Keep on Rollin’

*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine August 2018

When I was 16-years old, my band and I opened for REO Speedwagon on the back of a flatbed truck at the Groton Submarine Base here in Connecticut for the annual “Subfest.”

Yeah, I just said that.

When I was 16-years old, my band and I opened for REO Speedwagon.

I was reminded of this fact while cranking local radio station 102.3 The Wolf on my way to my “don’t quit your day job” day job when the DJ played “Roll With The Changes.”  The instantly recognizable arpeggio piano intro, the kickoff sliding guitar chord charging down the fret of the neck with sweet abandon to join the rest of the backing chords and on to Kevin Cronin’s iconic vocal: “As soon as you are able, woman I am willing…” transported me right back to that flatbed truck.

In my car, I was struck by the brilliant simplicity of the song, the pure joy of the major chords, the understated guitar solo, the elementary organ, the repetitiveness of the lyric “Keep on Rollin’, Keep on Rollin’, ooh ooh.”

Plain and simple rock and roll.  Ahhh, the good ole days.

The flatbed truck gig itself must have been a last-minute thing because I can find no official poster regarding this or a tour history entry on the Internet but the guys in my former band tell me it’s a true fact, so I guess I kind of believe them.  Guys in bands don’t tell lies.

I do know this – at the time, I could care less who else was going to be on that flatbed truck, I only cared about how the heck I was going to entertain a field full of drunken sailors, because, Oh – What To Do?  This was their day.  It was kind of like a Bob Hope kind of thing.  They could get as drunk as they wanted at Subfest. THAT’S A TRUE FACT.

Honestly, we were just happy to have a gig, with a real sound system and everything.  There’s a recording of me sounding all mousy like a little baby and stuff, with boatloads of sailors screaming and yelling.  This is classic stuff here people.

The call to arms in the form of the lyric “roll with the changes” further piqued my interest in my mundane morning drive to incessant stagnancy.  I realized that this song in a sense could stand as a metaphor for the music industry today.  I pondered how a simple song like this is still being created in the year 2018 except nowadays the simplicity is masked in “beats” and “samples” and “collabs.”   These purposeful compositions inevitably have the best chance of becoming “hits.”  They’re the ones most likely to be cranked in cars by people going to their day jobs.

Most of the simply great 80s bands like REO Speedwagon fizzled out into obscurity, until they figured out how to “roll with the changes,” that is.   For example, you can catch many of them joining forces on multi-band mega tours (think Styx/Journey/Def Leppard).  They’ve adapted.  They’ve rolled with it.

Besides the obvious change to the digital age of streaming and practically every musician having a home recording studio making available content leap from millions of song choices to billions, some of the changes I see around here, in live music specifically are:  There’s a bar that wasn’t built as a bar, but used to be a gas station, but now it’s a bar, and they open the bays for “windows.”  They have live music.  Vineyards out in the quiet countryside among acres of grapevines have live music.  Tiny art museums with barely enough room for hanging multitudes of original local creations have live music.  Etc.  Etc.

The smart, adaptable, and flexible musicians among us are finding these unique venues and booking themselves, or, and as I suspect, they are talking the owners into having live music, which is just fantastic!

Let’s keep it rolling people – imagine if we don’t???  We got this!

flatbedtruck

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