Sunday, February 27, 2011

It's Been 14 Years of Silence...

To say I was surprised when I received an email from my cousin showing me photos of his remodeled drum kit would be an understatement. Anyone who knows how the last 10 years have been would understand why. Jimmy and I were best friends growing up. Our families spent a lot of time together, and when we both showed an interest in music it was only logical that we would form a band together. But life happens and there was a major falling out between us right before my wedding. Since then, we only kept in touch sparingly. It is something that has caused a lot of heartbreak for me over the last 10 years, so when I got the email I couldn't help but smile and reflect on all the fun we had back in the day.

I first learned how to play guitar when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My dad bought an acoustic and tried to teach us all how to play. I took to it more so than my brother and sister, but even I gave up for a few years. About the time I turned 12 or 13 I decided to pick it back up. I retaught myself the chords I knew and started writing silly little songs.

In ninth grade at a school dance I ran into Matt Graunke. Matt and I got to talking, because neither of us was dancing, and Matt told me he also played guitar. It was a little fib, but at least he had a guitar. He had this old pile of crap Harmony guitar that hurt the hell out of your fingers when you tried to play it. Even so Matt showed great drive in wanting to learn how to play, so I started teaching him the basics. Shortly after picking up the basic chords and learning to change them quickly, Matt's mom asked if my dad and I would go with them to look at guitars for Matt. We piled in our van and headed for Guitar Center, and that night Matt went home with a brand new guitar and a promise that he would stick with it. Boy did he ever... In a matter of weeks Matt had not only learned how to play guitar, but he had surpassed me in knowledge of how to play. There was no doubt that if we formed a band, Matt was the lead guy. And that was cool with me because I never bothered to learn scales and stuff like that.

Matt and I started jamming with another guy from school named James Braith. James decided he wanted to play too and he and I went out to Minnetonka music one day to buy a bass guitar. James picked out a hot pink BC Rich bass that day and a small crate amp (which I still have to this day). James was a natural and quickly picked up the instrument. We found a guy at school who played drums named Justin, but he was unable to commit to playing on a schedule that we wanted. I had mentioned that my cousin was a drummer and just needed a drum set. Once again my dad and I piled into the van with my aunt Pattie and cousin Jimmy and this time headed to a small outfit in Minneapolis called B-Sharp Music. We found a kit there for a reasonable price and made the purchase. We had our band, or at least the musicians for it. James Braith on bass, Jimmy Armstrong on drums, and Matt Graunke and myself on guitars.

As would be the case throughout the years in our garage band, we didn't have a singer. That meant I did the honors, since I could play and sing at the same time. Having me singing was not ideal at all, but we had no other options. That was until I ran into James Smola at school in 1994. James was a senior and I was a sophomore, but we were introduced by a friend when I was told he liked to play guitar. James and I started hanging out and playing together. He could also sing pretty well, so we invited him into the band as a third guitar/singer. James jammed with us for about a year, but there was a bit of a falling out when the band got mad that James and I would write acoustic stuff instead of the metal stuff we liked to play as a band. It was silly really, but we were kids. James was "out" of the band, but he and I continued to play on the side because we had similar musical interests and just had a good time jamming. James Smola was replaced in 1996 by Dan Matter and Matt was eventually replaced by James Braith on guitar and Nate Wick joined on bass. Matt had moved on and was playing in a local metal band doing shows and recording demos. It was pretty cool, but I have to admit that I just enjoyed jamming in the barn and wasn't sure about doing shows. Anyway, the band itself lasted until about January of 1997 when we recorded the song Rage. After that we all went our separate ways. Jimmy and I continued jamming together as time permitted, but I was in college now and it was too much to haul all the gear back and forth. By 1997 we were no longer playing together at all.

Each of us took different journeys, but we all still shared a passion for music. Matt Graunke has been a mainstay in local bands around the Buffalo area in MN. He plays with Menace often as well as a few other bands from time to time. James Smola went on to form a band with Minnesota veteran singer Debra G called Copasetic. They put out an EP and a full length CD and played many shows in the Minneapolis music scene. Jimmy and I went on to have families and just played music on our own time.

Here we are 14 years later. I received an email stating that Matt was going to come out and play with Jimmmy for fun, asking if I would like to join. I didn't even have to think about it because the answer was hell yes! A couple of days later I received an email that James Smola was going to come and play as well. It was a partial reunion of the old band. I was nervous because I hadn't played most of the songs we did as a band in years. I have been playing more acoustic stuff these days and focusing on writing songs. Matt and I came up with a list of songs to brush up on, so I focused on those.

So along came Thursday, February 24 and I went home to pack up my gear for the jam. I was pretty pumped and way over packed my car. I brought four guitars, my amp, my mic and stand, cables and my HD video camera. I arrived at about 5:15pm and was greeted by my cousin with a hug. Years of pain melted away at that very instant. It felt great, it felt natural, it felt like old times. We set up my gear and James Smola soon arrived. Matt was going to be another hour or so, so the three of us busted out some old school Poison, Guns and a few other bits. We talked, had a beer, and just basked in the moment. Matt arrived just before 7pm and we unloaded his car and set up his gear and PA. We had a set list in our heads, but funny thing is that when we started playing it was whatever came to mind instead. We played for three hours, jamming, talking, reminiscing. I felt like a kid again, mentally anyway.

At about 10:15pm it was time for me to head out. I had the most enjoyable night musically that I have had in years. We left with hugs and a promise to do it again soon. I look forward to the next jam and hope that James Braith will be able to join us again too. It would be nice to have the full band from 1994 together again. Until then, here is a video I put together to commemorate the evening.

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