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New Direction: Home
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Chris Dodds used to play to a crowded house and not get home until four in the morning. On a good night. These days you’ll still find him playing to a room filled to capacity, but he’s more than likely getting home at a more reasonable hour. Oh, and there is one other slight difference these days as well: He’s playing more shows than he ever did before.
Music came natural to Chris Dodds. “My mother was a coffeehouse hippie-type folkie who played piano and guitar. She taught me violin when I was around four years old. I learned through the Suzuki method, which is essentially by ear. I played violin until the sixth grade,” remembers Dodds.
Chris received an electric guitar when he was fifteen, but didn’t really play until he picked up an acoustic at nineteen. Dodds went to Ball State as an Art major, but was asked to leave the Art department. He switched to Criminal Justice (“Why? I don’t know. I’m not sure if there was a cute girl taking those courses or if it was due to the very little amount of math involved.”) but eventually dropped out of school. The only positive experience became the time spent playing his guitar, which, according to Dodds, was all the time. “The most productive thing outta college for me and I wasn’t a music major!” he says.
His first gig was on campus and he recalls being sick to his stomach and nothing but sweaty for the entire two hours he spent on stage. In spite of the nerves, he was hooked and decided to move to Indianapolis and look for gigs and other people to perform with. It wasn’t meant to be, so he came back home and started playing the coffeehouses. Like Mother, like Son. He got a regular gig playing Higher Grounds but soon realized the limitations involved. “After playing coffeehouses, I realized if I wanted to progress I had to play places that served alcohol. That was a very important lesson.”
It wasn’t very long after making this decision that Dodds ran into childhood friend Eric Federspiel. Federspiel mentioned that he was “playing with a group of guys in this other guy’s basement. So I weaseled my way in as a bass player, having never played bass in my life.” Brian Gongwer was singing and playing guitar, Matt Kelley was playing guitar, Mark Winters was on the drums, Dave Parks played guitar, Jason Roemer played guitar and so did Eric. “Way too many guitars!” says Dodds. “I just remember that they were murdering ‘Old Apartment’ by Barenaked Ladies.”
Dodds showed Federspiel how to play the bass chords and when Gongwer left the room Dodds took over and started singing. Gongwer packed his stuff up and left before the song was even over. “That’s how badly I wanted to be in a band,” Dodds says. “I almost literally willed it.”
The group quickly became a foursome — Kelley on guitar, Winters on drums, Federspiel on bass and Dodds on guitar and vocals. They focused on their craft and hibernated for a long time, practicing three days a week for a year before playing a very sparsely attended show at Manchester College. They went back to the practice schedule and didn’t book another show for at least six months. The band still didn’t have a name, and with a week to go and flyers to be made, Kelley asked Dodds what his favorite children’s book was. “I told him it was ‘Go Dog Go.’ So we ended up using that for the band name. It was either that or Atomic Annie,” winces Dodds,
The show was at Katy’s Kapers (since closed, but located where After Dark is now) in February 2000. “The place was literally packed wall to wall and the bar ran out of alcohol,” Dodds says. “We were playing a lot of Old 97s, Counting Crows, Wilco and Barenaked Ladies back then.”
“The gratifying thing about playing live with Go Dog Go was watching these really good, technical musicians come into the bar on the weekends while we played. You’d see them kinda look around the bar and then laugh,” shares Dodds, “But they would laugh while we played to 500 people jumping up and down having a blast. Johnny Punchclock doesn’t care about precision. He cares about going down to the bar and having a good time and hearing good songs. We had so much fun in that group and a lot of it was because we didn’t flash it up.”
Those days are over for the most part. Aside from the occasional Legendary Trainhoppers show, Dodds either plays solo acoustic shows or shares the stage with Mike Conley for acoustic performances on a weekly basis. He enjoys what he does onstage by himself a whole lot more than the old days.
“To be honest, it’s so much easier and I never have to worry about doing something that might throw somebody else on stage off. Doing what I’m doing now there’s no more getting home at four A.M.” he says, “I play every Tuesday at LaHacienda at Park West, every Thursday at Black Dog Pub at Covington and every Friday I play at Columbia Street West with Mike Conley during Happy Hour. Black Dog, I’ve been doing for five years, LaHacienda for a two and a half and I’ve done Happy Hour for the last two years.”
Dodds really enjoys the friendship that has developed between Conley and himself. He also appreciates the banter between songs. “Mike is good at banter. He’s good at talking. I’d much rather sing. I don’t like to talk, I’ve never been good at it. So it basically works out where Conley will talk between songs and then I make fun of him.”
Fun is really all that Dodds is looking for these days. His priorities have shifted with the raising of his nearly three year old son Jax and he wants to work on projects that will leave a legacy and provide him the opportunity to work in a laid back atmosphere. “It’s not really about being super intense and being so artistic and having so much validity. At this point I just wanna have fun. You don’t have to be Steve Vai. I have learned nearly five to six hundred songs in the time I’ve been playing at Black Dog Pub and the majority of those were songs that people suggested I play. I decided that if they would bring me a copy of the song, then I would learn it and play it for them the next week. I’ve also been able to expand my song selection by having my friend, Tim Gordon, join me on stage. His range and melody have allowed me to pick songs that I couldn’t before. Basically, I’ve learned to utilize Conley and Gordon and now I can sing certain songs and have them hit the high notes that I could never sing.”
Dobbs says the two people he has learned the most from are Mike Conley and Matt Kelley. “From Conley I’ve learned to be a better guitar player,” he says. “Kelley, I owe a lot to him. We were both horrible guitarists. We would collaborate and push each other and it was a nice safety net. We grew comfortable sharing our writing with each other.”
Dodds continues: “It’s gonna be weird and maybe awkward to do something without Matt. But out of a need for progression, I have to. He’s a wonderful crutch. I know that we will do a children’s album together. We’ve already talked about that. Recently playing at Fox Island, looking out and seeing my son, Jax, playing his ukulele and seeing Matt’s son, Hank, playing with a drumstick,” Dodds pauses, “It’s hard not to get choked up. Same can be said for playing the Trainhoppers album release at the Indiana Hotel. Looking out and seeing the first four rows being nothing but kids, that’s so much better than four rows of drunks at two in the morning.”
Dodds figures by the time 2006 is over he will have played well over 200 shows. This past summer, during the Three Rivers Festival, he played twelve shows in ten days, a personal record. Speaking of a personal record, Dodds has plans to record a solo album eventually — there’s the children’s album to work on and record first. In the meantime, he’ll keep living the dream. “I really can’t believe I get paid to do this. I play music and I teach pre-school/kindergarten. Two things that I would certainly do for free. I got a house. A wonderful son. Ya know?”
He’s building a legacy. It’s certainly one he can be proud of.
(Editor’s Note: Upon further review, it has been decided that Chris Dodds is the hardest working Fort Wayne musician, just barely edging out Jon Ross. Sorry Jon.)