Since high school, I’ve played in a number of bands. Like many others, making music has been a continual source of satisfaction and expression for me. I can remember back to one particular day, gathering at Lyle’s place (drummer) with about 6 guitar players and myself making some righteous noise on a warm California afternoon. There’s very little chance that we sounded good, but there was a certain excitement involved, and afterward there was something that I felt had to be recaptured. And I did.
I played in a garage band or two for fun, then through a friend met up with some others, started rehearsing together, played some parties (or an occasional talent show), rinse and repeat, each time trying to ramp it up a little from the previous experience. Fun stuff, learning a little more at each step, gaining a little musical knowledge and experience along the way. 70s guitar rock, leaning toward the loud side, just preceding the hair band metal scene.
Along the way, I got a little mentoring. My sister Shelley was fairly perceptive, she was smart, and I always kind of admired her subtle wisdom and worldliness. I suppose she identified that I had a passion for music, but I think she also identified that I wasn’t taking complete steps to reach my potential. I know who I am, I’m still not taking enough steps to become a great musician, I know where this fits in my life. But Shelley encouraged me to spend some time with a friend of hers, Chris, a keyboard player, and very talented. I’d met him a handful of times already since the time I was maybe 11 or 12, but when I was about 16 or 17, she arranged for me to visit him to talk music and play a little with him. What resulted was subtle, but when I look back I recognize that this encounter was a turning point in my musical development. Playing with Chris helped me realize where I was falling short. I admit that I was guessing a lot of the time when selecting the notes to play on certain songs and situations where I had to interpret a tune or figure out a complicated line that I heard on a record. Immediately after that, even though it took some years, I became interested in improving my overall musicianship – I took some college piano and music theory classes after high school. I wanted to be a better player and gain a deeper understanding of it all.
The whole while, I’m in and out of a handful of bands, making progress, exploring styles, artists – in short, growing. Years have gone by since meeting with Chris, when one day I get a call from him. I recall the conversation: “My brother’s in a band and they need to get rid of their bass player. They could be pretty good, but they’re not getting anywhere with him – you interested?” (Turns out he wasn’t such a bad guy, I met him a couple times, but there was a chemistry mismatch with him and the other 4.). You have my attention, I’ll check it out.
Parallel to all this, my on-and-off brother in law is telling me about a guy he works with, guitar player who reminds him of Peter Frampton (a compliment back in ’77 or so). “You should get together and play with Jack, I think you guys would hit it off.” Lo and behold, Jack plays in the band with Chris’ brother Pat, guitarists Dave and Mike, none of whom I’d met before. I agree to come check it out after they provide a list of songs – all familiar from hearing them on FM radio.
My first bar band (I’m 20 by now). I’ll skip over most of the drama that unfolds, but I joined the band and we had fun playing venues in the east bay for a couple years. You know what happens to bands, they break up, right? Careers and families take precedence, opportunities spring up, friendships taper off. I would see Pat once in a while, he started singing with a band that I previously played with. I’d see Jack now and then, he helped me with some plumbing things and jammed with him a couple times. Mike was the person I stayed close to, we did things together, including music. I worked with him for a while, we played acoustic guitars and I got a chance to sit in with a band he played with. I wasn’t a full time member, but now and then I got to play guitar, bass, harmonica, sing lead, and even play drums.
Fast forward 30+ years. Marriage, kids of my own, home ownership, work. And bands. I’m in touch with Chris a little bit, he connects me with Dave. Dave comes to see my band, on another occasion I go to see his. A year or so goes by and Dave tells me he’s back in touch with Jack. Would I be interested in coming over to play? Why not? Pat’s out of the bay area and has a busy career and life, Mike had moved to Seattle and passed in ’07 from a heart attack while playing hockey. I have some songs, Dave has some songs, all original. We come into a couple of opportunities to play, Dave hosts an annual backyard barbecue. The reunited band consists of Dave, myself and Jack. We’ve played with a few drummers over the last couple years, we found Kevin through a friend.
It’s a modest endeavor, but it brings a high level of satisfaction playing music that you wrote. It takes a lot of work negotiating arrangements, determining who plays what, establishing dynamics. Essentially nurturing a song to life. Back in the day we called ourselves Luther Blue. With the years in between (and a little tongue in cheek humor), we’re Luther Gray.