Sticktime - Frederick's Classic Rock Cover Band

Chris’ musical beginnings

My music career began as a small child banging on the pots and pans in the kitchen driving my mom and dad nuts. When I was in 5th grade in Catholic School, the Archdiocesan band program came to all the schools and played a concert. All the teachers made up the band. After a short concert they passed around instruments and all the kids could try them out. My friends all went to the trumpet and sax and woodwind instruments. I was drawn to the drums. I went home telling my parents that I wanted to take drum lessons. They of course pushed toward the much more convenient trumpet, but I was relentless. So they broke down and rented a rubber practice pad and bought some sticks. When I joined the band we went to Chuck Levin’s Music Center in Wheaton, MD. And rented a snare drum.

But as kids will be kids, regimented practice and self-discipline were never my strong suit and even though I was learning to read percussion music I never excelled at it. Around this time I had my first encounter with a progressive band from Canada. A power trio known as RUSH. I heard drummer Neil Peart whaling away in a flurry of hands and sticks and feet in the Working Man solo and I was mesmerized. Never had I heard drums played like that. Sure I was impressed by the masters like Buddy Rich and….. But, in a rock & roll style, I felt like I could relate to Neil Peart. I quickly made my mom take me to the rear of the grocery store to pick up the best cardboard boxes we could find. Once at home I set them around my rented snare drum and began to fool with the different tones each box made. I believe it was the next Christmas that I received my first official “real” drum kit.

Young ChrisIt was a used blue sparkle 5 piece. With a brand new Paiste Hi-Hat and 1 cymbal. I put it in the basement with a clock radio and played to anything that was cool in the late 1970’s. At this time I was still in the school band playing mostly snare drum to all the honks and squeaks of the other pimple faced kids in my class when Ted Hasko, the band director, saw some potential. The band was trying desperately to learn the theme song to the blockbuster film “Rocky”. It was extremely popular at the time but the written percussion line left something to be desired. So Ted asked me to bring my set in and go to town. So again mom loaded the set into the car (remember the convenience of the trumpet argument) and we went to school. Never had a grade school band broken all the rules and strayed from the printed music to bring a rock drum set into the mix. But obviously Ted was a visionary.

After practice proved it would work we were scheduled for a concert. We had our first concert at a school assembly in the gym. The brass section started screaming the first recognizable bars to “Rocky” and then it happened. I crushed the toms right down the line and went into the classic hi-hat disco beat. The crowd of 7 to 14 year olds went wild. Nuns scrambled to gain control, Rosary Beads were used to smack the most violent offenders as it was their only defense, the school crossing guards were activated and summonsed to quell the uprising and I was instantly famous. It was a whirlwind of success from then on. Talent shows, speaking engagements, you know. I was even dragged around the next year to all the other schools to play in front of the kids as an example of what they to could do. I was on top of the world. And then reality hit.




I figured I was so good a faking it and throwing my own combinations together that I didn’t need to worry about actually learning to read music. And when I got to DeMatha High School Concert Band program (Nationally recognized) I went from top dog to bottom feeder. While I could play the kit and whale on the snare drum, the other guys could actually read music. So instead of picking myself up and studying and practicing, I retreated to my room and played to RUSH, BOSTON, APRIL WINE, ZEPPELIN, THE WHO, QUEEN, HEART, you name it. Consequently I never learned to read music and still to this day can’t. But don’t worry; I don’t blame my self…I blame Ted Hasko.

So during the high school years I stumbled my way through the Concert band and went home to friends who had their first electric guitars and amps and we played bits and pieces of the songs we thought were cool. I now had another used kit my dad bought me. It was a vintage 4 piece Ludwig with 2 concert toms and it sounded great. I still kick myself for getting rid of it because it was probably worth something. I continued to play to the stereo. I was now living in the attic in our Takoma Park house. It was not uncommon for adults to stop by and ask my mom to see me. They usually wanted me to join their band but when they saw I was only 13 or 14 years old that was the end of it. One day my dad pulled into the driveway to find three rough characters sitting in the center of the lawn passing around a bottle of Night Train or Ripple or some other fine wine. I was getting busy with Red Barchetta or 2112 or something like that. Dad asked them to take their trash with them when I was done and they politely moved on after practice. No harm done.




One drunken night senior year in college my roommates drug my set out and demanded I play RUSH. My one roommate had a kick ass stereo. So I set them up at about 1:00 am and put on RUSH Permanent Waves. When I started Spirit Of The Radio it was me, my girlfriend (later to be my wife) and about four other guys. By the time I got half through Freewill there were about 50 people in the room and the quad out front had about 200 drunk students going nuts. Security shut us down but I made it most of the way through Jacobs Ladder. One thing I realized was that even though I couldn’t read music, I loved playing for a crowd, and the more they got into it, the more I did.

Chris with the Shrunken HeadbangersAround this time I met up with Scott Whipple and Gabe Nucci in Silver Spring. We played some cover tunes mostly at parties and had a blast. We called ourselves “The Scapegoats” and played “The Stones” and “Soul Asylum”, “DADA” and “The Screaming Trees”. We had fun, but Scott had bigger plans. Gabe moved on and Scott recruited two friends from work to form “The Shrunken Headbangers” (The band with no shame) The idea was to be satirical and poke fun at some of the hot button issues of the day. These included Nancy Kerrigan getting clubbed by Tonya Harding, Lorena Bobbitt hacking off her husband's bait and tackle and the tragic death of Princess Diana (Yes that too was funny, although not to most Brits). We had a bit of local success with radio stations WHFS and even DC 101 who liked our twisted tunes. Scott was the real brainchild, writing hilarious lyrics to his own and some pirated tunes. When there was no political issue to make fun of he wrote songs about medical practices and poked fun at ethnic groups (always popular). If you are looking to “shock” the conscious, nothing gets it done faster than insulting a whole race of people. All the fun aside, I didn’t really get into the whole idea. I always complained that the world needed only one “Weird Al” and he was doing a fine job. I wanted to play straight covers, which we were doing really well. But they voted 3 to 1 to keep up the satire and we eventually went our separate ways. There is still a pretty funny web sight at http://users.erols.com/mlaird/shbangers/index.html that you should check out.

 



So now I was a drummer without a band. I didn’t feel comfortable just going out and looking for any group to hook up with because at this time I was now a Maryland State Trooper and since drugs tend to follow rock bands I thought it would be tough to find a band that I didn’t have to make an arrest in. Several years passed and when I was in St. Louis, MO. for a conference on drug interdiction I found a piano bar downtown called “The Big Bang”. These guys were incredible. They had two pianos facing each other with a drum kit in the middle and every once in a while one would play drums and one would play guitar and the other would bang on the piano. Then they would all switch. I was really impressed with their musical and vocal abilities. After much alcohol I asked to sit in on the drums. They blew me off at first but eventually let me up for “just 1 song”. I don’t even remember what it was, but I stayed the rest of the night and came back 2 more nights to jam with them. We jammed Credence, Billy Joel, John Cougar, even Meatloaf. I left St. Louis knowing I had to dig my kit out of the closet and blow the dust off.

Just by coincidence, a few months later Bob called me out of the blue and asked me to sit in with his band Jr. and the Jobless. I did, and although I was not really impressed with the style of music, I was happy to be playing drums in a group again. Then when the band was taking a break Bob ripped into RUSH, SPIRIT OF THE RADIO. I suddenly woke up and matched him beat for beat. We jammed every RUSH tune we could think of and without saying it; we knew this was the very beginning of something. Bob wrote the rest in the band history so I won’t bore you again. But if you wanted to know when, where and why I play the drums, you just found out. Now I just need to learn how to read the damn notes!

 


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