris Walker?…he ain’t a promoter!” which is the nicest thing they’ll ever say about me and I agree with them.
I pay bands or get someone else to pay bands to come here. It’s never about the money with me, it’s about the music. The music comes first. People who call themselves promoters are the same people who refer to musical recordings as “units”. Like “Yeah…this band is gonna be HUGE!…they’ve already moved 15,000 units!” When you were just discovering music, did you say “I wanna go down to the unit store and pick up some new units!” No! I do it because either myself or one of my friends likes/loves the band whether it makes money or not. A successful show for me is breaking even.
But booking a show that touches a lot of people and leaves a mark is always awesome. The Jeff Buckley shows would be a good example. GG Allin is also a good example.
Would you say their are more dishonest club owners or more monster-ego bands out there?
Just on pure numbers alone, I’d say there are more egomaniac bands just because there are WAY more bands then there are clubs. I don’t like to make broad statements like that though. Usually, it’s one or two band members who ruin reputations for bands and with the internet, dishonest club owner/promoters get weeded out after about a year or so just because word of mouth can spread so fast with myspace, message boards, facebook and blogs (like this one!).
What would be the best advice you could give to a band who just got a set together and is ready to play its first gig?
Have a plan. Set goals. Decide on what you all collectively want to do. Do you just want to play locally and put out the occasional recording? Do you want to make a living playing music?
My old band (Diarrhea Of Anne Frank) had no aspirations. The band was formed because I started running out of local bands to put on shows, yet we played The Knitting Factory in NYC because we thought it would be fun. We never practiced. We didn’t have songs. But because I know the psychology behind getting what you want, I pulled it off. If you just want to play your first show, go to the club that you frequent, make connections with the staff, then when you get to pitch your band to the talent buyer, explain to him why should he book your band. It would be a good idea to know why he should book your band by the way. Because most people aren’t used to candor, I get some dumbfounded reactions sometimes when I ask a band who is asking me to book them that question.
Band dude: “Hey man, I’m in a band called The Poo Flingers and we’d love to set up a show here sometime.”
Me: “Really? Cool. Will anyone come to your show if we do?
Band dude: Uhhhh….I guess….I don’t know….
Now what am I supposed to think? While your band is your passion, keeping the club open is the talent buyer’s passion and the show has to be economically viable. A lot of musicians think the club is responsible for these expenses but if the band wanted to DIY it and play a house party and get paid you still HAVE to have A) a P.A. system if only for vocals and B) someone taking money at the door. If you don’t think twenty people would come see your band play then you shouldn’t be playing in a club.
You say you booked the Knitting Factory with a band that basically never rehearsed. How did you convince them that you would pack the venue? if so, how? 9since you live in Memphis)
I booked us in NYC by booking shows in Memphis basically. Knitting Factory has (or had) a booking agency that books for the bands on their label. When they called me to book one of their artists, I told them I needed a gig in their venue for my band. When someone is asking for a show, it’s only fair to ask for one back. We played with a side project of the band, Oneida, which one of their members worked for the label. So NYC was probably the easiest show to set up.See…I didn’t have to convince anyone that OUR band would draw but I could put someone on the bill who would.
If you’re a band and you’re just starting, you’re probably not going to have the connections that I have. That’s why I was saying that you’re going to have to convince the talent buyer why he should book you.
Ask yourself: “How can I make it worth the club/talent buyer’s while to book our band. Will we make the club money? Probably not. I could let the talent buyer have sex with my sister. Or I could hook him up with some dynamite weed. Or I could tell him I thought his band/film/artwork/ass was awesome.”
If you know how to bullshit or kiss ass, you should be the one doing the booking for your band.
That’s really the only advice I can give but it’s worked for me like gangbusters. I call it “The Psychology Of Getting What You Want.” I’ve been pretty amazed at what I’ve been able to talk people into doing. If you want something from someone, you figure out what you can do for them and offer it in trade for what you want. You can apply this philosophy to your job, to getting into women’s pants, etc.
As a band member, what annoyed you the most with bookers and club owners, and how did you manage to deal with it?
I hate it when people (anyone…bookers, club owners, musicians, etc.) don’t do what they say they’re going to do. I try to have all the arrangements and details in email form so you can always go back to it and know what you agreed to. If you don’t get what you want worked out on the front end and have a written record of both parties agreeing to what you want, you have no place to complain (hence our gigdoggy gig-sharing platform! hehehe).
I agreed to pay Corey Feldman (yes, that Corey Feldman (the kid who acted in ‘Stan by me’)) $1500 flat for a show. When he sold out the venue and I didn’t give him one extra dime over $1500, he was quite irate and cursed me to my face. Truth be told, if he’d not been such a total and complete shit ass, I would’ve have given him some of the back end, but he was terribly rude and inconsiderate so I hit him with what we promoters call “Asshole Tax”.
Thanks a lot Chris. One last question: what presented the most work? the most stress? the most fun?
The most work: In this city, there is very little money and the people who attend the shows that I book don’t have it. That means less people which means less money coming in which means you have to cut costs which means you end up having to do everything yourself. There were a couple of shows at Barristers where I had to run the door, the bar, and sound for the show and clean up the place when it was done.
The most stress: I like rowdy bands. When I say “rowdy”, I mean bands who put on a somewhat violent show that interacts with the audience. See GG Allin, The Antiseen, Anal Cunt, and The Candy Snatchers. It’s very easy to like rowdy bands when all you have to do is pay admission, sit down, watch the insanity, meet the bloody/sweaty band members after the show and shower them with accolades while you buy their t-shirt but when you’re basically as legally responsible for whatever carnage they cause as they are, it’s nowhere near as much fun. I’ve booked everyone of those bands I listed and while I was sweating bullets when it was happening, I’m SO glad I did.
The most fun: I’d say the most fun is when I book one of my favorite bands who are not only outstanding musicians who put on a great show but top flight people and I know that the show is going to cover all expenses (if I made money…bonus!).
So there you are. A lot of bold truth in that interview. We send a warm mruff to Chris (and Danger), hoping to seeing him back on the blog talking about those Jeff Buckley and GG Allin gigs, and other doggy-band/music related things.