We recently had a personnel change in our band. I’m thankful this has been a rare occurrence, but I recognize that no one is immune from changes. Even the poster boys for stability (and doesn’t everyone like a good stability poster?), Blue Highway, went through this recently.
When it happens, you can go in one of two directions: you can hope to find someone who does what your former member did, or as close as you can approximate it; or, you can take it as an opportunity to embrace the change and bring someone on board with different strengths. I guess there’s really a third option: go on a three-week bender, then disband entirely and open a cheese shop.
If you followed our recent story, you’ll know that we chose option #2. Please understand that I wouldn’t be the least surprised or hurt if you have no idea what I’m talking about right now. Within our small world, we tend to think of everything as newsworthy, because it was either discussed in social media or there was a story about it in Bluegrass Today. In reality, for most people outside our “bubble,” Alison Krauss isn’t even a household name, so the headline “Rusty Norris to Blue Carpet” doesn’t necessarily mean anything to them. So, if you fall into this “most people” category, just take my word for it that we chose option #2 over option #1 or #3 (though a cheese shop would mean a lot less travel, and our bass player does love cheese).
For those that go the route of trying to replace the exact skill set of the member who’s leaving, how specific should you get in trying to duplicate what the (dearly) departed member did? And should you look for someone who has all of this same musician’s characteristics?
If you choose to go this way, it might be a good idea to draw up a very specific kind of advertisement for your position, so you’re not having to audition people who you find out later aren’t even close to having the qualities your previous member had. In fact, I’m envisioning a whole new band personnel ad section of Bluegrass Today.
Here are some examples of ads that might be run to truly replace a lost band member:
Guitar player wanted for midwestern bluegrass band: must be able to play a slightly-too-fast version of “Billy in the Lowground,” sing lead just a little bit flat, and have passive aggressive tendencies when choosing where to eat on the road. Must be able to quote every single Buddy Ebsen line from the “Barnaby Jones” series. Snoring is a plus.
Remember that some bands that have spent money on matching suits would also like to hire someone who can fit into the former member’s clothes:
Nationally touring bluegrass band seeks banjo player who sings baritone and tunes a lot in between songs. Prefer a 38 short jacket size and a 32-inch inseam. Must require assistance when tying a necktie, preferably 2 minutes before showtime. Please send demo and clothing specs to address below.
And, of course, there are the personality quirks that can be so hard to replace in a new member:
Male fiddle player wanted. Must talk like he has marbles in his mouth. Moodiness a plus, including the ability to ride down the road for hours at a time in stony silence, only interjecting the occasional, “I don’t know, boys. I don’t know.” Must play a good kickoff to “If I Should Wander Back Tonight.” Prima donna tendencies are preferred.
Female mandolin player wanted. Must have D-string pairs out of tune with each other at all times. Must have moderate to severe self-esteem issues and be perpetually unsatisfied with hair. Ability to sing Dolly Parton version of “Muleskinner Blues” a plus, but not required.
Bass player sought. Must be lousy dresser. The 5 note of any 1-5 sequence should be just a little bit late every time. Must make strange nasal whistling sound when drinking through a straw. Should be able to cover the tenor part even when not knowing any of the words.
Highly skilled dobro player needed. Must be just plain weird.
Good luck with your personnel decisions. I think, in practical terms, getting the clothing sizes pretty close should be the priority. All those other things can be learned (though the nasal whistling sound could take some time).