Do Stand So Close

“Do Stand So Close: my improbable adventure as Sting’s guitarist”:

This is the best book I’ve ever read about being on the road. Yes, even better than Ian Hunter’s long ago memoir.

First and foremost, Jeffrey Lee Campbell can write. Positively astounding. Not a week goes by without someone sending me their music book, and they’re almost never good. Having a story is different from being able to write the story. Furthermore, said writers don’t realize a story should flow, that sometimes you’ve got to leave the best stuff out because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

But not Jeffrey Lee Campbell.

Jeff was the guitarist on Sting’s “…Nothing Like the Sun” tour, which included a six week worldwide jaunt on the Amnesty tour, featuring Bruce Springsteen and Peter Gabriel and more.

Jeff didn’t play on the record, but Sting heard him play as part of an underfunded jazz combo in Europe and decided to give him an audition. Jeff showed up for multiple rehearsals, and eventually Sting said he could have the job if he wanted it. The business people told him it was only going to pay $2500 a week, take it or leave it, but it was much better than selling candy at Broadway theatres.

Yes, that was Jeff’s gig. Along with Aaron Sorkin and Camryn Manheim… You’ve got to start somewhere, and you’re best off starting in New York or L.A. Did you read any of the obits about Howard Johnson? The tuba player made famous by Taj Mahal, who was a fixture in the original SNL band, didn’t think he was good enough for New York, so he went first to Chicago. But when Eric Dolphy heard Howard play, he said he was needed in NYC right away, and Howard moved, and there started a decades-long career:

Jeff was living in North Carolina. He’d attended the music program at the University of Miami, but dropped out after three years. Then he played in local bands until he got up the gumption to move to the city. Where he was nobody. He got the gig selling candy and hanging coats on Broadway, but he had to work his connections until he could finally get gigs playing in wedding bands. What did AC/DC say? It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll?

But actually, it was a short journey for Jeff. He took the gig and…

Proceeded to go on the road for a year. This was before the internet, never mind smartphones. Being in one’s hotel room was lonely, and boring. Jeff played some tennis, at times with Sting, but mostly he drank and drugged and saw nothing of the world, mostly in places he’s never been back to.

You see this was the highlight of Jeff’s career. 1987-1988. He never got such a high profile gig thereafter. He came home thinking he was a big deal, but in the city he was seen as a guy who hadn’t paid his dues, who wasn’t hooked into the local scene, and after running out of money, he went back to playing in wedding bands and… He played some other famous tours thereafter, but not at the same level, with the same prominence. For decades, Jeff’s been a guitarist in Broadway orchestras. It’s a hard gig to get, and not often an easy gig to keep, it’s all about relationships. Being able to play is assumed. Jeff rehearsed for free, spent all that time learning the music to get his first gig as a sub. And he likes being able to walk to work, and the pay is good, but it is not the touring big time.

So, Jeff goes on the road and is always worried about getting fired. And this is a possibility. The drummer is replaced. Yes, you think you’ve got security, but…

And the regulars, like Kenny Kirkland and Branford Marsalis… I won’t say they exactly haze him, but when he steps out, makes rookie mistakes, they rub it in, deeply.

And the sex… Sometimes in brothels provided as perks by promoters. And the endless one night stands. The girls want to get closer, and Jeff provides the experience. And these affairs often take all night, so the next day…you’re dragging. And then there’s the night Jeff did too much and was subpar on stage and was chided by Sting…

Sting is portrayed as a good guy. Not without faults, but…you buy it as a reader, even though Rod Stewart zings the star.

So, there’s a warm-up in South America, and an appearance on SNL, where Jeff gets to wail on “Little Wing,” but he’s always wondering exactly where he fits in, how wide a path he can cut, is he one of the boys or just an outsider who’s going to be one and done.

Jeff does not get hired for the next Sting tour. And he wonders, did he drink too much, party too much? He’ll never know. But he’s been trading on this one year of touring with Sting ever since, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Jeff doesn’t sugarcoat the story. And the best thing is he describes his feelings, and has no problem putting himself down and wondering what he was thinking when he did certain things.

Most people have no idea what truly goes on on the road. They see the band on stage, and believe off stage is a heaven of sex and drugs. But there’s endless travel, which wears on you.

And is Jeff ever accepted?

He’s on the Amnesty tour and one of Bruce’s security people insists he get out of the way, despite Jeff having an all access pass. Jeff refuses to move, and then Bruce comes down the hallway and says hi to him. Jeff got some satisfaction.

And you will too.

Yes, this was over thirty years ago. And now things are different, but on some level they’re the same. Can you afford a private jet, can you base yourself in a central city and then fly out to gigs?

And there are so many great lines, musician aphorisms, many that I have not heard.

Like musicians can make a killing, but they can’t make a living. Either you get this or you don’t.

And as far as money on the road…it is described as an ocean of cash, and if you dip in and take some, no one will ever notice it. I’m not talking about theft, but if you want to stand up for more…it’s not gonna hurt the tour, no one’s really going to notice the loss.

I breezed right through this book. I had a hard time putting it down. If you want to know what it’s like being on the road, a prominent band member backing up a superstar…THIS IS THE PLACE!

Comments are closed