During the summer of 2018, I spent several hours with one of my best friends, Gregg Messer as we drove to a few gigs a few hours from home base. Since then, I have often thought about one of the subjects we discussed. It was about how four teenagers from small towns in the great state of Iowa were able to make some of their dreams happen. As we have all grown older and see how things work, what we were able to do in the mid-70’s was admirable, and I think played a role in how the three founding members of Chautauqua Road Band became successful businessmen as well as accomplished musicians.
In case you haven’t heard our story, the genesis of CRB began in 1974 when James Richards and I started playing music together as 9th graders. After playing with a few other guys in town without much success, we were introduced to Gregg Messer and at that time we knew there was a chemistry that could turn into something special. We soon found a drummer, Pat Lewis from Sidney, and within a few months we learned enough songs to play our first gig in December of 1975.
We played 40 gigs in the next 18 months and made almost $11,000 from 1975 to 1977, which adjusted for inflation would be nearly $45,000 today. What was even more impressive was that we had no manager or booking agent. We had a sound guy, Bill Fish, who helped us set up and ran the PA for us during this stint, but from a business perspective, all of us were the managers and roadies. From the beginning we were a very democratic band, with no single member taking a leadership role. All of the decisions were discussed by all members and we only went in the direction if everyone agreed.
Another impressive fact was our parents were not directly involved in the operation of the band. They would help where they could and my mother had my 1968 Chevy Impala ‘souped-up’ to pull the trailer with our gear, but from a business perspective, our parents were not involved. I remember very few disagreements within the band and it was understood that our mission was to play good music, create a party on stage and hope the audience came along with us.
Fast forward about 40 years and the band is still a 4-man democracy. We are still not represented by an agent and we have all had a hand in landing gigs for the band. We have no disagreements on the music we play, even though we have 40 more years of music to choose from. When it comes down to why we do what we do, our mission has not changed. At one of our shows this summer, a friend of the family saw us for the first time and their comment was that you could tell by the look on our faces that we were having a blast playing. It is who we are.
Even though we have a different drummer (the amazing Paul Richards, younger brother of James) than we had in the 70’s, we have been able to maintain the amazing chemistry of the original band. I truly believe the reason we had 41 gigs in 18 months back in the 70’s is that we were decent musicians who really had a blast when they played together.
We were very fortunate to find each other, but I also contribute our success to our roots in Southwest Iowa. Growing up is SWI we had to work to get what we wanted. We earned money working part-time jobs to buy our gear. What we had was ours, nothing was given to us. We learned that if we were going to be successful, we needed to work on our skills and practice our craft as much as possible… while going to school and participating in extra-curricular activities.
The attributes we developed as young men contributed to our success as adults. The work ethic has served us well over the years and we have been able to work on our skills and practice our craft while working full-time (or more) and raising a family. Now that we are working to make a little more time for the band and gigs, we are getting the opportunity to grow as musicians and we hope to play for more and more people as time goes on. The journey we have been on over the past two years is a tribute to the roots of the band in the 70’s: We do it ourselves, we do it as a team, and we do it to have fun.
If you have attended any of our gigs over the past 42 years, we sincerely hope that you have enjoyed hearing our music and seeing our show… If you haven’t heard us yet, we hope you come out soon to listen and dance, if you are so inclined. We have enjoyed playing together for a long time and all the things that made us successful in the beginning are the same things that make us fun to watch today. We love what we do and how we do it… we look forward to seeing you at a gig soon!