Hour of power: Seventh Hour back in the groove
Entering college from a childhood notable mostly for the intense musical education he was provided, John Carlin opted to pursue a course in computer engineering. That seemed a mistake, so Carlin switched over to computer science. When that proved equally unsatisfying, Carlin dropped out of the University of Vermont after a brief three semesters.”Computers was the big boom. I thought I wanted to be a computer engineer,” said Carlin, who has lived in the valley since 1997. “Which is ridiculous. Because I was a musician.”In hindsight, it’s obvious to Carlin that music was the more natural pursuit. Now 41, the Snowmass Village resident is both a noted musician and one looking to expand his ambitions, artistically and careerwise. For eight years, Carlin has been the leader of the local rock outfit Seventh Hour. He has also broken into playing quieter gigs: wedding dates in a duo with his Seventh Hour bandmate Rob Dasaro and as a solo acoustic act. He has taken up teaching guitar, with a current roster of two students. And he is eyeing a new project, about which he isn’t ready to say much.In retrospect, Carlin recognizes that music should have been his first option coming out of high school. It certainly was the first – and second, and third – choice of activities for most of his school years. Growing up in Keene, N.H., Carlin says he was blessed to have a mother who turned him on to music: piano lessons at 7, an acoustic guitar in fourth grade.Carlin was doubly blessed to be drafted into the Youth Musician Development Program, an educational course that is stunning in its thoroughness. The program, a joint project of the city of Keene and its resident string ensemble, the Apple Hill Chamber Players, tested all the town’s sixth-graders for musical aptitude. Carlin and 11 others were selected for the total-immersion training.”They gave you a string instrument – I got a violin. Gave it to me,” said Carlin. “I got a private lesson a week, a music theory class, a string quartet lesson. Then we all got together for the orchestra. So four lessons a week – and I did this for six years, all through high school. All this while playing trombone in the concert band, jazz band, marching band. And singing in the a cappella chorus and drama club. And on the side, I was in two rock bands, hack garage bands.”
Carlin, however, didn’t realize at the time how much satisfaction he got out of such activity. “It was stuff to keep me busy,” he said. “But looking back on it, it was amazing. In reality, it was a huge musical foundation I was building.”Even that flirtation with computers didn’t topple Carlin from that foundation. His three semesters at the University of Vermont were spent rushing out of class to go play gigs. In 1985, he and keyboardist Rob Dasaro formed the Joneses. Starting out as a Grateful Dead cover band, an identity which helped them land bar dates, the Joneses rode the wave of jam rock that was particularly strong in Vermont. The Joneses played shows alongside fellow Vermonters Phish – “the funniest ones were the Goddard College Halloween shows – out-of-control tripfest-type gigs,” recalled Carlin – and did a few tours as far south as New York City.”That one really had potential,” said Carlin, who played guitar and sang, of the Joneses. But some of his bandmates were still students during the band’s heyday. When graduation hit, the Joneses scattered.Carlin went into bagels. Garrett Mead, the manager of the Joneses, had gotten into the business, and invited Carlin to join him in starting up Bagel Works. It would prove a more fruitful sidetrack than computers; the company eventually opened eight outlets and a factory. But after eight years, Carlin had gotten burned out on bagels. Around the same time he got divorced. Looking for a fresh start, he attended Phish’s 1996-97 New Year’s Eve show at Madison Square Garden, packed his car and headed to Aspen, where his old music-making buddy Dasaro awaited.In Aspen, Carlin and Dasaro found bassist Tommy Sherlock and formed the Seth Bauer Trio. The band was named after Seth Bauer, a fictional creation of Dasaro’s, used whenever a scapegoat was needed. (“That’s not my weed. It’s Seth Bauer’s. I know I saw him here a minute ago.”) To further the confusion, the trio was a quartet, with drummer Dave Blumenstock.A year later, Dasaro left town. Seth Bauer was transformed into Seventh Hour, the name that a couple in Edwards had mistakenly heard on a KDNK broadcast.
“We said, let’s use that one until we think of something better,” said Carlin. “And of course we never thought of anything better.”The departure of Dasaro, an excellent musician and a former member of the popular Aspen band Monkey Train, might have spelled the downfall of Seventh Hour. But a determined Carlin brought in another singer-guitarist, Tom Van Amburgh, and replaced Blumenstock with John Hawes.”And that’s when the band really got rolling,” said Carlin. “John was a solid drummer. Tom had the stage presence; he had a following; he was an Aspenite, part of a whole scene. We gained popularity and became a local attraction.”Carlin thought Seventh Hour’s time had come. He was motivated to take the band as far as it could go: on the road, into the recording studio. “I was really driven,” he said. “And it was tough. I was putting a lot into the band. But I wasn’t getting the same level of action. People were committed and interested, but there was a big rift there. I knew if there were people at the same level as I was, we would have driven through it.”The differing levels of commitment led to personality clashes and a shuffling of members. In addition, the local music scene went through its ups and even more downs. After a few years of fits and starts, Carlin thought time had run out on Seventh Hour.
“I had been mentally freaked out,” he said. “Because you train someone, you get going, they leave, you’re back to square one. It’s that yo-yo thing.”Carlin didn’t pull the plug on music. Instead, he joined a handful of other local players in LIME, a project which allowed Carlin – whose wife, Val, was pregnant with the couple’s first child at the time – to take more of a back-seat role. The time off from being a bandleader, recalls Carlin, was surprisingly enjoyable.Early in 2004, Dasaro, who had remarried after the death of his first wife, returned to the valley. “That was a big deal,” said Carlin. “It resparked interest.”The two found drummer Garrett Hansen, who had played in the Southern rock band Molly Hatchett, and regrouped with bassist Sherlock. Over nearly two years, Seventh Hour re-established itself, landing such prominent gigs as Snowmass Village’s Chili Pepper & Brewfest, where they appeared with Keller Williams and New Monsoon. Still, all was not quite right stylistically. Dating back to their years in the Joneses, Carlin and Dasaro had always played a jam brand of music, with loose rhythms and touches of jazz and funk.”But Garrett was a rock ‘n’ roller. He wanted to play other types of music, but he was so in the rock groove, it was hard to get him to open up to our style of music,” said Carlin. “We made it work, but we became a harder type of band.”
In November, Hansen was replaced by Mike Prosser, a former Seventh Hour member whose stint in the band was interrupted by service in the Iraq War. “Mike’s more our speed. He’s versatile and more laid-back,” said Carlin.The latest incarnation of Seventh Hour has had at least one highlight – a New Year’s Eve gig at the Stonebridge in Snowmass that drew an overflow crowd and, notes Carlin with pride, the cops.The band is building on its latest round of stability by expanding the sound. Carlin is exploring the trombone more than ever, often in tandem with saxophonist Chris Harrison, who has been sitting in with Seventh Hour. Carlin’s writing is leaning towards groove-oriented material, to go with the jammier original songs and covers of Phish, the Dead, the Velvet Underground and jazz standards “Autumn Leaves” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.”The recent flurry of activity – teaching, having Seventh Hour on solid footing, the trombone – has Carlin feeling more attached to the music than ever.”I’m letting the music do its thing, and it’s so much better- music being what it’s meant to be. It’s really cool,” he said. “There’s a little thing in back of my head: I’ve been playing music my whole life, and wouldn’t it be great for this to be a little bigger?”But just recently I’ve been thinking I’m going to play music for the rest of my life. When I quit my job” – driving a Snowmass Village shuttle – “I’m going to be a musician.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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