Author: Andrew Blaze Thomas
Release date: Feb. 14, 2021
Self-Published Review by Linda Cain
Andrew Blaze Thomas is a first call blues drummer who has kept the beat in the studio and on the road internationally with such luminaries as: Billy Branch and Sons of the Blues, John Primer, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Wayne Baker Brooks, Lucky Peterson, Bernard Allison, Mississippi Heat, James Armstrong, Liz Mandeville, Ana Popovic, Chicago Plays The Stones, Welch-Ledbetter Connection, Jimmy Burns, Matthew Skoller, Anthony Gomes and many more. With over 20 years of professional experience and a Blues Music Award, Blaze steps out from behind his drum kit to share wisdom and advice with his fellow musicians; the lessons he imparts are those he learned firsthand, sometimes the hard way. Blaze doesn’t mince words nor does he shy away from revealing the embarrassing rookie mistakes that he made while still a novice.
Like many Chicago blues musicians, Blaze got his start playing drums in church; at age 12 he earned his first paying gig playing drums at the New Miracle Temple Church on the West Side. At age 16, Blaze received “the opportunity of a lifetime” to play on two songs for a live gospel recording by his church’s choir, for which he was paid.
He went on to college at Western Illinois University and played in cover bands around Macomb, which is where he earned the drummer moniker “Blaze.” He graduated and became a Chicago Public Schools substitute teacher, but soon realized he missed music. He hooked up with a heavy metal band and ended up playing “for the door” at “notoriously cheap” rock clubs.
With the help of mentor and bass player Vic Jackson, Blaze branched out and played with jazz, reggae, neo-soul and top 40 wedding bands. “Things really got serious in 2003 when Vic turned me onto blues,” Blaze recalls. “I really don’t think there is any other city in the world where you can earn a living playing only the blues,” he adds. The drummer started sitting in at blues club jams and was soon offered the drum chair in recording artist Liz Mandeville’s touring band.
This resulted in a “domino effect” of many more gigging opportunities for the talented and versatile drummer playing with Chicago’s blues greats. As the saying goes, one thing leads to another, but not without Blaze being alert and ready to seize opportunity when it knocked on his door.
“A good reputation is the most important asset in the music business. A musician vouching for you is stronger than any resume, marketing website, social media page, or whatever else you may think that works in your favor.”
Bernard Allison saw Blaze play with Melvin Taylor and the Slack Band at a Minnesota blues festival in 2005 and offered him a job. A month later, he was touring Europe with the son of Luther Allison. Up and coming Serbian blues-rocker Ana Popovic, a friend of Bernard’s, offered Blaze a job in her touring band on the recommendation of her new bass player, Vic Jackson (Blaze’s friend).
Touring internationally is how Blaze really learned his lessons about the music business and all that entails. In his book, the drummer spells it out in 18 chapters such as: The Rules of Time, Respect The Gig, Have Stage Presence, Negotiations: What Are You Worth?, Be Smart With Your Money, How To Handle Getting Fired, What Happens When You Lose A Band Member?, Scheduling Gigs, Paying Taxes And Child-Support.
In Chapter 8, Don’t Freak Out While Traveling; Airports, Tour Buses and Vans, Blaze recounts tales of the road, both triumphant and harrowing. He learned to adopt the motto of “always keep your cool” after surviving several airplane crash landings that had the passengers crying and saying their prayers! Blaze describes these close-call experiences in riveting detail.
The final chapter, Race And The Blues, is also hair raising. Again, keeping your cool is essential as the drummer advises on how to conduct yourself when you walk into your next gig and find out it’s a biker bar filled with Confederate flag waving Klan members.
Blaze also describes the joys of working as a touring musician, such as running into Maceo Parker (James’ Brown’s sax player) and getting to hear him warm up before a show, or playing a triumphant concert in Moscow with Lucky Peterson, and getting to sit next to actress Darryl Hannah on a flight to Park City, Utah to play at an afterparty for the Sundance Film Festival.
You’ve Got The Gig, Here’s How To Keep It is a 124-page, low-budget, self-published book with no photos, (except on the front and back covers), which contains numerous grammatical errors, typos and misspellings. Nonetheless the book’s content lives up to its subtitle: A Working Musician’s Model For Success.
If you are a working or aspiring musician, then reading You’ve Got The Gig is like money in the bank. Blaze offers up much insight, enlightenment and very practical advice in great detail on every aspect of a musician’s job. For music fans, especially of the blues, Blaze’s personal journey as a sideman to so many blues luminaries is compelling, entertaining and well worth reading.
Buy the book: Available in paperback and Kindle versions on Amazon
About the Author: Linda Cain is the Founder/Managing Editor of Chicago Blues Guide