52 Years of Busking and Still Going Strong
I've been a busker since age 7 and I'm now 59. Over the years I played in bands and living in Los Angeles for 25+ years, had "real" music jobs for most of my adult life. But I always busked intermittently. There is just something about the freedom and independence of street performing that excites and invigorates me. Even when traveling with bands, I would often go out on days off with an acoustic guitar and make some extra dough just fooling around. Its always fun and I've always been able to get a few bucks out of a crowd.
Now, as I'm sure you know, musicians either busk, or they don't. Most don't, and if they don't, it’s because they really feel it is sort of begging and that it is quite beneath them. Most of them are indignant about it and just don't get it. So, for example, on a Sunday afternoon after a Sat. night gig or show in Paris or wherever, off I would go looking for my pitch. In Paris, it’s the Metro. Great echo! Or, at least it used to be; it may be more regulated now. I don't know. I've busked in London, Sydney, Auckland, Paris, Frankfurt, New York, and L.A. of course, and pretty much everywhere in between. I love it!
So I'd return to the hotel Sunday evening with a couple of hundred bucks (or the equivalent of) and all the other guys wanted to know how much I made. Some of them were quite snooty about it all, but changed their tune when I told them about the dough. Many even asked if they could go out with me the following days and try it out! So I've shown a few very good musicians the ropes over the years. Some took to it right away and many didn't. What's the difference? I don't know. Thick skin, I suppose. You can't take it personally when people simply ignore you. Now, mind you, I'm pretty hard to ignore, but we all are at times and some performers don't take being ignored very well. Especially if they think they are great and even more especially, if they really are great! It always cracked me up when they began to have more respect for buskers and saw how really skilled you have to be to actually get people to give you money when they don't really have to.
So, OK, where did this start and why am I such a ham? I grew up in a very urban environment. My family's front porch was nearly on the sidewalk in front of the house. When Uncle Joe gave me a very nice Gibson guitar (and wish I had today!) I was 7. He taught me 3 chords to a Patsy Cline song called "I Fall To Pieces" which was a huge hit on the radio at the time. And it wasn't just country fans that loved Patsy. She was the first big crossover artist. Everyone loved her including my whole family who were all classical musicians. So, armed with my one song, I only had to step right out the front door of my house onto the porch, adjacent to and just a bit higher than the city bus stop which was right there in front of my house. In America, people rode the bus then. Everyone was poor but we hardly noticed. At 7:30am there were a dozen people there waiting for the next bus. Well, they got more Patsy Cline than they ever wanted, I suppose. But most people at the age of 7 are kind of cute. Maybe you've noticed that. I guess I was no exception and they loved it. They gave me nickels, a pat on the head (the pats on the ass came much later from female audience members) and even applause. I was hooked. I loved the attention and still do, frankly. It's probably immature but who cares? Its fun!
I made it my business to learn a few more songs each week from the radio and the rest is history. I'm back to busking pretty much full time again at 59 and having a ball. I'm kind of semi-retired. I don't play in bands or with other musicians at all anymore. I’m too old and grouchy for a band. Too many headaches! Yikes! I couldn't take all that now. And their girlfriends will drive you nuts! Nope! Just me, by myself. I do about 350 - what you might call, classic rock songs. All covers. I don't write. Never have. But it’s cool, because I'm my own demographic! The baby boomers love me. It’s a trick. I just play what they want to hear. But it works for me.
Busking takes skill and perseverance. The skill comes from practice (on the street!) and lots and lots of experience. There's only one place you can get that. On the corner, in front of the whole world. Who cares? You're never going to see them again. Just get out there and do it. Fall on your face, fall on your ass. People all over the world are really great. So don't worry, they will love you. Just go do it!
John "skeet" Gretzinger
Bandon, Oregon USA