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Progressive Travels

The haphazard chronicles of a professional musician and his relentless pursuit of an otherwise boring life.

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Location: St. Jacob, Illinois, United States

If it ain't Baroque, fix it!

10 June 2007

Catching Up

10 June 2007
I suppose it would be prudent to start off with an apology regarding the recent incredible lapse in my weekly blog. This seems to be more the norm than not lately. So…sorry about that.

Naturally, way too much has happened in the elapsed time since March to recount it all here in detail now…which is a shame, really, because there were some infinitely entertaining stories that occurred along the way. I’ll just give a general recap and move onward, though, rather than feebly attempt to remember them all and not give them their due justice.

I played my last gig with BenWahBob on 09 March 2007 at the “Budweiser Party at the Park” at Fairmount Park in Collinsville, IL. We didn’t get all teary about it or anything…we just played the gig and moved on our separate ways. BWB has been through a lot of musicians in their nearly 15 years in the STL club scene. This was not a new situation for them. They are working professionals, and as such continued on their journey. If you have not yet seen them with their new bass player Chris Ashley, shame on you. While they are still pretty much the same band as always, a new member always brings with him a new dynamic to any band. Chris is much more active on-stage than I have been in many years (read: “not boring”). If you have the opportunity, you really should see them live.

Next, of course, was the situation with the incredible Ted May and Just Mr. As was recounted in the previous blog (yeah…three months ago…I know), Ted had to endure some medical procedures to repair some heart deficiencies. As it turned out, it was a bit worse than they had initially imagined. He ended up getting two valves replaced, one repaired, and a double bypass. A couple of weeks later, he required a pace maker as well. Ted, of course, took it all in stride. This was his third brush with mortality, and he’s starting to get good at it.

So, while he was out on his little cardiac “vacation”, the band for which he plays bass – Just Mr. – was in need of a replacement bass player. That turned out to be me. The timing of it all also seemed to work out quite well, as the first gigs with them came the weekend after the end of my commitments with BenWahBob. It was a perfect transition.

Just Mr., of course, has been a long-standing fixture in the STL rock scene. I must here admit that I have long wanted to play the kind of music these guys play. Unfortunately, it never really happened in the previous situations. We came pretty close in both incarnations of Knucklehead and in Those1Guys, but always seemed to stray into the bubblegummy/cheesey stuff. Now, that’s not to say that JM doesn’t play that stuff, they just play a lot less of it. They center their sets around bands like Kansas, Styx, Boston, REO Speedwagon, and, of course, Journey. The Journey songs are important because they also do a Journey tribute show called Evolution, which is outstanding.

Needless to say, as these guys have been a staple for over 15 years, it was an honor to play with them. The talent level in that band is quite impressive. I’ve been privileged to play with some fantastic musicians over the years, and these guys fall squarely amongst the best. They made it very easy for me to step in and help…even in a time of internal turmoil, as they were also in the process of changing singers.

I knew guitarist Tom Ackman from his days with Jägertÿme, but apparently didn’t know him quite as well as I thought. Tom’s playing ability far exceeded anything I had seen him do before…probably a function of the level of alcohol imbibed on-stage at a Jägertÿme show. His prowess on the guitar is quite admirable, and he gets some fantastic tones.

Damon Atkinson is one of the most talented keyboard players I’ve met to-date. His command of the instrument is awe-inspiring. Not only does he breeze through some of the tougher passages in what are considered challenging rock songs, but he casually warms up with classical piano repertoire as if it were nothing. Obviously, a well-educated and well-rehearsed musician.

Playing with drummer Eddie Cerny, though, was a pure thrill. Here’s a guy who obviously has an immense amount of talent that has been reinforced with years of healthy practice, studio work, and live performance. I thought that T1G drummer Brian Bayley was a great drummer (and he is), but playing with Eddie was at yet another level. We share a passion for the same kind of progressive rock music (Rush, Dream Theater, Liquid Tension, etc.), and seemed to lock in together quite well. His ventures into odd time signatures and off-beat accents, while perhaps less appreciated by the new singer, were always a fun and challenging ordeal. I don’t believe he ever once failed to come back around to where he needed to be when he needed to be there (“You play in 5/8, I’ll play in 6/8, and I’ll meet you at 30…the rest of the band catches up 2 measures later and we’re all good again!”).

What can I say about their new singer Rick Schroeder? I was a bit apprehensive about him from the time I found out he would be replacing Tony as the new frontman. I’ve known Rick from his days with Ivory Tiger, and the drama that ensued from that. He has enjoyed a less-than-admirable reputation since then…much of it quite deservedly. He seems like a different person with these guys, though. Perhaps it is a function of the new environment, but he seems much less “intense” than he used to be. His voice seems to work well with the Journey stuff, which is quite important in that band. Now, if he can just get past that whole “Lead Singer Disease” thing…

Another fun aspect of my time with JM was singer Wes Stillman (of Ivory Tiger and Maiden America fame). When all of the madness with their previous singer Tony came to a head, Wes was there for them to fill in the dates until they could find an adequate replacement…and he did a great job! Wes is…um…well…unusual on stage. He has more fun than any one entertainer should be allowed to have. As a singer, he doesn’t suck either. It was fun playing shows with him until Rick was ready.

Teddy started “sitting-in” a couple of weeks ago, and slowly worked his way back into his gig. Last weekend he played two sets on Friday night and all but the first five songs of the last set on Saturday night. While still obviously tired from his ordeal, he told me backstage at The Phoenix that it was “spiritually uplifting” to get back out there and play. You could see the difference in his eyes. Ted was back. This, too, worked out pretty well from a timing standpoint, as I could not play this weekend because of some surgeries Dawna was to have (everything came out well for her, too). I called Ted Saturday afternoon, and he tells me everything went fine for him on Friday.

I really did have a blast playing with these guys. As I said before, it really was an honor to be a part of that group, even if only temporarily.

Another interesting twist that occurred while I was shirking my blogging responsibilities was the acquisition of a pipe organ. Try as I might to be a good boy, another opportunity fell into my lap. This one actually worked out, though. I drove to Perryville, MO to inspect the instrument, agreed to purchase it, and returned the following weekend pulling a rented trailer. Dawna and I loaded the organ into the trailer and brought it back to my house, where it is now taking up most of the room formerly known as my living room. I cannot thank her enough for the help…not to mention her sons Derek and Samuel who helped us carry everything into the house the following day. It is still a mess right now, as I have had little time to pursue the refurbishment. However, that is all changing now that I have fulfilled all of my obligations to other people’s music projects and can now endeavor to complete my own. Besides, I have to get the organ parts out of the way so I can get to the rest of my studio equipment, which was previously moved into the former-living-room-now-turned-studio as well. I can’t wait to dive into it this week. There is also a page on my website devoted to this project. I will try to keep it updated as things change. It can be accessed from the link on the main page, or by just going directly there by copying and pasting the following link: (

As for music…the new Spock’s Beard album came out a couple of months ago, the new Rush album came out a couple of weeks ago, and the new Dream Theater album came out a couple of days ago. New albums from Circus Maximus and Symphony X are also due out soon. Needless to say, I’m in prog heaven right now. It’s a very good time to be a music fan.