Powderfinger "20th Anniversary" www.facebook.com/BobNormPF
Interview by Roger-Z (02/20/13)
More Sugar: How and when did you all meet?
Ron Negro: Bob and I went to the same high school and started gigging together in 1988 in a band called "Bad Influence." We met Norm when his band "Straitjacket" played on the same bill with us for a Veterans benefit concert, "Rockfest '88."
Bob Goetz: Of the four bands on that bill, our two were the most alike. Any off time we had, we spent at the other band’s gig supporting them and forming the relationships which would come to fruition about five years later in 1993.
Norm Dodge: "Bad Influence" and "Straightjacket" both had repertoires that were just around that time being labeled as "Classic Rock."
More Sugar: Where and when did "Powderfinger" play their first gig?
Ron Negro: One of the members of "Bad Influence," Danny Phillips, left the band to pursue acoustic gigs. Bob joined him on occasion and they played as a duo. This became the prelude to "Bob & Norm."
Bob Goetz: I left "Bad Influence" sometime in 1991 or 1992 I believe. After that, I started showing up at Danny Phillips' gigs with an acoustic bass I had purchased because I thought it was a cool instrument to have at home. I never really thought of playing it out on gigs. All the bands I was involved in were electric acts and it didn’t have the right tone for these gigs. But when I played it with an acoustic guitar, I was pleasantly surprised to hear how great it sounded. I started performing with Danny pretty regularly and before we knew it, we had a pretty unique thing going. There weren’t too many acoustic duos around at that time, especially with a guitar/bass combination. Danny had secured a weekly date at The LowDown in Mt. Vernon on Sunday nights from 11p-3a, so we had at least one gig a week to hone our sound and material. Sadly, in April of 1993, Danny was tragically taken from us -- struck by a car the Saturday night before Easter. He was a popular guy, and a great musician with many friends and fans. After weeks of mourning, the obvious question started to pop up. "Bob, what are you going to do musically now?" The owner of The Lowdown informed me he would still like to keep the gig going if I was up to it. I now had the challenge of finding a replacement for Danny, who had now become an iconic figure in the local music scene. Big shoes to fill. I don’t know how long it took me, but Norman was the first and most obvious person I thought about. After years of watching him play and sitting in with each other’s bands, I felt this was a great fit -- not to replace Danny, but to take his idea at least in a parallel direction. We did our first gig at The LowDown in May of 1993 and the "Bob & Norm" acoustic duo was born. After working together as a duo for some time, I think just for a kick, one night we decided to have a drummer sit in. My lifelong friend Andy LaDue joined us at The LowDown on a Sunday night and I guess, although not billed as "Powderfinger," this was technically the first "Powderfinger" gig. We LOVED it. We now had a great situation where we had put together a great acoustic act, and with the flick of some power buttons on a couple of guitar and bass amps, we also had a kick-ass electric rock band. The unique thing about this is that since "Powderfinger" is derived from "Bob & Norm," all the songs can be played in either situation. Many people are pleasantly surprised to hear that the duo is not limited in song selection due to the acoustic setting. After playing for a year or two with Andy on drums, he decided to pursue an original act he was working with and left the band. I’m not sure if we tried any other drummers before Ronnie, but again, having worked with him before, he was an obvious fit. Through the years, he has also strengthened his vocal ability to the point where we have a nice three part vocal harmony. We still end every gig with a tribute to Danny Phillips, as he was instrumental in the forming of "Bob & Norm" and "Powderfinger." We wouldn’t be here without him.
Norm Dodge: We continued playing at The Lowdown for maybe two more years. By the fall of '93, we focused on making "Bob & Norm" a steady thing and branching out to other venues. Concurrent with that was incorporating a drummer and playing our new repertoire with electric instruments. I think we played with at least two drummers before Ronnie became the full time drummer in 1995 for what we now were calling "Powderfinger."
More Sugar: How did you come up with the band name?
Bob Goetz: I was on the phone with a club owner trying to book a gig early on and we didn’t have a band name. We were rehearsing in my living room and were working on "Powderfinger" by Neil Young when I got the call. So I kind of just blurted out "Powderfinger," and it worked. So we kept using it.
More Sugar: How do you pick the songs? Are you continually adding new ones?
Ron Negro: "Bad Influence" and "Straitjacket" had pretty extensive song lists. Norm learned the ones Bob knew and vice versa. We still pick up new songs when we get repeated requests for certain artists we don't already cover. Plus, we often have to learn specific requests for private gigs. If we feel we play them well, we keep them.
Bob Goetz: Over the years, different gig situations produced needs for different material and the song list just grew. In the beginning, we were lucky enough to just learn a lot of our own favorites. Midway through the band’s career, it was more of a "we should know that song, it would be helpful to have" kind of thing. Lately we’ve slowed down learning new material, but the selections have been much more challenging (i.e. "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," "Sgt. Pepper/A Day In The Life," "Rosalita").
Norm Dodge: Going from playing one night together in early 1993 to playing up to 7 nights a week, we have been able to amass a song list of over 300 tunes. Over the years I think we have all contributed to the list.
More Sugar: Do you play the tunes note for note or do you go for a unique arrangement?
Ron Negro: Note for note! Sometimes we all have to get creative on how to cover piano, horn, strings, and other parts since we are only three pieces. But the songs deserve the respect of learning them the right way and trying to duplicate every part possible. That's the way we believe people want to hear them.
Bob Goetz: When we started out, we decided that if we were going to be a cover band, we were going to learn the songs with the respect they deserved and perform them the way people expect to hear them. That being said, since we are a three piece with only two melodic instruments, to make the songs sound like the originals, sometimes we need to adapt the specific instrument parts to allude to some other instrumentation that may be missing. For example, my bass part may have to be adapted to cover a piano part. Norman’s guitar part may have to invoke a string arrangement and so on. But we try to stick to the original as close as possible. No musical interpretation here.
Norm Dodge: Although I think the focus has always been on learning the cover songs note for note, we really made an effort to do this even more diligently. If for nothing else, the practicality of everyone learning the same version and arrangement in the recorded key makes things easier and just makes sense to me.
More Sugar: Do any of you ever sub out the gig?
Ron Negro: We all have personal lives with vacations and such, so sure. Bob and I sub on "Rock of Ages" on Broadway and Norm is cool when either of us has to miss for it. But to be honest, even when great players fill in, there is nothing to replace the thousands of hours of chemistry we've developed with each other. There's just a great feeling when it's the three of us, no matter what the tempo, volume or setting. We're lucky.
Bob Goetz: We do. We’re lucky enough to be able to do this full time and make a decent living. We’re all older now and have family situations and need to take off from time to time just for regular life.
More Sugar: What's the percentage of club versus private gigs?
Bob Goetz: We’ve slowed down playing clubs considerably over the past few years. But the private jobs have increased proportionally. I’d say we do a private job for every three or four club gigs.
More Sugar: How long do you see yourselves continuing?
Ron Negro: We like what do. We like each other. And we're successful. Why even think about an end?
Bob Goetz: We’ve been lucky enough to put up with each other’s ups and downs for twenty years and are stronger than ever. That’s longer than a lot of marriages. This is a marriage in some respects. The respect we have for each other personally and musically goes a long way in keeping the band intact. Most of the qualities that would keep a marriage going are essential in keeping a band together. I also try to explain to people who ask about why the band sounds so cohesive that you can’t put twenty years of playing together in a bottle and sell it. If it were that easy, everyone would do it. It’s a quality that we have that I’m very proud of and that I believe comes through with every performance we do. Sometimes Norman and I will actually play the same mistake and scratch our heads if it was a mistake at all. You can actually feel the mistakes coming sometimes and head them off so they don’t happen. It’s an amazing experience and I feel I’m lucky to have two musical partners as gifted as Norman and Ronnie. I see no end in sight at this point, just a natural progression to different levels of playing and working together. Happy Anniversary guys!
Norm Dodge: For me, I haven't done many things consistently for twenty years. But I am proud to say that I have been in this band for that time. Bob and Ronnie are top notch players and I feel very grateful to play with them on a regular basis. There is a chemistry here that cannot be duplicated. We have had our ups and downs over the past twenty years, but mostly ups, and we have gotten through it all together. Twenty years has gone fast. I have just taken it one gig at a time. And I will take the future the same way and hope to be playing with these guys for a long, long time. ©2013 Roger-Z