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.

dannydaisy

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.

This week in OFB history

Usually, when I write a “this week in OFB history” thing in an email, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of a gig we played back in 2004 or something. But this week, something really cool happened in OFB history.

This week in 1973, a child was born. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a…crib. He was a baby and that’s where you put them…even way back in the 70s.

He grew up right around the corner from a gazebo where Bob Seger allegedly got married one time. One of his high school jobs was working security at Detroit Tiger Stadium and we’re proud to say that no Detroit Tigers or radio personalities were ever harmed during his tenure. One of his hobbies in high school was dressing up as superhero-turned-high-school-mascot, Mariner Man

In college, he once sneaked a case of Molson Canadian bottles into his dorm room in a classical guitar case. (Did you know that a case of beer bottles is too much weight for a classical guitar case? You have to sort of hug the case and carry it like a three year old child…which is not how most people carry a guitar case that has a handle.) He also sneaked a Bud Light party ball into his dorm room in an old hockey bag. (Did you know that when a party ball is in your hockey bag, you don’t so much “carry” it as “lug” it with both hands? Subtlety has never been a strong suit.)*

Like a modern day Johnny Appleseed, when he was a young man he planted trees throughout the I-94 corridor with Ragnon the Viking Warrior.

He used to drive across the state to play a mid-week gig with his band and then drive back across the state in the middle of the night to make it to his day job. He was a member of the Crossroads Blues band. He co-founded Six Ways South and The Union before co-founding Out of Favor Boys.

He’s crashed half of the convertibles he’s owned and managed to walk away. He was an outlaw biker on a bike that should have been outlawed. He’s lucky to be alive. And we’re very happy he’s made it this far.

May 29 is Danny Ouellette’s 40th birthday. Go find him and give him a hug.

* Out of Favor Boys does not recommend drinking Molson Canadian and Bud Light in your dorm rooms. Don’t be like us. Be better than us.

Give me Gumbo or give me… more Gumbo

Gumbo. It’s way more than vegetable soup. Although I’m no historian, I believe it’s actually an inalienable right discussed in the Declaration of Independence. Regardless, it’s a way of life to some and this coming weekend, we all benefit from its existence. It’s time for the Ministry with Community Gumbo Cookoff.

OFB is usually asked to play at a couple of benefits every year. We love non-profit groups. (In fact, we haven’t turned a profit in 10 years as a band.) We generally respect the work that groups like MwC are doing in Kalamazoo so we’re happy to help if we can. Out of Favor Boys has proudly played at all 7 of the previous Gumbo Cookoffs and we’re thrilled to be a part of this one.

It’s going to be a little different this year. It all started at Louie’s, of course. But the event quickly outgrew that venue. They brought in tents to try to make it work, but the last couple of years have just been so very crowded that I think it started to turn people off a little. So…something had to change.

So this year, it’s at a new venue. It’s at The Wild Bull and Monaco Bay in the middle of Downtown Kalamazoo. This is good for the event because it’s a bigger space and so it should be able to accommodate even more people. Selfishly, I’m happy about it because we’ll be inside instead of in a heated tent (which is never as heated at the end of the night as it is during the afternoon) and we’ll be on a stage instead of on cold, wet pavement AND we won’t have to haul or set up our own PA system. (It’s a WIN-WIN-WIN situation as far as I’m concerned.)

Anyway. The event starts at noon and we play from 4 to 7 p.m. Come on down and support a group that does a lot of good for a lot of people who don’t have too many options. Your support on Sunday means a lot.

For more information. www.gotokra.com

Busy February for the OFBs

Looks like we’re in the middle of a couple of busy weeks here at OFB Headquarters.

Last weekend, we were in the studio wrapping up tracks on one of Danny’s songs for the new CD. We had Guillermo Martinez from Los Bandits there on accordion. I played a few guitar lines on a classical guitar. Tony laid down some ridiculous backporch country blues vocals. It was really a great, productive afternoon.

This weekend, we’re looking at at a Brews and Blues type party out at Timber Ridge. Nothing says “I got the blues” like falling down on skis a million times, so I’m really looking forward to that. We played there a couple years ago and had a blast, so we’re really looking forward to Saturday (Feb. 16).

Then next weekend, we’re at The 411 Club on Friday night. We’ll be there when everything wraps up at The State Theatre show featuring Tab Benoit and the Bryan Michael Fischer Band. Sometimes Tab comes down after he plays the State so that would be fun. But…of course…no promises. But either way, that night promises to be a lot of fun for us.

And of course, coming up in March is the 8th Annual Gumbo Cookoff for Ministry with Community. It got too big for Louie’s, so it’s moved to a new location this year. It’s at the Wild Bull right in the middle of Downtown Kalamazoo. OFB will be set up in Monaco Bay, actually. But it’s all connected and it’s going to be a great time. The last few years, it’s been very cold and wet when we finished things up, so it will be nice to be in a real, heated building all day long this year. Make sure you plan to come out that day to support a really great cause.

Before the Bird

Well…tomorrow’s the big day, really. It’s my favorite holiday of the year. Birthday, Christmas, St. Patty’s Day…they all pale in comparison. It’s a day of family and food and football and almost any other f-words you can think of.

And if tomorrow’s the big day, then today is the big night. The alleged “Biggest Bar Night of the Year.”  That should mean a good crowd at the Before the Bird Blues Jam tonight.

Many years, the pre-Thanksgiving jam winds up being a sort of reunion for Kalamazoo’s finest. We usually see some long-lost friends who just can’t make it for one reason or another most weeks. Players from other bands in and around Kalamazoo. And of course the usual suspects. All sorts of players. It’s like a cornucopia of musicians. At least, I hope that’s how it is tonight.

Spending Thursday with my family will be a big part of what makes Thanksgiving my favorite. But spending Wednesday night with my friends is also a big part of what makes it so great.

Oh…and the food. I absolutely love the food…

Don’t let this happen to you this Thanksgiving

Mid-Movember OFB Update

So I don’t usually like to get emotional or persuasive in this space. It’s really a place to check out music, pictures and see where OFB is going to be. But…it’s Movember.

Last year, I grew a mustache for Movember mostly so I could grow a mustache. Sometime in mid-October, my mom had just gotten her breast cancer diagnosis and maybe that had a little to do with it. But I was really just watching a Red Wings game and heard about this Movember thing and decided to give it a try.

Then I realized…I’m 39 years old. At age 40, we’re supposed to start getting things checked out on a regular basis. And by “checked out,” I mean exactly what you think I mean. It’s uncomfortable and a little bit funny and nobody likes it. But it’s one of those things that comes with age, like achy mornings and early nights.

I saw a statistic this week that shocked me. The number of men diagnosed with prostate cancer is greater than the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer. I believe that prostate cancer is generally more survivable than breast cancer, but the number shocked me nonetheless. No matter how you look at it, a lot of men and women get that bad news every year.

Movember proceeds to to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and to LiveSTRONG. So part goes to research, which is great. But the part that I like is the part that goes to help survivors. Cancer survivors and their families need all the support they can get so I’m proud to support a group like LiveSTRONG that serves that community.

Please go check out Team OFB’s MoSpace page. Donate if you can. If you can’t…encourage the men (of a certain age) in your life to get checked. And after they get checked…give them a hug. They’ll need one.

Wednesday Night Lights

There’s an awful lot of excitement about tonight. The oddsmakers are hard at work figuring out who’s likely to win…who’s likely to lose. I’m sure that people are already pouring in to the place, taking their seats, taking in the sights and sounds. 8 o’clock…8 o’clock…just can’t wait until 8 o’clock.

And of course there are questions. How will they play? Will they be well-rested…or will they be more rusted? It’s been almost a week since they’ve played. Who’s going to be in the starting lineup? And what about the distractions of playing on such a big stage? Will they be distracted (like A-Rod) by random girls on the sidelines?

The whole situation reminds me of something a baseball coach I know once said. He said, “let’s get another drink and get up there and play some funky blues.”

That coach was Coach Danny Ouellette. And he was talking to the Out of Favor Boys. And I’m sure he’ll say it again tonight as OFB takes the stage at 8 p.m. at Gun Lake Casino.

Well that’s what I’ve been talking about this whole time. What did you think I was talking about?

 

 

 

Go Tigers!

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