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Bob Bailey has just two rules for his outstanding band, Expanding Man. Rule No.1: no drama. Rule No. 2: no rehearsals.
For some bands, the second rule might make the first harder to follow. Confusion over how to play an unrehearsed song for the first time on stage in front of a room full of people has driven many lesser bands to apoplexy.
That’s not a problem for Expanding Man. Outside of perhaps the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, you won’t find a group of more seasoned musicians. Then again, an orchestra is unlikely to tear into an unrehearsed Beethoven piece on a whim. Wing a curve ball at Expanding Man and they’ll smack it right back at you.
Individually the band members – Bailey on guitar and vocals, Mitch Gallagher on guitar and vocals, Matt Schuler on bass and vocals, C. Brent LaCasce on keyboards and vocals and a drummer to be named later (Nick D’Virgilio held that spot until recently) – have delved into just about every genre imaginable, from jazz to metal, prog-rock to country.
As Expanding Man, they focus on blue-eyed soul, rock and country from the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s: Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, The Doobie Brothers, Boz Scaggs, Hall and Oates, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Robben Ford, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, etc.
“Mitch and I came up with the rules,” Bailey said. “Show up at the gigs, know the tunes. We’re in this to have fun, man. The reason why we do this is not for money, not for adulation; it’s not for anything other than for us to have a helluva good time and play some great music with some great musicians. That’s why this band exists. It is all about the music and having a great time. And these guys are all ace musicians. I’m the biggest hack in the band.”
Bailey’s definition of the word “hack” is not to be found in any dictionary. Nor, I’d guess, was he implying that his bandmates are hacks but to a lesser degree. Far from it. To begin with they all come from either education, session work or active touring backgrounds. In some cases all three.
Bailey spent his 20s playing with country and rock bands from California to Yuma to Florida and back to Indianapolis, his hometown, where in the 90s he joined Carl Storie’s band, which for a time also included drummer Dane Clark, John Mellencamp’s longtime drummer. Storie was the lead singer for the Indy-based Faith Band. Their 1980 hit “Put on Your Dancin’ Shoes” is part of the soundtrack of 80s rock radio. Bailey also started doing a lot of session work first as a vocalist, then as guitarist. He currently heads the U.S. sales and marketing division of Boss, the guitar equipment manufacturer.
Gallagher is a composer, author, editor and all-around guitar wizard. He puts all those talents to use in his day job as editorial director for Sweetwater. And if you want to learn how Hendrix or Clapton or Page got their guitars to sound the way they did, Gallagher’s your man. Bailey said playing with Gallagher is a treat because he knows how to play with another guitar player.
“Mitch and I work really, really well together,” Bailey said. “Finding Mitch and adding Mitch to the band was a great thing. He is a phenomenal player.”
That can be said of every current member of Expanding Man.
Schuler, also currently employed at Sweetwater, has a background in education and training. He worked for Yamaha, the instrument company, for years. His claims to fame with Expanding Man are his ridiculous vocal range (think Julie Andrews merged with Issac Hayes) and his knack for finding the groove in songs he’s never played before.
“He’s great at sussing out what a song really is,” Bailey said.
LaCasce spent more than two decades as a vocal instructor with the prestigious Freyburg Academy and at the University of South Maine. Prior to his teaching career, LaCasce toured with the U.S. Army Band playing piano and trumpet. He too is a veteran of Sweetwater. He currently works for keyboard manufacturer Roland. Bailey said adding LaCasce was the final piece of the puzzle.
And whoever ends up taking D’Virgilio’s place behind the drum kit has his work cut out for him. D’Virgilio tours with Tears for Fears, played with Genesis post-Collins, led Spock’s Beard, played with Kevin Gilbert’s Toy Matinee and was the musical director for Cirque du Soleil. Just Google him.
But mere pedigree is not enough to describe the depth of Expanding Man. Bailey started the group about five years ago after seeing a New York Rock and Soul Review concert. With Walter Becker and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan, Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs on the bill, the show reaffirmed Bailey’s love of blue-eyed soul.
“My passion has always been that music, you know Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, that kind of stuff,” Bailey said. “So the idea was to put a band together in Fort Wayne and do that kind of music, which really nobody was doing at the time. It started out as a trio because that’s all I could find. I found a drummer and a bass player, and we just kind of plugged our way through it. It’s evolved to where it is now.”
Expanding Man have for a while now made the lounge at Don Hall’s Guesthouse their home for one weekend a month. It is a wonderful thing, an unexpected treat to wander into the bar, with its dark wood and deep half-moon booths and have your ears treated to a band of this caliber. It’s like the scene in the Blues Brothers when Jake and Elwood find Mr. Fabulous and that wonderful band dressed in blue velvet tuxes and playing in some restaurant.
“I’ve had numerous people come up to me and say ‘I can’t believe this band is at the Guesthouse,’” Bailey said. “‘You guys are great.’ I say ‘thanks. Tell your friends’ and they say ‘no! If I tell my friends I won’t be able to get in here. This is kind of like our little secret.’”
Not only is the band exceptional, the sound is close to perfect. But I guess that’s what you expect from a bunch of guys who earn their living making musicians sound great.
“The band understands this thing called dynamics,” Bailey said. “We know how to bring it down and get out of the way of the vocals, when to lay into it and when to back off. So the band kind of mixes itself pretty well from the stage. And we have good equipment. But we also have a guy out front with an iPad who discretely mixes the band. Most people won’t notice if you have a good sound man, but they will notice immediately if you have a bad one, or none.”
Expanding Man are simply a joy to listen to. They stay true to the songs they cover, and they cover stuff that hasn’t been played to death on the radio.
“You’ve got to give people a reason to walk through the door,” Bailey said. “Give them a product. Give them something that’s really good. Give them something that’s not like everything else that’s out there. No slam to anybody, but if you want to go hear ‘Mustang Sally’ or ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’ there’s probably 30 bands on any given weekend that you can go hear play ‘Mustang Sally’ and ‘Brown Eyed Girl.’ And that’s great.
“We want to do something different. We want to offer an alternative in Fort Wayne.”
Expanding Man do just that. And without drama.