Keyboard Magazine (April 1999)
BY XANDRIA DUNCAN - Other genres have had their ups
and downs in the last decade, but country has stayed pistol-hot. Tim McGraw
is one of the new-country pack who's enjoyed tremendous coast-to-coast
support . . . thanks in no small part to his ace touring band and high-energy
keyboardist, Jeff McMahon.
The name of Tim's touring band is the Dancehall Doctors, "which
Tim got from a Conway Twitty song," Jeff explains. "Some of
the guys have been around longer than I have, but this band, as is, has
been together since January '94. Nobody has left, which is unusual, and
I think it says a lot about Tim.
Teamwork. In Nashville, it's not uncommon for singers
to use session players on their records, and then hire a separate pack
of road warriors for the tour. Tim McGraw is no exception, but Jeff takes
it all in stride. "The producers have a lot of faith in the players
they've worked with before. It certainly is a 'time is money' situation
in the studio, and those [session] guys are innovative, efficient, and
fast. I understand that. I have no desire to be a full-time studio musician,
because I know that most of my strengths lend themselves to performing
live." Having said that, Jeff admits he'd beeline to the studio if
Tim ever needed him to lay down a part.
Onstage, the Dancehall Doctors stick pretty close to Tim's recorded arrangements,
but there are times during the show when they're free to stretch their
wings. "There are things that, as a band, we've rearranged because
we feel it's more conducive to live performance. Tim encourages the band
members to have their own identity. We're included in the tour book, his
Web site, and a lot of fan club events. It's very team-oriented."
Gear. Jeff drives an Ensoniq MR-Rack and a Kurzweil
MicroPiano module from his Peavey C8 controller. A Roland VK-7 is used
to cover the organ parts. Several times during the show, Jeff straps on
a Yamaha KX5 MIDI remote controller and roams the stage, thanks to an
Aquila MIDI wireless system.
Whenever possible, he comes in before soundcheck to tinker with his gear.
But now that the band is on a mega tour with George Strait, "that's
not really possible because we have no soundchecks. And then we'll be
doing festivals --- all-day affairs where there's no way to accommodate
seven to nine bands coming in one after another with soundchecks."
That's why simple and clean is the ideal way to go for keyboardists in
situations like Jeff's.
Parting Shot. Jeff is no wooden Indian onstage. "
I tend to get a little wound up during the show," he chuckles. "One
time this girl came up to me after the show and said, 'I just love watching
you play.' I thought about how I took all those piano lessons just to
have her tell me she loved 'watching' me play. So I said, 'You know, you
should hear me paint!'"
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