Over (at) the Rainbow

Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2003

Band members can fake a great many things. They can fake a chord here and there, fake a few words in a song or fake that they are excited to be playing at a particular venue when no one there will give them the time of day. But there are other things that can't be faked, like a genuine love of playing music.

The members of the Mabrey Brothers band don't have to fake any of these things, especially the love of music.

"They have fun with the music," said Jaimie Ferrell, who comes to the Rainbow Bar in Kenai regularly on weekends to hear the band play. "They sound good. They don't sound like karaoke."

Bill and Bob Mabrey have been performing since they were children. In the band, Bill plays guitar and Bob rotates between guitar, drums, saxophone, flute and anything else that is needed. They both share lead vocal duties. Singing harmony together has got to be one of the easiest things they do, since they have been performing together since they were kids and are identical twins, after all. Even when they talk they're in harmony.

Drummer Dale Pease and bassist Paul Wright started cultivating their interests in music when they were young, as well.

Wright, 30, started playing seriously while attending Soldotna High School (he

is originally from Kansas City, Mo., but later moved to the central Kenai Peninsula).

"I think I got into it because I wanted to be a rock star when I was a child and it just kind of took over from there," he said. "You think you get girls and stuff like that, but eventually you find out that's not what's important."

When he was 17 he went to Hollywood to attend the Musicians Institute. Though he has played other instruments, including drums, guitar, tuba, cello, upright bass and even the sousaphone, his focus settled on the bass guitar.

"There's not a whole lot of people who've got the love for bass guitar and I always stay busy that way because there are not many others out there," he said. "I will always be a bass player. I don't have any other desire to change instruments or do lead singing."

After playing in various bands in the Lower 48, Wright eventually moved back to the central peninsula, where he joined the hard rock band Lynx, and various others. His tastes in music are diverse and he'll play just about any kind of music, he said, so his resume includes everything from bluegrass and country to jazz and thrash metal bands.

He joined the Mabrey Brothers two years ago after the band lost its bassist. His other jobs as a technical director for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and at the Music Box in Soldotna and his involvement with his daughters, Taylor, 8, and Myia, 5, keep him busy enough that it is sometimes difficult to make time for the band, but music is his professional priority.

"After a while it becomes a job just like anything else, but I'd rather be doing that than anything else."

Pease has been in the Mabrey Brothers since it started six years ago and is a longtime veteran of the music scene in Southcentral.

"I've been up here for 25 years and I've played the state," he said. "I can't think of any bar as far as Southcentral and the Valley that I haven't played. I'm not 20 years old anymore. I'm 45, but I still rock."

He plays guitar and does some vocals, as well, but has never had a doubt that his heart lies with the drums.

"I've always known I was going to be a drummer from the day I was born, there was just no question," he said. "I was always mesmerized by them."

Pease is from Florida but grew up in Los Angeles. His mother originally wanted him to take piano lessons but finally gave in to drum lessons when he was 7 after Pease continually beat up his room with his first pair of sticks. He took lessons from a few "almost super-famous people," he said, was in a marching drum corps and a rock band in high school.

Since moving to Alaska, he has played in mostly country bands, including one at the Pines in Anchorage (which has since closed), where he first met Bob. When Bob called him years later to offer him a job in the Mabrey Brothers band, he couldn't pass it up. Though the majority of his experience has been playing country music, Pease said his favorite type of music to play is Latin rhythms. Anyone who has stuck around until the finale of a Mabrey Brothers' show and seen him end the night with a 20-minute long solo to "Black Magic Woman" by Santana can attest to just how much he gets into those rhythms.

"After six years the reason I'm here is because of our talent," he said. "We get to play what we like to play. It's really open, we can play basically what we want and do it pretty decently and well. That's why I like this band."

When the Mabrey Brothers first formed, they played more country music but over time their repertoire has changed into a more rock-intensive set, including some original songs.

In the rock vein they have an impressively diverse set list everything from older tunes like "Johnny B. Good" to more classic Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd songs to newer music like "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes. It would probably be easier to list the songs and bands they don't play than all the ones they do.

What they play is usually dictated by how the crowd is responding, and there isn't a performance that goes by without requests shouted from the audience.

And do they respond? Let's just say if most elected officials were half as responsive to the wishes of their constituents as the Mabrey Brothers are to their audience, politics wouldn't have such a bad reputation.

"I love the fact that you ask them to play a song and they play it," said Renee Evans.

Interaction with the crowd is one of the hallmarks of a Mabrey Brothers show. There's hardly a performance that goes by without Bill, Bob and sometimes even Wright taking their instruments off stage and into the crowd.

Bill is especially fond of roaming, which is, incidentally, a telltale sign of a good guitarist. It's one thing to be able to improvise an intricate guitar solo on an isolated stage, but something else entirely to be able to do it while weaving through a crowded dance floor.

Even during their breaks, the band members don't neglect the crowd.

"They stay and talk to you, not like other bands that walk around with their noses in the air," said Julie Roche.

In its six years of existence, the band has built a core group of loyal fans that come every weekend to hear them play.

"I've been a really big fan of theirs for a really long, long time," said Pamela Harris. "I'm so surprised other people don't recognize their talent, but on the other hand, there's room on the dance floor. It's selfish but true."

At the end of the night it's nearly impossible for a listener to leave without having a song the band played stuck in their heads. In the future, they may be able to leave with the band's songs in their hand, as well.

The Mabrey Brothers are working on a recording project. Each band member is writing a few songs that they will record and plan to release on CD. Though it has been hard to find time to get much work done on the project so far, the band members are looking forward to the finished product.

"Of all the things I've done in all my life, I've never ever had my name on a recording," Pease said. "So after all these years I really want to get my name to print on an album. Whether it sells or not I don't care, it's something I could hand to my children (he has three sons, Zach, 23, Ryan, 22, and David 18). If it goes further, than it goes further."

Until fans can take the Mabrey Brothers' music home with them, they can still take in their show every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night starting around 11 p.m. at the Rainbow Bar.

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