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L.A. Beat

What gives you the right to be a music critic?

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Douche bags are the dissonant notes in the symphony of life which make you appreciate the beautiful melodies that are everybody else. That’s not a swipe at anybody in particular, it just seemed like a good line to begin an editorial.

So what gives me the “ right”  to be a music critic? It’s a fair question when posed in a casual conversation, but is pretty rude, insulting and disrespectful when shouted by a complete stranger full of bad attitude and bluster across a crowded, noisy bar.

I’m usually a pretty easygoing and open minded guy when it comes to music, but I’ll admit I’m getting a little cranky in my old age, so if you throw your pretty little bad attitude in my face, I’m probably going to throw it back at you, especially on an ugly, chilly and snowy February night. What gives anybody the “right” to do anything?

I’m blessed to have been on both sides of the stage, as both a performer and a writer/ photographer. Most musicians thrive on stage, but I can’t stand it. I prefer the creative aspect of songwriting — crafting a lyric , creating a story or writing a catchy guitar riff —  rather than the performing aspect.

Plus I have horrible stage fright and a tendency to forget my own lyrics, so I have the utmost respect for anyone with the guts to get out there and let an audience experience their original music — and I’ll say and write as much. I’ve done so many times. As a result I’m probably even too much of a cheerleader for the local scene. Well, I cheer because I think they deserve it.

 I’ve been playing organ/ piano since I was six, guitar since I was 10 and writing my own songs since I was 12 because I never had the patience to learn covers. I think the first song I ever wrote was a happy little pop ditty called “That’s Why I Hate Christmas.” It was horrible and I can’t even remember how it went now.  

Many years later,  my best friend, a very pretty girl named Kimmy B, with a hell of a voice got me into modern country music, so I bought a bass and a lesson book and taught myself how to play it so she could complete her Top 40 country band and discovered I had stage fright. At our first gig, she had to give me a big hug on stage to stop me from either fainting or vomiting.

Being in that band convinced me to take my own songwriting a lot more seriously, which lead to me joining the Songwriters Guild of America and going to events to pitch my songs in Nashville and Memphis — a humbling experience which only showed me how far I have to go as a songwriter. Shortly after that,  I got into blues, bluegrass, folk music and alternative country,  then I saw Willie P Bennett and the D-Rangers play  and was so impressed that I bought a mandolin and learned how to play it. The banjo is next.

Along the way, I have met  and picked the brains of a lot of great, talented cats — surprisingly humble cats who have written some huge radio hits, like Jason Blume, who writes pop music for people like Britney Spears and  the Backstreet Boys as well as a lot more cooler stuff and Bob Feldman, who wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back.” 

At Songwriter’s Guild events and at SouthbySouthwest in Austin, I sat in on a lot of seminars about songwriting and the music business held by people who have “made it” in the business, read extensively on the subject and met more great cats like Jeffrey Steele who have written for a lot of big names. So I’d like to think I know something about music and the music business.

I am more than just a music player, I am a music lover and I also know a little something about the business. Because music is my passion, and my whole life. Because when I’m not writing about it or photographing it, I’m playing it or listening  to it.

 But the basic, simple answer (that can be answered and heard in a noisy bar) to the innate question of what gives me the “right” to criticize music, is “everything.” So now, after a couple nights of sleep and a few less beers in the system, let’s expand on that.


As of September 2011, I will have been writing about music for newspapers for 20 years. It seems like a long time ago when I soothed my nerves for my very first assignment  for the Meliorist , by getting hopped up on a pitcher of zombies at a Trooper concert at a downtown Lethbridge dive bar. I was quizzing their latest drummer about how the band wrote “Raise a Little Hell. ” Kind of disgusted, he sent me backstage to talk to founding members Ra Maguire and Brian Smith.


And yes, I was nervous, but they laughed and told me to calm down, sit down and have a beer with them. Which I did with pleasure. And while the edited, published version of the story bore little resemblance to the original epic, I’ve been hooked on music and music journalism ever since.

 Since then, I must have seen at least 1,000 bands, probably a very conservative estimate and I’ve had the privilege of meeting and talking to a lot of great songwriters and performers, not to name drop, but people like Jim Peterik of Survivor, Randy Bachman, Tom Cochrane, Tom Jackson and a lot more. I’ve asked them how to write a great song — songs people cover and regularly hear 30 or more years after the fact. So I think I have a vague idea about how a great song is created and what one looks like and sounds like.

 I’ve also interviewed punks like SNFU and the Smalls, modern metal/ hard rock bands like Default and even rappers, though I’m the first to admit I don’t know a lot about rap music. But that’s the best thing about it — music styles and tastes are always changing, so there is always something new to learn and listen to.

I’m also a DJ and through that have experienced a lot of different types of music which I might not have checked out otherwise at CKUL back in the day and CKXU 88.3 now.


I’ve listened to wide enough variety of music and seen enough bands to know (for example) if a band sounds a lot like Pearl Jam, and I’ll say as much. I write what I see, feel and experience at a show.

 If you don’t like it, so be it. If you think I’m trashing a band, you’re obviously not reading what I write. And don’t bother trying to read between the lines of what I write, because the only thing between the lines is  white space.

If I like a band, I’ll write about them, if  I kind of like them, I’ll see their potential and I’ll look for something positive and supportive to say about them. If I really don’t like them (which is pretty rare), I’m not going to waste my time and space writing about them when there are so many good bands to write about. Plain and simple. 

I’m not going to trash, badmouth or backstab in print or in public any band in a fruitless pissing contest about who’s band is better. No band in this town is good enough to do so. To do so is arrogant and decidedly uncool. A lot of times, good music is a matter of personal taste rather than simply raw talent, though raw talent goes a long way to making great music.

There are lot of different  bands in Lethbridge, playing a wide variety of original music from hardcore, metal, punk, modern rock, classic rock, garage rock, country, alt country, folk, blues, jazz, rap — the list goes on.  I might not enjoy some styles as much as others but I appreciate the skills needed to perform it.

Even better, today, there are a lot more venues opening which feature live music. The “competition” / music community isn’t just Lethbridge. There are a lot of great bands playing all over the world coming through town and all vying for the same entertainment dollar.

 Here, everybody is  at the same basic stage in their careers, which means more bands are competing for a  limited number of people who actually go out to the shows. It doesn’t make sense to antagonize or trash talk the other bands or the fans of other bands. Just because you don’t like one band’s style, it doesn’t mean they suck, it just means they are different. And different is usually a good thing if you expand your mind and musical palate.
Just because you’ve released  an album and get 100 or so people out to your shows, it doesn’t mean you’ve made it, it just means you’re Lethbridge famous. So am I, for that matter.

Lethbridge is blessed to have an inordinately large number of talented  musicians and I try to support all of them. If I was to crunch the numbers, every week, I go to an average about three gigs  a night, so getting in my face isn’t going to make me put your band or your friend’s band  at the top of my priority list.
  Music is my whole life, both listening and playing. It was 20 years ago and is even more so now.

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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