Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

May 16, 2014

Distributing Dixieland 45 years later

TRAVERSE CITY — It never takes long for the members of The Backroom Gang to get themselves back in sync.

The band has been around for 45 years and most of its members started playing with the group decades ago. They’ve survived the ebb and flow of musicians coming and going. They’ve also survived a decline in interest in their genre.

The Dixieland jazz ensemble gathered into a familiar circle Tuesday night in Hal and Jan Fisher’s home near Suttons Bay. The seven instrumentalists and two vocalists wanted one last brush-up before their first major gig of the busy season. It’s an appearance at the Traverse City Elks Lodge #323 at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“They’ve all been doing it for so long, it just falls in place,” said Jan Fisher, one of the group’s two female vocalists. “It’s mostly goofing off ... it’s pretty loose.”

Don Frost set the tempo on the drums, and the circle of band members picked up the music.

It’s a familiar gathering consisting of a bit of musical rehearsal interspersed between a lot of camaraderie.

“We have to get together and get in sync,” said Don Frost, the group’s drummer. It’s a chore that doesn’t take long, even after a winter apart. Only two of the group’s members use sheet music, the rest know the tunes by heart, he said.

Frost, a retired obstetrician/gynecologist with a penchant for constructing working steam locomotives, claims he is the “illegitimate” musician of the bunch despite playing music since age 15.

Heck, a tally of the members’ combined years of music experience would require a calculator.

The group’s youngest member, Fred Shipinski, 57, plays piano and sings. Its oldest member is in his early 70s, Frost said.

“It’s amazing that the band has been together this long,” Frost said. “Most of us are on the high side of our 60s.”

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