Thursday, April 7, 2016

I never end up taking a screenshot of that Craigslist ad that led me to Tom, but I still have the e-mail I sent to him…

…which is apparently enough to get me an invitation to audition. And that’s how I come to descend into Roscoe’s Basement.

Which is not only the name of the band, but an actual place. Technically, it’s Tom and Deanna’s basement; Roscoe is their dog, an elderly and adorable spaniel who greets me at the door as if I were a long-lost friend. I take this as a good omen.

Roscoe’s Basement, Tom tells me, have been together about six months, and have already played a few gigs with their recently departed singer. I’m not 100% clear on what happened to him, but in any case, it’s a ready-made situation.

(I initially assume, all other things being equal, that the singer quit to devote more time to his other band — but eventually the truth comes out; the singer had in fact never sung with a band before, and fronting a rock combo was a sort of bucket-list thing for him. Having tried it, he simply decided he didn’t like it. Different strokes, I guess.)

Names and faces come too quickly to process. The guitarists — one lanky and ponytailed, the other baby-faced and compact — are Mike and Chuck, respectively, although I immediately mix up Chuck’s name with Craig, the bass player, a beanpole with a sandy tache. Tom’s on drums; Deanna sings backup and runs the board. The ages of the assembly, at a guess, span a decade on either side of mine. We are what we are. I sidle up to a borrowed microphone; there’s a music stand and a binder with pages of printed lyrics. They’re prepared. Punk rawk. Let’s go.

There’s nobody booked after me, nobody breathing down my neck. We have all the time in the world. First we do the ones I know. ”Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” ”Summertime Blues,” ”She Sells Sanctuary,” ”Sunshine of Your Love,” ”Roadhouse Blues.” Then we start in the ones I only kind of know: ”Blitzkrieg Bop,” ”Here Comes Your Man,” ”We Gotta Get Out Of This Place.”

And we have a blast. The band is raw and energetic, tight but ramshackle in the best possible way, and — most importantly — game for anything. They have a flexibility of sound and genre that suits me down to the ground. Mike and Chuck (or is it Craig?) have the contrasting tones and approaches you need for a really lively guitar team. Tom can play rock-solid or go batshit all over the kit, as needed — and he knows when either is needed. Craig (or is it Chuck? No, definitely Craig, I think) has a loose, swinging feel, and he sings, too; with him and Deanna, we have a prospect of three-part harmonies.

And so it goes. We talk some, but mostly we play. I have nothing to gain by being shy, I decide, and for once there’s plenty of floor space; so rather than cling to mic stand, I spread out — strike a few power stances, lurch around a little. (I’m not a dancer by any means, but I can lurch with the best of them.)

A floor recording of “Summertime Blues,” from an early rehearsal.

There are no blinding revelations here. It just feels right. My pipes hold up, the bandmates are all skilled and knowledgeable, and, y’know, I like them. I don’t get to know any of them very well on that first night — but I can tell that I’d like to, at least. It’s a start.

And — crucially, for me — I wouldn’t just be a hired gun here. They’re ready to gig, and have a strong catalog of songs, but the repertoire is still a work in progress — and my taste could help to shape it.

Plus they’re open to original material. Both Chuck and Craig — never mind which is which, it doesn’t matter now — have written songs for the band. I like the idea of being one songwriter among several. It gives me the encouragement I need to write, but at the same time it keeps the pressure manageable; the band will not stand or fall entirely on my efforts.

Because that’s my secret: I’m ambitious to a degree, but I don’t really want to be the boss. I enjoy the give-and-take of honest artistic collaboration — as long as everyone’s a grown-up about it, and we’ve all got clear expectations.

I’m thinking about all these things as we wrap up the evening. I say goodnight to everyone (calling Craig by the wrong name, after all — oops), skritch Roscoe behind the ears for a while, then go home and think some more.

On the following Tuesday — April 12 — Tom e-mails me to let me know I’m in.

We rehearse, first time for real, on the 14th. I’m overjoyed, and frazzled, and scared, and I make a big speech about how excited I am to be on board, and how every good band needs a focus, and we need to shape our set list to express who we are with a single identity and not try to be all things to all people, and by the time I’m through I’m sure they all think I’m the biggest pompous flaming shithead on God’s green Earth; but if they do, they don’t fire me straightaway, so it’s all good. We will reconvene in a week.

That weekend, I travel with my wife and son to Massachusetts. We stay in a haunted hotel, and I write a song about it.

Home demo for “Down By the Wayside,” inspired by events during a long weekend spent at the 300-year-old Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. All instruments and voices by Jack Feerick.

Maybe I’ll give it to the band, maybe not. I’ll have to record it first…

Next month: Mixing Up the Medicine

About the Author

Jack Feerick

Critic at Large

Jack Feerick — editor, proofreader, freelance know-it-all, and three-time Jeopardy! champion — lives with his family somewhere in upstate New York, where he plays in a rock 'n' roll band and occasionally runs his mouth on local radio. You can listen to more of his work on Soundcloud, if you like.

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