If I could jam out with any drummer on the tune “When the Levee Breaks” I would have to choose James Bowersox. The guy can pull off some of the most wildly complex yet highly calculated rhythms and solos I’ve seen live, and makes it look like it’s nothing. He can go from Moon to Krupa in a heartbeat while shotgunning a tallboy of Bud.
Not surprisingly, his resume contains some of Maui’s more innovative acts: The Eazy, Byron Brown and the Derelicts, Guerrilla Jazz.
His latest project, a reggae-rock trio dubbed Rock Fever Remedy, is taking Maui venues by storm despite having formed barely four months ago. With regular gigs at Moose’s Lahaina, a few upcoming Oahu shows and a slot in this weekend’s Sheepdawg Festival, RFR seems to know how to get the word out.
“This guy lights a fire under our asses,” says guitarist and vocalist Noah Broe of Bowersox, who writes a sizable chunk of the band’s material (the tunes posted on RFR’s MySpace page are his compositions).
Broe is a recent transplant from the northern reaches of the Tampa Bay Area, which has a relative wealth of venues for singer/songwriters. I lived there at one point; we apparently both frequented spots like the Blueberry Patch, Skipper’s Smokehouse and Dunedin Brewery, but our paths never really crossed. We get a tad nostalgic going down the list of people and locales that made the place so damned—contrary to popular belief—cool.
Fresh from a stint with the band Harmony Bus, Broe landed on Maui in early February 2009, looking for a little inspiration. I met him at Baldwin Beach. Mojomana’s Melissa M. and I were swapping tunes when he walked up to us, his guitar in tow. Nice kid, I thought. Months go by and he seems to have a good thing going.
Bass player (though they do switch it up) Alan Jacob hails from Austin, Texas and came to Maui by way of Lanai. Bowersox’s Derelicts bandmate and a singer/songwriter by trade, his style gels with Broe’s quite well. Both have a heavy Sublime influence.
“I was one of those Sublime-changed-my-life kids,” Broe says. Jacob concurs.
It is here that I must make a confession: I wouldn’t touch 40 Oz. to Freedom with a ten-foot pole. (A sentiment in which I’m essentially alone; the guys say crowds go nuts whenever they break out a Sublime cover.)
Yet while they embrace similar chord progressions and song structures, RFR is not out solely to replicate Sublime. You can sense actual musicianship in each tune’s instrumental tracks. Bowersox’s brutally good drum solos add to the sense that these gentlemen mean business.
Broe has a knack for being a vocalist, and constructs melodies that show off his naturally good voice—melodies that in general follow easy, catchy arcs loaded with mainstream appeal. He occasionally lapses into spoken word, and even has a few tunes whose sole vocal component is essentially a rap.
Broe and Jacob are lyrically divergent. Broe tends to focus on politics, consciousness and existential questions (the latter in the same vein as “What I Got”). There is an overwhelming sense of optimism in Broe’s lyrics, which lends itself to an almost, at times, naïve degree of idealism. Jacob says he writes primarily about relationships. (The guy is a heartthrob, but his demeanor is too humble to warrant player status.)
How’d the band got together? Craigslist. Upon arrival, Broe posted an ad calling for other musicians with a link to Broe’s solo MySpace music page (myspace.com/noahbroe). Bowersox decided to check it out. “I pressed play and was like, oh, I like this,” he says.
The three engaged in an impromptu jam session at a Byron Brown and the Derelicts gig and decided to give it a go. They share a common drive, which their high volume of shows—on- and off-island—makes apparent.
At Sheepdawg, they’ll share the stage with the girls from Kit Kat Club cabaret, who’ve choreographed a number to RFR’s “Walking After Midnight” (Patsy Cline)/“Folsom Prison Blues” (The Everlast version).
There are few better-fitting venues than a multi-day music festival for a band whose core philosophy can be summed up by the following phrase, which Broe is fond of saying: “Let the music get you rockin’ while you still got your soul.” MTW
Kate Bradshaw is also available in Twitter form. Visit www.twitter.com/katebradshaw or text “follow katebradshaw” to 40404.