By Bob Burnham
There was a short period of time when I was in four bands at the same time. I was not particularly happy, nor was I unhappy either. None of the bands, however, seemed to be “going anywhere” and I was not sure if I was the reason for that or not. I didn’t think so.
But only the strongest survive as far as bands. This is the story of one band (my most recent and current one), that somehow fit in with the rest of my professional life in broadcasting.
I was encouraged to sit in with TRI-COUNTY BLUES (which I’ll call TCB for short) at the suggestion of a mutual friend. I was reluctant to do so, but the forces in place were determined to persuade me to at least give TCB “a shot” in my life.
Everything I’ve ever done in broadcasting and radio always led to something better at least in some ways, and this is also the case with local bands I’ve been in. Maybe TCB was another one of “those.” Nothing happens overnight, though.
In music, I started out at about 12 years of age being the sideman with my Dad at many family gatherings. For a while I played drums, but most of the time I was a teenage rhythm guitar player. My sense of rhythm was developed at an early age. In fact, one of my guitar teachers was fanatic about timing and even had me practicing to a metronome. It paid off.
In 7th grade, I enrolled in Intermediate Band (skipping the beginning band class altogether). Nobody seemed to notice and the fact that I could read simple charts meant I was the only drummer who could play bells and chimes or even tunable tympani and also hit the right notes!
This was where I first met Shawn Whiting. At times we shared snare drum duties, but usually I played bass drum (and he on snare) in the school bands and there were other guys in the rhythm section. This applied when I wasn’t playing something that required hitting not only the right beat, but the right notes.
I had soon recruited a sax player (his name was Scott Boyer) and Shawn to put together a “jam” band. Of course, we went nowhere and the only song Scott was any good at was “Born Free,” but Shawn and I continued “jamming” for a while. Another friend, John ZeBranek, a trumpet player, had mastered most of the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass catalog and we were doing tunes like “The Lonely Bull.”
We wanted to do something a little “heavier” though! Shawn’s older brother Craig, introduced me to his “Cry Baby” guitar pedal. I owned the ATCO 45 rpm record of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” This at least got me into the mindset beyond playing what was merely “convenient” for other people to play. It was also beyond my Dad’s collection of Mitch Miller music books and songs he’d played during the Korean War. Shawn and I did a cover version of The Frost’s “Rock & Roll Music” which Shawn sang. That’s all I remember. Fortunately for us, no recordings were made or pictures taken to my knowledge.
Many years and many people and great bands later, I would not have believed Shawn (now Dr. Whiting!) would resurface as one of the premiere drummers of TCB, and one of its “brother” bands which he started and named WHEREZ MY LIMO!?
A SIDE NOTE: Somehow, during the mid 1980s, I picked up a bass guitar and never put it down.
FLASH FORWARD TO A FEW YEARS AGO: The first couple practices I sat in with TCB there was no drummer, but somehow the “package” of Tom, Kelly and Doug impressed me. I didn’t think individually there was yet anything spectacular, but I could sense collectively the band was on the verge of making that elusive “magic.” The haunting TCB version of “Gold Dust Woman” sent shivers down my spine. I decided I wanted in, and luckily, I seemed to be able to fit and add to what they were doing. I stayed in the band, and they didn’t kick me out!
A few weeks later, I was at a WHEREZ MY LIMO practice and Mr. Scola (Tom) called to discuss the elusive drummer problem. Shawn was sitting behind one of his kits a few feet from me and with Tom on phone, asked directly if Shawn’d be interested in sitting in with TCB. He did.
TCB actually has a few drummers that are alternated based on availability. They are all different, but I have found ways to lock in with each and help form the backbone of the TCB “sound.” I make no secret of the fact I love Jim Crichton’s style, and Craig Trunoske is mega-talented as well, but there are no “bad” drummers used by TCB. In fact, Shawn was “on fire” at our most recent gig.
Everyone in the band in fact – myself included – has grown in musicianship. Our versions of songs evolve slightly with each show within the structure of the arrangement, style, etc.
My prior years of working with other players and singers had paid off. This was just like my years of staying up all night being an album rock jock on Southfield’s WSHJ-FM. Then waking up the next day for my “daytime” job on Ann Arbor radio.
Of course, anyone appreciates being complimented after a show, or listening to an aircheck that is 30-something years old that I may only consider “average.”
They get a simple “thanks” with a simple answer:
Broadcasting and Music: “It’s what I do and I’ve been doing it a long long time.”
(So I’d better NOT suck too badly, or I’ve wasted a lot of time!)
And the best “pay” is coming to a show and watching the crowd become absorbed in what we’re doing.
- Bob Burnham