(No) Clowning Around – with Darrel Craig Harris
Darrel Craig Harris
Show up on time, be nice, be prepared and be humble. Every gig you do and every person you meet can potentially lead to a future awesome gig!
AI – Hello Darrel, I’ve been looking forward to getting the opportunity to chat with you, thank you for taking the time to share some of your experiences with myself and the readers here at The DailyFunk Club. You have established a colorful and consistent music career with the bass. In this interview I want to explore how you’ve managed to do so, and retrace some of the steps you’ve taken. I have the deepest respect for, and fully relate to “working cats” like you! I enjoy watching your travels, and in way, we all live through each other’s experiences now via the social media, information and gadget generation.
DH – Hi Andy, thanks so much for reaching out to me and taking an interest in my wacky world haha. Yes with social media all has indeed changed in the world in general, and with musicians in particular! Such an exciting time really for players and how they can market themselves and their various endeavors!
AI – Let’s start at the beginning, and learn when and how music and the bass in particular found it’s way into your life? What inspired and influenced you? and were you biten by the music bug right away? Did you know early on it would be what you would shape into a lasting vocation?
DH – Well, its a long winding road like it is for most I imagine haha. I taught myself guitar around the age of 12 years old using various books after seeing one of my dads friends sing and play at one of our house parties, I was so fascinated at that young age at how amazing it was to see that live and in person. Along with learning guitar I started writing tunes and performing at school functions and the like with friends. When I got to High school I wanted to be in marching band so they put me on bass drum haha (no marching guitars at that time haha) and through that I ended up marching with the Velvet Knights drum corps from Anaheim CA in various positions including the snare line.
Also around this time the bass player in the high school Jazz band (Ocean View High school in Huntington Beach CA) got caught sleeping with his girlfriend and his parents pulled him out of the jazz band oops!, so our band director Mr. Witten asked me to play bass with the high school Jazz ensemble. He told me I couldn’t use a pick and that I had to learn how to read music which turned out to be the best thing for my working career as a bassist! Couple of side notes to this story, the guitar player in that high school jazz ensemble was Linda Taylor who went on to play on TV’s “Who’s Line is It” and with many stars, and the bass player that got in trouble married his pretty girlfriend and they are still married after many years haha. So all’s well that ends well I guess! Mr. Witten (my high school band director) is still teaching high school band after all these years, which I think is super awesome! Whew haha
After high school I attended BIT at the original school in Hollywood with the original teachers including Jeff Berlin, Frank Gimbale, Joe Pocaro and many others. Such an awesome environment for young players, and all these teachers were actually out there doing it for real and not just offering theory about being a working musician as you will get at many other well known music schools. I really wanted to be in the thick of things, so Hollywood was the place in the mid 80’s at the time! I finished at BIT and starting playing almost seven nights a week in various clubs and bands around LA and Orange Country CA, at that time I was playing In cover and original bands playing rock / funk / jazz and oldies too haha. I just really wanted to play everything and learn from everyone. Bands like Guns and Roses and Poison where playing the same clubs, and were getting signed in that time period! Very exciting time being in LA, also being able to build a career in that environment was truly awesome! Lots of great players around and being in Southern California was of course amazing for opportunities!
AI – Let’s specifically talk about the Cirque De Sole’ Gig. This kind of gig is a great example of professional back ground player work, pit work, and being one of the many moving parts of musicals and theatrical shows. They tend to be pretty good gigs from my limited experience with this kind of work. They provide reliable and decent pay, and are usually managed professionally. There is enough variety to keep it interesting, and sometimes enough travel and long term contract renewals to build some earning consistency. Was this an audition gig that you felt fully qualified for? What level of reading was needed? Tricky stuff? or pretty basic? I’ll leave it to you from here to summarize what you consider to be the key benefits, and criteria for doing that gig well, and also perhaps share what challenges presented themselves.
DH – So on the Cirque gig it, I never auditioned but rather came in as a sub for the then bassist/bandleader JF Brisette. He was the long time bassist and bandleader for Cirque’s Mystere show in Las Vegas and went on to be bandleader for their show “O” in Las Vegas.
I was at the time touring as bassist and bandleader with the 60’s pop singer Gary Puckett (and the Union Gap) and would frequently run into JF at Starbucks. We would trade bass playing stories and such. One day out of the blue he called me and asked if I could come in and sub for him because he was training an assistant conductor and wanted to just focus on that and not play the show at the same time. Gary (Puckett) happened to be off for that week so I said sure with some fear and trepidation in my voice probably haha. That was really not so much in my bass playing wheel house, but I have never been one to be afraid of putting my butt on the line haha (an important thing as a player to lose you fear!). I came down to see the show (Mystere) in Las Vegas and was pretty blown away, great music and world class players!
So JF sent me the charts that were very well done and MP3’s of the show, I practiced like a mad man while I was on the road touring and then came in and sat under the stage watching a video monitor of the show with headphones on as it was being performed live while reading the charts and playing along on a few different days when I was in town not touring. JF was a genius guy and planned the training out so well, it was really the best case scenario for that kind of gig. They also (Cirque) had a costume made for me and trained me how to do the show makeup haha, that was of course crazy! So, I came in and played the show for a week with JF standing next to me watching over the assistant band leader as he called the show. Pretty intimidating scenario having the long time bassist and great player himself the wrote the parts standing next to you, but they guys in the band were awesome and very gracious to me. I did that week and it went really well then went back to my regular gig, few months later I get a call to come back to Mystere and take over the bass chair this time for two months due to JF going to one of the other large Vegas Cirque shows “O” to be a temp bandleader. I again said yes and ended up staying with Cirque du Soleil for over eight years, with Mystere in Las Vegas and eventually being asked to be part of their new show ZED at Tokyo Disneyland. We did a few months of rehearsal at Cirque du soleil headquarters in Montreal then moved long term to Tokyo Japan! Working and living in Tokyo for over four years was an awesome and amazing experience, I made many long lasting friendships there including meeting and starting to work with the awesome folks at Yamaha Artist relations! Our show ZED performed at Tokyo Disneyland in front of almost 2 million Japanese fans live in its four years run, it sadly closed some months after the large Japan earthquake. My wife and myself still miss living in Japan very much!
As far as the working situation with Cirque, I still get many emails and messages asking me about auditioning for Cirque ect.. I would say Its the closest thing to a day job any musician would be likely to get. The typical scenario is you go to the Cirque website (www.CirqueduSoleil.com) and find out the locations of auditions that might be near you or current job listings on the site and then email casting and set up an audition either in person or via video. This can be a lengthy process and can ultimately result in a player being put on the short list for future or current openings for either resident our touring shows. As far as day to day conditions go, usually 8-10 shows a week and it can be a touring show that’s going around the world or a resident show that is at a permanent theatre such as the Vegas or Orlando shows. You show up at your call time and start your makeup for maybe an hour, then a daily short soundcheck and perhaps two shows that night. Cast members have full medical insurance for them and their families, paid leave, paid vacations, yearly raises and bonuses. One thing I always tell players is know that you can negotiate your pay when offered a contract with Cirque, so get an entertainment attorney if needed! This goes for any gig really, if it’s a major gig and you’re dealing with a management company, make sure you clearly understand all working conditions including pay, per diem, hotel rooms ect.. Super important!
It’s a great job for folks that understand what that type of show life is, for others it can be a golden prison. It’s a grind doing that many shows a year, you really look forward to your vacation time haha!!! and we had some awesome ones! All in all, a great experience and I was lucky to be able to get that call!
AI – In addition to your impressive pedigree with show work, you record and tour regularly with an extensive list of artists, that stretches across many stylistic places, your versatility and personality is a significant factor here. How did you create and nurture a steadily growing network of artists who eventually put YOU on their bass man speed dial?
DH – I always say show up on time, be nice, be prepared and be humble. Seems obvious, but I have over the years ran into many players that don’t understand these basics. What you learn after a number of years as a working player is that at some point everyone is a great player at a certain level, but what keeps guys working and getting the call is that people like hanging with you in the bus/van and that you travel well. One of the first things I’m asked when recommending a player BTW! (does he travel well? haha)
For me, I learned very quickly that every gig you do and every person you meet can potentially lead to a future awesome gig! I have had this experience numerous times with myself and others, again it goes back to the basics! I like doing the work, I like not being the guy they have to stop for at a rehearsal. Also know that on the BIG gigs you often will be dealing with management and they are business people, so when you interact with them they want you to have a prepared Bio/headshot, social media links and have your ducks in a row so to speak. Think of yourself as a product your representing to the world, cause as a pro or aspiring pro player that’s exactly what you are. Luckily all these things are easy to accomplish and on the social media front its all free! Take big advantage of FREE haha. Also along with that, any company your are seeking an endorsement from will want these same things (Bio, tour schedule, social media links). I have been very fortunate to build many awesome relationships with the companies I work with, and I truly consider them all friends and partners. A big part of that is sharing photos of me using their products and including them in my social media touring related posts. Remember, most of the major touring guys have publicists that handle their bands online media, for us mortals haha we need to due that ourselves!
Currently I’m an artist with Yamaha guitars/basses, Dlakin basses (Dan Lakin), Hartke (Larry Hartke), SIT Strings, Ultimate Ears, Franklin Strap, Gruv gear, and Seymour Duncan. All are super awesome people and friends! These are relationships that take time and years to develop, it’s not about amassing free stuff, but about working with them as a partner and helping grow their products and being a brand ambassador of sorts!
AI – Being a family man and also a road dawg is challenging, I’ve had my share of those challenges and also countless rewards. Doing what we love to do, and making music a full time profession, in my experience simply requires travel. Late nights, early morning airport calls, last min changes, additions, cancelations, and the list goes on, of the ever changing realm we navigate to make the gig, and be there to assure that the show goes on. What advice would you give to players perhaps just entering the business, or who are interested in considering the “full-time musician lifestyle” ?
DH – All true Andy! Yes its challenging at times, but I always remind myself on those days when I have a 4am lobby call that I chose this life and am very fortunate to be able to earn my living doing what I love! I truly believe this! I love to travel and get the chance to meet new friends and fans in person, just the most awesome humbling experience!
I’m currently touring with Bruce in the USA (www.bruceintheusa.com) one of the planet’s busiest tribute shows, they have been on the road now for over ten years, with a band full of world class musicians, playing venues like House of Blues, Brooklyn Bowl New York and many others! I was long time friends with most of the guys in the band before joining them, and it was again a situation that started with me subbing for their then long time bassist (Danny Miranda- Blue Oyster Cult, Meatloaf, QUEEN). I subbed the first time with them doing two shows with no prior rehearsal in Delaware then off to Northern Europe for a few weeks. After more subbing with them I was offered the gig full time last year. They have a very busy international schedule and we are touring in a Van with a trailer, so getting along and being a team player is super important.
We just finished almost three straight months of touring so having time off these next few weeks is awesome! 🙂
Being a pro musician is a calling unlike any other, its either in your heart and soul or its not. You have to be honest with yourself and know it will only work if you have a 110% commitment!! I admire anyone that strives to achieve greatness on their instrument or in life. You don’t have to be a pro to be a great player or a great human being for that matter. What this touring/pro musician life requires is truth, a strong work ethic and love of adventure! As I always say, do what you would do even if you didn’t get paid! Pay is the bonus you get for doing the hard work!
Thanks Andy so much for allowing me to share with you and The Daily Funk Club! Very Appreciated!
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