Exploring Entertainment in Florida's 850 & Beyond
The fun thing about Facebook and social media as a whole is you never know who will reach out. Whether it is a message from a lead singer of a hard rock band that makes you giddy, an opportunity to discover something before it is spread around the world, or a story like that of The Shelter band.
Johnny Pierce sent me a message, asking a couple questions about 850Music concert photography. It was a short chat, but it introduced me to one of the coolest band stories I’ve heard to date. The Shelter Band is named such, because it was formed and provides an outlet for current and past residents of a Tallahassee homeless shelter.
Johnny was kind enough to share the story with us.
Can you talk about how the band first came to be?
In the winter of 2011, I was homeless living at the Shelter as a guest. I met a man named Gene Simmons while I was staying at The Shelter, not to be confused with the bass player of the world famous rock band, KISS. Gene is a fellow artist like me, he works primarily in color pencils and I work primarily in acrylic paints. Back then, he and I would from time to time hang out at a coffee shop to keep warm and draw portraits of people.
One day, in the middle of February of 2011, a flyer went up at the Shelter calling for musicians. Gene saw it first and asked me if I wanted to join too. I’ve shared some recordings of songs I had been working on over the years with him, so he knew that I could play guitar and sing. Gene told me he had worked on cruise ships for 35 years as a drummer.
Gene and I agreed to go to the first band meeting/practice to see what it was all about. On that day we met David Napp, a F.S.U student with the F.S.U School of Music Department. Jake Reiter, a staff member who with David came up with this awesome brain child idea. Dave also brought along with him a very skilled Spanish guitarist, Carlos Javier to help with songs and help those who didn’t know how to play music. New York our Tambourine player was there that day too. Others joined the band that day also, but have moved on since.
Dave brought with him a donated; almost complete drum set with him, a bass guitar and a bass amp. The bass amp was also used as a PA. Jake brought his electric guitar, two microphones and stands. I listened to Carlos play guitar and I knew that he should be the guitarist for the band. I picked up the bass like I usually do when there is a roomful of guitarists.
That day we played; My Generation (without modulations), Johnny B. Goode and one other song that we don’t play anymore, actually we don’t play any of those songs anymore. Other than Dave Napp, all the original members are still in the band as of today 3-14-2013.
Since then, we have picked up Calvin Bush – guitarist – in December of 2011 and Gerald Brigham – vocalist and percussionist. Michelle sings on a song and hits a cow bell on most. Donny sings one song, ‘Glory, Glory’ along with a guy named Mike and there is Jackie who is a backup singer. There is also, Emery who sings 2 songs. We picked up another female vocalist, Paula this past month. Other people come and go…
The band has a mixture of homeless men and woman who stay at The Shelter, some who have moved out but still participate in the band and a few F.S.U students to keep the band sane and respectful.
Who are the primary members?
The core members of the band – who play instruments or sing on a song, are:
Calvin Bush: lead guitarist and vocalist
Carlos Javier: Rhythm and lead guitar (founding)
Gene Simmons: Drummer, vocalist (founding)
Gerald Brigham: Vocalist and percussionist
Jake Rieter: Vocalist, rhythm guitar (founding)
Johnny Pierce: Bass, rhythm guitar, vocalist and back up vocalist (founding)
New York: Vocalist, tambourine (founding)
Then there are the secondary members:
Michelle, Paula, Emery, Jackie, Donny, Mike. They contribute to the band in a limited capacity, we try to incorporate them were and when we can. Then there are floaters who seem to try to sing or play an instrument during a practice and for some reason, they don’t stick around.
What type of music or songs do you normally play?
The band has many musicians, therefore many musical tastes. The band was formed two some odd years ago as a “Rock” band. The females tend to pick easy listening and soft rock songs, like: Whitney Houston, Fleetwood Mac, Tina Turner and others… The men tend to choose Rock, Southern Rock and Rhythm and Blues, Like: Lionel Richie, Bob Segar, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Righteous Brothers, James Brown, George Thorogood and more. I, Johnny Pierce have contributed 4 original songs that the band has incorporated; currently the band plays two of those originals. Michael with the help of Carlos wrote a song that we still play.
Altogether the band can play up to 40 cover songs with a weeks notice, with 20 that we can play on the spot. We could play another 110 songs from the pool of songs that Calvin, Carlos and I have learned in our own personal studies.
What are the goals of the band?
I would say that each of us has their own idea of where the band will take us. Some want fame and fortune while some just come because they’re having fun and have joined a positive and influential activity. Primarily, this band is a voluntary activity that The Shelter of Tallahassee supports with a room to practice in for 1 hour a week. (Yeah an hour…) Almost everything we do is coming out of our own pockets. Most band members don’t have jobs and the few that do, help out as much as they can, with transportation, repair of broken or worn out gear, setting up and braking down of gear and replacement of strings. In the end we pull together as a group and try to work through the financial hardships as much as we can to keep the equipment and instruments functional. We do not earn a pay check – we are not hired employees of The Shelter – except for Jake. At some shows we will put out a donation jar, it’s rare that we do because at some events/shows the organizers frown upon that practice.
We play 2 to 3 times a month around Tallahassee.
Our next show is for the “Veteran Stand Down Event” on April 5th at 7:30pm.
There are other large shows that we will be playing in the months to come. Those details are being ironed out.