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Chilly Addams is a familiar fixture in the Fort Wayne music scene, having played in a variety of bands and venues over the years. Always looking for new challenges and more opportunities to play, Addams, who has played bass in those other ventures, decided he wanted to be a guitarist in a new group and began contacting friends to join him on his new adventure. Among those friends was Chris Kellum, the singer from Grateful Groove, with whom he had long wanted to play. Having said for a dozen years or so that they should work together, they finally found their chance in late 2011 when Addams started to put together a new band, one which found its name through their early rehearsals in the loft above The Phoenix on Broadway.
“I kept getting calls and texts from everybody asking, ‘Where do we get in?’” says Addams. “And I’d tell them ‘Come to the black door on the alley.’ I must have said ‘the black door’ a hundred times those first few rehearsals.”
Among those joining Addams and Kellum in Black Door were Chris Carmichael and J.J. Fabini. Carmichael was taking on a task similar to Addams’s, having played percussion for years and now deciding to play bass.
“It was like Chilly was doing with the guitar,” says Carmichael. “I wanted another challenge, to expand my musical knowledge. It was good timing, and it’s been great to learn and grow together for the last four years.”
The least stable aspect of Black Door has been at drums, with the group going through four drummers in their relatively short history.
“We were going through drummers like Spinal Tap,” says Carmichael. “The only difference is they weren’t spontaneously combusting.”
Danny Hogan has been manning the drums for more than a year now, but the biggest change for Black Door came when Kellum moved to North Carolina. Addams had been anxious to work in a band with a female singer, and in 2014 they began auditioning women to replace Kellum.
“We had some really talented girls come in,” says Addams. “It just was never the right fit. And then Eliza called J.J.”
Eliza Toth had been playing in bands featuring country music and decided she was ready for a new challenge herself, an obvious theme for Black Door. She says she knew she wanted to sing with them from the time she first heard them play.
“They played Led Zeppelin’s ‘Over The Hills and Far Away,’ and I was hooked,” recalls Toth. “A few months later my husband heard Doc West saying The Black Door was looking for a new lead singer on the radio. The rest is history. Life works better when you let the law of attraction do the work.”
The change at singer has meant a few adjustments to the band’s setlist.
“Chris did a lot of Janis Joplin,” says Addams. “But since Eliza joined we’ve dropped Janis but added Tina Turner and Grace Potter. Eliza has a great voice. She just wails on all these songs.”
Their setlist is currently all covers, though there is definitely interest in working on some originals in the future.
“Eliza and I have talked about writing together, but we haven’t done it yet,” says Addams. “I have a sense of wanting to do originals at some point because I really do want to write again.”
“The biggest problem is that everybody is in so many different bands,” adds Fabini, who is also kept busy as an on-air personality and program director at WXKE.
“I’ve been in several bands that do a mix of original and cover music,” says Carmichael. “If somebody is interested in writing, soon everyone is interested and buying into that concept. It’s just a natural evolution. It just has to start with one.”
In the meantime, they keep bringing new material into rehearsals, expanding upon their growing setlist which they now estimate includes 40 to 45 songs. They say they often start their practices just “noodling around” with a piece of music, and pretty soon everybody is joining in and figuring out how they can make the song their own. Addams says a shared love of each and every song is the key to making a band great on stage.
“Any project is fun at first, but whether it stays fun depends on how much energy you put into it. The songs we play are songs that we love to play because if you don’t love them – if you’re just playing them because you think you have to – that’s going to show on your face. .”
While the band doesn’t have any long term plans set in stone, they do have some big ideas for their future, including the deeply held desire to cover Led Zeppelin at a future Down the Line. Until the Embassy makes that phone call, Black Door will keep having fun together, enjoying their chance to stretch and grow musically and enjoy each other’s company. Toth, who recently had a baby, discovered quickly how supportive each member was of the others, and she thinks that has a lot to do with their chemistry as a band.
“I enjoy the laughter,” says Toth. “These guys are so comfortable to be around. They are such jokesters. Not jokers, there’s a difference. I have a huge amount of respect for each of them. I especially love how they embraced me when I told them ‘we’re pregnant.’ They cancelled a gig for me at the last minute when I realized it was a smoking venue. They waited patiently for me while I took a few months off. Not a whole lot of working bands would tolerate this kind of change. It really means the world to have that kind of love and support in your band. These guys are the real deal.”