Never Work a Day in Your Life: Examining Wendell Ferguson’s Hall of Fame Career
There are a few people that you’ll meet during the journey of life who will change you. Luckily, I had the privilege of meeting and working with Wendell Ferguson, an artist, musician, and outstanding human. While he is very skillful at his craft, his hard work and dedication to relationships is something that impressed me, which is why I wanted to analyze his story and share it with you.
Sam Arraj: For those who don’t know you, tell us about yourself and your career.
Wendell Ferguson: I’m Wendell Ferguson. Born in Streetsville, Ontario. I'm a dinosaur. I’ve been playing music all my life and I’ve never worked a day in my life. I had some success in the Rock genre in the 70’s; in the Country genre in the 80’s to now. I’ve been nominated for a Juno a couple of times, [and sometimes together with] bands.
I’ve won about 10 Country Music Awards and I have been recently inducted to the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. I won some folk music awards [including] Best Instrumental Album of the Year. I’ve won several film awards for my Cranky Christmas DVD. But all those accolades are not important, I'm just really a guitar player and an entertainer. I make a living playing music and it’s really fun. I’m not going to quit now.
Sam: Why did you choose music as a career path?
Wendell: I love music. From the time I was a kid I loved it. I asked for a guitar on my seventh Christmas. Nobody in my family played guitar. I don’t know, I just wanted one. I strummed it open for a while, then finally my mom got me some lessons because I was driving her up the wall. I took lessons from age seven until age eleven.
I wanted to play Beatles and Stones and the teacher was teaching me crap I didn’t want to know, so I quit the lessons. That sort of killed my love of- well, it didn’t kill my love of music: It just killed my love of lessons. I went on and bought some records, and put the records on and just played by ear. You rise to the level of what you can play. If the first thing you can play is G-L-O-R-I-A, Gloria: It’s just three chords. You can do it and sound like the record, it makes you feel good.
Some of the records I would listen to and practice were: The House of the Rising Sun, Day Tripper, Creedence, Up Around the Bend, Down on the Corner; you just rise to the level that you can play… and then, as you get better, you can play harder and harder things and figure them out.
In grade 11 and grade 12, I started playing [in bands] with other guys. That was a real thrill; to actually make music in a band. And that really turned me on. That’s when I decided that’s what I want to do with my life. My mom said I should go to university. I said, “Nah… I don’t want to do that. You’re wasting my time and your money.” She said, “But you can’t make a living playing guitar.” I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll learn bass, too.” So I had something to fall back on.
So… when I got out of high school I hung around for about six months practicing. My mother and father supported me. Then got a gig on the road. And that’s it, they never saw me again.
Sam: That was a turning point in your life; most people at that age and time would be pressured to go and get a “real job”. That was a bold move, as many people would have been pressured into quitting.
Wendell: Well, to me it wasn’t a bold move: It was the only choice. It’s what I loved. It’s like I’ve always heard people say follow your bliss: If you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life. And I haven’t; I want to play the guitar at all costs. Maybe I wasn’t the best guitar player in the world, but I have the patience to work at it and get things right.
Sam: What are some of things you remember from [the] first part of your career?
Wendell: I got in with a band [and] I thought we were going to be the next Beatles. Then it broke up after six months or a year. Then I got in with other bands, and you think ‘this is a better band, we’re really going to make it.’
Then someone told me that marriages are hard enough together with two people; bands are impossible. Even The Beatles broke up. So just put your work into your own skill set and you’ll always be working. I thought about that for a while, and decided to be the best guitar player I can be, and then maybe I’ll get other work.
After that I started getting better and better gigs. I started backing up other artists, and producers started using me on records because I could play a guitar. One thing led to another… one person… leads to another person; then all of a sudden you’re working for them. You’re working for everybody.
Sam: Let’s visit that point in your career. You became [a] hired gun to play guitar for bands and producers: So how was the pay? Was it a good living?
Wendell: No, but I had meager needs. I didn’t have a mortgage. With music you have to love it to do it. People think it’s such a glamorous job. You’re up there playing for people. In reality, it’s not that glamorous. When you’re changing a tire in the rain on the 401, and you [have] to unload the van because the jack won’t work until you get all the equipment out of there, it’s not glamorous. You do it because you love it. It’s those two hours you get to spend a night onstage that’s the payoff. The rest of the stuff’s a pain in the ass. I love the guitar… it’s an easy way to make a living if you’re half-decent at it.
You have to say yes to everything. I mean if the phone rings and it’s Sam Arraj and he says, “Can you put a band together?” It’s like, yeah, that’s my specialty. If the phone rings the next day and it’s some songwriter, and they say, “Would you co-write with me?” I say yeah. That’s what I do. Then somebody phones the next day, and they’re an artist. They say, “Would you produce a record?” [I say,] “Yeah, I would love to produce your record.” You have to sort of do it all to make a living in this business.
Sam: You supplemented your income through saying yes to everything, right?
Wendell: You can’t say yes to everything, you have to say no to some stuff. There are what I call the PITA gigs – pain in the ass. You have to say no to the PITA gigs, because every once in a while somebody will say, “Hey man, would you put a band together?” I’m like, “For showcase?” “Yeah. We’re doing 40 songs.” “And how much is it?” “400.” “Well, I guess I could do that. Okay.” “And that’s for the whole band.” It’s like, wait. Wait. I'm getting 100 bucks to learn 40 songs and play for you for two hours?
You know at that point you have to say no, that’s not enough money. But you know, when you’re hungry, and you’re young, you’ll do whatever you have to do to make ends meet because you want to keep doing what you’re doing.
I’ve always been lucky enough that my needs have been low, I don’t drive a new car. I’ve never bought a new car in my life because to me, you drive them off the lot, and you’ve lost 35 percent... I look for a second-hand one that’s in really good shape, I nurse it and I drive it to the ground.
Sam: One of the things that impressed me about you was that you have a good head on your shoulders, were you always like this?
Wendell: Well no, but eventually you figure it out. Also, I had some mentors; people that sort of took me under their wing and helped me along. One of them was an agent named David Peever. He used to book Tommy Hunter and a couple of other acts. He saw me at a couple of gigs and connected me with another artist who signed with RCA too. He offered me a regular gig on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I thought, ‘what the hell am I going to do Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday?’ So, I put a band together to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
I picked two girls and a guy that could sing and formed a band that had a little more going for it than just a back-up band. Eventually, that grew into a band called Coda the West. And we started cutting records [and] backing up all kinds of other people.
We started to figure out how the business worked, so we started cutting records and putting out in singles… We would send it to a radio station, so they could play the singles. Back then jockeys would play what they wanted to play. We hired a couple of record trackers, and started to get some success and some airplay. All of a sudden I went from the side man to the artist; the band had six top 30 hits, or something like that, through the late 80’s into the early 90’s.
In those days you didn’t need a video because MTV wasn’t around yet; so you didn’t have to spend the 50 G’s on [one]. You could actually just get airplay with playing a track or having a good song. So, we kind of got in the cusp of that. We were nominated for Juno a couple of years and some CCMA awards. We won some backup band of the year awards, which was great. That led to meeting CCMA people who gave us some opportunities that led to TV exposure, which… got the bigger paychecks.
Also, there’s a guy named Tommy Tedesco. He was a guitar player from L.A. who wrote a book called For Guitar Players Only. [In his book] he had four rules… for taking a gig. And I read them and thought, ‘that makes a lot of sense.’ One, if it’s good money, take the gig. We all have mortgages; we all have bills. That’s the number one reason. Number two is, if you’re going to have to learn a different style of music or some material that you’re not familiar with, that will increase your skill level. Get out of your comfort zone; that’s a good reason to take a gig, because it makes you a better player. [The] third reason was contacts. If you’re going to be playing with people and meeting people and being exposed to a new set of people, that… will lead to new gigs. You’ll meet some big people and all of a sudden, doors open up for you. And the fourth reason was fun; if it’s a fun gig, do it.
He said [that] if it has any of those four reasons, it’s worth taking. If it has two or three of them, well then, it’s gravy. It’s fantastic. And if it has all four, then it’s unbelievable to have money, and contacts, and learning, and fun. And so, that’s kind of how I kind of lived my life. I had to get rid of the pain in the ass gigs and just take the ones that matter.
This articles picks up our discussion with Wendell Ferguson, where we examine his Hall of Fame Career. For the first part of the discussion click here.
Sam: How did you feel when it started to come together; did it to start make sense financially?
Wendell: Well, I was a little afraid to make the big move to buy a house because another mentor told me, ‘You know, you’re going to have fat years and you’re going to have lean years. It’s just the nature of the business. It’s like the stock market, it goes up and down. And country’s hot for a while and country’s not hot for a while, so get as many income streams as you can.’
Around 1995 I was still doing all the country gigs and doing all that kind of stuff, Katherine Wheatley asked me to play guitar for her band, and all of a sudden I got exposed to the folk world, which I didn’t know was even out there. I started playing folk festivals and then house concerts.
First house concert I did I was embarrassed. I'm in someone’s living room. And you’re like, ‘What the hell’s this? What are we eight years old? Playing for our parent’s birthday party?’ Like, it just seemed so small-time. Then you get that paycheck at the end of the night it’s like, well, most people paid $20 each to get in, and there was 60 of them and only two of us. So, you’re walking home with $600 or $700 in your pocket. Then you’re like… ‘Oh, I get it.’ There’s more money doing house concerts, than playing in a bar. There’s no waitress and bartender and all that stuff. You know, you cut out the middleman.
Sam: One thing you do great as well is emceeing. You’re a really funny guy. How did you start with that?
Wendell: I’ve always been able talk to an audience. I know where they’re coming from, and I'm open and personable. They respond to that, you know? And I'm not afraid to call someone out; if you have someone yawning in the audience, I’ll call him out, “Oh, are we keeping you up, buddy?” That usually makes everybody else laugh and breaks the ice.
It’s like when you watch TV, they call it the fourth wall. Really good performers can break down the fourth wall. Bob Hope used to do that with movies, he’d look right at the camera and say, “I think Bing’s going to sing now. Now would be a good time to go get some popcorn.” And the audience would respond to that.
He’d tear down the fourth wall. He’d go right out into the audience and talk to them. And all of a sudden, they’d go, “Wow, did you see that? He was talking to us.” So, that’s an interesting concept… And my first few jobs weren’t [that] bad. I just had to say something.
Or it’d be like a variety show and I was the band leader. After an act would exit, I’d say, “Wasn’t that great?” "Yeah, I guess it wasn’t that great. You have to keep the attention going and the show has to keep going. You can’t leave the audience alone. It’s disrespectful. So you just learn that.
I learned a lot from Eddie Eastman, who has many little jokes. He doesn’t really know how to talk about a song, but he has these little one liners. And they’re very funny, so, that’s his idea of a show. He’ll say “I proposed to my wife in the garage and then I couldn’t back out.” Everybody will laugh, and then he’ll go on to the next song.
Sam: Let’s go back to that period when you ran the studio business. How was that like?
Wendell: While running a recording studio from the 80’s to 90’s producing music taught me about that side of the business. I was never a great engineer, [but] I had to be [one] because I was running the studio, [although] that was never my forte. It took me about five years to realize I'm better on the other side of the glass than the board side of the glass. I'm better at sitting in the guitar chair playing than I am flipping the knobs on the other side.
Recording studios, they’re a hole in your pocket. I mean, there’s always a weak link. Somebody will go, “We need a new power amp, or we need new speakers.” So whenever you make money, you don’t get to put it in your pocket. It always has to go back into the equipment to make it state of the art.
It didn’t take me too long to realize [that] nobody’s going to get rich on this, because the money keeps going back into the business, [so] I sold it to my partner after 10 years. Usually you don’t go into a business with a friend because it’ll wreck the friendship. Luckily, we were able to maintain the friendship even after he bought me out of the business. We’re still good pals.
Sam: What was your toughest moment?
Wendell: I've always had a good attitude about everything. Any day I'm making music is a good day. No matter what it was: If it’s a recording session, if it’s a commercial, if it’s a gig that night, if it’s a rehearsal, whatever it is – you’re making music. You’re making money with your instrument so enjoy it. Like, learn the attitude of gratitude. Just, “Thank you, God, I get to do what I do again today. This is going to be fun.”
You set your positive state of mind, so you don’t really get dark. I don’t want to get religious here or anything like that. Sometimes I believe in, if not a God, a higher power or something because I've had weeks where it’s like “Jesus! I’ve got a $980 Visa bill and it’s due Friday. I don’t have any money. I just paid the mortgage and I paid the car payment. Where am I going to get $980 by Friday?” Then something opens up. Somebody will phone and say, “Hey, can you do a session for me on Thursday?” “Yeah. I can do that.” “Okay. It only pays 400.” “Okay. I’ll do that.”
Then someone else will ask [you] to fill in for someone. [Then] at the end of the week you’re looking for $980, and you have $940 and [you] look up to the sky and go, “Close enough. I’ll take it.” It’s like if you really put it out there, I think that’s the way the world works.
If you’re a positive thinking person, that kind of stuff will come through. And if it doesn’t, well then it’ll come through the next week, you know? I mean, maybe you run a little bit behind, [maybe] you dug into your guitar savings fund, or you went into your piggy bank or something like that, or you had to go borrow some money from somebody or something.
Every decision you make is going to affect your life. So I've made good decisions – always make good ones.
Keep negative people out of your life. I can’t stand to be around negative people. They just drain you, you know? We all know people like that; who are so negative that it drains your energy. If they’re family, well, you’ve got to put up with them. But if it’s a business relationship, if you’re playing with a guy and it’s like he takes all the fun out of playing, then you shouldn’t put up with it.
I used to hire a guy, he was a good player. We had a gig at a casino for a week, and we had to start in the afternoon. I thought, “Well, this is great.” He’d come in and say, “Great day to be indoors.” He had something negative to say about everything. And after a while it’s a drag being around that guy because he’s so down all the time. So we didn’t hire him anymore, because he drags everybody else down with him.
Sam: I know you’re a modest guy, but people like to be around you. People want to be associated with you, just because you send out this positive energy. You light up the room when you walk into it, because you have positive energy and you’re just a good guy all around, which translates into success.
What was a challenge you embraced in your career?
Wendell: Nothing against George Fox, he was a great guy and it was fun to work with him, but when I was part of his band my guitar skills were going downhill because we played the same 18 songs every night for five years. There was nothing to make me stretch. It was [a] high visibility gig, but it wasn’t musically challenging at all. I felt like I was kind of stagnant.
A friend of mine in Nashville asked me if I would be interested in jumping ship and going with another guy. And I said, “Maybe, who?” He said, “This guy, Duane Steele, who’s about to get signed by Mercury down here in the U.S., and he’s going to be on Universal up in Canada. He was looking to put a band together – a Canadian band – and I just thought of you and maybe throw your name in the hat.” And I said, “Yeah.” So I threw my name in the hat.
I got the job and then I gave my notice to George Fox. I said, “Love you guys. I'm out of here, I’ve got something else to do.” So, I left there and joined Duane Steele.
Duane’s material was challenging, it was harder than George’s. It involved more guitar playing. It involved more talent, and I had to play harder and learn stuff better. I had to emulate the steel and the electric guitar, and it was a challenge to me, musically. Plus, once I got on the road with those guys on the bus, every night they would play music all night. They… loved music. It rekindled the fire [in me]. I was like, “Oh yeah,” that’s why I started playing guitar when I was seven; it was fun.
Now, I remember. It was fun for a number of years, but in the middle of my career I had let it become my job and I’d lost the fun factor. Once I got it back, I was like, “I'm never going to forget this again, music should always be fun.” So, I did about five years, from about ’95 or ’96 until about 2001 or something, with Duane Steele… [He was a] great guy, [and a] great boss.
Sam: And then, what did you do after that?
Wendell: That lasted until about 2001. Then [I] started going freelance. Around 1999 I cut my own album while working with George Fox, and then with Duane Steele. I was always writing stupid and dumb songs for fun, and Johnny Dymond said to me one day, “When are you going to put those on a record?” I thought about and I said “Okay. Let’s do it.” So, I put a session together and we cut an album. The Album was called I Pick Therefore I Jam.
I put the album out [and] Country radio ignored it because: A.) I'm not a great singer [and] B.) Shania was getting big right then. Would you go with a beautiful woman that can sing and looks beautiful, or are you going to go with a gap-toothed, fat guy with grey hair? I think we’ll go with Shania.
Luckily, CBC radio started playing it because it was quirky and they were funny songs. CBC all of a sudden picked up and said, “This is the kind of stuff we like to play.” I… got some underground hits with the CBC. They gave me a lot of airplay, and all of a sudden, I found another audience.
It still sounded like a country album, but they were funny songs and country radio wasn’t playing funny songs; except for some of the morning shows, so I’d get a little bit of airplay on some morning shows. The album got nominated for Vocal Collaboration of the Year at the CCMA. Russell deCarle and I did a number on it. We didn’t win the award, but we got nominated.
That gave me traction, and then the second album came out. I called that one Happy Songs Sell Records, Sad Songs Sell Beer. That one come out in 2002. It was a little more country. Half the songs are normal, and half of them are funny. It had some guest stars on it [and] ended up getting two placements in movies. There was a movie called Chicks with Sticks, [which was] about female hockey, it had a song on there called Talk Hockey and they loved it. They heard another song on there and they put that on the soundtrack too. It got some movie airplay and got me royalties in a different area.
Then the third album had all these really dumb songs. We cut the album in Toronto in 2006. It was called Wendell Live: The $#!t Hits the Fan. Of course we couldn’t say shit, so we spelled it with a dollar sign, a number sign, an exclamation point, and the letter “t”.So it looked like that, but it wasn’t quite that.
All of a sudden that one took off with CBC, too. I started getting lots of airplay, and that one sold really fast. That one was nominated for Country Album of the Year at the CCMA’s that year. It was unusual that it got nominated and they had to deal with the name. They didn’t know even how to say it on the air. They couldn’t say ‘beep’- something hits the fan – they beeped it.
At the CCMA’s in 2006, they need some help with production, because they spent all whole bunch of money on something else. They called me in for [a] production meeting and said, “We don’t have money to pay a whole bunch of back up bands for any incidental music or background music for this stuff. We were wondering if you could be the music.” They said, “With your guitar, you play us in and out of commercial, you play the music for the winner when the winner comes up on stage. You’re kind of like the band because we blew our budget on visual stuff [and] we don’t have any money for a music budget.” And I said, “Okay. I can do that.”
So I thought, “Well, this’ll be cool. I’ll ship a bunch of guitars out – classical, and steel string, and a couple of electrics, so I can have some different palettes to play with. And then work out my songs and put them on the air.” You know, that kind of thing. And then, when I got there we started rehearsal, they said, “Oh, no, no. We don’t want you to sit in the corner. You’re roving, you’re the co-host. You have to be walking.”
And you’ll walk here, and you’ll say whatever. The host can’t do everything. They would say, “We’ll be back in a few minutes with the Canadian Country Music Awards with performances by” – and I’d have to say all that. There’s only one teleprompter and the host had it. I had to memorize all that. It was scary, because you got a director and a co-director talking in your head. And, you know, you hear ‘roll video,’ ‘roll something,’ ‘roll end,’ ‘roll music,’ ‘cue announce,’ and I had to talk when they told me. It was scary, but I did it. So, it was another neat thing that happened. It’s like, you know, you say yes to it [just] because, and I think I can do it. You don’t know if you can do it, but you do it.
Sam: One thing I’ve learned from you, is that when you go out to a certain city for a performance, you plan it to get the most out of it financially. Could you elaborate on that?
Wendell: You have to. I learned that back in the George Fox days. They would get what they call an anchor date. So, some fair out there would say, “Well, we’ve got to get a recording act out here to get some people, bums in seats, and make it a big thing.” And they’d say, “Oh, George Fox. What’s he cost?” They’d say whatever. Well, the management would deal with them and they’d say, “Okay you’re going to Alberta that weekend. What else is in Alberta?” And they’d get the fair guide out and look at all the other fairs in Alberta and they thought that we’re making our money with that one gig. That’s paying George, that’s paying the management company, that’s paying the flights, the band, the hotels, the car rentals, and the truck rentals, whatever.
But if we can monetize this further and get some other stuff in the same area, even one province on either side of that so we don’t have big travel expenses, the rest is going to be gravy. That’s the way I think now, too. I took a gig at a Women’s Curling, Campbell River, and Vancouver Island. All they wanted was an hour after dinner entertainment. They were going to pay $1200. Well, I crunched the numbers: It was like the return flight was going to be about $600 and maybe $200 renting a vehicle to get up from Victoria to there. Maybe that’s $150, but there’ll be gas, so $200 bucks. So, that leaves me 400 bucks profit. I guess it’s worth going, but $400 in my pocket… I'm spending all the money on the trip.
So, then I wrote my friend and I said, “I'm coming out to the island, what would I do?” ‘Oh! Here phone this guy.’ ‘Here’s the contact for that guy.’ So I beat the bushes and I got seven more gigs and then that became worthwhile, because my costs were already covered with the first gig... Then every gig I did after that was gravy. And I didn’t need a lot; I didn’t need a fancy hotel. Most of the time I’d stay with whoever was presenting me, or they’d find me a room or something like that.
And so… While I was out there a couple of the artist directors from [the] festival saw me while I was playing [and] because it was in the winter months, they had [not much else to do]. It was like, ‘oh, this guy’s coming. Let’s go check him out.’ And the next summer they hired me for their festival. So, the following summer I went out and did the Vancouver Island Music Fest, which was a big festival. And he paid real money.
If you’re going to travel, it’s like, ‘where do you want to go?’ ‘Let’s go to Northern Ontario.’ We beat the bushes and hit every presenter up there; everybody we know, every folk society, all that kind of stuff. We do it in advance. You say we’re coming up here. Can you present a show? And then house concert people, you know, that word gets around, too. There’s a bunch of people that really like music and they put those on, or folk societies that have a little bit of a budget and we put on one show a month. Well, if you can be there for one show a month, some of them get government money, because government wants the little towns to have entertainment so they fund that kind of stuff.
Sam: So, do you think you get the gigs because you’re well-known, or because you’re working at it?
Wendell: Well, a little bit of both. You have to [have] a reputation of doing a good show. If you do a festival and do a good job, people will remember…
Festivals pay good money, and they’re only for one weekend… I could work every summer in Ontario and never leave Ontario. If you look at the festival guide, there’s usually three happening on any given weekend in the summer. You have to kind of know somebody. You’ve got to get in their face. You’ve got to hustle a bit to get an anchor date. I hustle around and I make that happen… I monetize it so I can get the maximum.
Once I get the anchor date I start to hustle to get other dates. Because I have a reputation as a guitar player, I can phone high schools around the date. There’s some people that have programs. Every time I'm going through Kingston on a weekday I can get a gig, because there’s a school for arts that have a program to bring musicians into the school. You just added 300 bucks to your day’s work because you’re still free to play at night, but you did a couple hours at school. Met some students, played for them, talked about the business; inspired them and that kind of thing.
Another good place that I call up are music stores; a lot of music stores give lessons. Well, if I'm playing in a town, I phone the music store… and say, “I'm going to be in there on the 19th of August, what if we set up a little seminar? My show starts at seven. What if I came there around four o’clock, and you got some of your students, and we charged them 20 bucks each?” I’ll get 10 people at least. At $20 each – there’s $200. You’re there for an hour in the afternoon and meet some people.
The students generally come to the show that night. So, it’s like you’ve got to beat the bushes. And there’s a lot of income streams out there… you’ve just got to find them, and make them happen.
Sam: You work hard, man. You’re not lying around waiting for somebody to call you for a gig.
Wendell: Yeah. You’ve got to hustle. You’ve got to hustle.
Sam: Is there a demand, right now, for artists and musicians to go out and do gigs or do you think there’s or too much supply?
Wendell: It’s an ego/dream-driven business. People see big starts and think ‘that’s what I want to do. I want to be that big star and I want people to look up to me the way I look up to that person.’ It’s driven by people’s dreams, and their egos. I’ve always said you’ve got to be in it for the right reasons. Don’t get in it for the money, and don’t get in it to be rich and famous or you’re just going to be disappointed.
Maybe two or three percent of the people in the business… breakthrough and become Bruce Springsteen, or Paul McCartney. A very small percentage get to the very tip top of the pyramid. If that’s your goal you’re probably going to be disappointed… it’s not going to be a happy life for you… You’re always going to feel like you never made it.
I would say to have a healthier goal, [and] that if you love music, and you love making it, and you couldn’t do anything else, then you have the bug; and you’re in it for the right reasons, because you love it. Then anything that comes from that is gravy. I'm not saying to not expect anything. You have to work. You have to have a good work-ethic and discipline.
You can’t screw up. I mean you can’t get drunk on the job. You get a bad reputation once; it takes years to build a reputation. Don’t put pressure on it. Just do the job and have fun. If you go into the business with a realistic mindset, maybe you’re not going to be rich, but you could have a house.
I never know where the next dollar’s coming from. Some people would go crazy. They wouldn’t be able to sleep at night not knowing when the next dollar’s coming. You’ve just got to trust and I do my best job every time… The next dollar will come. And it will come right when I need it. It [always] does.
Sam: When you do a record session, as a musician are you getting the royalties from those sessions?
Wendell: Well, now there is something called neighboring rights, [which] didn’t used to [be available]. [Now] you do get a portion of [the royalties], if it’s a successful record. It has to be a record that did something. I mean, you can’t play on a million records, and nobody’s ever heard any of them, and they got no air play, then you’re not really making any money off it.
Also, I’m part of the musician’s union. They have a special recording fund: If you recorded something that’s good, then you’re automatically put in for five years. You get these checks from NY in U.S. dollars, which is really nice from a special payments fund.
Also, the musician’s union have a thing called the trust fund. They phone… you [to] offer you trust fund gigs. Trust fund gigs don't pay a lot, but they're usually in mid-morning or afternoon so what are you doing then anyway? Watching cartoons. Might as well go make some money and have some fun. They’re kind of the pain in the ass gigs, but they’re in winter time and they’ll offer you four gigs. They’re old age homes and maybe pays $150. It’s hardly worth my while going up to a small town to play that, but it’s on a Tuesday morning at 11 o’clock. What are you doing anyway, watching the cartoons? You might as well go make some money and have some fun with your friends.