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Things happen fast in rock n’ roll. One minute you’re throwing a band together to help out a friend, and the next you’re opening for a legendary local band in a 2,750-seat venue. Okay. It took a little more than a minute, but for the B45’s the time between their first gig and their upcoming slot ahead of the Bel Airs at the Foellinger Theater is a testament not only to their popularity but to their chops. These guys can play. They play so well it’s easy to forget that no one in the band is old enough to vote.
“We got off to a really fast start,” said guitarist and lead vocalist Ben Tarr who, at 17, is the oldest member, “It just kind of picked up. People liked our sound and really wanted to hear us more. Our name kind of spread.”
Joining Tarr are Colin Taylor on bass and vocals and Sam Clay on drums, both 16, with 13-year-old Kellen Baker handling lead guitar and vocal duties.
Thus far the band has played at a few bars around town, including the Brass Rail. They played SolFest and Rock the Plaza earlier this year. The Foellinger Theatre show with the Bel-Airs will be by far their biggest gig.
About a year ago a friend of Tarr’s who knew him from his other band, Soft N’ Heavy, asked him if he could perform at a party she was hosting.
“That’s when we threw the band together,” Tarr said. “We were told we had to have a name, so we decided on the 45s because of our retro sound. At that time we had no original music. We were playing Elvis and Beatles and Otis Redding covers and stuff like that. Not too long after that we discovered there was already a band called the 45s, so we decided to name ourselves after he B-side of the 45s ’cause the hit song is always on the A side and the B song is always the more obscure songs.”
That gig was a success, and they decided to carry on not only with the cover songs but with tunes of their own. Tarr had been writing songs for a couple of years, and it turned out the B45’s were the perfect vehicle.
It’s easy to assume a young band like the B45’s would do mostly cover songs as some sort of novelty act, but that assumption would be wrong. Indeed, while the B45’s do their share of covers that make the pairing with a rockabilly band like The Bel-Airs a natural, they have a growing body of originals that make you scratch your head wondering where you heard them before. Is there a secret cache of Beatles tunes you somehow missed, or maybe a previously unreleased collection of Dave Clark Five B-sides lurking in record store bins?
Though settled comfortably among the B45’s’ influences, their songs are not mere rip-offs of classic 60s pop. The compositions seem familiar enough to make them enjoyable on a first hearing, yet maintain a level of coherent, confident originality that urges repeat exposure.
“Our songwriting is young and fresh and appealing to the ears,” Tarr said. “A lot of younger people don’t generally listen to 50s and 60s music, but they really love coming out to our shows. They have a blast, and that’s really flattering. And we’re just having a blast providing that kind of music. We’re not trying to be retro. We love all kinds of music. We all play in jazz bands, and my other band, Soft N’ Heavy, is kind of bluesy. We play Zeppelin.”
Tarr, Talyor, Clay and Baker came together through some of the same paths. Both Tarr and Taylor went to Memorial Park Middle School and attended the Sweetwater rock camps, as did Baker. Tarr met Clay later at North Side High School where they play in the school jazz band. Taylor (the son of guitarist Kenny Taylor) and Baker play in a Sweetwater group called Beatles 64 Lab Band.
“I went to middle school with Colin,” Tarr said. “And when I went to high school I saw Sam play and thought wow, he’s a really good drummer.
“We picked up steam a lot on originals,” he continued. “We just write a lot. And that’s one of the big pros of us being friends and getting along so well. It makes the creative process really easy. Everybody is really easy going, and when we’re writing songs it’s really fast and easy.”
Tarr credits his development as a musician to the elementary and middle school programs he got involved with. He started playing piano in the arts magnet program at Weisser Park Elementary and continued through his years at Memorial Park Middle School, picking up the bass and sax along the way.
“They have an awesome jazz program,” Tarr said. “They needed a bass player and asked if anyone wanted to learn. I was like heck yeah. Bass is awesome.”
In high school he immersed himself in music. He started Soft N’ Heavy, bought a turntable, started listening to vinyl and decided he found his purpose.
“At this point in my life – I’m going into my senior year – I have no doubt that music is the path I want to pursue in my life,” he said. “So it’s kind of weird how things work out. If you go back to the beginning, I was just some first grader who was told to play piano. But now it’s definitely my passion. I take it very seriously.”