BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
You've probably never seen the most important member of your favorite band.
She gets most of the band's money. She's instrumental to the band's success. Every member talks the most about her, and if it weren't for her unique contributions, you'd never have seen the band in the first place.
It's the van.
Yes, Roger McGuinn offered some great advice about playing guitar and wearing tight pants in his handbook song "So You Wanna Be a Rock and Roll Star," but he left out the most important bit of advice: buy the best van you can afford.
Playing live music means hauling equipment — drum kits and doo-dads, cabinets and keisters. If you can't get to the crowd, how can they adore you?
It takes a lot of fame and money to afford the tour bus of rock legend, so most bands — even a sizeable majority of household names — travel cramped together with (and sometimes on) their equipment inside a van.
Talk to a musician and the van undoubtedly will come up in conversation. It broke down again. It nearly went off an icy precipice in Utah. While trying to sleep in the fetal position against the window, it induced a terrible cramp.
"The van is a huge investment, probably the most important piece of equipment you can buy," said Jarod Gollihare, singer-drummer for Admiral Twin.
Admiral Twin recently upgraded its ride, bidding farewell to "Old Blue," the lurching, smoking '86 Chevy that's taken this local pop band in loop-de-loops around the country for a decade. Her odometer has rolled twice.
"It was on its absolute last wheel, held together with rubber bands. It gradually lost its heating, then the air-conditioning and the transmission's about to fall out. It was making weird noises, and sometimes it was hard to start. Then it would be hard to get it to stop," Gollihare said. "We've never actually driven it to a coast. We've always flown to the coasts. I think the salt air would just disintegrate it."
The new Twin ride is a used '99 Ford, purchased with money from a flush gig in Michigan. The former owners were dog trainers.
"The dog smell is pretty much gone now, but we left the 'We Raise Golden Retrievers' sticker in the back window," Gollihare said.
"This purchase is the biggest thing that's happened to our band in months."
Admiral Twin wasn't brand specific in its search for wheels. The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey trio was.
Keyboardist Brian Haas was trapped in Los Angeles over the Christmas holidays waiting for a custom Dodge part to be shipped to a garage — where the band's former van had languished inoperable for 19 days.
"I guess Dodge vans just totally suck," he said at the time.
For a band that plays 221 shows a year from coast to coast, the van is crucial — transport, rehearsal hall and bedroom, all in one. It's got to work.
"We just got a lemon," said bassist Reed Mathis of the thankfully departed Dodge. "Last year, that van forced us to cancel tons of gigs. We missed the whole Dirty Dozen Brass Band tour because it dropped its transmission for the second time and stuck us in a roach motel in Florida, where we laid around watching 'Behind the Music' all day with whores calling the room asking us if wanted dates."
The Odyssey's new Ford has already been on an odyssey — 47,000 miles since February, and no complaints.
The guys also do what they can to make the place feel like home.
"We took the middle two seats out and put down a futon," Mathis said. "We've got kitchen drawers up front, a cooler and a water dispenser. We try to keep at least one plant inside to keep the air clean and the energy positive. We had one spider plant that lasted a year and a half. We were amazed."
"We keep ours pretty clean and standard-looking," said guitarist Mark Haugh of the van hauling his band, Caroline's Spine. "If we don't keep it clean, we'll get in a fight. I can, well, be kind of a slob."
When the members of Caroline's Spine went shopping for their latest van — their fifth in less than a decade — they decided to go all out and get all the features they wanted and needed.
"Until now, it's always been the cheapest van we can find, then we throw 100,000 miles on it and get rid of it," Haugh said. "This one we actually special-ordered. We got a good deal and got exactly what we wanted. We have a matching white trailer, so we look like a government vehicle. That's important so you don't get pulled over."
The band's previous vans included Haugh's old Volkswagen minibus, an "old, beat-up Dodge that never worked," a green Ford and an "old Ford conversion van that was like the Good Times van, the '70s disco vehicle."
The new van has a diesel engine.
"If you close your eyes, it sounds like a bus," Haugh said.
"We got all these features, but somehow we didn't get a CD player. I still haven't figured that out."
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.