If You Must Go, Then Go With Grace

There are times when you need to let go of something you value to do what’s right, like I did last summer.

Years ago, I got a voicemail from Daniel Castro, one of the most respected bandleaders in the San Francisco blues scene. He needed a sub to fill-in for his regular drummer, T. Moran. Based on a mutual friend’s recommendation, he asked if I was available.

And that was the beginning of a long musical partnership – starting as the first-call sub whenever T. couldn’t make a gig, and finally working as Daniel’s full-time drummer after T. left the band.

In so many ways, it was the perfect gig for me. As one of the owners of DRUM! Magazine’s parent publishing company, my day job is more than a full-time commitment. And even though Daniel kept his band busy playing ten or more shows a month, it was the kind of routine I liked, since he stayed close to home and never ventured beyond a few hours drive away.

The money was good. The repertoire was fun to play. The musicianship was top-notch. Our peers respected the band. Daniel had a strong base of really nice fans. It was hard to find a problem with the gig, and it just chugged along, nicely and predictably, for years.

Then the recession hit in 2008. It took a while for the local music scene to feel it, but the bad economy eventually trickled down to our level.

Audiences visibly shrunk. So did our cut of the door. A club closed down. Another changed pay scales, squeezing tighter. Gas prices kept jumping up. Another club closed down. In slow motion, gigs became fewer and less lucrative.

We were playing one of our monthly gigs at a blue-collar blues bar in Fremont, California. During a break, Daniel came up to me and said he was going to make a big change. He planned to begin touring in order to keep the band busy.

He wanted to rehearse once a week and learn material for a new album. He was already plotting tour routes that snaked in every direction. He asked if I was ready to sign onto the idea.

And the idea just hit that sweet spot, where I envisioned life on the road, playing gigs night after night, driving every day, cocooned in a looping cycle that was all about music. And I said yes. I would love to do it.

We began rehearsing every Wednesday night while playing weekend gigs. The pace was methodical, but the new music began to gel. We talked about the future. It was exciting.

Yet in the back of my mind, I knew I wasn’t being honest. In reality, if Daniel ever said to me, “Okay, we’re going on a three-month tour of the Midwest,” I wouldn’t be able to do it. I had too many responsibilities, too much at risk.

I broke the news to the band during a rehearsal. I explained how it was better to quit now rather than waiting until the last second. This way Daniel could break in another drummer who was available to go on tour. I promised to stay on until he found my replacement.

And after a couple of false starts, it looks like he finally did. Sure, I miss playing with those guys, but I’m also glad for Daniel, because I believe in his talent, and how much he needs to take his music on the road.

Believe me, you’ll know if it’s time to step aside. Just do it with pride, and move on.