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Fort Wayne's Music Veterans
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Bob Green has been impressing audiences for years with his saxophone, but ironically, Green says that he almost didn't become a musician for fear that he was too old to play by the time he became interested in music."I had an interest in playing, but being 16 or 17 years old, I thought that it was too late," he admits.
The interest began when his father would take him to the Palace Theatre to see performances from the likes of Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Jimmy Lunsford. "Course that's the time when we had to sit in the balcony," recalls Green, "It was back in those days. However, that started me appreciating the art form. I would tune into stations out of Chicago. There was a station, WJJD, that was within a hair of WOWO and I would come home from high school for lunch and listen to that station."
A week after graduating from high school, Green enrolled in the Air Force. When the Korean War broke out he was sent to Japan. There he found that the Japanese were emulating the art form. Soon he was in Korea where he still had an appreciation for the music, but still did not take it up. "I came back from Korea and I got married. So I couldn't do it then. That marriage lasted about seven years. So, you might say that in between divorces I started dabbling around with it. I didn't start playing until I was 32 years old and I started out with flute," he says. "I think I picked that up when Guy Zimmerman was still in business. The flute didn't make enough noise and I was learning strictly by ear. I knew the style I wanted to play, so I went down to B & B pawn shop and picked up a saxophone for $25. Then I just started playing around with it. I was self taught. A combination of my determination and listening to the artists."
Green listened to jazz greats such as Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker. He says he still appreciates those early artists and wishes they would get the accolades they deserve from the public. "Speaking for myself, you've heard of 'old school' but you might say that I'm 'antique school.' I go back to what I feel people have tossed aside for smooth jazz or jazz that's so complicated that they don't understand it. I go back to Dexter Gordon and Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, when I'm talking about saxophone. Those are the guys that don't get any credit at all nowadays. You can't go to one place here in Fort Wayne and sit down and really relax and listen to what they brought forth. This smooth jazz is not my cup of tea. I also feel like the audiences today are hung up on Hip-Hop and basic rock so much that they don't want to exercise their minds to even understand jazz. If you had a monotonous beat or two chords going back and forth and 'bump bump ditty bump' all the way through the song, what is that to study about? That's one street car going from Southtown to Glenbrook continuous. No variation. If you don't catch the scenery along the way, you just miss it."
Green still gigs around town but says the type of music he plays is not in demand. It has been that way since the early 90s when he finished playing at the Holiday Inn at Pip's. "I don't really recommend Club Soda as a venue for jazz," he points out, "I don't think the audience there is conducive to it."
Some of his favorite gigs over the years were the ones at Pip's and some appearances at clubs in Toledo, Ohio. "I used to play at a place called Rusty's over there. It was in business for over 30 years and then the woman who owned it got a little too old to keep it going. She sold it and that was the end of jazz as we know it over there."
While working at Rusty's, Green met B-3 organist Tony Monaco. The two became friends and since then Green has invited Monaco to play in Fort Wayne on more than a few occasions, but unfortunately the shows have not been as well attended as he would have hoped for them to be, but that is indicative of the city. "That's Fort Wayne for you. They just don't do it. When I started playing I was more or less weaned on playing with the B3 organ artists and the only one I could get close to, that was carrying on that tradition, was Tony Monaco."
Green spends a portion of his time playing as part of a duo these days with Todd Phillips. "I kind of have a standing thing every sixty days at Triangle Park, but that's about it. Todd's a high school music teacher. He and I have a background recorded and he plays keyboards while I play saxophone."
He advises musicians just starting out to get a sense of the basics before getting too wild with it. "I would have them start out reading music and keep it simple until they thoroughly know what they're doing. Then improvise."
Duane Eby had to overcome a few unique instruments before finally getting his hands on a guitar and ever since he's been creating some really wonderful music with it. "When I was younger my father had an ex-Navy buddy who opened up a used record store. He had all sorts of records from old jukeboxes and he would hold the best ones back for me. My father would bring them home and I heard everything from Mario Lanza to 'Purple People Eater.' The first piece of music that I heard and wanted to go get was 'Sounds of Silence' by Simon & Garfunkel and I was interested in finding out a way of being involved at that point. My mother took me to get lessons, but because money was short the lessons had to be affordable. She had a friend who taught me, but I had to choose between marimba and accordion. I still have a fear of accordion."
After that, he ended up playing oboe in junior high. It was either that or bassoon. It wasn't until he was 16 that he played guitar. "My aunt, perhaps out of revenge for something my father did to her at an earlier age, bought me a $12 Woolworth's special. It was an acoustic and really light wood. One of the benefits was I could get tremolo by pushing on the face. I started off playing secondhand Dylan; courtesy of the Byrds' version of 'Mr. Tambourine Man.' I played that guitar for 12 years and took it with me everywhere. It didn't have a case and after seven years it was only playable in the first seven frets. It warped enough that anything above that was the same pitch. It bowed away from the body and had no truss rod. I still have the memories of it."
Eventually, Eby started playing around town, particularly at the Blue Mountain, where after “chickening out” a few times, he eventually summoned the courage to play three songs.
Those songs were covers, but Eby was writing originals. Often he would mimic a certain song or musician and end up with something totally different but in the same spirit. This ended up becoming his own style. "Go for the spirit because you can't reproduce exactly what's there. Even if it's less quality, you've begun making something that is your own."
Eby has been able to maintain a close connection with musicians after making those introductions years ago. "I went out to music stores and found out about people who liked to play the sort of music I liked also. I played at Guy Zimmerman's and met Steve Smeltzer and we became friends. He recommended a few people."
Those meetings led to some really memorable years playing at Toast + Jam. "I hosted the singer-songwriter night every Thursday for about two years. We'd have four or five of them a night and the crowd could ask questions. It was definitely musician oriented. Since it has closed, C2G has kind of helped to take on that role and give people the experience to play on a bigger stage and how to talk to a sound man. As far as intimacy, you just can't replace what Toast + Jam had. The closest would be Firefly."
A misconception is that Eby prefers acoustic guitar or mostly folk music. It couldn't be farther from the truth. "That's one of those things you get saddled with. People see you play an acoustic guitar and they think that's all you can do. I'm no more a folkie than Michael Patterson is a jazzie. I don't have a preference for acoustic or electric. I just like to play with humans."
He's found some humans to play with over the years and created the band Point of Departure. The current line-up features Felix Moxter (viola); Dan Cutaia (bass); Bob Shenfeld (acoustic guitar and mandolin); and Mike Andrews (percussion). They've released three albums, though only one is still in print. Eby has also released a solo album recently that contains songs written over the years.
Eby says he is glad to see so many more avenues for musicians become available over the years. "The amount of musicians has always been pretty high, but it was never quite as visible. Now there are a few newsprint publications that list venues and performers. That really makes people aware of each other. I think that's really important. Nowadays there are a lot more festivals for musicians to play and it used to be that you couldn't get a gig with the Three Rivers Festival either."
There are a quite a few musicians around town that impress Eby; in particular he enjoys Ben Laatsch ("He's one of my faves"), Tesia Lapp ("She has a softer, higher voice and lots of emotion"), Eric Squire ("He's a really good writer") and Ryan Hartman ("He has a really
When it comes to offering words of wisdom to younger musicians around town, Eby says, "I'm not sure I'm qualified to give advice. Don't lose sight that you love it; if you lose sight you're lost. There will be tough times, but the bigger picture is that if it serves a purpose to touch inside of you, then you should just keep doing it no matter what. The longer you do something, the better you get at it."
George Connor literally grew up surrounded by musicians. It was no surprise that he eventually made music his priority and moved to California to fulfill his goals. He's since returned to the Summit City and as a music teacher surrounds himself with others who share his passion.
Connor's parents were both musicians. His mother played harp and piano, while his father was a violinist and owned Carl Connor Violins."He was a classical musician and we had this wonderful Italian au pair who would give me piano lessons when I was young. I started playing when I was in diapers, probably."
He would go every other weekend to see his father perform, "Back when we had a little more culture in the city and it wasn't sponsored by an insurance company."
Connor focused on jazz and classical until he was 10 and rock 'n' roll came along. He says he got into guitar by accident after helping a friend tune a guitar, which won him the adulation of his friends. Soon after that his father got two classical guitars for a filmmaker and the one that was not purchased was kept in the house. Connor started plunking around on it and soon figured out how it worked. But what really lead to Connor's knowledge of the instrument began with some innocent fun a friend convinced him to take part in. "A friend told me that he had been able to borrow the car from his dad. Since I was older, I did all the driving until my friend insisted on impressing some girls that we had picked up. He punched the gas and flooded the engine which resulted in us being stranded at a park after curfew. My father forbid me from seeing those friends again. You can imagine how boring Fort Wayne is now. This is before cable television. All I did was read and play guitar all day the rest of that summer."
He had it mastered within 8 weeks, which is not really reasonable for most people. Some people advance quicker than others, which is something that Connor didn't understand until becoming a teacher. "When I began teaching I started to realize that people who haven't had lessons are missing certain fundamental concepts. With the lack of funding in schools nowadays, some kids have no talent for it at all. It used to be we had music class everyday and learned to dance or clap your hands or kick your neighbor or whatever it was. Now those things are all missing. It's a terrible thing."
He started teaching after moving to California. "There's a cadre of players out there that will come and check you out to see if you have something they need to learn. They'll seek you out. I probably did more taking of lessons than giving them until I became a professional studio musician."
The decision to move to California was made for the specific goal of wanting to play on a real album for a real record company. "The peculiar luck that I had is I achieved that goal within the first five days I was out there. I went out on Thursday, got settled in and had dinner with some friends, got an audition on Monday and by Tuesday I was playing with Ken Scott of CBS Records."
After being hired to play on some more records and playing live, Connor soon found himself playing on thousands of recordings. "I was doing sometimes 4, 5 or 6 sessions a day. I got gigs with Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys and Peter Noonan of Herman's Hermits. It's one of those things where it's not how good you are, it's who you know. I was competent and I showed up on time, that was really a big part of it also."
Opportunities for working musicians have declined since Connor's return from California. "I can state this unequivocally: It has changed for the worse. When I was 17, I made more money playing in nightclubs than I do now. It's not a small amount; we're talking about a 2:1 ratio. Back then there were dozens and dozens of places to play. The reasons for a lack of that now would be profiteering club owners along with musicians who allow themselves to be used. People are also afraid to go out and have fun. You used to be able to go out and walk around downtown. You didn't have to drive somewhere and now with the over enforcement of DUI laws and the tremendous Draconian measures they are taking against it, it's very difficult to find anyplace near that you can walk to. If you drive, you have to have a designated driver or you can't drink. I don't mean to sound bitter, it's just an observation."
Connor enjoys playing at Club Soda and A J's Bar & Grill. His group, The Geo Trio, can regularly be seen performing at both venues.
Connor says the area is brimming with young talent if you are into the singer-songwriter thing and that he also appreciates the talents of Phil Potts. He says that younger musicians should be concerned with keeping the Internet free and to remain independent. He's planning on teaching his more accomplished students at B Sharp Guitars not only how to play their instrument, but also how to make a record. The way he would do it and the way a record company would have them do it. "It will be an education on the music business."
George Ogg has spent the better part of his life playing and teaching music. He took to the guitar when he was eight or nine years old. His older brother, nine years Ogg’s senior, had a guitar around, and there was a piano in his family’s living room. Ogg was always picking out melodies and playing T.V. themes or commercials.
He started guitar lessons at Guy Zimmerman’s when he was nine. “I would ride the bus down there and I took lessons until I was 14. Guy was a great influence and really encouraged kids to hang out around there. A couple of kids in the neighborhood and I would carry our guitars and amps around and learn Beatles tunes and show each other what we were learning. Then (drummer) Steve Smeltzer and I started teaching there when I was around 16 years old. I started playing in my first band around then and we would play Led Zeppelin and stuff. The first gig I remember playing was at a teen place that was over near Fairfield and Pontiac. It was a drummer, keyboardist and I. In high school, I was in a band called Iron Horse. We would play proms and the Southwest YMCA. The bars came later when I was 19 or 20."
Ogg moved to California with his wife, Christina, at the end of 1980. He played quite a bit when he wasn't busy working for GTE doing call maintenance in small towns 40 minutes north of Los Angeles. "I had to do it during the night in the desert. It was scary. One wrong move and that was it. This is in the days before cell phones, so I started thinking, 'What am I doing? Is this worth it?' If I had gone off the road I would have been food for buzzards.”
So he concentrated on music. That's when he really became aware of the blues and started driving from his home in San Fernando Valley to Redondo Beach for blues gigs where he would make $40 a night. “Since gas was 30 cents a gallon back then it wasn't an issue."
Soon he hooked up with some musicians who introduced him to Marcy Levy, who had made a name for herself singing with Eric Clapton. They put together a band and gave that a go but it didn't work out. "We did some gigs, but there was no qualified leader. I went out there to do music and in retrospect it was probably a mistake. It was a huge culture shock to go there. It's a totally different place. It's a nice place to live if you're wealthy. I wouldn't consider it a total waste of time. I learned a lot."
In 1986, Ogg and his wife had their first child, which put a new slant on things. While he continued to play and get paid a little bit, Ogg started working in a shoe store and he acquired a morning paper route just to make ends meet. Then, his mother became ill in the late 80s and passed away, so they decided to move home and be close to his father.
Ogg began working at music stores around town after returning to Fort Wayne. The first place was the Percussion Center, but he was soon let go and it was the best thing that could have happened. It cemented the idea that he should be focusing on teaching and playing. "I decided no matter what it takes, I'm going to do it. I branched out and started doing more. I saw piano guys playing and figured I should be doing that, so I would go and play in restaurants. I taught myself to play in jazz duos and anything that I wasn't familiar with doing. I diversified, which is what you have to do if you want to make a living. I teach and I have my hand in a lot of different things."
One of those things is being the music director for the Saturday service at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. He also plays around 6 to 8 gigs a year with The Bel-Airs. "We used to try and do Legions, but it's too specific of an idiom. The style we do is better in a concert setting. We definitely have some rapport with the audience. I love all the guys in The Bel-Airs. We just have a blast and the other guys are such good players."
Ogg says the opportunities to play around town all comes down to what type of musician you are. "Being a musician is like being entrepreneurial; you have to make your own job. As far as what the guys in their 20s do, I don't know. I would say it's probably the same as it always was."
What really matters to Ogg are the friendships he has developed over the years. "Those are really important. It is in any business and music is no exception. People will always call you back if you show up on time and play. I've become great friends with people like Steve Smeltzer, Kevin Piekarsky, Eric Clancy, James Baker and all the guys in The Bel-Airs. I like that Fort Wayne is big enough for you to stay busy, yet small enough that you can know a lot of people and network."
He's had his share of memorable shows, everything from playing with the Rippingtons to inadvertently sabotaging REO Speedwagon's performance after opening for them in his earlier days. These days he doesn't get out to see music as much as he'd like. "When I'm not playing, I'm just being the guy at home. The family tries to get together on Sundays to see if we still remember what we all look like."
For anyone getting a start in music, Ogg suggests they be careful what they wish for. "I always said I wanted to be a musician. I should have said I wanted to be a rock star."
Michael Patterson has made a name as one of Fort Wayne’s premiere jazz bass players, but like most area musicians, he is so much more than that. This talented performer, who doesn't consider himself a musician, can literally do it all and continues to inspire anyone who witnesses his playing.
Patterson began playing music while in grade school, first the flute and then the saxophone. "My dad played sax and I inherited it from him. He loved jazz and I would raid his record collection and listen to The Nat King Cole Trio and Jimmy Smith. Then I went to prep school out East and that's when I discovered John Coltrane. It was mind blowing. Then, I heard Hendrix. I had been into R&B, like James Brown, and I also preferred Stax Records from the South. Junior Wells and John Lee Hooker got me into having a strong liking for the blues. My dad also turned me on to Oscar Pettiford, Bob Marley and Charlie Parker. After hearing Hendrix, I listened to more rock and avant garde jazz. The times dictated some of the music also; the Black Consciousness Movement got me listening to Archie Shepp and Charles Mingus."
After awhile, Patterson decided he wanted to play guitar, so he went with his father to Guy Zimmerman's, traded in his saxophone for a Gibson Firebird and started playing R&B and hard rock.
Patterson's first guitar teacher was Will Sharp of the band, Ethos. He also credits his cousin Will Robinson for teaching him to play the blues. “I was in a lot of bands then. Brothers Grimm was one of them. We played a mix of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath."
Then Patterson took nearly a decade off from music. "I got back into playing because of Craig Hardy and Ajax Studios. He would call me to do work with him. I was getting switched over to bass a lot in the studio. Craig would ask me to put some bass on a track. So, finally I said to myself, 'Maybe I should just play bass’."
Around this time Patterson was playing in bands like Cool Breeze and Verbal Red. He began taking bass lessons from Kevin Piekarsky and began playing consistently in the early 90s.
Patterson became interested in electronic music and music concrete after hearing a piece by Karlheinz Stockhausen while still in prep school, although he didn't know it was by the composer at the time. He was too shy to ask the person working at the coffee shop who was playing overhead, so it wasn't until his senior year of high school at Elmhurst that he discovered the person responsible for the music he had heard that day. "My music teacher, John Morris, played a piece by Stockhausen, so I went out and got the record. On the other side was the song I had heard, 'Song of the Children.' I e-mailed his website and he wrote back encouraging me to 'keep singing the song of the children.' I then wrote a piece entitled, 'I Will Keep Singing the Song of the Children' and sent him a copy. I received a hand written letter from him that was on the back of a piece of an opera of his and a copy of his opera, Angel Processions."
Patterson feels comfortable playing all types of music and considers a lot of Fort Wayne musicians to be well versed in several styles. "I'm not hung up on any kind of music. I'm into communication. It's what I do for a living. Sometimes I write using words and others I use sound. I've met more adventurous players here than when I was in Grand Rapids. Most guys here play 2 or 3 different types of music."
While in Grand Rapids, he stayed busy playing music every week, in spite of the fact that he never had any intention to. "I didn't even try to play, but when people found out I played I had three regular gigs every week. A jazz gig, a blues gig and I was even working in a burlesque show. I played with a Latin rock band and also produced a demo for a band called Light."
Since returning to Fort Wayne, Patterson has been approached about singing for a power trio and has been brushing up on guitar. He finds that he is in his element when playing music that involves bass, guitar, conga and even the recorder ("I can get some interesting sounds out of that"). He's also attempting to learn the banjo.
He says there are no shortage of great places to play in town, and he says he’s never had a bad experience playing at any of them. He sure has had some interesting ones though. Patterson recalls a New Year's Eve gig where the band may have overestimated the crowd's willingness to celebrate. "The bandleader knew his music. If you said ‘Hound Dog, ‘he would start playing the Big Mama Thornton version. We played stuff like ‘Youngblood’ and people looked at us like we were from another planet. At the end of the first set they turned on the jukebox and were playing 'Mony Mony' and Bob Seger.” The owner told them they were really good but not quite what they were looking for. He paid the band and told them to spend the rest of the night with their wives and girlfriends.
It's the people who do their own thing that Patterson is inspired by, and he says he is pleased with the number of musicians who are doing just that. "I like a lot of musicians around town regardless of what they are doing. Be it Hip-Hop, metal or country. I'm impressed with lots of talent around here. The truth is a lot of it has to do with attitude. I went through my hot-headed phase and broke a '57 Les Paul due to a lead singer who irritated me. I regret it. If you really want to work and have fun, your job is to entertain people."