The Belfast Cowboys – Rock Band 5/08/2014
“Rock Band” – written by Terry Walsh
Terry Walsh – vocals, guitar
Dave Kirby – drums
Rodney Toogood – bass
Dan Kowalke – guitar, backup vocals
Joe Loskota – keyboards
Vic Volare – sax
Paul Gronert – sax
Tim Martin – trumpet
Matt Hanzelka – trombone
Rich Mattson – backup vocals
Recorded at Sparta Sound and RVM Music
Produced by Dan Kowalke, Rich Mattson, and Terry Walsh
From the forthcoming Belfast Cowboys CD, “Can You Dig It? I Knew That You Could”
In 1997, Slim Dunlap asked me to fill in as bassist with his band while opening for Son Volt on a two-week swing of the east coast. He was apparently unconcerned about my two biggest apprehensions regarding the gig: First, we would have time for exactly one rehearsal before hitting the road. Second, I’m a guitarist. I’d never played the bass before in my life. When we left home I was under the impression that I was doing Slim a favor by playing with him. By the time we crossed into Wisconsin I realized that a big part of the reason he’d given me the gig was so he could teach me a few things about being in a band. He drove 80% of the time, and Jimmy Thompson and Brien Lilja were content to ride in back, so I rode shotgun.
Wise advice, precautionary tales, and hilarious tales of Slim’s days with the Replacements made the miles go quickly. I wish I’d have taken notes. On playing the bass: “If you’re coming to a part where you’re going to screw up, don’t play anything. Then no one will know you screwed up.” The van had a tire with a slow leak, which forced us to look for gas stations with air pumps. When we’d see one that required payment, Slim would exclaim, “Air is free!” and drive away to look for a free pump. He taught me about the early check-in, a valuable trick for touring musicians. If you ask a hotel to let you check in early – sometimes they’ll let you in as early as 7 A.M. – you can go to sleep right away, play a show that night, then come back and sleep again. It’s two night’s sleep for the price of one.
My debut on bass came at Irving Plaza in New York City. Before the show Slim was a little hoarse, and I recommended some tea and honey to help smooth out his voice. He smiled. When I offered to make him a cup, his smile turned to a sneer that showed me he was serious when he said, “I don’t want my voice to be smooth.” I watched him put that audience and every one that followed in the palm of his hand with his easygoing manner and genuine, off-the-cuff stage conversation. After two songs there were always smiles in the crowd that showed he’d already won them over. He’d outro a song like “The Ballad of the Opening Band” with a little talk that would put the headliner up on a pedestal and get the crowd thinking that ol’ Slim and his band were just happy to be there, and then he’d bust out a song like “Partners in Crime” to make them realize that although he’s modest, he was more than deserving of headline status himself.
Not long after that tour I began playing with Bowling Trophy, a band that would eventually turn into The Belfast Cowboys. I wrote the song “Rock Band” back then, and it never occurred to me how Slimfluenced it is until I was putting the finishing touches on the recording up at Sparta Sound last month. Rich Mattson, Dan Kowalke and I had already added a vocal chorus of “Rockin’ Here Tonight” under the cacophony of instruments at the end, and it suddenly dawned on me that this should be our Slim Town Single. I’ve been trying to write a song for or about Slim ever since he got sick, and never came up with anything that felt as genuine as the man himself. But in listening to this old song’s newly recorded lyrics, I realized that I’d swiped Slim’s idea of writing about the drudgery of playing in an unknown band, and I thought he might appreciate that more than my trying to write a song that gushes about what a kind, funny, and wise person he is. So this one’s for you, Slimbob. Sorry if my voice sounds too smooth.
– Terry Walsh