The Robbie Brooks Band

Robbie Brooks Band

In 1998 George Maurer and I were working together in yet another pit band for a community theater production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Little Falls, MN. Playing the part of Joseph was a man who was to become one of my closest friends, Jeff Engholm.

At this same time George's agent asked him to form a variety band for a young lady named Robbie Brooks. He asked me if I was interested and mentioned that "the guy who plays Joseph" was, aparently, a very good bass player. George quit the band after a year or so, but Jeff and I, along with our drummer, Amy Schmidtbauer, spent the next three years playing Brown Eyed Girl for people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and North & South Dakota as a part of the Robbie Brooks Band. Robbie eventually moved to California and married blues artist Keb Mo. They have a son named Carter. There are a lot of good stories that came out of that band.

The Worst Musical Moment I've Ever Had
New Year's Eve 1997: we are playing at the Holiday Inn in St. Cloud. It is our first gig ever; we are a totally untested band, in fact, we are still learning songs at soundcheck. I don't remember anything about the rest of the gig except that it was a struggle, but the absolute worst moment happened when we tried to play the song I Will Survive, George picked one key, Jeff picked another and I picked a third (I think Robbie may have gone with George's key). We couldn't find each other at all and the song wound up sounding terrible!
But at the Same Gig...
It's getting near midnight at the end of a song I look back at Amy, who is the only one of us wearing a watch, "What time is it?" I ask. "Three minutes past!" she replies, panicked, "FIVE...FOUR...THREE...TWO...ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!"
The Worst Thing I Ever Said on Stage
This was after George had left the band and was replaced by Chris Schuette. We were playing for a convention of farmers at one of the resorts on Gull Lake and, for some reason, were joking around before the gig and the term "tainted grain" became the punchline to a lot of jokes (don't ask me why or how, I have no idea). At one point in our gig, I can see it clearly in my head, we got done with a song and everybody in the band simultaneously reached down for their water bottle. "Looks like we should make a toast," I said, "To tainted grain!" The farmers didn't find that too funny and their looks made me feel like quite a heel.
The Best Thing I Ever Said on Stage
I don't remember who the gig was for, but it was another one at a resort on Gull Lake, we started at 8 PM and we walked in at exactly 7:55 to a virtually empty room. Six people from the convention were sitting on the far side. I looked at them and just before we started our first song asked in my best stadium rock star voice, "Are you six ready to ROCK?!" That busted up the room. The rest of the people showed up a little later and we all had a great time.
Johnny Cash's Cousin
We played a county fair in Elkhorn, Wisconsin and shared the stage with a guy who claimed he was Johnny Cash's cousin. He played all of Johnny's hits to Karaoke tracks while strumming an acoustic guitar. Before each song he'd say something like, "And here's another hit that my cousin had in 1962, and now I'd like to do it for you." I mark that as one of the silliest things I've ever seen on stage.

George Maurer Jazz Group

In 1997 George decided that he wanted to start moving away from the "solo piano improvisations" he had been playing since the late 80's and start playing traditional jazz. As mentioned before, I had played in jazz bands and combos in college and he remembered me from that time, so he asked me to join his new band. We asked Jeff to play bass, and he suggested the drummer from the SCSU jazz band who was just about to graduate, named Scott Chabot. Jeff also brought in the singer from his college jazz combo, Ann Michels. George brought in his old trumpet playing buddy, Richard Witteman. That group has been together, with only a minor hiatus by Scott, ever since. That's a pretty amazing record, if you ask me, not a lot of bands can say they've had the same personel for ten+ years.

Turns out that this band, who has become, in essense, my family is quite a bunch of talented folks. Ann appears on stages throughout the Twin Cities area and has had major and starring roles at the Guthrie and the Chanhassen Dinner Theater. Richard is not only a fine trumpet player, but a singer who I have seen spellbind an entire room. Jeff is a solid and talented bass player and a pretty dang good vocalist as well. Scott is the most unique drummer -- you can practically hear the chord progression when he solos, not many drummers can say that. And George, beyond being a great pianist and composer, is the glue that holds us all together, it is his drive to do new things and play as often as possible that keeps us all working.

Collective Unconscious

1999 saw Jeff living up near Randall, MN sort of caretaking the home of artist Russell Sharon while he spent the winter and spring in Florida. Jeff spent that time amassing equipment for his own home recording studio while creating his solo album called Summit Climb. When it was complete he wanted to form a band to perform the songs live and sell the CD. He asked me right away and I told him, "I've got just the guy for you for the other vocal parts and guitar playing," and suggest Nathan "Nature" Nesje. That was the formation of Collective Unconscious.

Since then we've recorded two albums of our own music (some of which Nature and I had been playing for years) and mounted a couple of ambitious shows, the Beatles' Abbey Road album in 2001, and the gargantuan Beach Boys Pet Sounds in 2003, and Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water in 2008.

I love playing in CU, even if we don't play that often. We have played some great shows and had some great jams -- including a marathon single set that lastest almost 5 hours!

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