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Hello Dave

Stewart Oksenhorn

Listen to “Wicked Revelry,” the recent live CD by Chicago five-piece Hello Dave, and one can hear a number of potential influences.In the bright electric-guitar tones layered over acoustic-guitar chords, on the song “Mountains,” there is the definite imprint of the Allman Brothers Band. In the easygoing, country-touched vocals of “Catalyst,” one can hear the shadow of the Eagles. Throughout, there is the suggestion of contemporary acts like Big Head Todd & the Monsters, the Freddy Jones Band, and Sister Hazel – bands that combine jam-band sensibilities and pop sounds, and that Hello Dave has shared stages with over the course of its six year-run.What never quite comes through, however, is what Mike Himebaugh, lead singer, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter for the band, calls his biggest influence. In all of Hello Dave’s music, all five albums and probably a thousand gigs, there is never the slightest whiff of barbershop music. Still, Himebaugh calls his stepfather Drayton Justus, whom he refers to as “kind of like the Mick Jagger of the barbershop quartet world,” as his single-biggest influence.”When I was growing up, at least one weekend every winter we’d go to a concert or a convention,” said the 33-year-old Himebaugh, a native of the Detroit suburbs. Whenever four of them would pass each other, in the hall or something, they’d always sing a tack. And I always loved it.”While the men of Hello Dave – longtime members Mike Hall on guitar and Bryan “REZ” Resendiz on drums, and more recent additions Mike “Magoo” McGohan on lead guitar and “Big” Al Wetzel on bass, as well as founding member Himebaugh – will never break into a barbershop a cappella segment onstage, Himebaugh said there is a subtle barbershop element to the band.”They had so much fun,” said Himebaugh, referring to his stepfather, and his stepfather’s fellow vocalists in such barbershop quartets as Gentleman’s Agreement and The Suntones. “And that’s what got into our music – spreading the good feeling.”Himebaugh credits that attitude, a desire to share good vibes and shed a little light, with the success of Hello Dave. There is no brooding quality to Hello Dave on the live album “Wicked Revelry”; even the song titles – “Sweetness,” “Naturally,” “Open My Eyes,” “Summertime” – suggest a band sailing along on good feelings. The band’s sound – Himebaugh’s uplifting voice, McGohan’s happy guitar tone, the danceable rhythms and emphasis on major chords – is similarly full of smiles. Lyrics such as “I remember when you could knock ’em back/Like a sailor on Friday night” from “Saternalia” – convey a sense of humor that Himebaugh credits to barbershop music. Perhaps Hello Dave’s most popular song is “Golden,” another feel-good tune which begins with the sentiment, “I feel all right/Like the morning I am golden.” And Himebaugh likes nothing better than to hear how the song spreads a glow.”So many people e-mail and tell me that they put that on in the car on the way to work Monday morning, and it just made them smile,” said Himebaugh. “That feels great, that you can do that to somebody. If we can get people to the shows, we know we can get them.”Himebaugh aims to do more good in the world than simply get some bodies shaking on a dance floor, or people feeling a little better as they head to the office Monday morn. In 1996, Hello Dave, with just two years under its belt, made the unusual move of recording a Christmas album, “A Hello Dave Christmas.” The album featured one original song, “Christmas at Home,” as well as versions of “The Little Drummer Boy,” “The Christmas Song,” and an a cappella version – those barbershop fantasies – of “Silent Night.” Himebaugh said he couldn’t resist doing a Christmas album, but a primary impetus behind “A Hello Dave Christmas” was to raise funds for Camp Heartland, a summer camp for HIV-positive youngsters.”I just loved the idea of doing a Christmas album,” said Himebaugh, noting that several of his siblings are gay, and one of them had a lover die of AIDS. “We got the studio to donate three nights of studio time, and we just went in and threw it together as quick as possible.” — Himebaugh owes more than a love of barbershop music to his stepfather. Himebaugh had been no musician at all when he entered college, in the early ’90s, at Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, Ill. But during his sophomore year, Himebaugh made a visit to his mother’s house and came upon his stepdad’s old beat-up-but-beautiful Gibson. He started learning some chords on the guitar, and when he went back to college, he was hooked.”I just started playing that guitar, and started playing with some other guys,” said Himebaugh. “We’d play a little, and people would always say, `Hey, you’ve got a good voice.’ It just kind of happened. How it got to this point, I have no idea.”The point Himebaugh refers to is one that includes the five albums, total album sales over 30,000, and sold-out gigs at good-sized venues like Denver’s Soiled Dove and the Vic Theatre in their hometown of Chicago. It also includes utterly relentless touring: Hello Dave has played over 200 shows in each of the last three years.”It sounds like an awful lot, but it doesn’t feel like that much,” said Himebaugh, who leads Hello Dave to a two-night stand at Hannibal Brown’s, Sunday and Monday, Dec. 17-18. “We’re never on the road for a long time. That’s what I learned after a year or two – you don’t want to tour nonstop, for a month and a half.”All the touring hasn’t translated yet into any real financial success. The band makes enough to cover its expenses and, for the moment, that – plus the steady steps forward – is enough for Himebaugh.”Every year since we started, we’ve moved up a few notches,” he said. “The younger kids, the college fans, we see that they’ve heard of us before they come to see us. They know the songs; they know the name of the band. It’s like they’re coming to see a rock ‘n’ roll band.”Himebaugh said he can see keeping Hello Dave active for a few more years, adding that he wouldn’t mind cutting back on the touring a little. Though the band has relished its independence up to now, Himebaugh would entertain offers from a record label.”Absolutely. At some point, it would be nice to rely on the finances and the political power of a massive company,” he said. “It’s nice to know you can do it on your own. But I wouldn’t mind moving into a nice big tour bus. That would be fun.”That might be the extent of Himebaugh’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams, but not the end of his music fantasies. His ultimate goal? To someday be singing in a barbershop quartet of his own. Seriously.


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