Putting some "Blue Collar America" back in to Rock 'n Roll
by Sal Serio
April 2014

CONVOY! - photo by Marty Waitkoss

photo by Marty Waitkoss

There are only a handful of local/regional bands that have immediately gotten into my consciousness and altered my DNA like Convoy has. There’s just something about the ruckus hard rock that those four loonies from the Western suburbs of Chicago play that gives me permanent grinnage. Need some perma-grin of your own? Then you better hitch a ride on the Convoy train to one of these upcoming gigs: Sat. May 10 with Redneck Remedy at Freakster’s Roadhouse in Pontiac, IL. Sat. May 24 with Prospect Hill at The Back Bar in Janesville, and Sun. May 25 at 4:50 pm on the Baker Tilly Stage at Brat Fest in Madison. CONVOY is: Brian Corbin – vocals and guitar, Mike Getz – drums, John Daniel – lead guitar, and Dan “Big D” Thompson – bass.

MAXIMUM INK:  Please give our readers a brief history of Convoy.
JOHNNY DANIEL:  [In 2009] Mike found me on Craig’s List when I was trying to be a bass player in a cover band. I just wanted to play out and see if I could do it as a bassist. He was working with a great female guitarist and we called ourselves Chrome 7.
MIKE GETZ:  I put a Craig’s List ad together, and some singers came out and auditioned.  Some were okay, but nothing special. Johnny re-worded the ad and Brian showed up one day, sang with us, [and] something clicked. A week later, we did our first show. Brian got the writing bug and wanted to start playing guitar full time, so we started goofing around. It wasn’t polished, but there was a power to it. He didn’t think he could sing and play guitar at the same time, so we had a singer pal come by. It was okay, but it seemed stupid to me to have a terrific singer like Brian in the band, but let someone else sing. We goofed around with that [while] Brian was still singing in another band, and Johnny and I tried forming another cover band. We really needed a singer, and we asked Brian to help us out. So, we started doing covers, and then had a separate “original” project with the same musicians. As time passed it melded into it’s own thing and Convoy was born.
BRIAN CORBIN:  Lots and lots of beer drinking, music playing, song writing, more beer drinking, some more songs, a little bit of partying, and more drinking.
MG:  The bass player didn’t work out, so we had to find a guy. Michelle found Big D through a musician website. Dan showed up and was so cool and awesome, we knew we had our guy.
DAN THOMPSON:  I came in four years ago, right before the release of ‘River Of Sorrrow’. When I met them, they had a sound that could turn goat piss into gasoline. Brian, Mike, and Johnny had been in other groups together, and Johnny jumped back on guitar after the recording of ‘River Of Sorrow’. In the last four years we have seen Johnny leave for a few, then, two years ago while we were recording ‘Blue Collar America’, Johnny was producing it, [but] our guitar player at the time had several weaknesses, and bang… Johnny is back home.

MI:  You seem to have a solid following in Janesville, WI. Are there other cities where your fans are as hardcore? Why do you think Janesville is special?
BC:  Unfortunately no, [but] Janesville is a special area for us. So many great things have happened up there. We [have] met so many great people. I think that we first met at The Back Bar, right, Sal?

MI:  You are correct, Sir!

JD:  There are no other towns like Janesville, Wisconsin. They know it and we know it. We get treated very nicely in Madison, Rockford, and Aurora, but Janesville is probably our “home town”. I think the people there are real, and can spot a phony. I don’t think they see Convoy as an “act”. Convoy is band of real guys, writing and playing what we like. They are drawn to it, and tell all their friends.
DT:  Janesville is where we did our first big festival, Redneck Fest. They are just good working class people, who appreciate bands who give 110%, and help them forget the mundane bullshit that the day produces. We are starting to get a hold in Rockford, Madison, [and] even here in Chicago. People have to allow themselves to go, “hey, it’s okay to have a beer instead of Prozac… scream, yell, and beat on the steering wheel in traffic while they sing their favorite songs”. Isn’t that what we did in the 80s and 90s?
MG:  We basically got our confidence boost from Janesville. It was right after Johnny left the cover band and we decided to go “all original” with a different guitarist. Through emails, we made friends with the mastermind behind Redneck Fest, Jack Herndon. They were doing fundraisers to finance the fest up in Wisconsin, so we made a road trip to go show support (and curry favor to get on the bill), and met some of the people who were organizing and volunteering. We started having some beers and became friends, rapidly.  Kinda crazy, but the fact that we were willing to jam for free is probably what cemented our appearance at the festival. They set up a show the night before the fest, and we went and partied and hung out the whole weekend, helped tear down, and clean up afterward.  It just snowballed. All of the awesome people became friends, and that created a buzz around town. We weren’t nearly as good with the other guitar player, but we were cool and friendly, and the people reciprocated. Word got around, and it just became awesome. We have yet to find a place like Janesville.  It’s pretty unique.  There’s a real active music scene, and a shit ton of amazing musicians that live there. We’d love to be able to build that kind of friend base elsewhere, but it’s elusive, for now. We need to keep trying, because we are an amazing live band and I’d really like to get our music out there. At the risk of sounding like a douchebag, I honestly think we can hang with any band playing out there today. We just need the opportunity to prove it.

MI:  Convoy’s songs rock without trying to fit into the radio-friendly “pop-metal” format, sort of like taking the best of the classic rock sound, and updating it to sound modern, but also with a unique, swampy, throbbing tempo. First, do you think this description is accurate? Was it a preconceived concept to sound that way, or was it simply the result of all four of you just bringing what you have to table, and that’s what came out?
DT:  Yes. Swamp Rock is very accurate. Kind of a dark, murky, twangy, gator crawlin’, snake slithering, backwater tone, but when the sun shines, not so scary, and quite beautiful. We have a lot of different influences, and it is very much a blend of all of them.
MG:  It just evolved that way. Brian writes “swampy”. I think his internal clock is very similar to mine and we vibrate at similar frequencies. There’s an obvious chemistry there. Dan has a nice natural groove that works very well with what we do, and Johnny is so bad-ass, he could fit in with anyone. It’s really the sum of the parts that makes us sound the way we do. I couldn’t imagine “trying” to write music in any specific way. It would feel forced.
BC:  I see it like this. We can do just about any kind of music we want. We are the type of musicians where we can just jam something at any moment, and make it a song. When we make music, the four of us are on a vibrational wave, and what comes out is what comes out.
JD:  We don’t listen to the radio to try to figure out how a song should sound. Brian usually comes in with a riff, or invents one on the spot, and we flesh it out. We all come from rock ‘n roll. Brian is the youngest guy in the band, but he grew up with everything we all did. So, Mike has a swing, Brian has a riff machine in his gut, Dan can make it all change moods with one note, and I never know when to quit soloing. That’s us!

MI:  The themes in the lyrics seem to be unpretentious, and get right to the down-and-dirty “everyman” mindset, of cars, bikes, girls, partying, etc. Again, am I on target coming to a conclusion like that? What motivates the lyrical content and general attitude you want to convey to your audience?
BC:  Yep. Everyday life experiences, [and] writing about things that people can relate to. Life is a grand and wondrous thing, and it provides me to sing about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Hold no punches, back no boundaries, [and] call it like I see it.
DT:  Life is so fucking serious nowadays, and we are so medicated with the senseless pap on TV, the Internet, Crackbook, blah blah blah. It’s almost wrong to want to party and have a good time, enjoy a day in the sun on the bike, [or] make monkey love on a Sunday morning. Again, we are trying to let people get back to being people!
MG:  The input I have is a passion for what we do. That’s what I always want to convey, loving the opportunity to express myself through the drums.

MI:  How are the new songs coming together for the third album? What is the songwriting and rehearsing process like? What’s the target date to have the next record done?
DT:  Beer, guitars, loud amps, and lots of fun… sounds simple, and it is! [It’s] coming along good, but as always, you want your next [album] to be as good, or better, than the previous.
BC:  We are gonna take our time with this album, [and] not rush things just to get it out. I want to make this next one epic. I am hoping to have it out by the fall of this year. That will give us time to work with the songs before we record them.
JD:  We’ve probably written and forgotten enough songs to fill up two 3rd albums, but the ones that stick, just stick. We know when we’re forcing an idea, and we tend to play what we like to listen to. So, songs like “Rectify” and “Silver Tongue Devil” are getting played live almost every show, because we like them, and they’ll definitely be on the record. We keep threatening to have a rehearsal where we do real “pre-production” to try to figure out how many songs we have and where they’re at, but that almost sounds like work.
MG:  We have probably 10-12 ideas in various stages of completion right now, and some of it’s quite powerful. The process is usually just to jam on ideas that Brian’s working on, and see what fits. As the songs develop, then everyone contributes “colors” to help the arrangement. It’s truly a collaborative endeavor.

MI:  I get the sense of the importance of a good, strong, woman in your lives. How do your wives/girlfriends fit in to the mix of your musical activities and overall vision of what you want this band to be?
JD:  I can say right now that Mike’s wife/girlfriend/agent, Michelle, is the MVP. She does more FOR the band than most of us IN the band.
MG:  The girls are super supportive, and put up with our bullshit. I think a big thing is [that] the band doesn’t suck, and our music has some mass appeal, so that makes it easier to support. My “wife” Michelle is extremely helpful with running much of our social media/internet promotions, as well as making contacts for booking shows. She’s also a trooper. She goes with [me] to network with other bands and venues. All of the gals are awesome, supportive, and fucking patient!
JD:  My poor wife has been a “band wife” since 2000-ish. She has served dutifully and bravely over the years, but now she mostly says, “Do you have a show tonight? Have fun!” When it comes to the deal of recording and mixing, where most of the hours fall into my lap, she helps me make it a priority so our albums can sound as good as they do. Big picture, I think having a “life” is a good thing when you’re playing in bars almost every weekend. It keeps you on the rails, so to speak.
DT:  A strong partner in all of this is very important. We are gone a lot, and relationships can suffer [or] even end. Strength is very important, and there ain’t nothin’ wrong with seeing your partner shaking it, [and] looking hot when they can be at a show. [It] makes all the lonely times worth it when they support you. Like anything, you need someone to walk beside you on this journey, and I think we are all lucky.
BC:  All I can say is I don’t know how they put up with the crazy life, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart for not giving up on us, and for believing in this band.

MI:  Is there anything in particular about the instruments and gear that you use that you feel is really important to the overall Convoy sound?
DT:  Oh yeah, you hear it all the time. I’m a product of the late 70s, 80s, and 90s. Ampeg, tubes, round wound strings, [and] bass with bite, not muffled. I love my Deans with the Bartolini [pick-ups]. I replaced my Jazz Bass with EMGs, same tone [but] more output. I shopped around for almost three years to find that tone. It’s my signature. I’m lucky enough to be able to have, and use, a few REAL Ampegs, at the Rock Lounge. My tour rig is durable and very close to my tone from the Ampegs. My 15’s are Peavey Scorpions, [and] they can take the power. [I’ve] never lost one, knock on wood, except when a power amp fucked up and sent AC voltage [in] to them. I also use an old Peavey Max Hybrid preamp, durable, with tubes, and solid state…so, yeah, I am a geek.
JD:  I change gear like the weather. I can’t help it. But, I always end up wearing “SLAPPY” (my Warmoth-mutt guitar with scalloped frets) when I’m recording and at most shows. We also down tune a whole step, with a drop-D that becomes a drop-C. Makes it sound pretty heavy.
BC:  It’s not the instruments that make the sound of Convoy, it’s the men that play in the band, [and] the spirit behind the sound. I can pick up any kind of instrument, tuned any way, and jam with my bros together, and it could sound totally different from what you have heard from us, but it’s still us.

MI:  You have some bigger festival appearances coming up, like Brat Fest & Sturgis. What else is on the horizon?
MG:  A friend is offering us a hook up at the Full Throttle Saloon [in Sturgis]. He does a radio show from a deck space there, and we invited ourselves to show up and jam. We’re not officially playing for the FTS, but we’re hoping someone sees us, and shit will snowball from there. We also have a buddy who works for Strip Club Choppers that will let us jam at the campground where their merch booth is set up. So, for sure two free shows and we have a bid to get on the main stage at the Buffalo Chip. Hopefully we’ll garner enough Internet votes to do it. In addition, we’re playing an awesome festival in Dixon, IL, on August 15th and 16th called Beamenfest. It’s like a hard rock Woodstock in a field on a farm out there. There will be two national acts and a ton of rocking local and regional bands as well as incredibly awesome people partying all weekend. We’re also doing a big charity show in Janesville June 7th for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. We’ve submitted to jam Summerfest as well. That’s a tough gig to get, but why not us?
DT:  We are very fortunate to have been able to get on those lineups. We are also trying to get some things like Breastfest in Rockford, and higher profile gigs like House Of Blues. They are in the works, so stay tuned, and please support local music, independent stations, Internet radio, and the magazines and webpages that support them! Without the fans, family, and the support, we would be nothing!

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CD: Blue Collar America Record Label: Swamp Rock Music
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