Monday, June 21, 2021

By Johnny Griffith

There are certainly plenty of bands in the East Texas area. One thing we’ve always been able to pride ourselves on is the ability to produce great musicians and great music. Like all living things, the music scene in the area is always moving, shifting, and evolving with current trends, what sells, and what will bring people to the venues. Occasionally though, there are bands that will buck the trends and stick to their guns when it comes to the style and sound they want to play and The Groove Slaves is one of those bands.

Perhaps one of Tyler’s best-kept secrets, The Groove Slaves have one of the more seasoned lineups of musicians and with extensive touring and gigging experience, they bring to the stage enthusiasm and proficiency. With a setlist full of songs that are sure to please, they play what they like and live to play. I caught up recently to Cody Norman to get more info on the band.

Johnny: Who makes up The Groove Slaves?

Cody: The band is Tony Marsh on lead guitar, Jim Holley on bass, Kevin Schermerhorn on drums and backing vocals, and myself on rhythm guitar and lead vocals.

Johnny: Give us a brief musical background on everyone.

Cody: Tony was born in Orlando, but has spent most of his life in Texas. He’s played in Tyler with both Hobbit and Lix. Jim is a homegrown Tylerite and played alongside Tony in Loco Joe as well as with many other Tyler bands. Additionally, he owns Center Stage Music where Tony teaches guitar. Kevin is from New Jersey but has lived in Texas since high school and has played with Mike Morgan and Wanda King as well as various other artists. I was born in Rusk and after moving to Tyler began playing drums with Jay Johnson and Richard Raines in The Traffic Jam. Soon after that, I became Bugs Henderson’s drummer, as well as played with Smokin Joe Kubeck and Lance Lopez. I still drum for Mark David Manders occasionally too.

Johnny: How did you all meet?

Cody: I’ve known Tony and Jim through Center Stage Music store for several years and played with Tony in a country band. Kevin and I met while in high school. I had been playing drums for a couple of years when Kev moved to town. This guy had just picked up the sticks and was so amazing he inspired me to dig deeper into the instrument. We also knew each other from playing in rural rival bands: me with Voyer, and Kev with Spittin Image. Kevin still inspires me with his relentless work ethic and unbridled enthusiasm. Having played drums for as long as I have, he’s the only one I want behind me. Kev is still in demand as a solid player in Dallas and East Texas, so on nights when he’s unavailable, I double up and sing while playing acoustic guitar half a set, then move behind the kit and sing from there.

Johnny: How did the idea for the band originate?

Cody: The band was formed in Dallas around 1992. I was playing for the late, great Bugs Henderson at the time and on the road a lot as well as recording. We were approached by Lisa Dupree, a local music lover, to be the house band at the Greenville Bar & Grill for the Blue Monday Jam every week. Little did we know how cool this opportunity was. All the touring acts that came through Dallas would stop by to sit in as well as the local crop of talent. On any given night you might get to hear Coco Montoya, The Killer B’s, or maybe some guys from Megadeath or The Spin Doctors. If you were at the right spot at the right time you got to play with them as well. Our band would start off the night, then the jam would commence, improvising off of a loose arrangement became our formula. From “The World is a Ghetto” to “Third Stone From the Sun,” we embellished our own brand of covers. Our biggest show was in Deep Ellum where we opened up for the Dixie Chicks and Ray Wylie Hubbard on the same night. I was even asked by Ray to sit in on drums because his guy didn’t show. The band ran out of gas once we were out of Bugs’s band and relocated to east Texas.

Johnny: What was the first Groove Slaves gig?

Cody: The debut gig was the Greenville Bar & Grill. We were young guns and might have rubbed some people the wrong way. The blues purists probably thought we should slow down and play less chops, but we only knew one way to do it. Bugs had taught us to slay all those within earshot.

Johnny: You play a great mix of songs…what genre would you consider your wheelhouse?

Cody: Thanks Johnny, I always hope there is an interesting mix of styles, textures, colors, and energy to the music we play. I’d have to say Melodic Rock is our forte. I started out on guitar five years ago with Jimi Hendrix as my hero. Knowing I could never play like that, I began to search for his influences. He loved Dylan’s songwriting so I immersed myself in him and found out what songwriting is all about. I bought one of his songbooks and felt like I was setting out to change the system of humanity.

Johnny: What’s the farthest you’ve traveled for a gig?

Cody: With the current lineup we’ve played only here in East Texas. This band has had a plethora of unique and talented musicians that have toured Europe, Canada, and all over the United States when we began the band, while still on the road with Bugs. The Bugman gave us two or three songs a night to stretch out on by ourselves. He was such a monster player to learn from. No matter where we were or what it took to get there, he brought the meat AND the fire to cook it!

Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month these days?

Cody: It inevitably varies but we play about three shows a month. I also play solo shows frequently so I try to balance the two.

Johnny: Are you primarily a cover band or are you working originals in as well?

Cody: I’ve found in Tyler we tend to keep people more engaged when we play familiar songs. Depending on the venue and crowd, I sprinkle in my stuff. I’m writing the songs so it has to be something I think I can pull off.

Johnny: How would you describe a typical Groove Slaves show?

Cody: The first half of the set is played on acoustic guitar with me sitting where we do the more gentle numbers. After massaging the patrons with sweet slow to medium arrangements, we cut loose. I pick up the electric guitar and we try to ignite whatever pressure and intensity we can muster with more upbeat and gritty selections. The sets are split like this to accommodate those who wish to refrain from choking if we’re in a eating establishment.

Johnny: What’s on the radar for the rest of the year?

Cody: I’m currently working on demos for what will be the debut record. I still love to play as much as possible so I’m endeavoring to branch out too far away hamlets, but as the Bugman use to say, “You don’t take to the road without a product to sell.”

Johnny: Are there any gigs that stick out in your mind as a favorite so far?

Cody: Clicks Live, we played July 13th and it was a great show. Even though we didn’t have a huge crowd, they gave us the necessary motivation.

Johnny: What do you hope new listeners take away from their first show with The Groove Slaves?

Cody: My hope is that people walk away musically invigorated with a sense that rock has only been in a deep slumber and is certainly NOT dead.

Check out The Groove Slaves at facebook.com/The-Groove-Slaves.

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