Artist in the Office: Ken Apperson
Published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 17, 2013 23:02
For the past few years, Ken Apperson and drummer Reno “Groovemaster” Flournoy have been working their way through the local Tampa restaurant and bar scene as the band Fifty Five South.
With a sound that can be compared to a cross between John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Craig David, Apperson has been working on his eclectic performance style for years.
Before moving to Tampa, St. Louis-born Apperson spent time developing his craft and teaching guitar lessons.
Once, his friend who was sick asked Apperson to fill in for him at a local venue. Apperson was used to performing no longer than 45 - minute sets and this set was four hours long. Apperson was terrified.
“I was scared that my voice wouldn’t hold out,” he said. “I was scared that I wouldn’t know enough material.”
But it proved to be the start of his career.
“The venue I played at said they would love to have me back, and then put me on the schedule,” Apperson said. “It was completely by accident, honestly, and now I make a living at it.”
The hardest part of his job, Apperson said, is reading the audience and understanding their body language to see if they are into what he is playing.
“I’ll play a song, look around and see how they feel about it,” he said. “I’ll see if their heads are bobbing or toes are tapping.”
If the crowd is into the music, he will throw in a cover of a popular song to mix it up. He doesn’t have a preference of playing covers or originals, he said, both, as long as the crowd is having a good time.
After suffering a year of writer’s block, Apperson said he has developed a process of coming up with new material. He sits in one spot and does not allow himself to move until he comes up with something. He feels that as an artist, developing a process for song writing is the most important thing to do.
“I write about everything,” Apperson said. “Things that are going on in my life, things that I need to get out of my brain and work through — anything that may feel song-worthy even if the songs might not all be that great.”
His process for putting his own touch on covers is a little different, he said. He was taught early on to take all of the chords he knows, turn off all of his lights where he cannot see his guitar and play the chords and say them out loud as he plays them. This method has allowed him to develop an ear for chords and chord structure.
“Now when I hear something on the radio and when someone makes a request and I am familiar enough with it that I can remember the tune,” Apperson said. “I can usually get pretty close to the chord structure that it’s originally written in.”
His cover selection usually involves songs he likes. If he likes it, he learns to play it. Depending on the difficulty of the song, it could take over six months to learn.
Covering John Mayer took that long. It took Apperson three months to learn the slap motion Mayer does while playing. It took another three months to learn to learn how to sing on top of that.
It’s when Apperson can hold a conversation while playing the song, that he knows he is ready to perform it, he said.
The hardest thing Apperson finds about being a musician is maintaining perspective,
He feels that it is important not to let his insecurities, fears and worries overpower his logic. He finds that it is easy to play at a bar or restaurant and just be background music, while no one has any active knowledge that he is there.
“When you play music for a living, you’re pouring your soul out into the microphone,” he said. “To do that and not receive any feedback whatsoever — at first it’s very taxing, emotionally, I suppose.”
He also said he keeps an ongoing thought in his head: “It’s not that you suck, it’s that they don’t care.”
“That’s really all there is to it,” Apperson said. “To mentally keep everything as simple as possible.”