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Discussion Starter #1
I've been reading around the forum about people's stories of gigging live (especially at restaurants, patios, bars, etc), and the subject of playing songs requested by the patrons always pops up. This has been making me wonder, what did do when you first started playing gigs and didn't necessarily know the tune being requested? It seems kind of rude to tell somebody off with "oh, we don't take requests" or something along those lines, but isn't that better than faking your way horribly through a song you've never played before (or don't even know)? Another, related question I had would be, once you started gigging more often and learning tunes, how did you go about adding tunes that people requested most often into your repertoire?

I'm not currently gigging, and it's not even really in my immediate plans, but I like the idea as a future possibility and was curious to see what people had to say about it.
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2017
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Play what you know. It's ok to say we don't know that tune but then they'll ask for another. I play with a group that does a very specific style and mostly original music. We still get inane requests sometimes. I always say that the song requested will be in the last set. ;).
 

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"Sorry we don't know that one, maybe we will learn it for next time" is way better than the one person in the band who knows the hook and starts playing it.... only for it all to fall apart when the rest of the band has a go.
 

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Yep promise it for next time you play. It keeps them coming back. However make sure to learn it they might show up.

B
 

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I usually just tell them "yeah, I got a free bird for you". But this might not be a good idea if you're playing a biker bar.
 

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I was at a gig Saturday night and a guy said," Do you know any South Side Johnny and the Jukes(?)". I told him "I feel fortunate not to know what that even is". I don't think heard what I said. Drunks at gigs asking for requests is just part of the bar biz.
 

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My quartet once played two country songs in a row in an upscale restaurant. We did "The Gambler" as a bossa and "Help Me Make it Through the Night" as a swing tune. Neither were classic performances. However, we didn't have any problem with the melodies as three of us had played in many bands with different styles and the table making the requests were happy as the C & W clams they appeared to be! As we were really background wallpaper, I don't thing anyone else really noticed much! However, if the guys in the band (or you!) don't know it, avoid a train wreck and tell the people to come again and you will learn it (provided it is an appropriate selection for the venue).
 

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Prodigal Son and Forum Contributor 2008
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I was in a band once that only did requests back in '78 and '79. A guitarist strumming an ES, a drummer, a guy on Farfisa organ and me on flute and 3 saxes. We all sang. If one of us knew it, the rest had to follow.

More recently people have been coming up to me for requests, but if the bass and guitar can't do it, it doesn't matter if the drummer and I know it, the won't do it. I end up playing sax-appella versions to satisfy them sometimes. I need to save lives on occasion. They get nasty whe you say no.
 

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I always say "I know that tune and would love to play it for you, but the rest of the band doesn't really know it".
Ha.
Nothing wrong with tactfully saying the ensemble is not prepared to play that. This way they realize there is more to playing a song than simply magically making it happen, they realize that a player has to actually learn a song or have the music for it, and you're not blowing the requestor off because you don't like the song (which you probably don't, but they dont need to know that).
 

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I always say "I know that tune and would love to play it for you, but the rest of the band doesn't really know it".
Ha.
Nothing wrong with tactfully saying the ensemble is not prepared to play that. This way they realize there is more to playing a song than simply magically making it happen, they realize that a player has to actually learn a song or have the music for it, and you're not blowing the requestor off because you don't like the song (which you probably don't, but they dont need to know that).
Or you could be like whaler and try to get fired! LMAO!
 

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I was at a gig Saturday night and a guy said," Do you know any South Side Johnny and the Jukes(?)". I told him "I feel fortunate not to know what that even is". I don't think heard what I said. Drunks at gigs asking for requests is just part of the bar biz.
What--no Southside Johnny!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You'd get laughed out of Jersey saying that!
 

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Forum Contributor 2010-2016
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I've tried a few smartypants answers but they get you into more trouble than a polite "Sorry, I just don't know it."

Acker Bilk used to say "We don't do requests; unless of course we're asked."

A friend says "We don't do that tune but this next number features many of the same notes."

And I like the response to the the request for something to dance to: "Well, can you dance something we can play to?"
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2012
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I was at a gig Saturday night and a guy said," Do you know any South Side Johnny and the Jukes(?)". I told him "I feel fortunate not to know what that even is". I don't think heard what I said. Drunks at gigs asking for requests is just part of the bar biz.
Southside,..Talk To Me, The Fever, All I Want Is Everything, We're Havin' a Party.. Johnny and the Asbury Jukes?
 

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I used to point to the guy at the mixer and say he's the one who chooses what we play. You can try asking him and he'll know if we can fit it in for you. Once in a while someone would ask me if I could do it for them. I'd just tell them sorry, I can't just walk off the stage in the middle of the show. But you're welcome to ask him...

Even in the smaller venues, this system seemed to work.


Harv
 

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Oh... I'm so sorry. You must have missed it in our first set.
This reminds me of a Grateful Dead show I went to in Vegas around 1991. Santana opened and towards the end of his set a few completely wasted kids show up nearby commenting and going on that Alice in Chains would be a better openning act. After a couple minutes of this I ask them "Did you miss it? They came on before Santana!" They get this downcast look on their faces. They then ask if they played a specific song (don't remember and don't know any AiC songs) and I respond "Oh yeah!! They played about a 10 minute version of it!! It was awesome!!!!" I never saw 3 kids go so stone cold silent with a despondent look on their faces as these 3. A few minutes later they leave to find seats closer to stage and the folks sitting nearby finally get a chance to laugh about it.
 

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Bechet's "Petite Fleur"... One reason I play a curved soprano is to avoid this one. Doesn't always work. A friend of mine charges an extra 50€ to play it. Doesn't always work neither.
 

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Forum Contributor 2010-2016
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I actually have a trio gig tonight with guitar and bass at a restaurant where part of the time we're wallpaper and part of the time we wander the tables looking for trouble (I mean requests). I actually hate the latter part but I do it without any seeming reluctance. Between us we seem to be able to get away with playing something appropriate in most cases. And because we're willing to give it a try we don't cop too much flak when we say "no can do".

Sometimes it's straightforward - we all know it. Sometimes one of us takes a stab at the vocal and the others try to be supportive. Luckily we're all humorous chaps who can make the attempt at playing something way off-base sound entertaining.

But my biggest tip for playing unfamiliar requests is a version of the KISS principle: Keep It Short Stupid. It rarely gets better if you keep at it.
 

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My advice,
If it's a pop song, use The Axis of Awesome's four chord trick and then sing the words. I know that has definitely saved me a couple of times.

Also, I'm fairly new to SOTW, can anyone tell me how to start a thread. Thanks.
 

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My advice,
If it's a pop song, use The Axis of Awesome's four chord trick and then sing the words. I know that has definitely saved me a couple of times.

Also, I'm fairly new to SOTW, can anyone tell me how to start a thread. Thanks.
Go to the Forums page and pick the appropriate subject area - from then on it's easy to find the Start a New Thread button.

Look forward to your offerings.
 
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