Coming Full Circle in Three Chords

By BOB WIRE

“Can we play Louie Louie? You bet your ass we can play Louie Louie!” I never thought I would utter that phrase from the bandstand. Okay, I might have said it a few times in 1984 when I was playing with my first band, Rotten Tuna. We only knew eight songs, and they all sounded like Louie Louie.

But this time it was different. In the thirty years I’ve been playing in bands, I’ve taken a route that’s pretty familiar to most working musicians.

You start out with the easy, three-chord stuff that people will recognize even if you royally screw it up. Or you’re so drunk on free draft beer that you think the strap button on your guitar is the volume knob.

Then you actually learn how to play your instrument, start practicing, and you pick up some more sophisticated cover tunes. If rock and roll’s your stock in trade, you start playing a set of pretty standard covers by the Eagles, Aerosmith, the Stones, and other bands that kept Peru in business throughout the 70s.

Then you fatten your set list with some 80s songs, trying show your versatility and make people forget that you don’t have a keyboard.

You find a girl who plays keyboards. Suddenly the band is getting more gigs. You take on material that requires massive amounts of arranging and practicing because you finally understand that you’re not supposed to play the guitar nonstop throughout every song.

Then the keyboard player sleeps with the drummer/bass player/sound guy, and the band implodes on the eve of your “biggest show ever.”

BobandChip

Okay, boys, this one’s in the key of A. You know what, they’re all in the key ofA!

You become a journeyman, drifting between a series of shitty cover bands who all play exactly the same 45 songs. While practicing your guitar scales, you start to write your own stuff.

One day you persuade the cover band to sneak a couple of your originals into the set. Probably because you brought the beer three practices in a row.

Your writing improves. It starts to move away from minor key drama-fests about how you should have made a move on that chick keyboard player. You bring a few more original songs to the table. The band soon realizes they enjoy playing original songs more than Wagon Wheel and Brown Eyed Girl.

You quit your band, and hook up with different players, ones who won’t argue with you. You name the band after yourself, usually your full name followed by the word Project. Or Experience. You start playing bigger clubs, and you eventually have enough original material to fill the night. You still play a few covers, but they are extremely obscure because you’re way too cool to play anything familiar.

At some point it all catches up with you, and you want to step off the treadmill for a while. That’s where I was.

I’d pulled the plug on my own band a few years ago, and put my performance career on ice. The burden of teaching my songs to new people, playing my stuff to indifferent crowds who would rather hear pop country drivel, dealing with skinflint bar owners who display all the musical taste of a roadkill armadillo; it just wasn’t worth it.

But then the phone rang a couple of months ago. Guy was having a big Halloween party, and wondered if I still had a band. I was just starting to get itchy for the stage, so I called my buddy Chip. He suggested we put together a band, and play nothing but rock and roll party hits. Jerry Lee. Elvis. Tom Petty. And yes, Louie Louie.

We crafted a list of about 50 party-rock favorites, with absolutely no musical snobbery or apology. With only one practice under our belt, we turned up our amps at the party and launched into a sweaty, beer-soaked night of gut-bucket rock. The dance floor was packed all night, and people sang along with most of the songs. Which was a good thing, because I spaced off the words half the time.

And I had more fun playing music than I’ve had in years. The partiers were going strong, and wouldn’t let us leave. That’s every musician’s dream. We had to quit some time, though, so Chip and I ripped into the opening chords of Wild Thing and the place blew up. Chip swiveled like a snake-hipped Elvis, and I flung my sweaty head around, chainsawing my guitar like I wanted to kill it. The bassist and drummer were slamming like a diesel locomotive, and we hit some kind of rock and roll nirvana.

It might sound corny unless you’ve been there—the band and the crowd surfed on the same wave of energy, all of us reaching into our very DNA to sing a song we’ve been listening to for 40 years.

I’d come full circle, playing a bunch of three-chord crowd-pleasers I’d started with in Rotten Tuna way back in Reagan’s first term. When a band plays the same songs every weekend, they get bored. But this was such a blast, revisiting this old bonehead rock with all the gusto and glory I could muster. Chip, my musical soul mate, was right there, chord for chord, surfing on the same wave. We had more fun than anyone in the room that night.

What can I tell you? To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, I’m a prisoner of rock and roll.

   Check out all of Bob Wire’s posts in his blogarchive.

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Have an off-white Christmas with Bob Wire.Think of it as Gonzo meets Hee Haw: Missoula honky tonker Bob Wire holds forth on a unique life filled with music, parenthood, drinking, sports, working, marriage, drinking, and just navigating the twisted wreckage of American culture. Plus occasional grooming tips. Like the best humor, it’s not for everyone. Sometimes silly, sometimes surreal, sometimes savage, Bob Wire demands that you possess a good sense of humor and an openmind.

Bob Wire has written more than 500 humor columns for a regional website over the last five years, and his writing has appeared in the Missoulian, the Missoula Independent, Montana Magazine, and his own Bob Wire Has a Point Blog. He is a prolific songwriter, and has recorded three CDs of original material with his Montana band, the Magnificent Bastards. His previous band, the Fencemenders, was a popular fixture at area clubs. They were voted Best Local Band twice by the Missoula Independent readers poll. Bob was voted the Trail 103.3/Missoulian Entertainer of the Year in 2007.

You can hear his music on his website, or download it at iTunes, Amazon, and other online music providers. Follow @Bob_Wire on Twitter.

 

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