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Chairman Ralph (St. Joseph, MI)

Solo performers Interview

Artist Name
CHAIRMAN RALPH
(Ralph Heibutzki)
Date: 3/0/1/13
Are you an instrumentalist only? NO
What instrument do you play?
Gtr/  Guitar+bass
Where do you reside? St. Joseph, MI

What inspired you to start singing and Playing?
First, the original ’76-’77 punk rock, and ’80s-era post-punk/indie explosions.  Suddenly, you could be your own hero, create your own culture, shout about whatever crossed your mind.
Second, my late friend, Tony Salazar, whose heroes included Mick Jones (Clash), Steve Jones (Sex Pistols), and Paul Weller (Jam). He was way ahead of me (playing-wise), but also, the first person who didn’t automatically dismiss my earliest musical ideas – which was one of many reasons why we became friends.
Tony died at 39 from a brain aneurysm, in 2005, but there isn’t a day when I don’t think about him, or the experiences that we shared together – I learned a lot about music (and life) from him.
How long have you been performing publicly?
Twenty-plus years, overall.  In my current (solo) incarnation, since 2004.
How long did you play before you stated gigging?
About a year (give or take).

How long have you been playing guitar?
See #2.

How did you learn to play guitar?
More nights of self-study than I care to count – I recall spending one summer with a chord sheet chart from CIRCUS magazine, of all things – plus whatever tricks that Tony showed me. When we became friends, he’d write out Clash or Sex Pistols tabs for me to learn; as my style evolved, he didn’t need to do that so much anymore.
Have you taken lessons if so do you take lessons now?
No/no
Where was your first gig?
Volume One Bookstore (Hillsdale, MI), where the Hillsdale County Coalition for Peace & Justice met, and started hosting an annual peace festival in August. The event concluded with an “Afterglow” party, held at the bookstore, which I played in ’04.

How did you get it?
Nothing more complicated than casually asking the bookstore owner (whom I’d known for awhile), “Hey, can I play?”
How scared were you?
I was more nervous, than anything else, since I hadn’t played publicly in a long time.  I’d done open mike nights in Chicago, but the stage hogs and technical issues that I encountered didn’t make me want to try it again.
I just wanted to put together a credible  performance for my friends – which must have worked, because I wound up playing the actual festival itself (2005-08)!
How do you get gigs?
Every which way, from e-mail (usually, in response to an ad, or venue listing), to phone calls and personal contact. The last two methods work best, because you’re always trying to build long-term relationships (which is the key to getting better gigs).
Still, you can’t always predict what strikes someone’s fancy. I once got a gig after mentioning my love for The Chords, a classic ’80s UK mod band – which happened to be one of the organizer’s faves, too, so he booked me…on the spot. You couldn’t plot that one out, if you tried!
Do you use an agent, if so how did you get that rolling?
No, since you need to consistently play major venues to generate the sort of income that attracts an agent’s interest. The moment that happens…that’s when they’ll find your phone number.  :-)
What do you use for equipment?
Yamaha acoustic, retrieved bequeathed from my in-laws’ attic – where my wife’s quest to learn guitar during the ’70s had ended.
Electric guitar: red Squier Strat, plus Crate MG-10 amp.

Bass: Black Magnum/white Fender P-bass copy models, plus Gorilla GB-30 amp.
Do you use a monitor?
No – I’m often right in people’s faces, so I typically require two mikes (one for the soundhole, if I play acoustically, plus one for the vocals).

Do you have any tips you can share as far as setting up your equipment for a gig?
As trite as it sounds, show up early, so you’re not rushing through your setup to get everything just the way that you want it.
Also, re-check your tuning about 20 minutes before you go on, especially when you’re playing outside. I can’t stress this enough, since humidity and temperature will wreak havoc with your tuning. The last place you want to find out that news is onstage.
How long was you longest gig?
Three hours

How long was your shortest gig?
15 minutes
How do you choose what songs to learn?
Two factors: I have to like the song, and feel like I can make it my own, as if I’d written it (as the Clash did with “Police & Thieves,” for example).
How do you learn new songs, by ear, YouTube, books?
Again, it’s a combination of things – often, I’ll peck out the chords or lead line by myself first, then consult a site like chordie.com, or whatever versions I find floating around on Youtube.  I keep what works for me, and toss out what doesn’t.
Who are a few of your favorite artists?
Kevin Ayers, Mike Bloomfield, Billy Bragg, Tim Buckley, Clash, Creation, Danny Gatton, Ian Hunter, Iggy Pop, Bob Marley, Oasis, Sex Pistols, Peter Tosh, Wally Tax, Paul Weller, Who, Yardbirds.
How often do you play out?
I average about two dozen shows a year, give or take (since I also do spoken word gigs, as well).

Do you have any CD’s out?
No, but I’ve been doing a lot of recording in the past year, and am seeing what material might lend itself to a full-length CD, vs. parceling it out over an EP, or two.
Do you have any aspirations to take your music further than your current success?
Sure: as they say, “Activity breeds activity.”
Last year, I recorded a pair of Kevin Ayers covers (“Am I Really Marcel?”, “I Don’t Depend On You”), which can be heard here: http://www.olliehalsall.co.uk/songbook.htm.
Also last year, I recorded three tracks for Cut The Crap: An IMCT Tribute, which you can read about here (though the download link is now on the last page, pg. 7):
http://www.clashcity.com/boards/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=8239
I’ll continue searching for new ways to get my music heard, book my own gigs where it’s feasible, as well as explore collaborations, licensing and multi-media opportunities.
How far will you travel?
My limit is 90 minutes away from home, give or take – with gas currently spiking at $4 and beyond, you’ve got to pick your shots carefully.
How far have you traveled to do a gig?
About 90 minutes (Grand Rapids, MI).
Can you recall your best show?
Hillsdale Annex (Hillsdale, MI): When my wife and I prepared to move from Hillsdale, to St. Joseph, in the fall of ’06, we threw a special “farewell” multi-media show that featured her artwork, plus music from myself, and a couple other local artists.
For extra incentive, we added a veggie platter, and didn’t charge admission, but we did collect tips. Altogether, we sold about $120 worth of art.  The night went so well, that we threw a similar show – a month later – on the eve of the actual move!
How about your worst show?
Everybody has those “I played to five people and a dog” stories, which is part of the game. One of the more extreme variations on this theme happened in the spring of ’09, in West MI. The headliners never showed up, and neither did their fans, apparently, leaving yours truly and the second-billed act to play for each other…at least we had a nice rehearsal! :-)
Do you have any advice for a person just getting in to gigging that you would like to share?
Don’t get frustrated if things don’t happen right away. The reality of the music industry – or any creative field – is that you’ll have to content yourself with many small victories on the way to a bigger ticket goal.
Whatever you do, stick to your guns. Sometimes, you’ll catch flak from folks who only follow the trends, so they’ll try to steer you in their direction. However, it may not be your direction.

When you practice do you go through a P. A. or just you and your guitar?
Just me and my guitar, unplugged, while sitting in front of the TV…never earned enough money to afford a PA!  :-)
Anything else that you would like to share?
Luther Allison’s motto sums up a lot of things for me: “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people.”
Thanks for your time.
Contact information/Press Kit
Official Website: www.chairmanralph.com
Email: chairmanralph@yahoo.com
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/ChairmanRalph