Music Connection Magazine – The Art of Compromise
by Dan Kimpel
Guitarist John Wesley, now a touring member of a band Porcupine Tree, has a decidedly philosophical overview of what it takes to be a working musician. As a single father raising a daughter, he determined that the choices he made would also affect the life of his child.
“I had to take gigs that weren’t as artistically rewarding as I wanted, just to stay alive and stay in the business,” he says.
“Being a guitar tech,” he continues, “got me out there earning an income, and almost every tech gig I eve did opened a door into a playing gig. People would get to know me and see what I had to offer as a musician and a person. I’ve never been pushy. I always did the gigs with integrity. If I were your guitar tech, I’d be the best tech I could be instead of thinking I should be up onstage performing. If you’re paying me, I’ll bust my ass for you.”
Wesley was on the road teching for the band Marillion when their opening act cancelled. Wesley covered the preliminary slot for the band on a borrowed acoustic guitar, “which led to doing a record with some of the guys in the band. And that led to 400 more shows as an opening act. On some of those tours I also did tech work, because I couldn’t afford to do the tour; if I was a tech, they’d pay for my hotels and flights. So I’d tech all day, changes clothes, be the opening act, then keep on teching.
Wesley notes that since he never wanted to work a straight job, he has often taken gigs doing cover songs just to pay his bills and allow him to keep his chops up. He says it was his positive attitude that made it work. “I approached those cover gigs not so much a gig as being paid $50 an hour to practice. It kept my daughter and me alive. When I get off the road with Porcupine Tree I still have bills. If someone offers me cash to sit in the corner and play tunes, I’ll do it. It’s all about playing music.”
The veteran musician has friends who disdain the concept of performing covers, but are instead trapped into relatively well-paying steady jobs that have nothing to do with music. “They’ll be playing maybe a gig a month in town, working some straight job. And when an interesting opportunity will come up that doesn’t pay a lot of money, they can’t leave their jobs. But if I’m doing a cover gig and I get a call on Wednesday, ‘Can you be in Dallas on Saturday?’ I can cancel my cover gigs and I’m out.”