MPR’s Roger Gomoll interviews guitarist Cliff Fredrickson about his profession as a lounge musician. Segment includes music audio clips of Fredrickson performing at a local hotel in Fargo, North Dakota.
(00:00:20) It's about 6:15 and a Wednesday afternoon. And you've agreed to meet some friends for a drink and some hors d'oeuvres before setting out for an evening of entertainment. Some nice cool jazz is playing in the background of the bar. You've selected you've looked around with passing interest to see the kind of tape deck. They're using and you're mildly surprised to see a musician on a quietly lighted stage bent over his guitar. He ends pieces and begins others with no applause coming from the audience. As a matter of fact, the Roar of the crowd doesn't even diminish when he makes a comment about the music of the crowd. Or even talking with some passing couple that he knows. He plays and plays. Well, obviously enjoying the art of making music. His name is Cliff Fredrickson and tonight Jim candles drop by to play Rhythm for the five to seven happy hour shift at 8:00 the rest of the members of the band. He's been playing with for the last seven years. Join him on stage to perform until closing at 12:45. He's been making money playing his guitar for the last 22 of his 33 years and has quite a bit to say about his craft and his career.
(00:01:26) One of the problems with with playing guitar or any instrument. Well is it there's a certain lack of understanding on the part of audiences. They don't appreciate that as much as I understand humor. If you can use your humor or a some kind of a showy sales approach to present your musicianship. Then you combine the best of both I think and that's why I'm attempting to do humming tune playing lounges. About in this form about eight years about eight years. How do you like that as a job? How do you like playing with people who who some audiences at appreciate your or Jazz technique and other audiences at screaming yelling. What nothing but Proud Mary every night or something that we have combinations of both all the time. There's no audience is the same and every night. He has elements of Proud Mary Seekers and and Jazz fans and rock and roll bus and everything. It's just the nature of the business. I used to be upset by it. I'm not Anna. Or by and large they come to be entertained by me. They don't come to be entertain me. So I do whatever I can to make as many I'm happy as I possibly can. There are a number of problems in the lounge business itself. The first thing you got to realize at least I try to realize that you're dealing with people that are chemically oriented. They for some reason that entertainment in this country is predicated on alcohol most cases and unless you're doing concerts or navy major name kind of work most of the place you work pay for your services by selling liquor and alcohol. And the minute you sign a contract you have to accept a certain behavioral Criterion for your with the clientele that you played once you accept that and understand that you're going to have rowdies and you're going to have great quiet people anybody have a wide variety of people and they're all going to respond differently to the chemicals that are in taking then it's no problem anymore. If you forget that for a minute, you start judging what any rational basis or expecting them to behave in any prescribed manner you've got real troubles and you're not going to let some It you probably more frustrated Stan debate, but I haven't since I since I really thought about it just happened about four years ago. I was really becoming discouraged. And it occurred to me that I was expecting too much out of the audience's. I wanted them to make my night for me and my actually my job was to make them enjoy the evening once I realized that it was my job to entertain them and otherwise and they didn't owe me a thing when they came in. They don't owe me any Behavior. They don't mean anything I owe them a performance and I've got to figure out whatever key. It takes to make them respond. That's what I try to do. I usually audience to inspire me and the constant feedback I get from audiences. Now, of course, this is a product of 22 years of playing and handling people and dealing with audiences. Now, I've gotten to the point where I can make an evening for myself. I can take a look at a bunch of present a format for a while that I know they'll like and sneak in what I like to do every once in a while. And blend it into what I call an experience. That's what I'm trying to create and of course of an evening isn't experience for these people that they'll remember and have fond memories of And in the process I've used the people that come in the audience has to kind of Bounce my art as it were off of they I'll play these things and they'll listen to him and their response tells me what they are hearing. And then I alter its of Dylan Joy it more sometimes musicians come in and I'll alter that. No way that the musicians will enjoy the morning but ability to have to change all the time or not the ability the conditions working under conditions where you had to change your approach. All the time is been recreated from And it's improved my guitar playing over the last 10 years. Considerably, I would rather I'd like to get into doing contract work. I like to do warm up work for for an Amex like Roy Clark did that's kind of what I'm shooting for in the long run. If the best that had can happen to me happens. That's when I'll end up doing but I sure don't resent Lounge work any way shape or form. I I know that there are some problems with it. There are some difficulties, but I'm sure once I could if I ever get into concert work, I'll have difficulties and problems involved with that too. I had to learn that into the
(00:05:40) all over you being classed as a lounge Entertainer. I mean when you say Lounge Entertainer, you've got the whole gamut of
(00:06:21) people who never play except on weekends when they do polkas and stuff and are people like
(00:06:26) you who do it for a living
(00:06:27) and fly aircraft very, well. I have occasionally. I have a local jazz musician. Give me a little snug. Those job, you know, oh you're working out there, you know kind of and I don't have any response for that. I'd it's by and large. Allows other. All right. We're working on a holiday in here. This is a franchise operation. And a very well run very well run operation here and they allow me to work on whatever level I choose to work on some of the some of the local not I'm not Fargo local but I mean some local musicians in small towns across the country tend to find a little niche someplace and become so involved in that they become almost in bread, you know, they play 11 licks very very well. Some poor character, like neither plays quote lounges unquote. It's supposed to be not very good. We end up being a little Slicker players in the long run because we have to change so rapidly and we have to be conversant in so many different styles and I don't even bother to defend my the lounge status. I anybody who happens to work a lounge is I'm it allows musician. I suppose if that's the criteria for it and there's some awfully good musicians doing this for a living good. It's lucrative, you know, you can make you can make any excess of 20,000 dollars every year doing is I do And that's pretty good money to make while you're waiting to go someplace. It's your Beats. Sitting someplace in a basement practicing, you know, I don't I don't I don't really feel any apologies for this kind of work I had. I would like to do other kind of work. Of course. It'd be nice to concert situations where you have it at anybody's it came specifically to see what you do already. I can't worry about that. I really can't worry about I really don't worry about professional musicians attitudes toward me. I do worry about audiences attitudes toward me. That's my bread and butter just point. I I've sort of them, you know, the miniature sign a contract you do this sort of thing. You've sort of I don't mean sacrifice. I mean you sort of taken away the responsibilities of Aesthetics and you I do as many things as I can aesthetically pleasing to myself, but basically My job now since I signed contract to do this kind of work is to make people entertain and actually it what surprised me at first. I felt like I was a real martyr many years ago. As time goes on I find out what an all-encompassing job at is, you know, you got to be conversant in a lot of different fields. You have to make a study of humor, which I've had to do. And you had to make a study of yourself to see what in yourself can be entertaining to other people so it gets pretty involved. And then if you try to keep aesthetically up with your with music, then that's another field altogether that you've got to fight to keep up with her actually once in a sense when you think about it sometimes well, you're a very good Lounge Entertainer. Thank you. I appreciate that because that means I'm doing a lot of homework on a lot of different fronts and I think I'm doing it well.
(00:10:23) Guitarist Cliff Fredrickson, we talked between sets in a lounge at a local hotel in Fargo North Dakota. I'm Roger Jamal.