One Foot In

Local Band with CSUF Roots Cuts CD

“Take five old guys, give them guitars, mandolins, banjos, etc., and tell them to make some music and you might be afraid of the outcome.”

October 31, 2006

By Pamela McLaren

They’ve been playing for years at local clubs and sites throughout the county, but this month, one local band with roots to CSUF has taken an eclectic mix of bluegrass, folk and rock ’n’ roll music, rolled it all together into a package and produced a CD called “One Foot In — Songbook.”
With tongue firmly in cheek, the five-member group is pitching its own stuff. “Take five old guys, give them guitars, mandolins, banjos, etc., and tell them to make some music and you might be afraid of the outcome.” That’s what the promo says on the first release.
The “five old guys” are Jeff Newell, a technician with information technology and a CSUF alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in human services; Michael Gardner, an attorney who earned an English degree from CSUF in 1972; Russ Lewark, a plastics manufacturer; Kevin Gore, who works for Boeing; and Clayton Scott, a consultant for the atomic energy industry.
“We’re heavy on the fun factor,” says Newell, whose musical beginnings were serendipitous (see related story). “If it’s not fun, we don’t want to do it.”
Despite the fun factor, all five members of the band have a wide breadth of experience and are serious about their music. Newell formerly was in a rock ’n’ roll band that performed across the Western United States. Gardner has been a songwriter since the 1970s and Gore has been a long-time member of the bluegrass group “Witcher Brothers.” Somewhere along the line, the guys decided to take the music they’d been creating and playing for years and package it in a format in which they could share with others.
“Everybody likes recognition,” says Newell, who joined information technology in 1997 as a student assistant before becoming a staff member two years later. “You want to know that what you do is appreciated and liked. … Money would be nice, but it’s not important.”
The band pooled songs they had written and started recording in a studio in Newell’s house. “It was sort of ritualistic,” Newell says now, after two and a half years. “Everyone would show up on Wednesday nights and we’d do a track at a time.”
“We’d spend 2-3 hours every Wednesday,” says Newell. “We recorded about 15 or 16 songs, knowing that they would not all gel the way we wanted them to. We narrowed down the choices and then started recruiting others to help with the music.”
One of the others was Joe Forkan, a CSUF assistant professor of art, who added a blues sound to the tune “Ol' Billy” by playing a slide dobro guitar. “It’s a steel-bodied guitar with a resonator in it,” explains Forkan, who like Newell got into music informally with only one music class to his name. Forkan has been playing for about 25 years in both bands and solo, but this is the first time that he has been a part of an album. “Its very cool to be a part of this CD … it has a nice range of music.”
The end result is 12 songs that, in Newell’s words, range from “sweet and sensitive to lively and fun.” Only one tune was not written by a band member: “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” by Bob Dylan.
“We’ve been playing this type of music for years but its becoming a trend now,” Newell says of the mix. “We’ve fallen into a period where this music is having more acceptance.
“It’s a whole back to the roots thing,” he adds. “Only we’re not going back — We’re in our roots!”