As the unmistakable opening chords of "Good Times" emit from drummer Alex Peck's iPhone, he says, "My grandmother worked for Willie Nelson."
"Yeah, she was a bass player ..."
"Your grandma played bass for Willie Nelson?"
"Well, back in the '50s and early '60s, she and my grandfather were musicians at Sunset Park in Philly, and ya know, backed up all the greats."
Peck hasn't played with Willie Nelson yet. But compared to those of us who watched Step By Step reruns when we were supposed to be practicing clarinet, or got our first paychecks busing tables, he's enjoyed an almost glamorous music career. His first paying gig was at 14, with his dad's jazz outfit, the Skip Peck Trio. He still plays from time to time with the Trio, whose other members include his mom and occasionally his brother.
"My dad used to tell us, 'The only security in being a professional musician is knowing there's no security in being a professional musician.'" Peck tells me this after sitting in on drums at Ava's Interval jazz night. Just hearing about making a living as a musician is stressing me out, but Peck is a relaxed dude, the kind of guy who can convincingly refer to people as "cats."
"I'm just a musician, I've done session work and pickup gigs and been in actual bands," he says. He's played with (among many, many others) Phat Man Dee and Good Brother Earl. "You have to be versatile. I know guys who play jazz or gospel or rock, and it's harder for them to make a living at it. As with everything, there are specialists and there are general practitioners."
As young marrieds, his parents traveled all over the country for steady hotel or lounge gigs -- playing maybe four hours a night, every night, for several months -- before moving on to the next one. "Until the late '70s, early '80s, there were a lot more people who made a living as musicians," Peck says. Then came cable and other leaps in home entertainment, and people weren't as willing to pay for live music.
Peck has had only two "regular" jobs -- he briefly painted houses, and spent three unhappy months at Media Play. He now gives drum lessons for a little extra cash, as do most of the other musicians who surround us at Ava. "It's usually the older musicians who have a day job and play on the weekends," he says. "I mean, I don't have kids. It's easier to do when it's just me. But, hell, my parents have done it for 37 years."