Meet the Band
Four and eight-string tenor guitars, banjo, and vocals.
So how did I find myself fronting a band and playing the music of my early teens all these years later? Let me tell you about it……Playing music has been central to who I am for many, many years. To misquote the late great Dave Van Ronk: I wanted to grow up and play music in the worst way… and I did. Not quite, I’m still working at it. So where did this journey begin?
LPs (long-playing records) came out in my early formative years. It was the new medium. We had a monaural hi -fi and my dad collected records, however nothing in comparison to the vast music collection I accumulated. Early on I was swept up in the music my dad bought: Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Perry Como, etc. My dad had a wonderful voice. He usually had a solo number when he performed with the Rochester Gas and Electric Male Choir. I got my love of singing from him.
In fourth grade I met Robert Moore, the band director for Madison High School and my elementary school, James Whitcomb Riley #29 in Rochester, NY. I wanted to play in the school band, thus the clarinet became my first instrument. I played it all through high school and for a year or so in college to make a little money playing in the band at Transylvania University.
My sister had a little portable record player and listened to early teen idols such as Elvis and Ricky Nelson. I loved those sounds but two songs that really moved me were Crying and Running Scared by Roy Orbison. I felt like I had discovered magic: that voice, that emotion, those stories…..
Then came the British Invasion. I have not been the same since that happened. I was born in Leeds, England, although we moved to the United States when I was about 2 years old. Those early years were infused with British culture. My early memories involved being around a lot of English people as my dad became active in the British Legion and my mother in the Daughters of St George. On Sundays my folks would write letters home. I would get to read them as I did the letters they received from England. I first heard the Beatles when I was 14. I was transfixed by these sounds coming out of my birth country. I was quickly caught up in the music of the other early British band I heard on the radio and records such as The Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, the Searchers, the Animals and many more. This was my roots music.
My first band was the Pacers with Tom Shea on drums and Rick Habeeb on bass. The highlight of our career was playing at the Strawberry Festival at St Stephens Church after which Tom was chased to a waiting car by group of screaming preteens. That was our moment of fame (at least in our eyes).
Next, I hooked with a group called the Nutones (New Tones). For my audition I sang House of the Rising Sun. Our four-piece band consisted of two guitars, drums, and accordion. We later added an excellent sax player. We played a lot of wedding receptions where we played hours of three-chord polkas plus hits of the day . I sang the Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for the Man. I doubt many picked up on the words. I was making more money in one night then I could in a week at a summer job. That lasted until I was told I needed a haircut…. Those were some good times though.
My playing was pretty dormant in my college years. I still listened intently to music but hardly played anything. In 1973 I moved to Chicago and started taking banjo lessons. Earlier on I had an interest in folk music and formed a duo with my brother (The Cause). That’s when I banjo music first caught my ear. The Cause pretty much ended with my involvement in the Pacers. A move to Menomonie, WI, resulted in the formation of my first Bluegrass band: The Red Cedar Valley Band. Our claim to fame was opening the show one time for the Powdermilk Biscuit Band, the house band from the Prairie Home Companion radio show.
I later moved to Chattanooga where I met the love of my life, Peggy. She has been a fan of my music for almost forty years now. She sang with me in our band, Hill City Grass. We got a little radio play after recording the theme song for the first year of the Riverbend Festival and opened for John Hartford.
A university teaching position in Clarksville, TN, resulted in our long residence in middle Tennessee. I played banjo with the Holt Brothers for a number of years including a five year Wednesday night gig at a local bar. This is where I really became a banjo player; I had to take it to another level to play with these guys. We remain good friends, and I am indebted to them for many good years of music. I have also on occasion played with the informal groups the Usual Suspects and Stuart Bonnington and Curious Bluegrass.
Over the years I spent many hours trying to figure out old songs from my youth that I could play on the banjo. Playing Kinks classics on the banjo didn’t feel like the right instrument. After spending countless hours playing these British Invasion tunes on a ukulele I switched to a tenor guitar. It gave me more of the sound that I wanted. That also led me to the search for a 8 string tenor (double strings) to see if I could imitate some of the sound of the Searchers, the band I most identify with the early use of the 12 string guitar in rock music.
A few years ago I decided that if I was ever going to get out in the public again as a performer I was going to have to work up an act. I focused on early British invasion songs and literally went back to my roots. That’s where Tom Griffin comes into the story. We played at some jam sessions together at his house and the Downtown Artists Cooperative, and he soon joined me on guitar. Tom helped me find my voice more than any other musician had ever played with. I stopped straining to try to sing those high parts of a lot of my music heroes and realized that my range was very much like that of my father. My singing returned to that early influence of listening to my father sing. I think he would be pleased.
With the addition of Eric Dailey on bass we became a trio. I’m looking forward as my music career continues to unfold.
Guitar and vocals
Tom ‘Griff’ Griffin is a native son of Clarksville, Tennessee. In Junior High School Tom discovered Band, and more importantly Technical Theatre. Lighting and Setting -design and construction- became his passions. Relentless pursuit of these passions, with the addition of Choir in ‘formal’ High School, left little time for academic niceties. His graduation, firmly in the bottom 2% of his class, with a degree in the performing arts, seemed to portend the life of a vagabond, and homelessness. But Fate, ah Fate, stepped in.
Tom enlisted with the United States Air Force as a Ground Radio Repairman (304X4), catapulting him into the Real World. During tech school, Tom became Student Director of the Keesler Male Chorus, and while stationed in Frankfurt, Germany he became Technical Director for the Frankfurt Playhouse, coincidentally learning to play guitar with his roommate Tim Newberry. Upon his discharge and return to Clarksville, Tom became the first Technical Director for the Roxy Dinner Theatre, serving for three seasons. After a summer at Opryland, a subsequent season with the Tennessee Repertory Theatre, and engagement as Director of Photography for two independent movies, Tom immigrated to Chicago to pursue his theatrical career. Over the next 20 years Tom was involved in hundreds of theatrical productions at all the major and many of the ‘off-Loop’ theatre companies there.
Tom originally started running sound for Stuart’s solo performances. Before long Tom joined Stuart as a second guitar player.
The subsequent gigs are best described in Tom’s words: “I call it the Stuart Steeplechase. Without the benefit of a prepared song list, or any plan, Stuart would launch into one of the literally hundreds of songs in his repertoire, priding himself on producing numbers I had never heard before. With no way of following him on his odd little ‘banjo tuned’ tenor guitar, my fingers and mind soon became lost in the underbrush of intricate chord changes, falling over walls and logs into ponds of mud, hopefully ending the winding course at least on the same key.”
But the fans didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps they admired Tom’s pluck, his unwillingness (or inability) to quit, the human drama of his thrashing fingers and contorted countenance. Here was artistic expression in the raw. Occasionally, through no fault of his own, he would stumble upon the unknown progression and, to the surprise of himself and others, end the numbers in the right key. Stuart and Tom now lead Eric (bass) on Stuart’s Steeplechase while Brandon runs the sound, This new chapter, being written each day, promises magic...
Eric is former Army Brat and Iraq Veteran (2003). Sometime around the age of 12 ,while learning to skateboard and flirt, he picked up a bass and a guitar which began a life long journey to find the Groove. His parents diverse music collection (everything from Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, The Beatles, Motown, ABBA, Classic Rock, Hendrix, Santana, etc.) helped him develop an ear for all things musically interesting and melodic. He lists his main influences as Thrash Metal (The Big Four), Grunge (Soundgarden, AIC, Pearl Jam),
Punk (Descendents, Bad Brains, Bad Religion) with quite a few multi-genre bands like Fishbone, Faith No More, Primus, RHCP and more recently, Twelve Foot Ninja! He has played with a number of bands in many different genres on both guitar and bass, and sometimes backing vocals. Eric brings a whole new dimension to the Stuart Bonnington Band. Firmly grounded in a multitude of genres he provides a solid anchor for the band to create joyous sounds.