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  • Sam Shuhan, Assistant Principal Bass

"The Strangest Gig I've Ever Played"

The strangest gig I ever played was for a music video while I was living in Los Angeles. Let me elaborate...

Back in early February of 2019 I was having my bass worked on at a shop in LA. I was catching up with the apprentice luthier in the shop when the shop's phone rang. It was a contractor in need of a bass player at the last minute for a music video. He asked if I was interested. With zero information, aside from knowledge that I was broke and had the rest of the day free, I agreed.

The gig was in Lancaster, CA, about an hour drive from LA and it was COLD. We were at pretty high elevation and the temp was about 35-40 fahrenheit. Chicagoans will laugh, but for a thin-skinned Angeleno it was rough. I was in for a bumpy ride, literally...

Due to how muddy it was, the musicians, with their instruments, had to be driven to the set in a four wheeler. This was the first part of the adventure. Clinging to my plywood rental bass and desperately trying to avoid the rooster tails of mud spewing from the back of the quad, me and my bass somehow managed to endure what was the bumpiest ride of my life and arrive at the set clean and uninjured. Seriously, that ride could be in an amusement park and people would happily pay for the experience. When I arrived, I couldn't believe my eyes. On the top of a hill, overlooking a beautiful California vista was a full set of crew and cameras ready to begin filming, chairs arranged for a small orchestra, a pristine baby grand piano, and someone who I presumed was the lead artist because she was wearing a massive maroon dress, fit for a Disney princess. The whole thing was pretty surreal, not to mention, ridiculous.

We all have unfortunately had to witness terrible portrayals of musicians on tv and in movies. Seeing the clarinet or flute held backwards, the violinist who isn't even bowing the string, the cellist with no bridge, sadly, the list goes on and on. This was one of those gigs. I was going to be portraying a bass player in the music video. (A chance to finally get it right!)

Eventually, after a lot of hurry up and wait, we started to film. It was freezing. I was extremely cold and way past the point of shivering. The wind had picked up and in between takes, everyone was doing their best to stay warm. I did not help moral to see the lead vocalist with a team of people covering her in blankets and pointing heaters at her after every take. Meanwhile, the rest of us were slowly going hypothermic. The director liked to scream. "No, no, no. Do it again! Look happy! Smile! Look happier! No! Don't look at the camera! Do it again!" You get the idea...

While we were filming they were blasting the recorded version of the song over a speaker for us to mime along to. Much to my surprise, the pianist was actually playing everything note for note from the recording. I realized it was Greg Phillinganes, a musical hero of mine. Greg played keyboards for Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Toto, and was musical director for Michael Jackson. So here I was, in the presence of the great Greg Phillinganes pretending to play the instrument that I actually play. It was so ashamed, I couldn't even muster up the courage to talk to him.

Eventually, humiliated, cold to the bone, and after a second terrifying experience on the four wheeler, the day came to an end. It was one of the strangest things I've ever had to do for money. I learned a lot that day. Especially the importance of the musician's union and all they do to prevent us from having to take gigs on the top of a hill, in freezing temperatures, pretending to play our instruments. And I hope to one day meet Greg under different circumstances.

(A link to the music video is below. It takes awhile before Sam is on screen, playing bass in the back. While earlier in the video a number of musicians are shown being helped up the side of the mountain, why didn't anybody help the bass player? He's lugging an instrument the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!).

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