Last Tuesday, I saw my son Yosi play fiddle with Hurray for the Riff Raff at the Independent here in San Francisco. The club sold out a week in advance. The band played a lot of tunes from their new CD, “Small Town Heroes.” Much has gone right for the Riff Raff since I wrote about them in July after they opened for Alabama Shakes at the Hollywood Palladium. This Tuesday night, they appear on TV with Conan O’Brien (TBS). In August, they open for Dr. John in New York’s Central Park. More big events are coming—all thanks to chemistry.
No question, Alynda Lee Segarra, the band’s founder and singer/songwriter, is a driven young woman. Also a sweetheart. But the Riff Raff has taken off because it’s prepared to deliver great music night after night.
Wherever a band resides on the food chain, its members have to work together. Like most professionals, Hurray for the Riff Raff spends lots of time on the road. There’s some flying and much driving. Some good hotels and lots of modest accommodations. Fatigue and constant proximity always come into play. If people can’t get along, the act suffers.
Chemistry isn’t easy to attain. Alynda and Yosi spent a lot of time looking for the right musicians—people combining talent with the willingness to work hard and avoid drama. They found them in keyboardist Casey McAllister, bass player Callie Millington and drummer David Jameson. The result was evident at the Independent: a tight sound and command of the room.
This isn’t just a plug for Hurray for the Riff Raff (although it is one). Pro basketball offers another great example of chemistry. The San Antonio Spurs (I lived in San Antonio long ago) have won four NBA championships since 1999. They barely lost to the Miami Heat in last year’s finals. This season, the Spurs, again coached by Gregg Popovich, a future hall of famer, finished with the league’s best record, 62–20.
Chemistry was a prime factor. Many teams look for big scorers to lead them. Popovich emphasizes team play. Individuals give up opportunities for the common good. The Spurs’ leading scorer, Tony Parker, averaged only 16.7 points per game, making him the league’s 41st leading scorer. Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City led the league at 32.0. Still, the Thunder finished three games behind the Spurs. The NBA’s third top scorer, Carmelo Anthony, averaged 27.4 for the New York Knicks, a dysfunctional franchise and a team so lacking in chemistry, it failed to make the playoffs.
There’s nothing magical about achieving chemistry. It forms when individuals curb their egos and direct their activities to the common good. Bring together people with great talent but little regard for communal purpose, and you get an underachieving group—maybe an outright failure. In music, in sports, in any endeavor, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, do the little things and ignore the spotlight produces winners.
Hurray for the Riff Raff and the San Antonio Spurs are two inspiring examples of chemistry leading to success. I wonder if anyone in Congress has given this some thought.
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