The 10 Commandments of Jam 

Recent wisdom from one of the most soulful, lyrical and melodic guitarists alive.. Mr. Derek Trucks:

1. Just listen.
Make sure that when you’re on stage with others, you are paying attention to what’s going on and not getting self-involved in your own world.
2. Respect everyone else’s musical space.
The easiest way to kill a vibe is by jumping in and adding your two cents too soon, while someone else is still trying to build something. Just let things happen.
3. Make you sure you are telling a story.
Never just be playing scales, filling space or going through the motions. Sometimes people resort to such tactics just to fill space but it’s always a mistake. Longer solos aren’t always better solos. Always have something to say.
4. Try to play an emotion.
Always be aware of what emotion you want to convey and try to tap into it. You can often hear what a great soloist is going through. It doesn’t take words to express a thought; you can definitely spell out emotions musically and should always strive to do so.
5. Never use the bandstand to practice.
Don’t waste time working through things. It’s great to take chances but not to try things you are completely unsure of. Save your practice time for off stage.
6. Treat the stage as your church.
Respect what you are doing. If you want people to respect what you’re doing and think it means something, you have to act like it does. All great artists treat the stage like it is sanctified.
7. Make sure your intentions are right.
Don’t be up there to boost your ego or career. Mean what you’re doing and appreciate it. You won’t get anywhere musically if you are just on stage to impress people.
8. Always make the band sound better.
Don’t just highlight what you do; serve the group and the music. Playing rhythm behind someone or even sitting out at the right moment is just as important as soloing. Some people sound great when they’re doing their thing but just get in the way when they’re not.
9. Educate with your music.
Always move forward and turn your audience on to new things instead of relying on the same old tricks. A core audience gets stuck listening to one group and think that’s it, but you’re around so much music and should always be inspired by new things. It’s important to pass that along, and it keeps you out of ruts.
10, Make sure you mean what you’re doing.
Do what you want and love. If you’re playing with somebody, you might as well do it right. No matter what the gig, dig in and go to town.

Original Source:


I just finished Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.

“For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day. With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved. For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on. God help us. God forgive us. We live on.”

It’s worth all 900+ pages!

Pro Guitarist Tips e1 


Greetings!  In keeping with my intention to blog more regularly, I’ve decided to post some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years as a professional musician.  These tips are things I wish someone would have told me when I was just starting out!  Hopefully my years of playing will give you some insight into what you can do better as a musician to further your progress in becoming the best musician you can be.  I plan on covering a variety of topics in my “Pro Guitarist Tips” series.. from how to practice to what’s expected of you on a gig.  The things I’ll say in this series are derived from my experience as a working musician, and my personal opinions about what works and what doesn’t.

Seeing as how it’s 2014, and seeing as how these tidbits of string slinger wisdom are organized in a list.. I’m tempted to name this post “10 Things You should know about being a Professional Musician.. number 7 will BLOW YOUR MIND” to try and get more clicks, but you know what? We’re above that here. isn’t about hijacking your attention span to make a few cents.  Enjoy your distraction free reading!  If you like it or find it helpful, let me know and/or spread the word!

My first installment is going to be all about taking care of your guitar.  If you already are or plan on becoming a working guitarist, it’s important to know that maintaining your instrument is a vital part of sounding great.. and at the end of the day, sounding great is more important than looking cool, acting cool, or pretending to be good.  Sounding good trumps almost anything else.  It will get you noticed and will make people want to work with you, among other things.

As a guitarist, there are certain things that you need to do to keep your instrument in full working order, with no exceptions.  I’d like to pass these on so you don’t have to work in a music store for years to learn them like I did!  I would run into problems in my practice sessions.. thinking that I just needed to be stronger to pull of those crazy bends, or that I would never get any fast technique because I just had “slow hands”.  Not true.. Once I got my guitar set up properly, there were a lot of things I could suddenly execute that I wasn’t able to before.

  • Change your strings.  First, foremost, and probably most important.. change your guitar strings regularly!  For example, when I’m in on a contract playing 5 or 6 nights a week, I change my strings once a week.  That said, I can hear the tone start to dullen and darken after about 3 days.. and really, I only stretch them out to a full week for cost reasons.  I know someone who changes his strings before every show!  If you continue to play on old strings a few things will happen..  Your tone will dullen, your intonation will gradually start to slip as the strings corrode, your frets will wear down faster from the gunk on the strings.  Also, buy a string clipper / winder to help you.  Use the winder part to speed up the process, and use the clipper part to get rid of the excess string.  Having big knotted strings flying everywhere above the tuning pegs not only looks bad, but it’s a pain in the butt and offers zero sound benefit.  Once you change your strings, stretch them out.  Tune the string to pitch, then grab it and pull it back towards the bridge.  Now check the pitch.. it’s flat, right?  Repeat with each string until it doesn’t slip very much.  Congratulations, your guitar will now, for the most part, stay in tune!
  • Take care of your frets.  Again, depending on how often you play, I recommend getting your frets crowned about once a year, especially if you play hard.  As the frets begin to wear down, your intonation and general sustain will start to suffer.  Not sure if you should get it done?  Look closely at the first and second fret on your guitar.  Do you see divots?  If yes, then it’s time to get your frets crowned.  You should be able to get your frets crowned about half a dozen times before you need to get a refret.  I just had to get a refret done, but it was the first time in 5 years, and I play hard and play often, to give you an idea.  Take your guitar to a local luthier to find out about fret crowning and how much it will cost.
  • Polish your guitar.  Every time you change the strings, clean your instrument.  I prefer Dunlop 65 and have been using it for years. Once I take the strings off, I spray the polish on to the body, the neck and the frets, then I scrub it down with a microfiber polish cloth to get all of my hand gunk off.  Don’t buy into the hype that a grungy dirty instrument sounds better than a well maintained one.  It simply isn’t true.  I get compliments on my tone quite a bit, and it’s not because I let my strings get too dull or the intonation on my guitar go bad.
  • Strap Height Matters.  This is more of a general playing tip, but because it involves a piece of gear, I figured I’d throw it in.  Adjust your strap height so that your left hand can comfortably perform barre chords and big stretches.  Setting your strap low may look and feel cool at first, but at some point you’ll realize that you can play better with your strap at a normal height, and it really doesn’t look bad.  Find a place that’s comfortable for you.  You want to find that perfect balance between the left hand wrist and the right hand wrist.  If it’s too low, the left hand will struggle to do certain things.. if your strap is too high, your right hand and right elbow might get too tense.  Neglecting these things will eventually lead to serious injury!  Also, having your strap at the right height and possibly secured with strap locks will ensure that your strap won’t accidentally let go and fling your new axe into the front row, sending your number one groupie to the hospital.  #didthishappen?
  • Tighten the screws.  If you just bought a new guitar, or if you are performing maintenance on your current guitar, check all of the screws and make sure they’re tight.  This is especially important for the tuning pegs on the head stock, and for anything else that might rattle or hum while your guitar vibrates with music.  If you have an acoustic guitar with a pickup, check the wires inside and make sure everything is secure.  This tip, however, does NOT apply to the TRUSS ROD nor the saddle screws on the bridge!  Unless you know what those are and know what you’re doing, tightening or loosening these screws / joints while only cause you problems.
  • Seasonal set ups.  Take your guitar in to a luthier seasonally to get it set up.  If you don’t play all that much, you will still need to get one done at least twice a year.  This happens because things will move whether you play on it or not.  Frets wear, volume pots get dirty, output jacks get loose, and bridge saddles and neck truss rods move.  Depending on where you live in the world, the change in seasons may also bring about spikes and drops in humidity, causing the wood in your guitar to warp.  Ever pick up your guitar one day and realize that the strings were higher than usual?  That’s probably because you’re entering a new season and your neck moved with the change in the weather.  When I first heard this I thought people were crazy but it’s totally true!  Keeping your guitar set up will keep your playing in top form as you are practicing.  That way, when you hear something go out of tune or can’t get that tone that you want, you’ll know that the problem is YOU and not your guitar.  In the long run you can save a lot of money if you learn how to fix your instrument yourself.  While true, I still prefer to take my guitar to an experienced luthier.
  • It will never be perfect.  While it’s important to do your best to keep your instrument maintained, know that it will never be perfect.  The current design of most guitars lends itself to NEAR perfect intonation, but not perfect.  In order to have PERFECT intonation, your neck would have to have fanned frets, which we don’t really see on most instruments.  So, give your local luthier a break.  Don’t be THAT GUY.  Get your guitar so it feels good and is intonated well enough so you don’t notice nasty sharp or flat notes when you’re playing with other people.  As the “instrumentalist” in the situation, it’s up to YOU to adapt your technique to make that flawed piece of wood sound beautiful, not the responsibility of the local guitar repair guy at the shop.
  • Always keep your guitar in the case.  If you’re not on stage, or not actively using it, put your guitar away.  As a working guitarist you should have a HARD case for your instrument,  a quality gig bag and a good stand.  You wouldn’t believe the horror stories I’ve heard about guys leaning their $3,000 Gibson Les Paul up against the wall while taking a break to make a sandwich, only to have their dog run by, knock it over and snap the neck in two.  I like to look at it this way.. I use my gig bag for transporting my guitar on my back, and I use my hard cases for storing my instrument.  If I’m going to a local gig, I’ll throw the guitar in a gig bag and carry it around like that.  If I’m going to china for 6 months and am bringing my tele but not my strat, I’ll leave the strat at home in its hard case.  Capisce?  At the gig, have a quality guitar stand on the stage so you have a place to put your guitar in between sets.  The last place you want your guitar to break is on the gig where you are (hopefully) getting paid to play it.

If you follow these tips, you should be able to keep your instrument working well for you, regardless of its quality.  When a guitar is properly maintained, a cheap guitar can work well and sound great your entire career.. while an expensive high quality guitar can be passed down to your offspring, and your offspring’s offspring.  Stay tuned for the next post in my “Pro Guitarist Tips” series, coming soon.

My Year in a Nutshell 

Hi.  It’s been a while!  Yeeaahh, sorry.  I wish I could say I’ve been busy, but really I’ve just been.. neglectful.  I have been a little busy, but I apologize for keeping my beloved readers (all 4 of you.. Hi, Mom!) in the dark.  Many things have happened since my last post, and each of these things really deserves its own post, but I’ll try to bring everyone up to speed at ONCE with a MEGA-CATCH-UP POST!. <thunder crash>

1 – God Needs a Keyboard Player –  Earlier this year, I believe towards the end of January, while I was in Beijing, performing at Xian Bar, I got a phone call from one of my buddies in Shanghai.  My good friend, and musical confidante, Earl “The Pearl” Phenix had passed away.  I took time off from my performances in Beijing and headed down to Shanghai to be with friends and help out with funeral arrangements and whatnot.

Earl Brown Phenix, R.I.P. (1976-2014)

Earl Brown Phenix, R.I.P. (1976-2014)

Earl was like a brother to me, and his passing was and still is pretty tough.   As some of you may know, Earl was with me the first time I traveled to Shanghai, along with bassist Steve Belleville, and Tony Hall.  We had a life changing experience, collectively.  I will never forget him and the things he taught me.  He was a true blues man.. he didn’t just love it, he lived it!.. and he will be missed.  Carlton J. Smith said it well.. “Earl Passed?!  God must have needed a keyboard player!”  Right now he’s up there popping piano strings with the best of ’em!

Earl and I at the House of Blues and Jazz, late 2009

2 – A visit to Hong Kong –   That April, as my contract came to a close, I was feeling run down and needed a breath of fresh air (figuratively and literally!).  I decided to go check out Hong Kong.  I had heard great things about the city, and my girlfriend had just moved there so I decided to check it out.

Hong Kong, the view from Victoria Peak

I have to say, Hong Kong is beautiful!  I felt like I was in both a tropical resort and downtown Manhattan at the same time.  The city is alive, and has an intense feeling of hustle around the clock.  I went to popular local music venue Peel Fresco, hiked Victoria Peak, and spent time on the beach.  So far, this is one of my favorite places in Asia.  I’ve heard mixed things about the music scene there.. mostly that it is small and there might not be enough work to sustain a working musician.  That said, I’ve also heard that there aren’t many people playing with the particular flavor of rock and blues that I do, and they think I would be well received.  I’ll visit it again before making any firm decisions, but I am thinking about moving there!  The city was under British control for years, so English is spoken everywhere.

Tamara and I at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Tamara and I at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

3 – Travels with the Velveteen Playboys – I returned to the states and hit the ground running.  I had a few days to shake off the jet lag and went right on the road with the Velveteen Playboys.  The band had formed a partnership with the American Track League, and we were hired to perform at their track and field events around the country!   On the one hand, I often find it strange to stand there in a suit and rock in the middle of a field during the middle of the day when people are there to see something else, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.  It was humbling and inspiring to be around some of the world’s most talented athletes!  It was also refreshing and inspiring to play with these great musicians again!  To sum it up, imagine the world’s fastest man running past the front of the stage in between songs.. it was like that.. slightly bizarre, yet awesome at the same time.

The band performing on the campus of Indiana University. From left to right, that’s Duke Jones on trumpet, Anthony Steele on Drums, Bob Gay on sax, Jonathon Wood on bass, Paul Souza on vocals, and yours truly on guitar.

4 – Annual Fishing Trip – This year, it was just my Dad and I on our annual fishing trip.  Seeing as how it was just the two of us, we decided to keep it simple.  We rented a small cabin on Lake Pymatuning, and spent a week fishing for Walleye.

weather on Lake Pymatuning

My Dad and I braving the elements on Lake Pymatuning, June 2014.

The weather was absolutely lousy.  That lake is special in that, it’s far enough north so it’s close to the great Lake Eerie, and it gets strange “lake effect” weather patterns.  One day we were baking in the sun in nothing but shorts, and the next day we were freezing and wearing layers in the rain!  We didn’t catch many fish, but hey, at the end of the day, fishing is about spending time on the lake, even if it almost kills you.

The sun sets on lake Pymatuning #nofilter #oktheremightbeafilter

5 – Lula Mae Phenix is born – Every cloud has a silver lining, right?  Well, if my friend Earl passing was a big menacing storm cloud, the silver lining of his passing was the birth of his daughter Lula Mae Phenix on May 4th.  Lula’s mother had moved back to the states after Earl’s sudden departure where she safely and successfully gave birth.

Happy and healthy mommy and baby. That’s Danielle Eva (Yes, THE Danielle Eva) with her newborn, Lula Mae Phenix.  Earl lives on!.. kinda

Earl’s father meets his grandchild for the first time

6 – BB King’s in NYC – One of the highlights of my summer was getting the opportunity to play at BB King’s with Carlton J. Smith.  The stars aligned, and it worked out that the backing band was the exact same lineup from our contract in Shanghai!  It was a reunion of sorts.. Luke Kessell on bass, Lawrence Perry on Drums, Eric Smith on the keys, and yours truly on guitar.

The Marquee

Sound check selfie with  LP (Lawrence Perry) and Luke Kessell on the main stage

Carlton J. Smith and his many wardrobe changes at BB King's

Carlton J. Smith and his many wardrobe changes at BB King’s

The band got a great review on Soul Patrol!  In it, Bob Davis calls me “The groovemaker” and then proceeds to compare my guitar sound to that of James Brown’s guitarist, Jimmie “Scratch” Nolan.  Mission accomplished.

7 – Italy, France, and Monaco – After all of the hustle and bustle of New York, I hopped on a plane to attend a wedding with Tamara and do some traveling around Europe.  It started with a wedding in Tuscany, then we went to the south of France for some time on the beach, and eventually we ended up in Monaco where she grew up.  I have a million photos, but I’ll just post one of each country to give you an idea of just how absolutely stunningly beautiful it is over there.

The view in Tuscany

The view in Tuscany

Porquerolles, France

Porquerolles, France



8 – Performing with Band House in Ohio – Next, it was time to get down and dirty with the boys in Band House.  For those of you who don’t know them, Band House is a cover band performing all over Tuscarawas County in Ohio.  My cousin Lonnie Parrish is the bassist.  We play classic rock and blues at biker bars, pubs and on festival stages.

Ripping it up with Band House at Hog Heaven in Dover, Ohio.

Ripping it up with Band House at Hog Heaven in Dover, Ohio. L to R: Matt Watson, Waylon Wagner, me, Lonnie Parrish

I’m always grateful to get the chance to play with them.  They are all about having fun and it can be such a refreshing experience to play with musicians who aren’t giving themselves frown lines from taking their craft too seriously.

9 – The Reverend Mike Null – A few years ago, for fun, I went online to the website for the Universal Life Church Monestary and signed up to become an ordained minister.. just to see if it was true that one could get ordained online.  Well, it IS true, and it worked.  I received a certificate in the mail!  Shortly after I posted about it on my blog, the drummer of Band House asked me if I would marry he and his future wife.  (See, I have at least TWO readers.. MOM and now Ryan.)  Honored, I accepted and began my preparation.  On Saturday, September 6th, I performed my first marriage!  Congratulations to Megan and Ryan Lusic!  I might have to change my website domain to

The Reverend Michael Null

The Reverend Michael Null marries Ryan and Megan Lusic. #ShanghaiSuit

If you are interested in performing marriages, know that in addition to the ordination, you have to get licensed by the state.  Don’t let that deter you, though.. all I had to do was fill out a form and mail it in along with some supporting documents and a small fee.

 10 – From Reverend to Groomsman – September was wedding month for me!  After marrying Megan and Ryan, I flew to Galveston, Texas, to participate in the wedding of my good friend Torrey Rigan.  Torrey and I go way back.  I met Torrey during my days with the Golden Gate Boys’ Choir in San Francisco.  This was in .. 1990?  1991? We sat next to each other during rehearsals and became fast friends, and have stayed friends ever since.  Life has since taken us in different directions, but our friendship has endured the time and distance.  Congratulations to him and his family!

The Bridal Party of Torrey and Jennie's wedding

The Bridal Party of Torrey and Jennie’s wedding

I was chatting with my guitar student, Roger.. and when I mentioned to him that I was going to my 3rd wedding that year, he said “Consider it good practice for your own one day!”.  That.. makes me feel strange for some reason.. 🙂

11 – The Brahms Requiem – From the beachy humidity of Galveston, Texas, back to Ohio..  Happy that “wedding season” was over, I then applied all of my energy and focus to working on Brahm’s masterpiece.  I joined the tenor section of the Summit Choral Society for their performance of the great work, Ein Deutsches Requiem (in German).

The Summit Choral Society, directed by Frank Jacobs.

We performed at EJ Thomas Hall in Akron, Ohio, along side the Akron Symphony Orchestra.  Unfortunately, there was no video recording made of that performance.. however, I do believe it is soon to be available on CD.  If you’re interested in acquiring your own copy, let me know.. or stay tuned to my discography page, where it will appear once the CD is released.  In the meantime, I recommend watching this version if you are just hungry for some Brahms:

12 – WHAT’S NEXT? – It’s almost time for me to head back to China again.  At the end of this month, I’ll be flying back to Beijing to perform once more at Xian Bar!  This time, I’m able to bring a new lineup of the Soulcasters!  Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming contract.  We leave a few days before Thanksgiving!

IN CONCLUSION.. It’s been a hell of a year!  Wow, if you have read down this far.. I am officially now a fan of YOU!  Thanks for your time and interest, and I promise to create posts in a more timely and consistent fashion moving forward. Leave a comment if ya like!