Just when you think you've seen it all in local music you find BootLeg. In theory they're a hodgepodge, motley crew of various genres. In reality they're a classic blend of the best of all worlds.
Frontman Jeff Gainey is a touring veteran with a country album to his credit. Drummer Aaron Wood has a marching band history. Keyboardist Larry Pester trained as a classic pianist. Bassist Jack Allen is a church band member, and lead guitarist Jack Martinez spent years playing with a Vietnamese band.
Although the five-some have notable differences in their musical pasts, they've successfully turned these differences into a unique country experience they call BootLeg.
BootLeg's trademark is a three-part harmony courtesy of Gainey, Allen and Pester. Let me bear witness: the harmony is the real deal. It puts a new spin on local shows and spurs BootLeg into a high-energy and ear-grabbing show.
A reincarnation of the local band Renegade, BootLeg have been around for almost six years. Allen started the band, and he was joined by former Renegade bandmates Pester, Martinez and Wood. The group is not out to get a Nashville following or prove itself through marketing techniques. It's all about the band members and the audience enjoying the music.
Gainey has a mighty impressive voice and stage presence. His vocal talent guides BootLeg in its soulful foundation. No stranger to touring, he has travelled across the country performing for eight or nine weeks at a time at casinos and larger venues, sometimes opening for national acts like Ricochet. When Gainey came back to Indiana following his tour out West, the lead singer for BootLeg was just leaving, so it worked out. A Michigan native who currently resides in Warsaw, Gainey's influences are Tom Jones, Merle Haggard and Steve Perry.
"I think Elvis was the first entertainer that I remember trying to imitate as a kid," he said. "On stage is where I'm happy and where I feel at home."
His touring experience and hard work came in handy on his first album, The Way I Like It, which he recorded at Sweetwater Sound three years back. He enjoys writing songs, and he's currently working on material for a sophomore album and video.
Bassist Allen might also be called a vocalist first and foremost. His vocals play backup to Gainey's, but he could be a lead vocalist in his own right with his intense harmonization and passion for melody. He also handles the group's bookings and practices and enjoys his extra band tasks. Allen was born in the Fort Wayne area and spent his childhood years singing and playing bass with his brother, mostly in churches and schools. His father was the bass player in Joe Taylor's Fort Wayne-based Red Birds, a group that brought real country to Fort Wayne from the 40s to the 70s with harps, steel guitars, fiddles, banjos and the like. Taylor's daughter, Paula Jo, who performed with the Red Birds as a child and is now a Nashville songwriter playing with major acts, also worked with Allen musically during their high school and college days. Allen spent his early years playing with the group Last Resort and moved on to spend 20 years with Starfire (rock), three years with Covenant Brothers (Southern gospel) and three years with Generation (rock n' roll), before delving into contemporary Christian music with the band Connection, for whom he still plays in his "spare" time. His influences include the Doobie Brothers, Three Dog Night, the Carpenters, Styx and Alabama.
Martinez was born and raised in Chicago but moved to Decatur, where he began to explore guitar, at the age of 17. He was a garage band guru with his self-taught picking talent, and two years later he joined a Vietnamese band named CBC, a group focused mainly on Top 40 hits. CBC played throughout the U.S., eventually travelling to Hawaii and the Marshall Islands to play military bases and island clubs. After living the rough life in the tropics, he returned to Decatur where he started a family (he has three children and wife Marla, whom he describes as the "most important" things in his life). Rumor has it that Martinez saw George Strait in concert and has not been the same pre-country musician since. Beginning in 1991 Martinez began several local bands, including Laredo (country), Borrowed Time (oldies) and Sierra Shame (country/classic rock). He's been with BootLeg since 2007.
Pester, a child prodigy on piano, started playing when he was three, performed in his first concert at the age of six and, three years later, made an album and started classes at University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. At the age of 11 Pester created his first nationally recognized composition. He soon started working with rock, jazz, classical, big band and R&B bands in the Cincinnati area. When Barry LaBov of LaBov & Beyond hired him as his chief recording engineer, Pester was working in Chillicothe, Ohio writing jingles and teaching recording classes. These days he is an engineer and producer for Studio 1102 in Fort Wayne where he works with local artists. Before joining BootLeg he played with other local groups, including The Answer, Popular Demand and Renegade.
Wood rounds out the group. His parents were the inspiration for his music, having kick-started his young career with a drum set in seventh grade. After spending 13 years playing drums at his church Wood went on to play in the Homestead marching band, jazz band and show choir band. He spent three years with High Noon, a band he shared with his bass-playing brother. For the next four years he played with Renegade, and then came to BootLeg. His musical influences include Nashville drummers Lonnie Wilson and Eddie Bayers and "Ace in the Hole" Mike Kennedy, George Strait's drummer.
"I learned so much about the style of country music drumming from these guys," Wood said.
Right now BootLeg are enjoying their playing time instead of focusing on cranking out original tunes. As Pester said, "I would do a lot of original stuff, but that's not the main focus. If I would do it, it wouldn't be because I expect to make a living off of it. I would do it because it's nice to have played all these years and have something to show for it. I like sitting down and going through the creative process. BootLeg we haven't put pressure on ourselves to do all that."
Allen added that "a lot of people write songs, but those songs aren't necessarily what people want. I want to bring the whole experience of the music to the performance. I don't know if people are concerned with whether a band has originals. I kind of feel like most people are interested in a good show with lots of energy and great music. That is what we're trying to do."
One of the group's greatest assets is their laid-back style of musicianship and their lack of drama. The guys "genuinely get along," said Wood. The key is their childlike enjoyment in playing true BootLeg music.
"A lot of bands force it and make it about recording albums and being successful. We are happy with playing music that we enjoy and music that reaches the audience," said Allen.
He continued, "We have people who love to see us play, and they come out to Elkhart and Goshen and wherever we're playing. They're amazing, and we're so grateful to them for the support."
BootLeg are without a doubt an experience you should not miss. You can catch them online at www.myspace.com/BootLegcountry.