Eric Tessmer Band

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THE ERIC TESSMER BAND: SCHOOLING THE BLUES

On March 5, 2011 just after 3pm, Pepper Keenan and other members of DOWN emerged from their tour bus in Maxwell, TX to see who was rockin’ the stage at Texas Independence Fest. Joining festival-goers under the pavilion, they watched The Eric Tessmer Band take the electric blues and give it a hard rock makeover. After their brief set, Pepper approached the band as they were unloading and said, “You guys started jamming, and we came off the bus because we wanted to know who the hell was playing!”

If you don’t know this already, Eric Tessmer is an extraordinary guitar player falling in line with some of your favorite guitar gods and with Danny G on bass and Rob Williamson on drums, The Eric Tessmer Band takes the timeless outline of blues rock and adds a raw ferocity to create a distinct style and sound that is all their own.

Like most bands, the path to success has been long and unpredictable and ETB has seen more than its fair share of adversity. When Eric and Danny found themselves without a drummer in November 2010, they began the relentless search for their third wheel. Having high expectations and refusing to settle, ETB played with several talented musicians over the course of a few months in search of the “holy grail”. This process limited the band to playing mostly covers and shelving their original material. The tide finally turned on February 26th at BD Riley’s on 6th Street, when Rob Williamson sat in with the band at the last minute. With only a few hours to get familiar with the set, ETB was playing one original after another.

Eric Tessmer is serious about conveying music.  When I asked him about how it felt to get back to playing originals, and the recent lack thereof, he said, “We haven’t been playing as many originals cause we’d hate to have musicians we can’t trust trying to pull off the songs I wrote and that mean something to me. Rob took it pretty seriously. We have had some fill-in guys who hadn’t heard our stuff or didn’t know the song structure, breaks, the beat or the nuances, want to just try it and ‘fake it.’ I didn’t write this music to be ‘faked.’ Rob did a great job – I’m impressed, and he’s a good sport. He doesn’t have a background in blues. But he’s picking up on the blues real quick.  Kinda like Danny when I met him. He didn’t have much of a blues background at all but it’s more like the feeling.”

Hailing from Wisconsin, Eric has been influenced by many Austin musicians. When he was looking to relocate, he briefly looked at New York, LA, Nashville, New Orleans, and Chicago.  He even considered Madison, Wisconsin.  He admits to being so sheltered that he thought, “I just need to get to a city, and then it’ll happen for me! My dad was telling me I could go anywhere I wanted, Austin or Nashville or wherever. And I thought AUSTIN, because everyone that I dig is from there. I grew up reading about and listening to everyone from here, and a lot of the people I was interested in by the time I got here were GONE. But I still got to be friends with Clifford Antone, Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon. That stuff was like fairy tales to me before. Obviously SRV was a huge influence on me when I was younger, and when I got here the biggest influence on me had to be Allen Haynes and people like Eric Johnson and Monty Montgomery. Not necessarily one person either, but just the whole music scene. Like the direction music goes in, you walk from Congress to 6th Street to Red River; it’s such a palate of styles.”

Eric’s wide-range of influences speaks to fans of all genres. People tell him how his music has changed their lives. When I asked Eric about this kind of feedback from his fans, he said, “It’s pretty overwhelming. When I listened to music as a kid growing up and everything it meant to me, as a kid in high school who would write Pink Floyd lyrics on the back of desks in class, and for a long time I was so obsessed with Stevie Ray Vaughan, playing guitar and the more I learned about him and listened to his music, I felt like he was the best friend I never had. Music will take everyone to a different place. There’s a woman on our street team in PA, does a lot of web research for us.  She told me that she is in love with our music and that she really wanted to start exercising more. So she got an iPod shuffle, and before she couldn’t go a mile on a treadmill. But now she sends g-chats and emails saying how we went 5 miles listening to our music and ‘Green Diamond III’ takes her to a place she’s so emotional she walks for hours. And you think about it, and it’s so heavy that we affect someone like that.”

Crowds mention the connection Eric and Danny G have on stage. The two of them walk the crowd at some venues, allowing those in attendance to experience the musical artistry up close and personal. “It’s hard to explain the connection in words,” Eric  said, “I think he and I have a lot happen at the same place musically, I mean we never talk about it other than – ‘I love playing with you man!’ – and – ‘That was really cool!’ – It’s more like some ESP sort of thing, if people still use that term. We know where each other are going to go, or if one goes somewhere the other knows in an instant where to follow. I can’t explain it, but I dig it! He’s a groove monster, lays it down and makes my job easy.”

AUSTIN420: So, you have your “groove monster” in Danny G on bass, have you found a new drummer?

ET: We have, but we can’t say yet. OK, yes we can, Rob Williamson.

AUSTIN420: How did you find Rob, and what does he bring to ETB?

ET: Danny found Rob. It’s kind of weird because I’ve known Rob for years. Rob is the drummer equivalent to Danny as a bass player, and now we have the trifecta of ass-whippery. I’m really looking forward to playing with Rob tomorrow, and the next night, and hopefully for years to come. That’s the sort of thing that makes me excited playing with him, it’s cool to have a band that inspires me and every gig I see growth.

 Danny G stated, “Regardless if Rob decides to stick with ETB, which I sure the fuck hope he does, we know what to look for in a drummer: someone who brings powerful drums with authority, a professional in music and in business, uses a metronome, constantly builds towards bigger and better things.  So, yeah, we want ROB!”

Rob said, “It feels very exciting to be the newest member of ETB. I get to lay down some cool groove with bass master, Danny G for Eric to destroy with his guitar skills.  It’s fun, a lot of fun.  I bring more R ’n’ R to ETB than blues.  My goal is to make you feel the rhythm in your bones while Eric melts your face with the guitar melodies.”

“I think most musicians have been in a situation where it’s the same songs over and over again. But if you have musicians that inspire you, every show is different and every show there’s improvement. Obviously you’re going to have a bad show every once in a while, but a lot of its attitude as well… Music is meant to be fun. I mean we’re always going to have some kind of issue I’m sure but I’d rather it be that the carpet in the van smells a little moldy, rather than “why is nothing clicking onstage?”

Eric has not settled for a job.  “It’s interesting that when you have a lifestyle where it’s completely up to YOU to structure it, you really have to discipline yourself.” He said. “We have the 4 hours onstage every night, but the rest of the day we spend practicing; on the computer/phone; going out and exercising. Usually musicians are pretty passionate/obsessive people and pretty easily distracted, it’s easy to get caught up and do something that’s completely unrelated to music and waste a whole day. You have to discipline yourself a lot to practice and maintain equipment. There’s a lot of stuff to fall into, substance abuse or laziness. Lack of motivation is the real curse of Austin musicians, lack of motivation and professionalism. Don’t get me wrong, I like to tear loose every once in a while myself. But when it’s business time, it’s business time.”

I asked Eric based on his experience, what advice he would give to other musicians wanting to play full time. “Number one: don’t be an asshole. Two: nobody owes you a fucking thing; it’s all up to you. Three: when people say it’s not what you know it’s who you know, that is true -- networking is the best thing you can do. You’re going to have to play some free shows. 6th Street doesn’t pay very well, but is a networking gold mine. If you could be content working a day job, don’t even bother trying to play music for a living because it is not for you. Practice! No one wants to go down and hear you suck. It’s inspiring to go downtown and hear musicians you can tell practice. If you want to be a professional, you have to be professional. Hold yourself to a higher standard. Take your job seriously. It’s a full time job, and you should treat it like that.”

Danny G added, “A lot of people think they can be a musician because they don’t want to ‘work’, but you have to work harder than people with a comfortable full time job. It’s so chaotic, there are good times, there are lean times, and you have to be on top of your game as a player, as a networker, as a businessman. Stay on top of so many different facets…which is what it takes to keeping a career going.”

                Eric grew up working on a farm which is a 24-hour a day job and he sees music the same way. He discussed the importance of self discipline.  “You also have to be planning 3, 6 months, a year ahead: planning trips to India, planning a Halloween gig in Chicago, planning a European trip in the Fall, US touring in the summer. **hint hint, I’m describing our upcoming year**. Doing all of this, while at the same time you have the motor of the band van torn apart and wondering how we’re going to make it to the next gig, or dealing with personnel issues, or your amp breaking down. You have to be able to deal with what’s in the moment, you have to look ahead, and you have to keep everything held together somehow. It’s also important to surround yourself with positive people who are willing to put their shoulder into it.”

On Monday, March 7th, ETB played FRIENDS on 6th Street in their resident spot. As usual, the crowd poured in off of the street and packed the bar. Halfway through their set, Mikkey Dee of Motorhead swaggered in and took the stage with ETB. Behind Rob’s drums they played Troubled by Muddy Waters.  These guys have turned the heads of great rockers in the few days I have been following them writing this article, and I look forward to seeing what else is in store for them! ~