JAreD scHArFF TONE TIPS FROM THE ROAD
Look Ma, I’m at MSG!
On May 3rd, 2009, I found myself staring out
at a sea of about 19,000 faces. Armed with a
Bill Nash Strat, 65Amps London head/cab and
a pedalboard, I was ready to rock them all. This
special night held Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday
Celebration from Madison Square Garden – The
Clearwater Concert. I was part of the house
band, along with some of my SNL bandmates;
we backed up a variety of music legends.
Needless to say, it was a dream come true to
play that stage with those artists.
The event prep involved two seriously long
rehearsal days at S.I.R. studios. There, the SNL
house band set up shop and artists came in and
out like there was a revolving door. I used a 65
London head and a 2x12 cab for the rehearsals
and gig. I ran it clean and used my SNL pedalboard to take me through whatever terrain I
would need to cover (more on my SNL pedalboard in future columns). This event was being
filmed and documented every step of the way.
We ran through a slow blues and Bob Ezrin, who
produced Pink Floyd’s The Wall, filmed us. From
that first musical moment, it all counted.
Following that, we went through about twelve
songs and a few different arrangements for
many of them, all before the actual artists
showed up. We spent time tweaking parts,
figuring out dynamics—who should play when,
and what parts, etc. When playing with a large
house band, you really have to make sure there’s
cohesiveness. Bob was key for making this all
happen. Always listen to the producer!
One major highlight that first day was getting
to meet and play music with Warren Haynes
(Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule). Warren has
always been one of my favorite guitarists and
musicians. I used to memorize and play some
of his solos from Live at Great Woods with
the Allman Brothers Band back in the day. Of
course, I never said that to him. Had to keep
some sort of cool, right?
The other highlight was playing with Roger
McGuinn from the Byrds. He walked in, took out
that famous sunburst 12-string Rickenbacker and
came right over to the SNL band. He asked if we
knew the song (referring to “Turn! Turn! Turn!”)
and started to play it! There it was, “that” sound.
He played it very quietly, and we all joined in,
while he sang acoustically, un-mic’d, staring right
at me. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life. I was hearing Roger sing
those words with that voice, seeing him play that
12-string, two feet away from me. It was wild.
The third and final
day, we arrived at the
world famous Madison
Square Garden. I
plugged in and played
one lone power chord.
hearing my guitar
the Garden might have
been the most thrilling
moment of all.
Arriving the next day, pretty wiped out, I walk
into S.I.R. and who is sitting down sound-
checking? Richie Havens, playing “Freedom.”
That day was filled with a ton of work, and
artists present to work on the material as
well. I had never been involved in something
of this magnitude. I was definitely excited
by all of it and certainly worked as hard as I
could to get the job done.
The third and final day, we arrived at the world
famous Madison Square Garden. I plugged in
and played one lone power chord. Hearing my
guitar reverberate throughout the Garden might
have been the most thrilling moment of all.
That night, I saw, heard and played with such a
wide variety of artists: Bruce Springsteen, Dave
Matthews, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie,
Emmylou Harris, Ben Harper, Band of Horses,
Roger McGuinn, John Mellencamp, and so many
more. I was just a tad left of and a few feet back
from center stage. To hear Bruce Springsteen’s
voice and harmonica blast in my monitor as he
sang to a silent crowd in MSG was pretty intense.
Overall, the gig was a huge success. The SNL
band was prepared and professional, as always.
We certainly had our fair share of roadblocks.
With any large event where tons of people are
involved you have problems. No matter how
much you rehearse, soundcheck at the venue,
etc., it won’t go as planned. With this kind of situation, adaptation is key. Arm yourself with the
proper tools you might need and always have
backups. I brought an extra guitar, extra cables
and pedals (in case my pedalboard went down)
and a spare amp. A funny side note: I rocked
MSG with a small 8-watt 65Amps London
head with the volume on 2! Pete Seeger’s 90th
Birthday Celebration from Madison Square
Garden – The Clearwater Concert aired on PBS’
Great Performances and I believe there is a
DVD available. I’m lucky to have been a part of
it, and I’ll remember those three days for the
rest of my life.
Jared Scharff has been the house guitarist for the legendary Saturday Night Live band for the last two years. A
Native New Yorker, Jared is also a recording artist, producer, songwriter and highly sought-after session player,
and has shared the stage with Justin Timberlake, Beyonce,
Kid Rock, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie,
Roger McGuinn and Debbie Harry. For more information on
Jared, go to myspace.com/jaredscharffmusic.