Mickey Raphael in the studio with Willie Nelson.
“The song indicates its arrangement, tempo
and which of the vocalists is best suited for
it. Our saying is, ‘The song is the boss.’ It
happens pretty quickly for us because there
are no huge egos as far as who kicks it off.
Everybody is open to let what happens happen and no one is offended if someone says,
‘This song should be a mandolin kickoff, not
a banjo.’ We all know what to play behind
the featured vocal or instrument. No one
overrides the primary focus of the song. You
have to listen and support each other, not
drown each other out.”
Raphael knows a thing or two about how
to fit, when to play and when to step aside.
“I weave the web around the pocket and
thread it together,” he says, “and if it gets
too crazy, I don’t have to play. If it’s too
far out there, I shut the fuck up and listen.
That’s something Willie taught me: It doesn’t
hurt to sit back and listen. You don’t have to
play all the time. When you’re in the studio,
or onstage, you’ve got to be able to listen
and work with other guys. When you’re a
young player and still learning, you want
to play everything you know as fast as you
can. Again, it’s like Willie says: Less is more.
Genre to genre, you have to listen to what
the song needs and what you can contribute.
I’m concerned about playing one note with
great tone rather than a solo with all the
licks I know. You don’t talk when someone
else is talking. It’s the same thing with music.
When the singer is singing, stay out of the
way of the lyrics. People want to hear what
the singer and the other players have to say.
If it’s not your turn to play, watch the other
guys and be gracious. It’s a team effort.”
“A lot of people are terrific players at home
and in their bedrooms, but they can’t work
with a group, take direction or apply them-
selves to what it takes to fit into a collabora-
tive effort, which is what a band is,” says
Kulick. “Everyone has their own approach.
You learn how to fit in, and that’s a key ele-
ment. Some people are talented but have
no social skills, or no understanding of when
it’s time to extend themselves and when it’s
time to sit back. Each situation has its own
dynamics, and you have to understand those
dynamics in order to make it work. That’s
been a key to keeping me successful and
keeping me working.”