The Story of the Stickband

Jim Bruno:

Over the ~12 year span of the Stickband, we definitely transitioned through different directions of musical genres/styles. In the first version of the group with Bob Cooper, we were definitely a form of a rock jazz fusion group, but a lot of what we did was a by-product of the actual techniques we were learning and how it effected the way that we played and wrote songs on the Stick. In the beginning, writing songs and new techniques sort of came hand-in-hand and were connected to each other. That definitely had an affect on the type and style of the songs we were coming up with.

Although we had a particular style in the beginning, we really were thinking creatively, and any new thing that we learned to do on the Stick turned into a new direction and was turned into an original song. Musically, it was pretty much anything goes in the beginning. After Bob Cooper left the group and Don Telian joined, the musical direction pretty much stayed the same except that we were getting better on the instruments and Don was stretching out with his own creative thoughts by developing extremely unique concepts for the drum parts.

With Don in the group, the songwriting kept going in the same direction, save for the addition of the EVI Steiner to my lineup of musical instruments. I was playing the Stick, guitar, Lyricon, and the EVI Steiner. Bob Culbertson was playing the Stick, violin and guitar, and was taking the touch technique into some interesting arenas; he started to apply a lot of stick technique to the guitar, and that would take us in some really interesting waters as far as our musical direction.

At that point, I was only singing a bit, but when Verlene Schermer joined the group near the end to the end of our lineup with Don, we added more vocals. All the while, we were getting better and better on all of the instruments.

That trend continued after Verlene and Don left and Ray Fink came into the group to play drums. Every person that was ever in Stickband, aside from being very good on their instruments, was also a songwriter. Verlene was an outstanding songwriter, and Ray was also a songwriter and singer. Their contributions and influence definitely sent the band into a direction vocally that we hadn’t had when we started.

That evolution all happened pretty naturally, but by the time Ray left the group, Bob and I were feeling a bit like the band had played itself out. It’s not that we weren’t still interested in playing the instruments, but we had gone through so many different people and styles that we where wondering if we’d exhausted our energy and creativity within Stickband, and maybe it was time to concentrate more on our teaching and give the band a rest for a while.

It didn’t work out that way. During the last version of the group, we met a clothes designer who kept telling us we just had to hear his friend sing. That’s when we met Michale Milburn-Jones. Around that time I heard another fine singer who was also a drummer, and the idea of these two interesting voices sort of rekindled our excitement.

At that time, MTV just started on television and one musical direction that we hadn’t gone into as of yet was pop rock in the style that was getting play on MTV. That was most definitely the direction we looked to when we reformed the group with Mike Ardisson and Michale.

Bob was having a field day developing different instruments that physically reflected the concept of the songs we were working on. We wrote a song called ‘Just to Play on TV’ and Bob invented a guitar that actually had a working television as the body of the instrument. We wrote a song called ‘She’s a Mannequin’ and Bob built a 6 foot tall mannequin guitar with the strings running down her leg that he played on stage. Bob was also a World Class frisbee player – he was rated second in the world – so of course he created a frisbee guitar that he could play and do frisbee tricks with.

His touch system technique was getting outrageously great. He took two guitars and learned how to play both simultaneously. It was like having two great rock guitar players playing harmony at the same time. Bob also played string parts and the stick at the same time. While Bob did that, I would be playing Stick with amazingly great vocals and vocal harmonies going on with both Mike Michael and myself. This group was absolutely completely different from anything that we had done up to that point.

It’s always fun to look back with hindsight to recognize how the evolution and the logic of something came about. Looking back over something that happened so many years ago and seeing it as a whole instead of in separate parts makes it much easier to appreciate. I feel extremely grateful for every person’s contributions during Stickband’s run; each member were part of the evolution of this interesting instrument.

For those of you with any interest to exploring this website, I hope you enjoy the videos, the interviews and the information about the people who participated.

Keep Singing!