Everyone knows that Michael Jordan is a multi-talented athlete who has also dabbled in the restaurant business. But few know that he’s at least indirectly responsible for keeping quality "live" music available in southeastern Minnesota.
Here’s the story: Troubleshooter, the local country and rock band, has been performing for seventeen years. For awhile during their history, they worked at taking their band "to the next level" by auditioning for shows like Star Search and Be a Star. The band also sent out cd’s to radio stations across the country and received some air play.
Perhaps the band’s closest brush with national fame came in Nashville about eight years ago when they were invited to be one of fourteen acts to perform in front of producers for all the major recording labels in that town. Troubleshooter drew the 9:00 p.m. slot for their 20-minute performance. This happened to be the same time that Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were tipping off in one of the games of the NBA finals. Most of the record producers were in the "hospitality room" watching the game while Troubleshooter played. The recording contract went to another group. "It was disappointing for us, " said Rodney Darr.
But these days, Darr is philosophical about the band’s decision to stop touring full-time and stay closer to home. "Playing six nights a week, fifty-one weeks a year is overwhelming and exhausting. It’s more enjoyable now," he said.
Troubleshooter now plays only on weekends, usually staying within 80 miles of home. The four musicians have "day jobs" during the week. Darr, lead vocalist and drummer, is a realtor with Darr Auction and Real Estate in Rushford. Darr’s brother Bruce, lead guitarist, also works for Darr Auction and Real Estate. Bassist Dennis Overland ("Stub") is an insurance agent in Rushford, and keyboardist Bruce Greenwood ("Tweet") works in a college business office in Winona.
Ten years ago the band recorded their first cd of six original songs, establishing their country/rock sound with lyrics of lost love and relationship difficulties. The song "Small Town Bars", often requested even today, seems to be a declaration of the band’s identity:
Playing country music in small town bars. Put on a lot of miles, but don’t get very far. Work real hard to put on a good show, the equipment’s not ours, it’s the bank we owe. We love to learn the songs that you like best. All we do is play ‘em and you do the rest ‘cause we’re doing it—we’re playing the small town bars.
Three years later, Troubleshooter recorded another cd titled Borderline, and it was evident their sound had matured. The addition of more keyboards, vocals, and pedal steel guitar enriched melodies and chord progressions that had become more complex. Even the lyrics seemed to have a new introspective quality, as in the song "Can I Still Hold on to You":
None of my boyhood heroes ever had to ask for help…they were better off by themselves. I’ve been acting like I’m so strong, but I want to learn to love and ask for what I need.
It is likely the band will record again, maybe "putting something together in the next couple years," according to Bruce Darr.
"We need to sit down and write some more material and come up with the finances," said his brother. "Getting a recording done right can be expensive."
One of Troubleshooter’s strengths is their vocals. Everybody can sing. In fact, their harmonies are so strong that they recorded an acapella "do-wop" style song, "I Go To Pieces," on their second cd. Rodney sang all lead vocals on both cd’s, but during live performances, they "pass the ball" to each member.
Local people are familiar with Troubleshooter because of the many festivals and street dances they play in the area during the summer. They take off only one weekend per year, filling the other weekends with clubs, private parties, and festivals. "We’re lucky that the phone does not slow down," said Rodney, who does all the booking.Troubleshooter has entered the Information Age with their own website. Fans can read bios, consult the band’s schedule, and order merchandise on-line. Overland reported that the website has had "hits" from all over the world, and offers a weekly e-mail to fans "from Arizona to Virginia."
"We’re still working on it," said Overland of the website. "We have not added the ability to listen to our music (on-line) yet. That will be coming soon."
Overland and Bruce Darr, who played trombone and saxophone respectively during their school days in Rushford, are the only two original members of the group, putting the band together while they were still in high school. One of their first important jobs was coming up with a name for the band.
"It’s sort of like naming your pet," said Darr. "You want something good."
The guys were looking through an equipment manual when the section labeled "Troubleshooter Guide" caught their eye. And a band was born.
Although Rodney Darr joined the band after his younger brother, it was the older brother who inspired the younger to pick up a guitar in the first place. Rod formed a band with some of his fellow 9th graders and with yet another older brother, Jeff, when Bruce was in 6th grade.
"I’d sit and watch every practice," said Bruce, who admits his brothers’ band probably had a less-than-polished sound back then. "But to me, it sounded like the Beatles."
Troubleshooter’s repertoire includes country, rock, and original music. But this is not a group of artists simply "emoting" or playing for their own entertainment. The group continually learns new material. In selecting songs, "we gear it to what the crowd wants," said Rodney.
The band keeps an eye on national music trends. Currently, a lot of country artists are experiencing crossover success to the pop charts. Greenwood calls this new hybrid of music "Sawyer Brown Country" after the band of the same name.
"My idea of ‘Sawyer Brown Country’ is that it’s the band’s ability to convey rural topics and sensibilities in their music without using the traditional fiddle and steel guitar….(instead) you’ll hear drums, bass guitar, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and piano."
Greenwood confesses to having an affection for old country music and is happy to see the resurgence of music by "Merle, Waylon, and Willie." (Haggard, Jennings, and Nelson, for the uninitiated)
It’s safe to describe the members of Troubleshooter as all "thirty-something"; however, their fans come in all ages, which has led to some interesting reactions over the years. They once played "Rock & Roll All Night Long" by Kiss as a polka. Talk about your multi-generational appeal!
Bruce Darr told the recent story of a young, male fan who enjoyed and requested the band’s version of "Take a Chance On Me," a song made famous by the group ABBA in the 1970’s. Darr encountered the fan again later in the week.
"I found the original recording of "Take a Chance On Me", the young man said. "Girls sing that song!" he added with a mixture of surprise and indignation.
To the lay person, the life of a musician appears glamourous. But appearances seldom tell the whole story. "That it (band life) is really easy and extremely lucrative," is the misconception Bruce Darr hears most often.
"Most people don’t realize that the job involves more than just the four hours we’re on stage," said Greenwood. "We put in an eight or nine hour day," often on top of a full day at their "day jobs."
"Lack of a social life," is the biggest drawback, according to Rodney. But he feels it’s worth it because bands "get to be where everybody is socializing."
With the hours involved, expenses accumulated,