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LOVEGUNNER, a KISS Tribute Band: Laying Down The Bet

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By Johnny Griffith

So I have this video in my head of me being on Jeopardy! that goes a little something like this:

Me: I’ll take Music Trivia for $1000, Alex. (Of course it’s the Double Jeopardy question, and of course, I wagered way too much money.)

Alex: What band liked to play obnoxiously loud music by night and engage in frivolity by day was started by Stanley Eisen, Chaim Witz, George Peter John Criscuola, and Paul Frehley in 1972?

Me: Who is Bachmann Turner Overdrive? (which would be stupid because no one Alex Trebek just mentioned is named Bachmann or Turner)

Alex: Oh sorry there, Johnny, the correct answer would be the hottest band in the world: KISS!!!

At least that’s how it goes in my head when I think of the guys who would eventually become household names as Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, Peter Criss, and Ace Frehley. KISS would go on to create a marketing empire, making music, merchandise, movies, and embarking on bombastic tours that became their trademark. KISS would see many evolutions over the years, but the one that always comes to mind is the original quartet in full makeup and in character as their alter egos. Not coincidentally, this is also the version you’ll get to see when you catch a show by LOVEGUNNER, a KISS tribute band based here in East Texas.

No longer viewed as second-class gigs, tribute bands have turned into well-oiled machines in which 

hours of, not only practicing the original music note for note but additionally, hours of studying mannerisms and the stagecraft necessary to give fans the experience they want. No one knows this better than Marshall Hance, Mark Shepard Hill, Jarod Frank, and Randy McDonald as they have spent the better part of the last two years developing themselves into an exacting replica of KISS when they take the stage. Even more impressively, they’ve done this while being scattered all over East Texas and being involved in other gigs.

 

I managed to track everyone down to find out who they are behind the makeup and what exactly goes 

 

into duplicating such a complex act:

Johnny: So let’s start with what character you play and a bit of background.

Marshall: I pay tribute to Paul Stanley, the “Starchild,” and I’ve been playing music since I was 10 years old. My dad and mom introduced me to music at a young age and have encouraged me ever since. I have my own personal group under the title of “Marshall Hance,” and we play all original music I have written.

Mark: I play the role of the “SpaceAce,” Ace Frehley, in LOVEGUNNER. I grew up in Longview and really got deep into listening to music around 1983 in the early days of MTV. I got serious about guitar around the age of 20 while at SFA in Nacogdoches. As the desire to become a professional grew, I decided to go to a music school and found the commercial music program at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas and attended from ’01-’04. Around 2007 I moved to Austin and got a gig playing bass for Gary P. Nunn for a while, then decided to move back to East Texas and played in the Escape Artists, a 60’s- 00’s cover band with the versatile and talented pair of Wes Odom and Jay Baker. After the Escape Artists became defunct, I began to look around for a new project to get involved in. I scoured Craigslist every evening and eventually saw an ad that read “KISS Tribute seeks ACE,” I absolutely had to look into it.

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Jarod: I take on the role of Peter Criss who was the “Catman” on stage. I’ve been in the tribute band scene in Houston for close to 10 years playing in tributes to Ozzy, Foo Fighters, Poison, Mötley Crüe, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Weezer, Bon Jovi, and of course, KISS. KISS is the band that first got me into music, having bought Double Platinum on 8-track when I was 6 years old. I started playing drums when I was 9 and was in original bands from middle school through college. After a break, I joined some original bands around 2005, but after a couple of years, I realized that tribute bands were really starting to take off and could actually be more financially successful than bands doing standard covers or originals.

Randy: During the show, I’m the “Demon,” Gene Simmons. I’m from College Station and have been playing several instruments since high school. In addition to LOVEGUNNER, I’m also involved in a blues band and an old-time string band.

Johnny: So whose idea was it to start a KISS tribute band, and how did that get brought up in a conversation?

Randy: Well, we didn’t actually start out to be a full-fledged tribute band. While playing at a Blues Jam one night, Marshall and I were talking and discovered that we were both KISS fans and made a comment in passing that it would be fun to get together and jam on some KISS songs. We started thinking about drummers we knew and brought in our friend, Blake. Our first idea was just to pick a few songs to jam on and have fun. We picked about five songs, got together one night, and were surprised at how good it sounded and how much fun it was to play these songs. We continued getting together and enjoying it more and more to the point that we finally decided to start searching for a lead guitarist to try to put together the full tribute show. After a few interviews and auditions, we found our SpaceAce, and after about five months of work eventually did put together our first short show. As we continued to progress, it became apparent to everyone that due to other obligations, our drummer was not going to be able to devote the time required by an ongoing tribute act, so we parted on good terms and located our current drummer, Jarod, who was able to step in as a rock solid KISS drummer and really advance the band quickly.

Johnny: Was this just another project to be in, or did the appreciation for KISS go beyond that?

Mark: Everyone in the band is a bona fide, lifelong fan of the group. I think it’s essential that everyone in the band be a serious fan of (whatever group) if you are to partake in a tribute band. The level of dedication and diligent study required to get elements correct is incredibly demanding, and if someone doesn’t have the conviction, desire, and pride to do the band justice, I just don’t feel you’re going to get a professional entertainment product.

Johnny: What have been the challenges up to this point of pulling this off and doing it with the execution necessary not to be a caricature of KISS, but rather a genuine tribute band that captures the essence of a KISS show in their prime?

Randy: Two challenges, really. One is that we all live in different towns, so even getting together to rehearse means travel and a commitment of at least a day or two. That’s one reason we work hard to make the most of our rehearsal time. The other challenge has been dealing with the complexity of many aspects at once. A lot of people think of KISS as being simplistic, but when you try to replicate it, you quickly begin to realize that it is a very complex act. Just playing the music and singing the harmonies correct is challenging enough. Then, you have to find or make the costume, learn what makeup is used, and how to put it on correctly. Also notable, the stage show is not just a collection of random movements. A lot of it is choreographed to happen at certain times and at a certain location on stage, and that all has to be worked out. Additionally, each signature shake of the head, facial expressions, and the unique way each individual moves around on stage is all studied and done for a purpose. Then, trying to do it all while wearing seven-inch heels and accurately playing your instrument is a whole new ball game. There’s a lot to think about at the same time.

Johnny: You guys recently did a big show at Clicks in Tyler that was amazing to watch. What did that show do for the band as far as confidence and exposure?

Marshall: Clicks was a great show! They have an amazing stage, easily one of the largest I’ve played on and definitely the best light show. Exposure-wise, we got amazing photos and videos to be able to showcase how we look and what we’re about.

Mark: That show was, by far, our best up to this point! That was the first venue where we could truly get the audio and visual aspects of a KISS show correct because they have the proper technology and ample stage space to accommodate a true rock show. It boosted our confidence immediately when we glanced back at the footage and saw what it looked like. I’d like to stress how professional and accommodating Tyler Johnson and David Wilson (sound and light techs at Clicks) are. They are true pros and went above and beyond to help us put on a professional show. We cannot thank David, Tyler, and Clicks enough for allowing us the opportunity to perform. They are a class act over there, and we’re fortunate to have a venue like Clicks in East Texas.

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Johnny: When it comes to KISS the look is as important as the music. Where did you find the costumes, and who is doing your makeup?

Mark: Randy’s wife is a very handy seamstress, and she did an excellent job manifesting the outfits for the Demon and Catman. Marshall’s costume is an officially licensed costume that KISS made available for purchase. My outfit was acquired from a costume builder out of Ft. Worth, named David McBrayer, who has a business called Metal Mayhem Tribute Gear and can be found on Facebook. David is fanatically passionate about what he does, and his main products are KISS tribute costumes. As far as our makeup, just like the real band, we do it ourselves. A lot of people assume that KISS, being millionaires, just have people sit in front of them and do their makeup, but that’s not the case and never has been.

Johnny: With more than 40 albums of material, how did you go about deciding what songs would be on the set list?

Marshall: Currently, the setlist is a combination of what we already knew and what was from KISS Alive 1 and 2. And a few from the 3rd and 4th alive tours. We plan to expand on to deeper cuts once we get the ball rolling with the set we have.

Johnny: What’s on the horizon for the rest of 2017 and into next year?

Randy: We’ve got our sights set on some bigger markets and traveling a bit, but we want venues in East Texas to understand that we really want to come out to the smaller venues too and let people be able to relive that original experience of the people who saw KISS from the front row when they were just starting out. Some venues may think that this show is too big for their venue, but they should give us a call. KISS played in all kinds of venues when they were starting out, and it’s fun for us to relive some of that same experience.

LOVEGUNNER on the Web:

  • LOVEGUNNER.com
  • facebook.com/lovegunnerKISStribute

*Photos by Travis Tapley

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July 27th: SFO, A Journey Tribute Band at Bergfeld Park

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The City of Tyler will host the annual Bergfeld Summer Showcase at Bergfeld Park, located at 1510 S. College Ave., on Friday, July 27. The event kicks off at 6 p.m. with fun and food trucks and live music beginning at 7 p.m.

This year, SFO – A Journey Tribute, a Nashville native band will take the stage. SFO recreates the experience of a 1980’s concert, playing all the Journey hits that you know and love with a special salute to Kansas and Foreigner. The band is made up of top-notch musicians from Nashville, Florida, and Minnesota who bring the highest level of musicianship to the audience.

Frontman Gabe Jacobs delivers powerful vocals to his audience by closely emulating the vocals and stage presence of legendary Steve Perry.

“This band will transport you back to the 80’s with all the songs you know by heart!” said Adriana Rodriguez, event coordinator.

The local favorite food trucks will be present for quality dining including Say Cheese, Weinerland, Lupita’s, Kona Ice and Pokey O’s.

For more information, contact Adriana Rodriguez at (903) 595-7248 or at ARodriguez@TylerTexas.com.

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The Haggertys: Hey Hey We’re The Haggertys

By Johnny Griffith

There are times when things just click with someone and you know it from the start. Then, years later you come back across them and it’s almost as if no time has passed. That’s kind of what is like for local Tyler favorites The Haggertys. Having all been members of different bands, some together and some collaborative, over the years, the lineup of “Patrick James” Freden (guitars, vocals), Brad Thurston (bass, backing vocals), and Clint Hiltz (drums/percussion) have been together as The Haggertys since 2013 and have been exciting audiences ever since with their setlists of 90’s standard rock covers as well as reinterpreting some classic songs along the way.

We sat down with the guys recently to get some more history on the band and a better snapshot of the members.

Johnny: How about we start with a brief bio of yourself and your background in music.

Patrick: I was born in Minnesota, moved to Tyler in 1974 and then left in the summer of 1977. I basically grew up in Ocean Springs, Mississippi playing Dungeons & Dragons, riding BMX bikes, and listening to albums over at a friend’s house. My first band was a punk band called Spastic Fury in high school. After that, I did some college in Mobile, Alabama, and eventually came back to Tyler in 1988. I played in bands all through the 90’s and started a solo acoustic project in 2005. I’m a self-employed graphic artist by day building websites, designing logos, etc., and music is my second business. I’m a full-time dad and husband, a professional tinkerer who likes craft beers, Les Pauls, Orange Amps, and hanging out in my favorite music store, Action Sound in Hawkins.

Brad: I’ve been playing music since I was 15 when I purchased my first guitar. It cost me $50 and was in a brown paper bag in pieces. After getting it put together, I started looking around for a band. No one needs a guitar player, so the next year I went and bought a bass, found a band, and the journey began. The start of my high school music career included rock bands like Conspiracy, Guardian, and Blue Steel. After high school, I branched out and did a did brief stint in a country band.

The call of the Hair Bands drew me to California, Hollywood to be exact. I moved in with a friend from high school, joined a band, and played the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. within the first 3 weeks of being in California. I played in other bands there, like Hammer Lane. I did shows at The Roxy Theater and The Whisky A Go-Go. After wrapping up my California time, I moved back to Tyler, found an alternative band, Center Mass, which was later known as “Did Lee Squat?” (DLS?). That’s where I met “Patrick James.” We played venues in Dallas, Houston, Austin, and even Shreveport, Louisiana.

This too ended and I started my family, got a job, and put the band on the back burner. After some time, I started playing with Livid, a cover band around the Tyler/Longview area. This project just kinda wound down and I took a job out of town. More time passed with both family and job changes. I started playing bass in a praise band for Pollard United Methodist Church and did that for a few years until one day Patrick called. No, it was not the “I’m getting the band back together” kinda call. He wanted to redo his current project. I think he said he wanted to play more electric guitar and just rock out…so here we are.

Clint: I’m the baby of the band, born in Austin in 1974. I lived in Alvin, Texas through my 5th-grade year and moved to East Texas in 1986 where I joined the Union Grove percussion section in junior high and continued throughout high school. I played in the band and every sport Union Grove offered. As I got into high school, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to play football then at halftime, I’d take off my shoulder pads and march in the marching band. In 1992, I moved to Tyler and was offered a scholarship to join the Tyler Junior College drumline, better known as the Apache Punch. My hobbies are hunting, fishing, shooting guns, and working out. Currently, I work at Suddenlink as a Commercial Sales Supervisor.

Johnny: Who would you say was personally responsible, individually, for instilling that love of music you’d take the rest of your lives?

Pat: My mom for sure. She was the one that got me going as a kid…from playing Johnny Cash records to buying me a guitar and taking me to lessons.

Brad: My mom, she had me taking piano at the age of six, and we loved Elvis.

Clint: Hands down, my father. He played drums as well and he got me started gigging at the early age of 13 when I would sit in for him and play Wipeout.

Johnny: When did you three first meet?

The Haggertys: During the 90’s, Pat and Brad were playing in a band called DLS? and Clint was in a band called Affinity. The two bands did several shows together, including one at the Oil Palace in Tyler with DLS? as the headliner and Affinity providing support…the friendship and collaboration grew from there.

Johnny: How did the idea of starting the Haggertys come together?

The Haggertys: Sometime in the summer of 2013, Pat was doing his solo acoustic thing and had done some earlier shows with Clint and Brad as the Patrick James Band but these were still “acoustic” shows. After playing these kinds of shows for so long, Pat just got the itch to play with electrics and amps again, and Clint was on board to “get loud.” A permanent bass player was recruited and the band was formed. Really the Haggertys morphed out of the Patrick James Band and the guys started rehearsing so the song list grew. The band covers lots of material but kinda focuses on 90’s rock. The old “If it’s a good song, it’s a good song….doesn’t matter what genre it’s from” always applies.

Johnny: Okay, so the name. Where did it come from and whose idea was it?

The Haggertys: During one of the early rehearsals the idea of a band name came up and of course lots of stuff was thrown around. Pat noticed that all the band members had some righteous beards going at the time and this got him to thinking about people with beards and the one person that came to mind was a childhood hero from the show Grizzly Adams. Pat said, “the best beard ever, in my opinion, hands down, was Dan Haggerty, let’s call the band that!” So originally he wanted the band to be called the Dan Haggertys which morphed into the Damn Haggertys which quickly changed, for obvious reasons, and the band settled in with The Haggertys.

Johnny: When and where was the first Haggertys show?

The Haggertys: The first show was March 22nd, 2014, at Shoguns (#2) under their black tent outside. It was an alright turnout, and the band had fun. We later learned that many people were turned away or had to wait to get outside under the tent because of limited seating and fire codes.

Johnny: How would you describe your sound to a new listener?

The Haggertys: Straight-up, no-frills, fun-having, 3-piece rock cover band with a few surprises.

Johnny: You guys move in and out of different genres and decades of music pretty easily. Would you say there is one you’re more comfortable with than the others?

The Haggertys: Being a 3-piece with everyone doing something, we kinda gravitate towards 90’s rock songs we can easily play and cover well. More complicated songs with multi instruments tend to be harder (or impossible) to pull off with just three instruments, so we shy away from them. However, the art of taking a song and “making it your own” remake/cover is what we strive to do. Really any song we can cover well and make our own stays on the set list.

Johnny: Are you primarily covers or are you throwing some original stuff in the mix?

The Haggertys: We all played in what we called “Showcase Bands” back in the 90’s…all original songs and we all made albums, struggled to get gigs that paid, rehearsed a lot, tried to get signed, etc. Today we just play covers, play a lot, rehearse way less often, don’t care about getting signed, and get paid to play, which is nice. We won’t rule out that one day we might start writing songs again, but it isn’t on anyone’s radar anytime soon. We have done some reunion shows by combining Did Lee Squat? and Sand Dollar band members into a group called Did Lee Dollar. This allowed us to reconnect with old bandmates and fans and play some of the old originals. Come to think of it, it’s probably time for another one of those shows.

Check out The Haggertys online at:

www.facebook.com/thehaggertys

www.instagram.com/thehaggertys

www.thehaggertysband.com

 

Shows:

  • Thursday, July 12th – Razzoo’s, Tyler, 7-10pm
  • Friday, September 14th – Gregg County Fair on Dennis Hiltz Memorial Stage, Longview
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Southern Charm: Small Town Girls With Big Time Sound

By Johnny Griffith

So there’s an old saying that has something to do with ‘dynamite comes in small packages’ and that certainly holds true with the two talented, dynamic artists in the East Texas duo Southern Charm. Both hailing from small East Texas towns, Shelby Ballenger and Billie Jo Sewell have been making a name for themselves both as successful solo artists and the fast rising duet, Southern Charm. Both artists have honed their crafts on many local stages and along the way found they had a knack for harmony and similar musical interests. Borne of a shared passion and great timing, Southern Charm takes advantage of each artist’s unique vocal ability and is greater than the sum of its parts…which is saying something because Shelby and Billie Jo both have burgeoning solo careers in their own right. So much so that Southern Charm as a duet has to book six months in advance and then they have a seven show run in seven east Texas venues.

We caught up with them in the middle of this latest run to get some more background on these ladies and their “Southern Charm.”

Johnny: When did you two first take up an interest in music?

Shelby: From the age of 13 I began singing at The Wylie Opry. From there, I was self-taught to play the guitar. I eventually began going to open mic nights all around north Texas to make a name for myself. About 2 years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my day job and pursue music full time. I haven’t looked back.

Billie Jo: I started singing when I was 4 years old and grew up singing in church. I went from singing at church to Opry’s, restaurants, and festivals, to opening for people such as Ray Price, Gene Watson, Justin Moore, Mike Ryan, and Stoney LaRue. I had the honor to be on “The Voice” where I made top 150 on season 6 and recently I made top 100 on “American Idol.” I just recently signed to TXM Records and am currently in the studio working on my first country single!

Johnny: Who were some of your early influences?

Shelby: I always looked up to dominant female singers growing up. My lead inspirations were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Rimes, and The Dixie Chicks. When I began songwriting, I leaned on lyrics by Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, and local artists such as Meredith Crawford and Matt Grisby for inspiration.

Billie Jo: I was raised by my grandparents so I was inspired by the oldies but goodies, as I like to call them, such as George Jones, Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, and many others.

Johnny: When did you decide music was more than just another hobby and was something worth pursuing?

Shelby: Once I began taking the stage with my guitar, people began talking about the talent and potential I had. I tried to make an impression at every new venue and began to see the joy it brought to people listening. I began entering songwriting competitions once my repertoire grew and placed with within the top four each time out of hundreds of hopefuls.

Billie Jo: I knew at a very early age that God didn’t give me this voice to just sing at home. I just knew that He gave me this voice to share with the world and that one day this would be my full time career which, gratefully, I’m very close to being able to say. I’ve always wanted to use my gift that God gave me in hopes that the audience may come to know Him through my music and testimony.

Johnny: How did you two first meet and when did the idea of a duo project come up?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We met at an East Texas singing competition a little over four years ago. From there, we became instant best friends.

Johnny: When and where was your first show as Southern Charm?

Shelby & Billie Jo: Our first official show was at The Foxhole where we won a karaoke competition. We took home $2,500 which made it our first paid gig together. From there Southern Charm played The Forge in Ben Wheeler and then our solo careers started taking off. We now book six months in advance for the Southern Charm East Texas Tour.

Johnny: How about the name? Where did that idea come from?

Shelby: Billie Jo’s son Chandler won most handsome baby boy at the Emory Rains pageant in 2014. I saw Billie Jo make a post on Facebook needing a car to ride in the parade with. I offered her convertible slug bug for the event. While we were in the car, we started trying out songs to sing together. I mentioned that I’d always wanted to put a duo together and name the act Southern Charm. Billie Jo loved the idea so we ran with it!

Johnny: How would you describe your sound?

Shelby: Southern Charm’s sound has a pure tone and the harmonies blend extremely well. I [Shelby] have more of the bluesy tone and Billie Jo brings the powerhouse country twang. Together, our voices mesh to create a unique country sound.

Johnny: What do you feel you bring to the table individually that compliments your partner on stage?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We know the dynamics of music. We never try to overpower each other onstage and that’s something every duo needs in order to be successful.

Johnny: About how many originals do you try to work in during a show?

Shelby & Billie Jo: We try to work in all of our most favorite originals at each and every show. Usually there’s about four to five each.

Johnny: You’ve had a busy summer already, what’s coming up on the radar the rest of the year that you’re excited about?

Shelby: I’m currently working on my full album with Joe Austin as producer. I’ve written 12 brand new songs and my new single “Heartbreaks & Hangovers” will be released late July while the album will drop next summer.

Billie Jo: I have a big secret I’ll be able to announce in a couple months about where I will be on the National Stage. Currently I’m in the studio with Chad Mauldin and Mauldin Productions working on my new single that will be released in early August.

Johnny: What can a first timer expect at a Southern Charm show?

Shelby & Billie Joe: Harmonies that give goosebumps and two best friends shining, as they do what they love onstage.

Keep up with Southern Charm online at facebook.com/southerncharmmusic.

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