The birth of the Friday Night Drifters was 1976, around lunch. Todd Lane snuck us into the band room one lunch hour and handed me a light blue Kay guitar, if memory serves me correct. He plugged it in, and plugged in a bass. At that point neither of us could play for shit, but we made a really big noise and from that point on we were hooked.
Mark Doane took us under his wing and instilled in us a regimen of sharp discipline, mainly so he’d have someone to play with him when he backed our band director, Mike Croghan. Mr. Croghan was always getting us into weird musical situations, and to this day we could all three play Michael Murphy’s Wildfire, or John Denver’s Aye Calypso with relative ease.
After high school, Todd Lane and I tried playing in bands, usually together but sometimes separately, but that never seemed to work out for long.
The problem was, and is, playing other people’s songs, night after night for a bunch of drunks is more like work than fun. I mean the drunks are great, but if you can focus on them for entertainment, that means you’re doing the music without even thinking. Neither him nor I are a jukebox.
In the earliest of the eighties, we drifted into becoming an acoustic duo, when we realized we were the only people weird enough to play with each other. We did one gig here in Carmi, at the Vintage Lounge. I wouldn’t say the crowd was hostile, merely energetic and somewhat emphatic in their response. We soldiered on till one of the more intimidating bar patrons unplugged our PA to plug the pinball machine back in.
A couple years later we resurfaced in a six week battle of the bands in Evansville, which we won in a landslide, playing essentially the same show. When we saw the commercial potential in what we were doing, we immediately stopped for the next twenty years or so.
About eight or nine years ago my kid, Teelin finally got a real drum set. As he was only about 12 or 13 at the time, we knew his ability to play in a band would be limited. So we reformed to give him someone to play with. We even resurrected the Friday Night Drifter name for our first gig.
Our attempts at public performances were mixed, in part because of our song choice. The idea for our first show came about as the three of us were driving one afternoon, trying to pick out the songs for an upcoming performance. We realized we could do the set we’d picked out, and have been an average band. Or we could play the entire live portion of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, and while most people would hate it, there would be one guy there whose mind would be blown, and for him, and us, it would be a legendary performance.
Turns out there were two, who dutifully emailed me to thank us.
That was the last time we were thanked for playing live. Then we switched to folk music, playing mainly acoustic and suddenly we were almost acceptable. We were dutifully chastised however, for doing The Ballad of Onan with a fourteen year old in the group. But C’mon. Is there anyone who can better relate to a story about masturbation than a fourteen year old boy?
Seeing impending commercial potential, we retired from live performance like the Beatles before us, to focus on recording.
We never had aspirations for anyone to hear it really. The joy was in playing, thinking about music, talking about music. We’ve recorded lots of stuff, seldom finished anything, and a lot of the unfinished stuff was folk music.
When people think of folk music today, it’s usually people like James Taylor. But that ain’t folk, that’s singer songwriter. Folk music is the old canon of songs, usually played for the joy of playing it, and for whoever was around to listen. If you were getting paid in more than liquor or a pass of the hat, it probably wasn’t really folk music.
For those of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies, folk music was acoustic by nature. Most people didn’t keep electric guitars and drums around.
So you could make the case that for those coming of age now, folk music would include rock music as well, the old classics which people have played professionally and in their bedrooms for the past fifty years. Smoke on the Water and Stairway to Heaven could be the new Red River Valley.
After all, when Stairway to Heaven was written, Good Night Irene was a newer song to them, than Stairway is to us now.
So we figure incorporating a Rickenbacker in a song from the seventeenth century is just as traditional as the Clancy Brothers’ sweaters.
Todd Lane never could figure out why I never finished anything we recorded. But since we were doing it for fun, it didn’t need to be finished, because once it was finished, the fun was over.
And then one day, the fun was over.
Teelin is now twenty-one and off pursing a life of music of his own. He still pops in from time to time. Todd Lane is otherwise occupied, working through the whole cancer thing. And there are times it feels like it might finally be over for the Friday Night Drifters.
So I finished up these songs, mainly to hear those voices in my head again, this time through a set of headphones. It’s eerie, listening in to the past.
But the music finally has a reason to be finished. To help out one who was the heart of what created it. So if you’re so inclined, go to www.one4toddlane.com and donate. Like, now.