No practice makes band perfect

Posted: Thursday, March 25, 2004

"I can count on one hand the number of rehearsals we've had," said Hal Spence, the band's lead vocalist, who also plays guitar and keyboards.

Too Fat to Fly has been together between seven and nine years, depending on who you ask. By bar-band standards, that's quite a while long enough, anyway, for the band members to build a comfortable familiarity.

"We are all mostly the same age, have much the same experience, and are friends with each other," Spence said. "We are comfortable with each other's styles, and we don't have a problem telling each other where to get off."

The band, which consists of David Webster on sax, Mike Patch on guitar, Jimmy Buncak on drums, Craig Stempniak on bass, Howard Hedges on trombone and Spence, plays what they refer to as "geezer music," rock from the '40s through the '60s.

"We don't play much of anything written after 1968," Webster said.

As Spence points out, in any given bar crowd, many of those enjoying the band's music first heard the tunes from their grandparents.

That doesn't diminish their enjoyment of the classic sound, he said.

"It's a testimony to the basic goodness of the music," he said.

The band members, like many musicians in Homer, played in a variety of bands and impromptu combinations in the years preceding the formation of Too Fat to Fly. Other than Hedges, who played jazz trombone professionally before moving to Homer, and Stempniak, who teaches guitar and bass, the band members have, as they put it, varying degrees of experience.

Spence said a gig and a PA system finally brought them together, and their similar musical styles kept them playing around town at everything from the New Year's Eve celebration at Land's End to Gail Phillips' 50th birthday party.

Perhaps the secret to the band's success and longevity in Homer is the members' laid-back attitude regarding their music. Despite putting together a recent Pier One musical about a middle-age bar band that wins the lottery and decides to finally make a sincere go of it, Webster said Too Fat to Fly doesn't have such aspirations.

"I don't think any of us at this point take it too seriously," he said. "But it's always good to make a couple extra bucks" and watch folks dance and have a good time.

As for their rehearsal style, Spence said the band often practiced new songs at the end of a slow bar night. As long as one band member knows the melody, the others can usually follow.

"A lot of rock and roll is pretty basic blues-type music," he said. "If someone knows the words and you do a good beginning and a nice, tight ending, people in their minds tend to hear what they remember."

Of course, if you do a bad job, they hear it loud and clear, he said. But often, the band will belt out an impromptu old favorite and be approached afterward by someone in the audience.

"People will come up and say, 'I haven't heard that song in so long' and we'll laugh and say, 'Neither have we,'" Spence said.

Getting chosen to play in Nome was arguably the highlight of the band's time playing together. When former legislator Gail Phillips was putting together the inaugural party, she thought of Too Fat to Fly. Before they knew it, the band was on its way north.

"I had known Gail Phillips for years, and I will be the first to admit we didn't often see eye-to-eye on a political level, but when it was time to schedule a band to play for the Nome event, she suggested us," Spence said.

The band members said they weren't nervous about the gig because while they were a long way from home, it was similar territory.

"It's a lot like Homer," Spence said. "People were anxious to hear you, and it was probably the one time in 40 years people dressed up."

Webster said compared to playing in barely filled bars, Nome was fantastic.

"It was a hoot," he said. "People were really listening. It was a huge venue, and everybody was dancing."

So did playing such a big event change the band's approach to rehearsing? Not a bit, said Spence. After all, if it's not broken ... .

"I think our band exhibits the truth of the expression, 'the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts,'" he said.

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.

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