New Release – It All Comes Back

The It All Comes Back EP is our fourth recording, our third studio effort, and it’s full of songs we’re proud of and excited to have out there.

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over-3We started recording it way back in 2008 or 2009. This wound up being a very busy time for us, individually. A couple of us got married. A couple of us had kids. And life just sort of got in the way of recording.

It happens.

It was during these sessions, though, that we had an idea about recording a night at The 411 Club in Kalamazoo. We figured we’d get one or two live tracks to add to the end of this group of studio recordings.

Well that night of recording turned into its own double-live CD, 7.18.9.

So after releasing the live CD, enjoying life, getting kids out of diapers, Mike Roche at Broadside Productions contacted us to remind us that we had seven songs taking up his storage space. Ha.

So finally, in late 2015, we got back into his studio to dust off these songs. We added fiddles and trombones and trumpets and accordions. And on a couple of songs, my God, did we add saxophones. I could write a whole other article about the night Tony wanted to punch me in the nose because I sort of made him record ten sax tracks on one song.

In 2016, we made a couple of trips to Chicago to work with Pete Galanis at 3011 Studios. We re-recorded a few tracks and added a few little things to complete these songs and we’re very happy with the final product.

It’s funny, though, listening and playing these “old songs” today. Some of the lyrics come from a pretty dark place. Actually, a really dark place. They were written as part of some sort of creative therapy. And it feels like I’m very far removed from that darkness anymore. But it’s sad to think about me being there. Every once in a while, I listen to a lyric and cringe. “Wow, that was me.”

We’re really happy with the way this EP turned out. We decided to release it only digitally, which also feels a little odd. We’ll print up some CDs eventually. But for now, most of our sales have been downloads so we’re going to run with that for a while.

I hope you enjoy the songs. Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening.

Bat story – a blast from the past

A wayward bat was located today on the fourth floor where I work. It reminded me of another bat story I have…from way back in 2006. But I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had just moved into a new apartment in an old house downtown.  I had been there for maybe a month.  One morning, i awoke to a weird buzzing or chirping sound in my room.  I looked and looked but couldn’t find it.  And then…I realized the sound was coming from my bed.  I know!  So I flipped up the bedspread and there, clinging to the side of the mattress like a tiny rock climber…was a bat.

Well I freaked right out.  I’m not good about bugs and I’m not good about mice or rats or any other wild animals that might find their way into a house.  I ran from the bedroom to the living room and tried pretty unsuccessfully to collect myself.  As I sat there, I swear I saw the thing flying back and forth in my room…waiting to attack.  I found a long-sleeved shirt and a stocking cap and put them on.

In the end, after some feeble attempts to capture the bat, I decided that I didn’t have time to do anything about it because it would make me late for work.  So I ducked, sneaked in and grabbed some clothes from my room as quickly as I could, got dressed in the living room, and left.

When I got home from work that night, I could still feel the presence of the beast. I didn’t see her right away, but I knew she was still there.

I went to my couch and put on a long-sleeve shirt and stocking cap…they were still lying where they landed when I quickly changed clothes after that morning’s extraction attempts. I went to the cupboard and grabbed the only bat-catching weaponry I own…a colander and a Tupperware lid. Utensils in hand, I was ready to face the creature.

But I couldn’t find her. I kicked my bed and I once again heard the death-chirp. I ran back into the living room like a little girl. I collected my wits and went back in. I lifted bedding…eventually pulling it all off the bed, one piece at a time, trying to expose the creature. Nothing. I checked under the bed. Nothing. I retreated to the living room (this time I walked like a grown man might).

I grabbed a 4 foot-long dowel which I decided to use as a potential hiding-place poker. I re-entered the bedroom, poking at everything. The bed. The pile of clothes in the corner. The clothes in my closet. The bed again. The dresser. I banged on the wall. I used the stick to turn on lights. Nothing.

Was I making it all up? Did the beast exist? Did I imagine the death chirp when I first kicked my bed?

I called Alison. She’s a naturalist. At 4’11”, she’s a pint-sized naturalist, for sure. But surely a little naturalist would be better than having no naturalists at all on my bat-herding team. Plus, she lives right around the corner and could be on the scene in fairly short order. And really…if anyone was going to be acting like a little girl in this situation…I figured it might as well be a little girl.

To my surprise, Alison arrived with new weapons: a broom, two flashlights, and a fitted sheet.

She took the poking device and started poking. She poked the bed. Nothing. The pile of clothes in the corner. DEATH CHIRP! Oh. My. God. Now there were two people running around like little girls instead of one. My plan was falling apart before my terrified eyes.

But at least we knew where the bat was. It was in a pile of about a dozen folded t-shirts sitting on a nightstand in the corner of my room. Flashlights were useless…she was somewhere IN the pile not ON it. I was certain she was pooping in my Harley t-shirts and building a nest to raise her family of man-eating beasts.

After about five minutes of debate about who would act on behalf of the humans, I put on leather gloves and grabbed the fitted sheet. I decided that I would scoop up everything with the sheet and carry it outside. Alison stationed herself in the bedroom doorway…ready to “run like hell” on my orders. I set the sheet on the pile of clothes…silence. I started to tuck the sheet around the pile. DEATH CHIRP! DEATH CHIRP! “Oh my God oh my God…it’s in the sheet it’s in the sheet,” I croaked. I looked to the door to see a little cloud of dust and hairpins floating in the air where Alison had been standing. I continued to tuck, gently but as quickly as possible, until I had the whole chirping package wrapped up and ready to go.

“What’s going on in there?” Alison hollered from the porch.

“I got it I got it I got it,” I said, high-stepping through the apartment (which is thankfully very small) carrying the package like I might carry a very dirty diaper or nuclear waste, keeping it as still as possible while I high-stepped through the rooms. I got outside, kicked the chair which was propping the door open, and gingerly tossed the t-shirt/animal pile into the front yard.

The poking device then became a package-opening device. I flipped over the pile. Chirp chirp. I started flipping t-shirts over until I finally exposed her. She was tucked between a fender t-shirt and a shirt that read “chicks hate me.” “Appropriate,” I thought to myself.

There we stood, Alison and me circling this pile of shirts. I with a dowel and she with a broom…waiting for the bat to get up and go. I’m sure this animal was annoyed to say the least…her warm, safe hiding place had been moved, flipped, and exposed in daylight (which I don’t think bats like). A truck pulled up to the curb and a couple asked what was going on (we must have looked ridiculous).

“Oh, there’s a bat in that pile of clothes…it was in my house,” I said.
“Oh, we thought it was a snake or something.”
“No…that would make sense, though. It’s just a harmless bat and I’m a wimp.”
“Oh…ok…have a good day.”
“You too…thanks for stopping.”

As Alison and I were considering poking more to make her leave, she started to crawl around, leaving me more poop as a parting shot. (Note: if you’ve never seen a bat crawl around on your clothes…it’s pretty creepy. And then when you think about that bat creeping around on your bed while you’re sleeping…that’s really creepy. And then, if you think about it all enough, you’ll realize that you’ll probably never comfortably sleep in your new apartment again.) Eventually, she took off and flew into the tree across the street, where I assume she’s waiting to see me walking the streets at night so she can swoop down to make me scream like a little girl again…just like old times.

Closing time and the end of an era for OFB

OFB has hosted a Thursday Blues Jam in Kalamazoo for almost all 11 years of its existence. Hosting the jam has had many impacts on the band – some good, some bad. For instance, there are bars in Kalamazoo that wouldn’t book OFB because of the regular gig. On the other hand, it’s made us more fearless on stage, which can be a lot of fun.

The closing of The 411 Club is a big blow for the blues community. There are all sorts of sayings you’ve heard a million times about doors closing and opening, endings and new beginnings, and though I don’t like being trite, the end of this Thursday Blues Jam is a new beginning for OFB. It’s an opportunity to move on to other things as a band. Our decision to walk away from the privilege and responsibility of running a blues jam is a really big deal for us. A really big, bittersweet deal…

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With OFB, we rotate the job of running the jam between the five of us…and it is a job. And when it’s your turn, you feel it. There’s a responsibility to try to get everyone who’s signed up on stage. There’s the organizational challenge of making sure all the necessary pieces are up there (drums, bass, guitars, vocals, etc.). Beyond that, there’s the notion that the music should be listenable, so you have to pay attention to the experience levels of the players a little bit.

That’s already a lot to think about. Add to that the one guy who doesn’t want to get up with the other guy, and the one guy who brought his buddy and really wants to get up with him, and the singer who doesn’t play any instruments but wants to get up to sing a couple. Now realize that you either make these people happy and compromise the quality, or say (to yourself), “screw it,” and run the stage how you want and piss those people off.

How many people have gotten mad in the last six years and stormed out of the bar? They’ve been waiting too long. They don’t want to get up with people. They’re not happy at my reaction when they say, “I just want to get up and do a couple of solo tunes on this acoustic guitar,” when there are 20 people ahead of them on the list.

So sometimes it’s annoying to run the jam.

Being on stage with the other guys in OFB is, hands down, the most fun I have. Period. There’s nothing else like it. When we’re at our best, playing with OFB is like all the good parts of a roller coaster back to back to back. It’s new love, over and over again. It’s driving just a little too fast to be safe. It’s the Ickey Shuffle, the Super Bowl Shuffle and Tebowing all rolled into one. (Do you see how I took it one step too far there?) My point is…it’s exhilarating. And while it’s not fair to compare anything to that…I do.

So sometimes it’s not musically rewarding to host the jam.

But…

Being a part of the Thursday Blues Jam has made me a much better musician. In the beginning, at Wonderful’s, I learned what it’s like being on stage. I hadn’t been playing guitar very long when I went down there for the first time and I learned about being a working musician right away. More recently, the jam has made me a stronger leader on stage. It’s made me a much better front man and singer. It’s made me think a lot more about what happens when I’ve got a guitar in my hands.

And the jam is a huge service to the blues community. It’s a place where musicians meet bands who need musicians. It creates situations where everyone plays UP to the level of the best musician on the stage. (You see that a lot when Bobby Wilson is up there.) It creates situations where people working in our favorite bands can get up and play with each other in ways they wouldn’t at their own shows. And when all of those things are happening at their best, it can be quite a show for the crowd.

OFB has grown from twenty-somethings who didn’t know anything, to a group of guys who have been at it for so long we somehow gained a little bit of status in the blues community. (Just a little.) I think we’ve each had conversations with less experienced players, encouraging and giving advice on one aspect or another of what has happened on stage. It’s like mentoring, but with booze. And I can’t overstate how rewarding that part of my experience running the jam has been.

Walking away from the jam is going to be a sad thing. There are things I’m not going to miss, like on Friday, when I wake up for work and I don’t have any sort of hangover and I will probably have had more than five hours of sleep. That’s going to be amazing.

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The closing of the bar means I won’t have seen a bunch of people I like. That’s something I’ll miss for sure. I’ll miss laughing with Katey and Kelsey while they hunt for bottles of Makers Mark and Traverse City Whiskey to keep the band in good shape. I’ll miss laughing outside with the Barkers and Ralph and Tim Miller.

The closing of the bar and OFB walking away from the jam have become one event for me, but one didn’t cause the other. We’ve been at it for a long time and the bar closing has given us an opportunity to make this decision. It’s not the end of the band by any means…just the end of a chapter for the band. A long, long chapter. I’m glad OFB got the opportunity to host the jam for so long. It made us better. And I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Jobs, music and the journey

So there are two (or maybe three) times in my life when I remember being 100% satisfied with my work life.

The first was in Detroit when I was working as a web developer. Seems like a long time ago now. I think it was a combination of spending so much time in a part of Downtown Detroit that was pulsing with life. Greektown was right across Gratiot. Comerica Park was being built a few blocks in the other direction. It seemed vibrant. The lofts that held our offices were rustic/retro/techy. I don’t know…it was perfect. And the people I worked with had become real friends.

Flash forward ten years. Newly returned to Kalamazoo and I found myself working in a call center. (That wasn’t satisfying in any way other than being able to pay rent and buy food.) But I worked my way off of the phones and into a cubicle. (So far this doesn’t sound great, does it?) But I got to get back to working on a website and back to my English major roots as an editor. Again, I really enjoyed the work and became friends with my colleagues.

(Note: It is only with the perspective that time offers that I can say I was satisfied by this job. At the time, I felt suffocated by the corporate-ness of it, drowning in beige cubicle walls, blinded by the fluorescence of the office building.)

There was a job in between, when I lived in Chicago, that I really can almost put in this category. I worked at a cigar store in Old Town Chicago. The woman I worked for was (and still is) an eccentric artist. A bulldog of a woman, demanding respect in her little corner of Chicago. The guys who worked at the shop were (and still are) quirky and awkward, but all incredibly patient and mostly kind. I miss those guys. I miss standing around smoking cigars at work. I miss trying to talk pretty girls out for a Friday night into trying expensive French cigarettes. I miss the sweet, humid smell of cedar and raw tobacco on my clothes when I get home.

(Note: It is only with the perspective that time offers that I can say I enjoyed this job. At the time, I felt like I was wasting my time, wasting my talents, wasting myself. I wanted something more and I let that make me miserable.)

The constant through all of this has been music. In Detroit, I got my first paying gig as sideman to a French Canadian bluesman living in the northern suburbs. More importantly, I was in my first real band. A new-country sort of band with Scott Daily. He’s now playing with (and married to) Carolyn Striho, who’s been busy earning Detroit Music Awards nominations.

In Chicago,  I was in a kick-ass rock band with Sherrie Adams. Sherrie is fierce. She will kick your ass. I thought she was just a hot chick with a killer voice until I worked with her in the studio and I realized that was probably as close as I would ever get to a real professional vocalist. She’s out in LA now, making her way…

I started writing this today as a response to an email from an old friend. But it’s made me realize (once again) how lucky I am to be where I am. I often think about how all the paths tangle their way to here. A failed marriage, a career in the dot-com industry just as that bubble burst, professional flailings in Chicago. That all really sucked an awful lot. But there was also reel-to-reel recording in Scott’s basement. Learning Foo Fighters and STP songs and playing them really loud in Chicagoland. I’ve met and played with living blues legends here in Kalamazoo. So much good.

And it all led me here. The people and events of the past brought me here. They brought me home to Kalamazoo. They led me to meet my wife and start this incredible family. They brought me to this band that I love, meeting legends, writing and recording music we love. It’s so good.

I miss my friends in Detroit and Chicago. I hope they’re well. Who knows where I’d be without them.

Just got to make it to Thursday

I know some people who don’t have anything outside of work and home. “Hobby” is too light a word, but that’s close to what I mean. “Passion” is closer. They don’t have an outlet. They don’t have any way to touch their own soul and set it free for a while.

And I don’t know how these people do it. How do they make it through a week or a month without…something.

18 years ago, I was still a very young man. I had only been playing guitar for a few years. I had no idea what it was to “play out” and I really had no business trying to do so. But I saw an ad somewhere for a place called Mr. Wonderful’s that had a blues jam on Thursdays. So I called and asked the scruff sounding man who answered about how it worked. “I’m not in a band or anything. Can I still come play?”

Jesus, I was young.

But I went. I stepped to the front of the room and played three songs with the Crossroads Blues Band. There were only about four people in the bar, but it was my first taste of playing for strangers and, for me, it was all about what was happening on stage. It was amazing. I had been happy to noodle in my apartment or play with friends, but to be on a stage and have people paying attention…that was life-changing.

And that was the beginning of my addiction. I would spend all week waiting for Thursday just so I could play my three or four songs with the band. Friday and Saturday were easy to get through. But after the weekend was over, I started to look ahead.

And I still do today. If Monday is a drag, I know that Thursday’s just a couple of days away. I know that if I can make it to Thursday morning at work, that it’s all downhill from there. Even if I only get to play that first set with the band…it’s enough to get me through the week.

So this blog has been about performing as a coping mechanism. I’m going to try to figure out how to write about performing and spiritual health without sounding like a new-age blues hippie. I don’t know if it can be done. Stay tuned…

Ten years and counting

So we’re right around the actual ten year anniversary of the first REAL OFB show.

Out of Favor Boys played several shows over the summer of 2003. It was really Danny, Tony and me with various players in the rhythm section. We played with some really great players that summer. And I remember being very excited about it at the time.

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Danny strolling in front of the Old Daisy theatre in Memphis, TN circa 2004

But it wasn’t until the fall that we got serious. We auditioned a couple of drummers, having very little luck. We ran into John Ford one night at Francois’. Danny knew him from his student teaching days at Loy Norrix. He pointed us to Kevin Dorcy for drums.

So we played a gig with Kevin and Greg Orr (yes…that Greg Orr) at Francois’. And it was great, but we all knew that Greg was a temporary solution. (If I recall, he was in seven other bands at that time.)

Kevin introduced us to Timmy Brouhard. And really…the rest of 2003 is really a whirlwind. We played Francois’ and Wonderful’s a bunch. We won the KVBA contest and the right to represent Kalamazoo in Memphis.

The rest, as they say, is history.

After we finished our second studio CD, John moved on to other endeavors and Kevin moved to Chicago. Mike Porter joined the band.

When Mike couldn’t make Thursdays work for hosting the Thursday Blues Jam, we got Tim Miller to help us out.

And over the years, many people have filled in for various Out of Favor Boys for one reason or another. We’ve been very fortunate to have guys like Pete Galanis, John Hill, Alex Mays, Johnie Gayden, Coach Ronnie Parker, Dave Cleveland, Dave Allemang and many more be at least a little bit out of favor with us.

It’s been a great first ten years. I wonder what the next ten have in store. I hope to see you at our anniversary party on Nov. 16.

Movember is coming! Movember is coming!

If you’ve watched any professional football this October, you certainly know that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pink is all over the place. Towels and referees and goalies, oh my. I’m watching the Red Wings right now and the goalie mask and pads are mostly pink.

I think it’s great that people (burly men, nonetheless) can come together to show their support of such an important cause. In the last few years, breast cancer awareness must have increased many times over.

I think one reason the movement has been successful because…well…everyone loves breasts. I mean…breasts are great. But what do men’s health issues have going for them?

Consider the lowly prostate gland. Nobody ever said, “wow that is a great looking prostate.” Most people wouldn’t even know where to look for it and fewer care to. And don’t get me started on the testicle. Utilitarian and necessary, maybe, but there’s nothing beautiful about it.

My point is…men’s health needs all the help they can get.

Our rather handsome Movember team from 2012

Movember (the month formerly known as November) is dedicated to raising awareness of men’s health issues…specifically testicular cancer and prostate cancer. (For 2013, they’ve added a “mental health” aspect as well.) And where breast cancer has pink ribbons, Movember has…incredible moustaches. All month long, Mo-bros tend to their upper lips in the name of men’s health.

This year, I’m inviting the extended OFB family to join the cause. If you’d like to be a part of it, here’s all you have to do.

  1. Create a profile at movember.com
  2. Join the Kzoo Blues team
  3. Shave on Nov. 1
  4. Tend to your upper lip all month long

Really that’s it. As far as I can tell, if you post pictures of your moustache (whether it’s awesome or thin and laughable) on your Facebook page and then link to your Movember page so people can donate…they will. Ladies (or Mo-sistas) can join the team, too. Since the whole thing is about awareness and Facebook reaches more people than any single moustaches…you get my point. I mean, grow a lady-stache if you want…it’s your lip.

If you are uncomfortable with the idea of crafting a cookie duster for a whole month, I hope you’ll at least consider donating to the team. The cause is a good one.