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The idea came to her in the wee hours of the morning. At 6:30 a.m. one day, Jachell Tolbert awoke from her sleep and knew what the name of her band was to be: Last Call. “It was like Last Call, Last Call is it,” says Tolbert.
While you might think of that phrase as something you’d hear at the bar, for this “band of believers” as they refer to themselves), it took on a new meaning.
“What I did was a Bible search on where I could tie that name into to make sure it fit who we are,” she says. “Mark 9:35 was where it came [from], and the reason it was Last Call was because of the call that is in our life – we’re called to music, we’re called to being change agents in the music industry.”
The Christian faith factors heavily in the music of Last Call as well as in their personal lives, but they don’t necessarily play overtly Christian music. They’re currently a cover band, and their repertoire covers a multitude of genres ranging from Gospel and soul to contemporary hip-hop. But their personal backgrounds are all rooted in religious music.
“We’re a band of believers, meaning the base of this band [is] we all are church musicians or church singers,” says Jachell. “That was a heavy part of our background. We decided to step out and not just do a certain type of music, whether it be gospels or hymnals or spiritual or contemporary Christian. We decided to step out of that and go forward into some more diverse sounds and play all kinds of music. But we still wanted to stay true to who we were and what we represented.”
That choice to play secular music alongside more faith-based fare has not been without controversy, and it has carried with it certain costs. Ken Tolbert, who founded the band and is now termed its CEO, had some issues with a former workplace that didn’t agree with the mixing of the secular and the spiritual.
“I’m the son of a preacher actually, so I was raised in the church and I still play churches now,” Tolbert says. “But there was a particular episode when my band first got started: it was a church I was working at and [they didn’t approve of] the secular music thing. So, eventually I did lose my job. It was a decision I made. It was my band versus keeping that particular job. I mean, some people are for it, others are against it, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at. I know about my relationship with God.”
In addition to mixing up genres, Last Call are known for having a big sound. When they play live, they have anywhere from nine to 12 folks up onstage.
“We wanted to get back to that call of the true band sound, a big band sound,” says Jachell. “A lot of groups aren’t doing it because it’s just something that kind of faded away with older bands. Beginning in the 70s, Earth, Wind, and Fire and Confunkshun and all those bands had those really great sounds. It seems like as time progressed and technology progressed, that went away.”
That big sound, with so many people onstage, harkens to their origins as well as their choice in identity. The band started out about four years ago, when Tolbert was asked to put together a performance at a local bar on short notice. He started up a weekly show called Ken Tolbert Presents. He put together a band to play, but really created more of a variety show that included several bands. Originally there were about 25-30 participants. As Ken Tolbert Presents was winding down, the group narrowed down to 12 participants who decided to continue on as a band, eventually becoming Last Call.
The sound is also all-important to the band, second perhaps only to their faith. Their approach to music is that it’s the sound that matters, not so much the personalities involved. Regardless of who is onstage at any given time – and there have been some people coming and going over the years – you know what the band will sound like.
“When we first started off, everybody in the band had a show name. As time went on and, you know, people moved [on], we decided that Last Call was not people-based,” says Jachell. “We are sound-based. So our sound changes depending on the genre we’re doing and how many people are onstage.”
Last Call are progressing as a band too. While covers are currently their bread and butter, some originals are in the works as well. While there are no details on the new music yet, the band has its sights set high in anticipation of what the future might hold.
“Original music is coming; it is in the making. We’re aiming for 2018 Grammys. That’s our target, at least everybody in the band participates in trying to make hit music because we want to market and get on the Grammy listing for 2018,” says Jachell. “We want to put Fort Wayne on the map.
“We have got such great talent in our city, but it’s like it stays right here or people branch off and leave and be part of things in other cities. But we literally want to do it from Fort Wayne. We don’t want to have to move from Fort Wayne to make it. We would rather bring that here.
“Our goals are not just dreams. They’re goals that we’re really starting to work at and put into action so that we can put our city on the map and really have something great come out of Fort Wayne.”