Paulo Coelho once claimed that nothing can substitute for experience. “Be brave,” he said. “Take those risks.” And how about ’ol Ally Einstein? On the topic he said that “the only source of knowledge is experience.” Yeah, yeah. Thanks, big brains. Zzzzzz.How about if we get a real man to weigh in on the topic? Let’s see what a cat named Pete Seeger, one of the best folk artists to ever go bald, has to say about experience. “Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.”
Enter bluesy garage rock duo Left Lane Cruiser, the pride of this generation’s Fort Wayne rock scene. Two guys, drummer Brenn Beck and singer/guitarist Joe Evans, wear beards and flannels, gulp whiskey and have simultaneously fought with and embraced the world. With instruments. Their new record, Junkyard Speed Ball, is the work of a seasoned band in its prime – a couple of guys who’ve been around the world and back. With instruments. Their prior release, 2009’s All You Can Eat (the record that sent them everywhere), was a heavy blues record made to be played loud, and while Junkyard is anything but quiet, it features more calm moments, mixing in a penchant for classic rock.
“We have always been focused on keeping our sound fresh,” Evans said. “I’ve always played in open tunings, but I felt I needed to branch out into some standard tuning. The open tuning stuff I mellowed out a bit, just for something new.”
“We made this record up in Detroit with the legendary Jim Diamond,” Beck added, speaking of the same Diamond who once worked with The White Stripes (not to mention countless others you’d likely know). “Recording at Jim’s place is about as perfect for us as we could ever hope; he knows we like it dirty, and he is the king of making it sound just that way. We had Jim play bass on a track and we also hired our good friend John Wesley Meyers from The Black Diamond Heavies to play keys on a few tracks. The record is a little softer than previous records, as I think the kids have mellowed us a little. That, and we’re getting tired of beating ourselves ragged every night.”
Ah yes, the kids. If you’ve not been keeping up with your local Cruisers, both Beck and Evans are now married fathers. It’s at this point where you start to wonder how long they’ll last as a band, right? Fights. Obligations. Emotions. Priorities. Longing. Those kinds of things.
Not these guys. Maybe it’s that they’ve been wise enough to keep their belts tight, sticking to the two-man format. Or maybe it’s just that they’re good dudes – solid, old-school guys who don’t mess around. Evans and Beck are, I have to guess, best friends. The fact that they’re now experiencing fatherhood together likely only strengthens that bond. Oh, and they’re smart too.
“[Being a father] definitely changes things. Besides being exhausted all the time, it really makes you think twice about touring,” Beck said about the Little Cruisers.
“I don’t like not seeing my daughter for a single day, let alone being seven states away with two weeks left to go. Joe and I had to really talk about the future of the band and really make sure we and our families were all on the same page. Ultimately, we decided that we can make it work. Tours are getting shortened from two months to 10 days, and we’ve gotten a little pickier about what shows we play – and for how much.
“I think it really excites both of us thinking that someday our kids will be riding in a car with us seeing the world from a perspective that not everybody gets the opportunity to see it from. The day that my daughter steps off a plane in Europe next to my side to watch her daddy play a sold-out show is the day I will know I’ve achieved more than I thought was possible.”
To offer some perspective on just how hard these guys have committed themselves to their craft, Left Lane Cruiser played 260 shows in 2009, traveling all around the world. “Man, we toured a lot more overseas that year than ever before, and had some crazy experiences that really impacted us,” Beck said. “We got deported that year, saw a lot of bombed out Eastern European countries and played some huge, sold-out shows in places I didn’t even know existed. We met a lot of good folks I now call friends, landed a song on [the television show] ‘Breaking Bad’ and played some killer fests in France with our good friends The Black Diamond Heavies. And, of course, we toured the hell outta the U.S. that year too.”
Forever curious about life on the road, I ask the Cruisers if they have any new stories. Evans passed, letting Beck take the bait.
“We have seen some crazy [stuff], brother. We have drank moonshine with hillbillies from Tennessee to Serbia, tried a lot of new things (both legal and illegal), got deported and met some real characters,” Beck said. “I think my favorite though has to be bribing the border patrol at the Serbia/Croatia border. When you pull up to the border you see the most intimidating dudes holding incredibly large guns.
“So this guy asks us what our reason for crossing over was, to which our driver replied that we were in a band. ‘What type of band?’ the guy asks. So our driver says ‘a blues band.’ After that it was completely silent for what felt like minutes. Having some unmentionables of questionable legality in the vehicle, we assumed we were screwed. Finally, just like in a scene from a movie, this guy starts naming all the American blues bands he can think of. ‘ZZ Top, yes? Stevie Ray Vaughan, yes?’ And so on. Then he stops dead silent again, puts out his hand and says ‘I like CDs.’ So obviously we gave the man a disc. He then says ‘my wife likes CDs.’ Long story short, for the bribe of a mere five or six albums he permitted us to pass without searching our car.”
A big part of the Cruisers’ out-of-town success is due to their record label, Alive Records, which has spread the LLC gospel all around the world, making Fort Wayne’s finest a household name amongst blues fans from Detroit to Serbia.
“Alive is a sub-label of Bomp Records, which is run by the same folks, Patrick Boisell and Suzy Shaw,” Beck said. “Back in the heyday of punk bands, Bomp and its founder Greg Shaw were hugely influential. With acts like Iggy Pop, The Black Keys, The Black Lips, Brian Jonestown Massacre and GG Allin [attached to our label], it’s hard to not feel like we’re a part of something special. Because of them we have a worldwide following, have played in more countries than I can count on my two hands and have sold, by my standards, a lot of records. But it has been a lot of work, and disappointing at times. We still play shows in places where six people show up, but we also play shows where 400 people show up.”
With new record in tow, Beck and Evans are currently playing regional shows, with plans to tour the south in April before heading back to Europe in June.
“We get gigs in town when we’re not on the road,” Evans said. “We’re at The Brass Rail with James Leg on March 18 and The Latch String on May 6 and July 1. We’re also doing the Deep Blues Fest in Cleveland on July 1. We’re trying to get invited to play the Three Rivers Festival this year and would love to do the local blues fest,” Evans jokes. “We’ve won Best Blues Band in Fort Wayne the past five years in a row, but I’ll be damned if we can get an invite to our local bluffest!
“We would also like to see some love from Piere’s and the Embassy,” Evans continues. “Come on y’all, our number is in the whatzup every week; give us a call, let’s do this thing! Were never gonna stop; the Cruiser will always roll on!”
So, it seems, no matter how much they’ve accomplished, the Cruisers are still thirsty for more. In closing, both Beck and Evans bring it back around to not their wild road experiences but, yep, those two Little Left Lane Cruisers.
“My daughter’s name is Frances, but we all call her Frankie. She’s four months old now and, unfortunately, the poor girl looks exactly like me,” Beck laughed. “She was born this past October and nobody has been able to wipe the smile off my face since. Being a dad is the most amazing thing I have ever done, and it really takes over your whole world. I would have never thought that I would rather spend a Saturday night watching The Swan Princess than seeing a favorite band, but that’s how it is now.”
“Me? I gave my boy the family name, Freddy J V,” Evans responded. “Being a dad is awesome. My kid rocks; he loves music and I can’t stand to be away from him. Every time I play my guitar and kick drums for him he gets this stunned look on his face, which then fades into a happy face for hours. Man, that kid loves the kazoo.”
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