If having groupies is a measure of a band’s success, then Triple Play must be doing something right.Okay, maybe the word “groupie” is a bit misleading. It conjures images that don’t exactly conform to the realities of Triple Play’s loyal fan base, or to Triple Play themselves for that matter.
It might be more hip, if a little lazy, to describe their fans by attaching the word “head” to the band’s name, as in Triplehead or Playhead. But even this approach sours when put to the on-the-spot TV reporter test. Consider this:
“The streets of Wapakoneta are buzzing with self-described Playheads as these ardent fans of the band Triple Play eagerly await tonight’s show at the Fraternal Order of Eagles. Back to you, Kenneth.”
Playhead sounds like something on a tape deck that might need adjusting. Triplehead could just as easily be a term uttered by a craft beer snob.
The point is this: People who like Triple Play really like Triple Play and will gladly follow the band along the highways and byways connecting the towns along the Indiana-Ohio boarder. Triple Play – Steve Bailey, Bob Creager and Larry Wogaman – are on the road some 50 nights a year, playing VFWs and Legions and Eagles lodges. And they see a lot of familiar faces wherever they go.
They plan to expand their range north to Fort Wayne. When that happens they’ll find out who the real road warriors are.
So who are Triple Play and what is it they do to inspire such fan loyalty? I found the answers to both questions about two months ago when I traveled the highways and byways connecting Fort Wayne and Wapakoneta, Ohio, where the band did in fact have a gig at the Fraternal Order of Eagles. And the room, if not the streets, was buzzing as people filtered in an hour before the show.
Chatting with the members of Triple Play before the show, I got their story and discovered the reason for the enthusiasm. They first teamed-up in 1973 in a band called New Product of Time, with Bailey on guitar, Wogaman on bass and Creager playing drums. That was in Piqua, Ohio, where Creager and Bailey are from. Wogaman grew up in nearby Houston, Ohio. (Piqua, Creager noted, is a Shawnee word translated as “he has risen from the ashes. Othath-He-Waugh-Pe-Qua,” Creager said in his best Shawnee.)
Part of the appeal is the music they play. They cover more than 60 different bands and musicians, including the Beatles, Temptations, Eddy Arnold, George Strait, R.E.M., The Eagles, The Safaris, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Brooks & Dunn, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Matchbox 20, Van Morrison, Springsteen, Clapton, Buck Owens and on and on.
Another part is the songs they cover. As soon as the first notes of Creedence Clearwater Revival’ “Down on the Corner” hit the air, half of the crowd at the Eagles got up and hit the dance floor. They were two-steppin’, doing variations of the foxtrot and other dance lesson staples. They were even line dancing.
“We have a lot of line dancers follow us,” Wogaman said. “They’ll line dance to “I Saw Her Standing There.“
“We play pretty much the same type of music we played in the 60s and 70s,” Bailey said. “We don’t play the hard stuff. Middle of the road rock. More country than we used to play. The feel good stuff.”
That first band lasted about year before Creager packed his bags and hauled off to Arizona to be near his parents, a move Wogaman found humorous.
“He ran away from home,” Wogaman said. “That’s funny. He ran toward his parents.”
In Arizona Creager kept playing music with various bands while he raised a family and built a business. Bailey and Wogaman did the same but stayed closer to home.
In the 90s Bailey took part in a nationwide singing contest at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and placed in the top 10.
“They offered me $10,000 worth of studio time,” he said. “They said we could do a lot of stuff.” But Bailey understood odds of getting anywhere and decided he’d had his fun and came back to Ohio and kept right on doing his thing.
Wogaman also had a brush with fame in the early 90s, playing bass for Michael (son of Conway) Twitty’s band. “It was just for a few weeks,’ Wogaman said. “It was a taste of the big time, but just a taste.”
The years rolled by, and they all kept in touch with each other. Wogaman and Bailey got back together in 2009 and played as a two-piece with a drum machine. A few years later Creager came back for the holidays and went to see his old friends play in Troy, Ohio. He liked what he heard.
“They told me they were holding the drummer chair for me,” Creager said. It took two years for Creager to sell his house and his business in Arizona. “My daughter is assistant vice chancellor at IPFW, and so in semi-retirement we decided to come back to this area.” Creager now lives in Fort Wayne.
Wogaman again found humor in Creager’s relocation choice. “Most people retire to Arizona.”
The easy banter they share between themselves carries over to their interactions with their fans. Between songs, audience members shout out requests, and the band does their best to squeeze them in. Between sets, Creager, Wogaman and Bailey joke and catch up with whoever happens by. Then it’s back to work.
They play three tight sets. They bring their own stage, lights and sound system. They leave nothing to chance. The discipline they display in the technical aspects of each performance frees them to concentrate on having a good time, which in turn pretty much ensures their fans will have a good time too. After all, what should it be if it shouldn’t be fun? And if it’s fun, it’s worth the drive.
“We have a gentleman who drives from the other side of Richmond (Indiana) when we play here,” Bailey said.
“One thing I’ve seen that has been cool since rejoining with these guys is the amount of people who are following this band,” Creager said. “To me that’s a huge statement. I think a lot of it is the demographic. They look at us and they see themselves.”