The Chronicle (Jan 7, 2012)

"From Merle Haggard to AC/DC, the Backfire Band Works Hard to Entertain, Keep it Fresh"

By: Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

Twelve years ago, Rodney Givens was playing second fiddle to a lead singer and guitar player in another band. "I wanted to play more, to get out front," Givens said. "Its a lot of fun to get in front of a good crowd and play. And so the Backfire Band was born.

A few players have come and gone - including one of the original members of the band, Jerry McGinnis, who died in March of 2010 at age 59 - but the goal of the band has remained the same over the years. These guys want to play, to have fun, to continue to develop and hone their musical skills and, most of all, to entertain.

"We don't just stand up on the stage and play", said Jim Albrecht. "We like to interact with the audience. Jeff (Andersen) has a wireless guitar and he goes out into the crowd to play. Rod and he switch guitars... people really seem to respond to what we do. We really work hard to please the crowd."

And they enjoy being known for their versatility. "We play everything from Merle Haggard to AC/DC," Givens said. "So its kind of hard to label us in any genre."

The band members range in age from their youngest player, Givens, who is in his 30's, to drummer Tom Spahr, who is the oldest member of the band at 60 years old.

Spahr began playing drums in 1965, when he was a young teen. "I started playing on my brother's drum set," Spahr said. "When he wasn't playing, I was playing. And when I wasn't playing, my brother Tim was playing. I have a niece who plays drums too. Lisa Spahr, she's a major in the Army."

Givens also grew up in a music family. "My dad played guitar, my mom played the piano," Givens said. "My sister played piano and drums, my brother played drums. We were always playing music."

Albrecht can't remember a time when he didn't want to play music in front of a crowd. "My dad was in a band. I loved to listen to him play," Albrecht said. "When I was 5 years old, I knew that that is what I wanted to do."

Spahr joined his first band, called The Taxmen, when he was in high school at W.F. West. "We toured a lot. We'd go over to Whitman College to play," Spahr laughed as he told the tale. "It was quite an experience. Here we were sophomores, juniors and seniors, playing for frat houses and sororities. Do you remember the movie Animal House? It was a lot like that," he added. "I've been in a band my entire life, except when I was in the Army in the early 70s, when I was stationed in Germany. I tried to start a band, but it was too expensive to get my drums shipped overseas." After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Spahr came home to Lewis County and rejoined The Taxmen.

"We toured 11 western states and up into Canada for over three-and-a-half years," Spahr said. "We had an old school (bus) but we had (it) converted into a tour bus. We had bunk beds and a couch in there. It was a lot of fun."
"It’s hard to make a good living playing in a band," Spahr said, and he has (for the most part) given up on the dream of being signed by a recording company, but he would love to make a CD. "It’s one of the items on my bucket list," he said. "That's what keeps me going, I'd like for us to make a quality, radio-ready recording for my kids, and my kid's kids to listen to." Spahr's father was a local bass player. He played with great artists such as County Music Hall of Fame musician Buck Owens, who played at the Claquato dance hall. "That was a great dance hall back in the day," Spahr said. "Elvis was scheduled to play there, but when Hound Dog suddenly became big on the charts, Colonel Parker cancelled the show." "I wish I had a recording of my dad," Spahr added.

Givens said the band is working hard to put together enough of their own songs to make an album, but it will be a long time before they are ready to announce the date of the CD release party. "We're all so busy with our families and our day jobs - and we're all such perfectionists as artists," Givens said. "When we do finally get it done, it will have been a real labor of love."

Laboring in love for their community is nothing new to the members of this band. As artists who receive love and appreciation from their audience as they play, it has become important to them to give back to the community. The band has played for causes such as Relay For Life, Paws for the Cause and Pope's Kids Place. The concert that they all seem to remember with special affection is the welcome home barbecue for the 5/2 Stryker Brigade of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in July of 2010. "It was awesome," said Spahr. "We played all day, got to eat dinner with them, just hang out. It was an awesome experience."

"It gave us a chance to show our support for the troops and our country," said Givens. "We made a lot of friends there." To show their appreciation for the band's donation of a day of entertaining the troops, the brigade awarded the band with a plaque and an American flag that had flown over their base in Afghanistan. "And on a personal note," Spahr said, "I didn't know it then, but my old artillery unit was assigned to them over in Afghanistan and came home with them. I had no idea until I read about it in the paper."

Jeff Andersen has only been with the band for a little over six months, but he isn't short on talent or experience, according to band leader Givens. "Jeff is one of the most accomplished musicians I've ever played with," said Givens. "he can play almost every instrument ever made." Andersen was one-third of a band called Splash, a popular local rock band in the 80s and 90s. "He has a great tenor voice," Givens said. "He sounds just like Don Henley. He has been such a great addition to the band."

Andersen said he has really enjoyed playing in the band. "These are real top-notch musicians," Andersen said. "Come out and see for yourself. We have a lot of years of experience entertaining people and we play a wide variety of music."

But just don't try and pin these guys down to one style of music. Just rock or just country doesn't describe this high-energy band - they play it all. "We've melded the two worlds together," said Andersen. "Watching people enjoy the show," said Spahr, "that's what keeps my blood flowing."

"We're always learning new material," said Givens. "It's a challenge, but the challenge helps keep it fun and the new music keeps it fresh."

"We bend over backwards to entertain," added Albrecht. "We make sure everybody has a good time."