Here’s another piece on being a musician in Wyoming. The companion piece by Marko Ruble addresses what inspires a young guy starting out. Here, we have Amy Gieske of Casper, a bass player with a wonderful voice, who’s lived and worked and played music here for a long time, sharing great memories and plenty of enthusiasm for the future.
Amy is half of The Cory McDaniel Duo. She and Cory are currently working on a new CD, a play, and what may be a theme song for a PBS documentary.
See what she has to say, and get an idea of the possibilities for Wyoming as more and more independent music finds its home here, as Amy has.
— Pete Simpson
By Amy Gieske
I’ve been thinking about a little piece I wrote for The Grapevine, which was probably Wyoming’s first blues newsletter.
Many things have changed since I wrote it. Maggie lives in New York. Chip the drummer died. Sawmill Creek broke up. The Avalon Club has been torn down. I don’t know what happened to Jay the bartender. These days the sheriff keeps a closer eye out, the Sunday jams are gone, and Casper has a couple of other women singing the blues who flat out kick my a**. But the Lazy 8 is still there.
The Grapevine was the brainchild of my friend Maggie Flowers who lived and worked in Sheridan two decades ago, and it’s been on my mind because we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of the birth of that short-lived publication.
So when WyoFile asked me if I would contribute a piece for the Pete Simpson Forum about music, and then showed me Mark Ruble’s piece on What Fest, I thought “Perfect!” In some strange way, his piece and mine written so many years ago, dovetail, at least in my head.
So here it is:
Country Music Lesson for a City Girl
It’s one of those Wyoming weekends: Yesterday was sunny, today is 10 below and the wind is screaming. A night to stay home, but instead I’m hauling band equipment into the Avalon Club. No matter the weather the show must go on, and it does. We play, they dance, they love us and send endless rounds of cinnamon schnapps to the stage.
Break time and I’ve been trapped at the bar by a really skinny cowboy who tells me he free-climbed the Grand last summer, loves my bass playing, just got out of jail for assaulting his wife, and wants to take me ice fishing on Wednesday. Wow … I just can’t wait! Yep, I’m glad to get back on stage.
The gig went well, although I am getting tired of this steady diet of country music. Late in the night, a series of introductions gets me to Chip, ex-drummer for Sawmill Creek and Casper resident for six years.
“Why have we never met?” he asks.
Well, that would be because he’s been in a road band … and it’s, “Well I’m looking for a gig and oh, you’re a bass player and how tied to these guys are you and hey do you want to …”
So we plan to meet the next day at the Lazy 8 for the Sunday jam at 5.
It’s been an unproductive day in the darkroom and I drive 10 miles out to this little ranch bar in a bad mood. Sheesh, more country music, and this arrogant hot shot drummer.
Okay, here I am, so grouchy that I leave my bass in the car and walk in with a scowl. Wait! What’s this? Next to the dart board, right under the deer head, a huge table loaded with right-from-scratch home cooking, free for the eating of course. And there’s even the decadent Jell-o stuff with the marshmallows that everyone loves to eat but hates to admit they do.
And up there on stage, the old guy with the dinner plate belt buckle smiles at his wife and gives that fiddle a little dip her way without missing a lick because, yessir, he’s been picking since way back when Bob Wills was the king, and he knows how to do it right. All the ranch kids are there too, and maybe some of them drinking right along with their daddies because 10 miles out of town this is country, not urban cowboy, and the sheriff knows it’s not his business unless there’s a fight, which there isn’t, because it’s Sunday, not Saturday night.
I’m looking around for Chip when a young kid in Wranglers calls me by name and points over to Chip, who has, overnight, morphed from a long-haired hippie into a King Ropes-capped diesel mechanic with a rodeo smile. (We still don’t know how this kid knew my name.)
By now I’ve eaten and am comfortable enough to run out and get my bass, and Chip and I join the jam. Well, yes, Chip’s a little full of himself, but he plays like he has a right to be, and that’s a fine feeling for a bass player indeed. When I catch my breath I only wish that I played as well as he, and Chip the arrogant drummer gets points for playing even better than he looks, which is pretty darn good.
After about an hour we quit and belly up to the bar where Jay the bartender reminisces about the 27 years he spent playing on the road until the best woman in the world turned his life around. I like this guy! A man who isn’t afraid to appreciate his woman in front of the whole world and I like him even more for his generosity with the bar’s whiskey and his insistence that Chip and I must be married.
“No way,” he says, could we have just met yesterday. He thinks we sound too good together.
Someone in the crowd asks for blues (Blues? Really?) “Sure, I can do that,” I say. I sing, I scream, someone yells “Janis” and I cringe (ohhh noooo, not Me and Bobby McGee again), but I’m trapped. And then….Yes! in the nick of time, Sandra comes in and sings it.
Sitting down, I bask in all this misplaced praise: “Honey…that’s about as black as a white woman can get.” (Well, maybe, if you’re not real picky, I guess.) Somewhere in there I realize Chip is really enjoying this, enjoying being here with all these folks, enjoying that little kid on stage singing the Lazy 8 theme song with the band, enjoying making music with me despite my lack of technique, and maybe he’s just a regular guy and not that stereotypical arrogant musician at all.
I look at him and all these people busy loving what they’re doing while I’m busy thinking about it, and suddenly I’m happier and more than a little humbled. All in all, it was a good Sunday in church.
Well, that was 20 years ago, almost to the day. Since then I’ve worked pretty steadily as a bass player in many Casper bands and a couple from Colorado, playing all over the western US, playing mainly original music.
I’d like to say I was able to make a living at it, but you know, it’s hard to make a living playing original music pretty much anywhere, let alone Wyoming with its long distances and relatively few venues. So, in addition to making music, I’ve painted an awful lot of houses in the Casper area. Painting and other self-employment is a blessing for musicians: you’re free to set your own work schedule and give yourself plenty of time to rehearse, move equipment and travel to gigs.
One great thing about being a Wyoming musician: there aren’t that many of us, and so I think I’ve had opportunities that I might never have gotten if I lived in a more populous state.
I’ve had the great good fortune to play as far away as South by Southwest in Austin with the wonderful songwriter Jeff Finlin, and the Dusk to Dawn Blues Festival in Rentiesville, Oklahoma with Hammond B3 player Jeff Lucas. Jeff and I arrived and promptly set off our car alarm right next to the stage.
I’ve sat out the night in a snowstorm by the side of the road in Medicine Bow with a car full of equipment, opened the show for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, gotten three flat tires in a row en route to a gig in Denver, watched as my inebriated male bandmates took careful aim at paper cups from the balcony of the band rooms above the Lander Bar, played at the notorious Viper Room in Los Angeles (look up River Phoenix), and on several occasions been part of the back-up band for saxophonist “Sax” Gordon Beadle. For all the challenges, Wyoming’s been awfully good to me.
Happily, over the past 20 years I have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of live music venues in Casper and across the state, especially for original and/or independent music. Coffeehouses and brewpubs have opened and welcomed live music.
When I first began playing in Wyoming there were almost no live music festivals in Wyoming outside of Grand Targhee. Now we have Beartrap, Oyster Ridge, Nowoodstock, The Big Horn Mountain Music Festival, the Big Horn Folk Festival, The Snowy Range Music Festival, What Fest, NicFest, Casper’s Rock the Block and others, and a host of weekly events throughout the summer in almost all of Casper’s municipalities.
I’ve been personally involved in the conception and birth of a few of these events, as well as the successful backyard concert series that’s been happening every summer in Casper for the past eight years.
My involvement in these events has given me more chances to play music, and more chances to meet and hear other musicians from around the state and the country. I’ve seen how, as the number of venues and music opportunities has increased, younger people have either moved to or decided to remain here in Wyoming, and the number of performing musicians has grown.
Wyoming is a small town with long streets. I like to think that as Wyoming’s independent music scene has expanded over the years, it’s helped to make those streets just a bit shorter.