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Of Beatles and battles

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
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BASALT Like so many young men, Obadiah Jones heard the Beatles, and immediately set his sights on getting a guitar and forming a band. Jones’ version of the tale is a bit different than most. For one thing, it wasn’t the Beatles’ legendary 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” that introduced him to the Fab Four; for Jones, it was watching “A Hard Day’s Night,” Richard Lester’s documentary of one madcap day in the Beatles’ early existence, also from 1964.For another, Jones is still a young man. He missed the original Beatlemania by better than 30 years. It was less than a decade ago, when he was 4 or 5, that Obadiah attended a birthday party, and “A Hard Day’s Night” happened to be showing on TV. Cake, presents and the House of Bounce were ignored in favor of the mop tops, screaming teenage girls and songs like “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “She Loves You” that Obadiah watched on the screen.”I watched it all the way through. Loved it,” said Obadiah, 13, sitting in the library at the Aspen Community School, where he is an eighth-grader.Obadiah notes that, for the original Beatles fans, the appeal was in how groundbreaking the band was, in everything from their song writing to their dress to the sense of humor they projected. And for him, the appeal was similar. “For me, it’s funny. It’s 40-some odd years later. But it was significantly different from what my parents were listening to: John Denver; this Scottish guy, Dougie MacLean. Maybe it’s because it was so different.”And they’re so musical. They had harmony, all kinds of instrumental parts. Very catchy songs. From ages 5 to 10, that’s all I listened to,” said Obadiah, a resident of Woody Creek’s W/J neighborhood.He didn’t only listen. At 5, he got his first guitar and began learning the Beatles repertoire, from “All My Lovin'” to “Yesterday.” (For all their accomplishments, the Beatles never recorded a song that started with ‘Z.’) That only got his true ambition stoked further.

“Once I started getting into the Beatles, I wanted a band,” he said. “[One] that was exactly the same” – meaning, a quartet with two guitars, drums and bass.••••

The Beatles may have been the initial spark. But Obadiah’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams were also fueled by the Basalt Battle of the Bands. The Battle had been cooked up in 1999 by local musicians Chris “Biff” Phillips and Dan Sadowsky as a way to raise funds for the music departments in local schools. Equally important, the Battle of the Bands gave kids an opportunity to strut their stuff in public, on a real stage, playing through top-of-the-line gear. For Obadiah, that attraction was huge. In 2001, at the age of 7, he made his debut at the Battle of the Bands. Appearing as a solo act, he covered three Beatles songs: “The Night Before,” “Norwegian Wood” and “She Loves You.” It was his first concert performance, and he recalls being driven by nerves, and consequently playing very fast versions of the songs. Still, when it came time to hand out awards, Obadiah earned the honors for Best Middle School Band. (Never mind that he was still a few years away from middle school; the only actual middle school act that year failed to show up, and Obadiah won by default.)Playing Beatles songs on a stage, and winning an award to boot, was still only a start. The following year, Obadiah appeared as the leader of Linx 93, a trio with fellow guitarist Galen Gatzke and singer Cooper Means. A year later, for the 2003 Battle, Linx 93 added Miles Phillips on bass, and Means had taken on the drums. Obadiah’s vision was full realized: “I got my Beatles dream: two guitars, bass and a drummer,” he said. “And we did all Beatles songs.”Two years ago, when Gatzke dropped out to pursue other musical projects, the trio of Jones, Phillips and Means reformed under the name Slightly White. Adding U2 and the Australian band Jet to their repertoire, the group has had some high-profile gigs. They opened for Joe Cocker at a wedding last summer, and for former Traffic singer-guitarist Dave Mason at a benefit for the Aspen Valley Ski Club.Just as significant has been the Basalt Battle of the Bands. The ninth annual Battle is set for tomorrow, beginning at 10 a.m. in Lions Park. Slightly White has a 1 p.m. slot. It will be Obadiah’s seventh appearance in the event, and the seventh time he has spent many hours preparing for that 10-minute slot in front of family, friends, classmates and more.



“We get 10 minutes. That’s three songs,” said Obadiah, who has a presence of mind beyond his 13 years. (I was particularly impressed that each time he mentioned a band member or music teacher, he immediately spelled the name for me, a stroke of thoughtfulness.) “And it’s a big thing. It’s a competition, for one. And it’s a great opportunity to play; it’s great equipment. So looking up to the Battle of the Bands, that’s mostly what we practice, what we’re going to play there.”Obadiah declined to reveal exactly what Slightly White’s set list would include on Saturday; he wanted some element of surprise. But he did offer that the band would play one of its original tunes. This school year, he took a class in song writing from Billy Miller, who usually spends his time teaching math. The class resulted in a CD of some of his songs. But Obadiah still approaches creating original material with trepidation.”I think I’m too picky about it,” said Obadiah, who has written some tunes with a friend, Rainer Jundt, who specializes in lyrics. “I’m experimenting. “I write rock songs for the band, and songs for myself that are more mellow and acoustic. They all turn out so differently. I don’t have a style yet.” ••••

Much has been made of the putative benefits of music education. It has been claimed, often by music educators fighting for their share of the curriculum budget, that learning music helps build brain function for such subjects as math and science. There is the “Idle hands are the devil’s tools” argument – that time spent on music lessons is less time available for more nefarious activity. Personally, I’ve long believed that music education stands as a worthy pursuit all on its own. But it’s always struck me as curious that, while citing a correlation between math scores and music lessons, the kids’ own words have tended to be muted in the discussion. I asked Obadiah what he has gotten out of his zeal for music, and he mentioned that this very subject was part of the presentation he has written for his graduation project.”It definitely gives a huge sense of responsibility,” said Obadiah, who has taken lessons from a string of teachers. “Because it’s up to us, really. You can’t have anyone do it for you. “It’s our dream, which is really cool. The parents are supportive, Miles’ dad” – Battle of the Bands organizer Biff Phillips – “will come in and help us. But it’s our dream; we get to do with it what we want, and I’m really glad it’s that way. The experience of taking something into your own hands and making it happen – in the band, it’s such a great foreshadowing for what you might do in life. You take what you do in the band now, and you might become Bill Gates. Who knows?”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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