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Twenty years of history is rare for any rock
band. You see it occasionally among some of the top bands in the world – the
Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, The Who – but as unusual as that is, it’s even
harder in many ways for local and regional bands to demonstrate that kind of
staying power. With everyone forced to maintain day jobs to pay the bills and
members moving to new areas or even new bands, locals are often more fleeting,
here today and something else tomorrow.
So as Coda celebrate their 20th anniversary, with
founding member and drummer John Finken still leading the way, it only stands
to reason that they find a way to mark the occasion. And, not surprisingly,
they’re doing it the way they’ve done everything up until now – taking the
stage, leading the party and having plenty of fun along the way.
Formed in February 1987, the band has had a fair
number of lineup changes along the way, but its rhythm section – Finken and
bass player Steve Sahagun – have been together for nearly 18 of the band’s 20
years. With the addition of guitarist Jon Ness, who joined in 2002, and
keyboardist Rick Hoffer and singer Steve Walker, who both joined in 2004,
Finken says Coda now have what is their best lineup so far.
Although Coda continue to work on original music,
and their website promises a CD sometime in the future, the band is focusing on
the cover music that they’ve been perfecting for years, paying tribute to the
bands that have been their musical influences. Ozzy Osborne, Motley Crue, Van
Halen and KISS have all contributed to the sound of Coda over the years, and
fans have learned to expect an eclectic blend of that music and surprising
others (like Nickelback or Hinder) along the way. Products of the 80s, the
members of Coda like a good party, and Finken says it’s that very spirit that
drives Coda to continue the fun.
“The biggest problem I have with music now,” says
Finken, “is that I hear a song I love, and then I hear the lyrics, and the
verses are about sorrow and sadness, and then the chorus is about hate. Rock n’
roll is supposed to take you away from that. We’re from the era of Poison and
bands like that, bands that said, ‘Let’s have a good time.’
“Coda [are] always out there playing classic rock
or playing our own stuff, and we always remember that rock n’ roll is supposed
to be an escape from all the negative stuff. Everyone has negative stuff going
on in their lives, but it doesn’t have a place in rock n’ roll. We want to give
people a chance to escape all of that for three or four hours on a Saturday
night. We want to take you to a place where you’re not dealing with whatever
you’re dealing with all week long.”
Calling themselves “protectors of real rock n’
roll,” Coda aren’t immune to music from other eras. Although he says the band
respects and even enjoys the music of the early 90s – the bands of the grunge
movement, such as Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Nirvana – Finken says the
grim nature of the music makes it less appealing to them than the good-time
sounds they grew up listening to. He does concede, however, that he can see how
that music materialized.
“I’ve been to Seattle, and it’s dark and dreary
and rains all the time,” says Finken. “I like to joke that I spent a month in
Seattle one week. I can see how if you’re in that environment all the time, it
can bring you down. But Kurt Cobain’s suicide was a real wake-up call.”
Another disturbing result of that trend, says
Finken, is that rock music lost a big part of their fan base during those
“Bands like Alice in Chains and Nirvana had a
mostly male audience. All the girls ran off to country music during that time.
And it’s because the country songs were all about having a good time, and the
singers all had the long hair and ripped jeans and looked like the 80s rock
“You look at the bands from the 90s, all the
problems and the deaths and suicides, and even some of the bands from the 70s
had a lot of deaths. But for the most part, the bands from the 80s didn’t have
that, although Nikki Sixx from Mötley Crüe came close. But these guys are still
around, and it’s because they were having a good time.”
Anxious to maintain that spirit, Coda make sure
the fans who have been following them faithfully for years know that the band
is having as much fun as they are.
“You look over the years and see pictures of a
lot of bands, and they’re working hard to not smile. You don’t see any of that
with Coda. Our lead singer is all over the stage, and when he’s not singing,
he’s jumping around, having a good time with the fans. It’s all real. If you
saw us in rehearsals, you’d see exactly what you see when we’re on stage.”
While Coda remains pretty true to that spirit and
their musical roots, they like to mix it up with some unexpected twists and
turns, pulling songs like “Brickhouse” by The Commodores out when no one sees
it coming. The fans that have kept coming back to Coda shows love the party
atmosphere, and Finken says the band enjoys that just as much. While they’d
love to do it even more often than they do, Finken says that the times have
changed since Coda first started playing together, making it more difficult to
book their traveling party.
“The money’s not what it was 10 years ago. When
we started there were three bands in our county. Now there are three bands on
our street. Every bar on every corner has a band in it. And no one wants to
drink and drive, so no one wants to go further than down the street to see a
Because of that, the Warsaw band tries to cover
some ground, with a show in their hometown on April 28 at Rex’s Rendezvous and
May performances at Duff’s Sports Bar in Columbia City and Skip’s Party Place
in Angola. Billing it as the “Rockopalypse Tour,” Coda have decided to let the
anniversary celebration continue throughout the year.
“Why limit it to one weekend?” says Finken.
And in the end it’s that eye toward fun that has
helped Coda log 20 years and may well allow them to log 20 more.
“We’ll have people come up to us and tell us that
they’re celebrating their 21st birthday or their friend is celebrating his 21st
birthday, and they’ll say they’re coming to see us because when they were kids
their parents used to come out to see us. And that can be tough to hear, but,
you know, it means they know we’ll give ’em all we got. We’re a band of
brothers, and we’ve been doing this a long time. And we wouldn’t do any of it
if it wasn’t fun.”