“We are a cover band that is just about to write songs,” says Joel Young of the Joel Young Band. While the rest of his band gathered around a small table with my tiny tape recorder, laughed. Those words, and the casual attitude behind them, describe the laid-back attitude of Young and his band. I got lost a few times trying to find Young’s country home where his band was meeting for practice. His basement, where they were waiting for me, was littered with instruments that appeared to be long forgotten – along with a pool table and a little booth from a restaurant that we all crowded into so I could pry out their history.
The Joel Young Band are a ragtag group of wizened musical philosophers who represent a broad cross-section of local musicians. Gary McMeekin, aka “Meatball,” has been a musician for most of his life and has played with all manner of groups. Now he is happy just to play lead guitar with Young and his gang of “seasoned, countrified rockers,” as their website states. Then there is the young Mitch Dimke on bass, Joe Flores on drums and Fred Feipel on guitar. Young is, of course, frontman and singer for the group; he also plays acoustic guitar.
In their most recent incarnation, the Joel Young Band have existed for a little over a year, but they lived before under the name Amarillo. Before Young joined Amarillo, he played for 14 years in the close-knit group ButtonHead. Young used his knowledge of music theory and extensive experience to write, create and produce two original CDs with the group, but he suggests that band’s familiarity might have been its downfall.
“At one point there were three of us, and we were really good friends. We did all the writing, and I think maybe we just got too close because people started expecting things to be the same all the time, and it’s a business too, and sometimes you have to tick somebody off.” ButtonHead started hemorrhaging members, but the nature of the group didn’t allow for the simple replacement of those lost members with new musicians, and one day it just fell apart.
It was the day after the demise of ButtonHead that Young got the call to action. Literally. The lead singer of Amarillo at the time called to tell Young he was retiring and needed a replacement. Young went out to sing for the group and after a day’s deliberation, the band accepted him as replacement for their lost frontman.
Amarillo played together for six months before parting company to pursue other projects, but six months later they found themselves back at the beginning and wanting to re-form the band. The drummer at the time, Scott Byler, didn’t want to regroup under the same old title though, suggesting instead the name of the Joel Young Band.
But the band I talked to was still not formed yet. Over the next few months members dropped out and were replaced. Three members in three months. The resulting group sat before me that night very much united in their strength of conviction to just play music, drink and write some originals eventually. Probably.
How are those originals going to sound? Either the band can’t agree on one sound, or they all agree on all sounds. Either way, as Young says, “the avenue will be wide.”
McMeekin says, “I think I’d like to do country and make it sound like country, and do some rock and make it sound like rock. I don’t think its going to be one thing or the other.” He makes it sound like writing and practicing might become difficult.
But according to Dimke, it all flows seamlessly. “We went from a bluesy feel the other night, to rock, and then a little bit of country.”
What troubles other bands doesn’t really bother the Joel Young Band. Of the petty squabbling and infighting that often plagues bands, Flores says, “We all have A.D.D.. and we forget about things pretty quickly. So when somebody looks at us the wrong way, we’re mad about it for 30 seconds, then we’re like, ‘What’s going on? Did you guys see that movie?’”
Young adds, jokingly, “As soon as the originals are written, then people are going to start quitting.”
In the meantime, the Joel Young Band will continue to play their crowd-pleasing covers that span the gamut from country rock to contemporary hits. They include artists like Blake Shelton, Queen, Brad Paisley, The Doors, The Violent Femmes, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Plus, what country cover band would be complete without a little Skynyrd? When the subject of “Sweet Home Alabama” came up, though, there was a loud and collective groan. A good song in its own right, these guys seem to have covered it more times than they care to admit or remember. They play what the crowd wants, though, because sometimes that’s what gets you another booking.
It’s not surprising that bad financial times for businesses means bad financial times for bands too. The band has had their its share of slights recently – more personal than financial for some of the guys. “Obviously, it’s not about the money,” says McMeekin.
Flores is quick to counter, “I’ve got a kid on the way. For me it’s about the money.” He laughs while he says it, though.
Hard times or not, these guys are on their way to bigger and better venues if the listening populous enjoys good music at all. I was lucky enough to be serenaded with a sample of their musical styles before I left. The players come together like a symphony of personalities and talents culled from different musical backgrounds – a delight to the ears.
Whenever they get those originals written, if one should be powerful, the guys seem confident they can get it into the right hands. And hey, they just might take off. Until then, they’re happy to play at the bars and the Legion halls and generally wherever they get a crowd and free beer.