Saturday, March 13, 2010

Stepping Out with Jazz Drummer Jeff Peabody

It's interesting how many business people have another side, an artistic side, which is not immediately visible in the course of your typical business exchange. Go behind the scenes in a person's life and there is often much more than than initially meets the eye. Duluth photographer Jeff Peabody is a case in point.

Like Rolf Hagberg of Motivity, Peabody also once worked with Jeff Frey & Associates, the Northland's leading commercial photography studio. At the time I simply knew him as a friendly face behind the counter. He was always filled to the brim with good stories, and when our paths cross last month again, we set aside some time to talk about his "other life" as a jazz drummer on Saturday afternoons at the Club Saratoga.

Ennyman: So how did you first get into drums?

JP: I started playing drums, I think I was 8 years old. There was a kid down the street who was about 12 years old, who I kind of idolized, and whatever he did I wanted to do, and he started to play the drums, so, so did I. And I started tapping on bicycle frames and stuff and eventually my parents bought me a little drum set.

E: So you just started playing… you had drumsticks?

JP: Oh no, it was literally screw drivers on an old bicycle frame, tapping along to records in the garage, one of those fold out 45 players. We were playing along to “Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy...” songs like that, little kids.

E: 1910 Fruitgum Company.

JP: Yeah, so I was serious about it and my folks bought me a little kit and I played that into the ground. This was a little kid's kit, and I was literally playing it every day. I was playing along to records at home, and I just melted that thing down, and when I was about 12 or so, they bought me a full sized kit. By then I was getting pretty good at it and I always played along with records. I played along to tunes, so my mother didn't mind it and it was popular tunes of the time. It wasn't just crazy banging. She was doing her housework.

E: You were here in the Twin Ports?

JP: Yeah, I always lived in Duluth. My father owned a garbage route and that summer I figured that if I worked every day I could earn enough to buy a somewhat professional set of drums. Well, during that summer while I was doing that, a girl whom I'd met when I started at Denfeld High School, just a friend of mine, was in Leif Ericson Park smoking dope with this long haired musician guy, a sax player. And they were down by the beach there, and he mentioned that he was in a band and I said, "Oh where do you play?" and he said, "Oh, well we're not playing now. We're looking for a drummer." And she knew that I was, so she mentions it to this guy. She says “I know someone who's playing drums and he's getting a brand new drum set,” and he said, “Oh, cool.”

I don't remember if I called him or he called me, but we actually set up an audition. And I'm like, "Really? I'm just a kid." And they said this guy was really interested, so when I talked to him -- I didn't even drive then, I don't know if I was 16 or not -- I said, "Sure, I guess I could try it, but I've never been in a band," and they said, “Oh well, that's fine, that's fine.” I said, "I can't even drive to your thing," and they said, "We'll come and get you." So I thought, wow, these guys must be desperate. So they show up and they're older guys, and when you're 16 and someone's in their 20's they look like old guys and I thought, well here we go. So I packed my drum set in their car and it was a 1976 Monte Carlo or something like that, and we go to a rehearsal up on Central Hillside. I had my little kit and I wanted to be a heavy metal rock drummer. That's what I was into.

E: Who were the music guys that you liked?

JP: I was into the more trendy stuff at the time like Black Oak Arkansas and Grand Funk Railroad. I loved to play along to the Woodstock soundtrack, Sly and the Family Stone, stuff like that. So, I knew from just listening to the radio I had a million songs in my head, but some that I'd never played before or maybe played once somewhere, you now, so I show up at this rehearsal and they were a top 40 band and they had to play 50's, 60's, 70's popular stuff. They were all white guys, but because they lived in the Central Hillside they were influenced by black music, which I didn't have, coming from Piedmont Heights, where it was really white, but again I knew it from the radio. So we're doing like "Help Me Rhonda”and I'm thinking, “Oh my god, this is about as far away as from what I want to do,” and then they're doing like Isley brothers and I'm thinking, “This is not Black Oak Arksansas,” but I knew them, and said give me a call, and I did it, so we pack up the gear and they take me home and I go "Well thanks, that was fun," and I thought, well that's that.

Two weeks later, I get a call and they said, “This is Steve from the band,” and I said, “Hi, what's up?” And they said, “You got the job,” and I said, “No, I'm the kid. I'm the kid, remember? You picked me up,” and they said “Right, Jeff, and we're going to start rehearsing” I wasn't sure if I even wanted to, but apparently because I'd played along with records all the time, it was like playing with a metronome and the one thing I had that no one else had was good time.

E: There's a lot of drummers who are young who slow down or are dragging it instead of driving it...

JP: ...or rushing it, right. So I felt at the time, after all that I felt like I had to accept. So I started playing with the band. We were rehearsing, first at a place on 1st street that was a condemned building, and we eventually got kicked out of that, and as we were pulling the gear out, the guy came and said, "Get out NOW, right now.” This was at 8 or 9 o'clock at night. He said someone was coming and we weren't supposed to be in there, so he literally was throwing us out on the street. So we had to run and get the truck and stuff. Ironically, we're pulling the gear out on 1st street and the building was the parking lot, or is the parking lot next to the Coney Island. And my parents came around the corner, I don't know if they were going to Sammy's Pizza or what, but they said, "Oh hey," and stopped the car, and said. "What's going on?" And we said we'd just gotten thrown out and we can't practice. I don't know if I asked or they volunteered but the next thing the truck was heading to my parents house, and we set up in the basement of the house, where we rehearsed for a month or more. At that point we had about 2 hours of material, and there was an audition for Charlie Lemon who owned Charlie's in West Duluth.

E: What was the name of your band?

JP: Skin Tight. And Charlie owned Charlie's in West Duluth and he also owned this hell hole in Superior called the Speakeasy, which is long gone, too. So they had this audition at the Speakeasy in Superior. I'm 16, I've never been in a bar other than with my mom and dad at Anton's in the West End, so I dressed up and of course as soon as we walked in, bang, they need to see an ID, and I said "Well, we're here with the band," and they said, "Well okay, you can't stay here. Come back when you audition and then you have to leave. So we went somewhere else, to another bar and I stood way in the back by a pool table and nobody bothered me. It was like a Monday night or something, and so we came back and played and they said, "You guys are great, we'd love to hire you. The kid is going to have to get a letter from his parents." Literally, a note from mom to say I could play, but they said they wanted to hire us. "We'll give you a call."

In a short time, I don't know if it was a week, 3 days, two weeks, they called and said, “Can you play this weekend?” And we're like, "Whoah, we only have 2 hours of stuff," and they said, "Well, the band that was supposed to play isn't coming, and we need somebody to play and we'd like you to do it. Play the 2 and then play them again. We need somebody and we want you." And that was the beginning of a one year job for Charlie Lemon, 6 nights a week, one week in Duluth at Charlie's, a week in Superior, and we went back and forth. I did that for a year as a high school student. Needless to say, I didn't get much schooling done, but I was getting paid more than my teachers were. And so, it was quite a learning experience. I always said, even then, I was smart enough to know that I was l earning what not to do in life, hanging around these people. You know. The lesson didn't really stick but after that stint, I'd played in other bands and I dabbled in jazz in high school.

Tomorrow Jeff shares how he came to replace Billy D at the Club, and why being a jazz drummer is a whole different animal.

1 comment:

tagskie said...

hi.. just dropping by here... have a nice day!