Guitarist Bruce Marshall has performed over eight thousand shows and has had a career that has spanned six decades, but whose counting.
Most recently you can find him performing with legendary harpist and blues man, James Montgomery. The two have an acoustic duo who perform all over New England.
Marshall has also shared the stage with over 200 National acts including BB King, Joe Cocker, James Brown, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys and Gregg Allman to name a few. His experience on the national stage includes a stint with Toy Caldwell, formerly of the Marshall Tucker Band. Caldwell and Marshall toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and The Outlaws.
Along the way Marshall has put out 6 records, won an ASCAP Songwriter award, was nominated for a Boston music award, won 2 Blues Audience Music Polls, nominated for a Worcester Legend Award, won the New England Blues Challenge and represented New England twice at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. No sign of slowing down here!
Examiner spoke with Marshall to find out what makes him tick.
Examiner: So you've been in the music business how long?
Marshall: " Probably more than six decades (am I telling my age LOL)."
Examiner: Who inspired you to get in to the music industry?
Marshall: "I know it's the biggest cliche in the biz but seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan was a wow moment for me. It was life changing and music became much more of a focus after that, especially after taking up guitar. Coming from a musical family, there was music in our house long before the Beatles hit but the Fab Four solidified it for me. My parents were also a big inspiration to me, they taught us harmony at a very young age and my mother use to buy me 45's of different groups from the 60’s. Later, I was inspired by the members of my first pro band “Whitecap”, who urged me to pursue my dream and gave me the confidence to go after it."
Examiner: I'm very familiar with the Fab Four. I sat front row center with a musician friend of mine on my birthday at their show in Boston. What is a 'wow' moment for you in this business. Possibly someone who you have worked with?
Marshall: "When I got the gig with the Toy Caldwell Band in '89, I went from playing little gin mills all over New England to touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and the Outlaws!
Another 'wow' moment was in 1990 when my band opened for the Beach Boys at Otis Air Force Base to 60 thousand people. Brian Wilson had just returned to the fold along with brother Carl which made it extra special. It was a beautiful July 4th day and they were expecting 10 thousand people but the MP's had to let everyone in for free because the mid cape highway was backed up for miles!
Opening for BB King on his 70th birthday with James Montgomery and meeting him backstage was right up there as well. With apologies to my band mates past and present, when Bob Duteau talked me into doing my first solo gig (at Bryant College) and it dawned on me that I had a new career as a solo artist. That was very liberating and a big wow moment."
Examiner: Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician? And what advice would you give to kids coming out of Berklee College of Music or other music schools?
Marshall: "Yes I always knew I wanted to do this and never wavered. That being said it was equal parts desire and necessity, I wanted a profession that I truly enjoyed and had a passion and skill for. It was a little rough going when I had to depend on all band work early on but after the solo breakthrough I was full speed ahead with my music career.
I’m not qualified to give advice but, to Berklee and music school students I say GOOD MOVE! Seriously, I interviewed at Berklee, took private lessons there for a year and most of my peers have at least one semester under their belt. I often wonder what path I would have taken had I attended but I can only assume at 18 yrs old I was too enthralled with the idea of playing out right away. The school touches on so many more styles and aspects of the music business today and these skills can only help in the long run. I wish I had better reading and technical skills. From my experience I would advise you to develop your voice at least as much as your chosen instrument if you plan to do both. Your audience will always relate to the human voice above anything else you do. If you plan to play gigs for a living you have a much better chance of steady work if you sing. I’m seeing astonishing young guitar player/singers at my open mics that don’t know how to use a microphone. Remember success in the business is far more than your chops on the instrument, you need to be personable, gracious, upbeat and able to work with others. You need common business sense and can endure lots of travel and never having weekends off like the rest of the world!"
Examiner: How has the business changed since you came in to it?
Marshall: " The business has changed in so many ways since I turned pro in 1974. Those of us that did this in the 1970's and 80's can relate to the fact that most of our gigs were at least two to three nighters and some were Tuesday through Sunday, at the club level. When I had the 'Clue' in the 1980's, every member was a full time player so we rehearsed two to three afternoons a week, usually at the club we were playing that night. We loved to go to a band members apartment after the gig, play the tape of our performance while it was fresh and critique our show, after all no one had to get up early! Back then, clubs didn't have to double as a restaurant so places like Gladstone's were only open at night. We had way more equipment then, huge PA, Lighting, Box truck, 2 man crew, a Hammond with a Leslie...but we only moved equipment once a week! You almost never see that now, one nighters are the norm.
We actually watched the music business change forever over a two week span around 1979. My band "Fever" was booked at Gladstones for two weeks in a row (six nights a week) with the first week being the last chance for 18 yr olds to drink (legally) in Massachusetts. It was the best week of the club's history followed by the club's worst week ever after the age went to 21. The business simply tanked after that. It also spelled the end of multi-night gigs (no more College kids out partying on week nights) as most places couldn't stay open and had to start selling food.
Some of the other changes have been very good (no more smoking in our workplace!) and others not so much. Regarding money for "blue collar musicians" like myself....We happen to be in one of the only professions I can think of where thousands of people will do what we do for free! Imagine if you were a plumber or carpenter and your competition was offering their services for free, makes it a little tough to get ahead. When I did my first solo gig in 1980 the pay was typically $80-$100 with more for College gigs, national openers and resort work. Today you'll find about that same pay scale at some venues and others will pay nothing (just tips) or anywhere from $20 per man with dinner or just dinner. If there are players that are willing to play for nothing then the clubs are going to be happy to oblige. This makes it tough on the full timers, we can only hope our expertise and experience will carry the day and get us better gigs. I have to admit I was stunned when I first heard about the “new” pay scale and more so when I heard they had more musicians trying to get in these rooms than the clubs could handle. I've heard in other areas like Nashville and Los Angeles this has been the norm for years and hoped New England wouldn't go this route.
I feel very lucky I’ve been able to do what I love for so long. After every gig, in the back of my mind I’m thinking…..wow, I got to do it again! See you at the next one!"
January 13 - Mersey Beat Invasion, Main Streets Market & Cafe, 42 Main Street, Concord, MA.
January 15 - Dante's, 350 East Main Street, Marlborough, MA
January 23 - Peyton's Rivers Edge, 86 Powder Mill Road, Maynard, MA
For more info on Bruce Marshall: www.brucemarshall.com