This is the First in a series of historical retrospectives on the Southside Aces, in celebration of their tenth anniversary.
Nobody can really believe it. When the Aces slouch into the Eagles on August 8th, it will have been ten years nearly to the day from when Erik and I first met to discuss the possibility of getting a band going. How often do you hear about a band getting to celebrate a ten-year existence? Some people have shorter relationships with their spouses. Or even their cars! Well, we intend to do it up proper. Over the next few weeks, I will put on record the salient features of our decade as a band. Secrets revealed! Dark, sinister dealings brought to the light of day! Ok, sinister is a tad strong. If there had been a deal with the devil along the way, we’d be playing our anniversary show at the Fitzgerald or some other high tone spot. Not that I don’t have warm fuzzy feelings about the Eagles…oh, you know what I mean. Anyhow, the most sinister dealing we ever had was the night at the Times when we kept handing cash to the bartender for a drink called “The Haymaker.” Erik also cajoled the crowd into buying them. I think he told the crowd “Buy ‘The Haymaker’,” more often than he told them to buy our CDs. The Times didn’t sell enough of that lime and whiskey and something-or-another drink to stay open, obviously, but it wasn’t through lack of trying on our parts! But I do get ahead of myself.
Somewhere near the beginning of 2003, Erik found himself at a party talking to a man named Adam Fesenmaier. Both being musicians, they talked about their respective musical experiences and wishes. Something Erik said reminded Adam about a guy from his distant past with whom he used to work in a furniture warehouse. It had been a handful of years or more, but what the heck, he tracked down his number and called:
“Tony?” he asked. After inquiries about health and happiness, Adam said, “Say, the reason I called you is I ran into this guy at a party who plays sousaphone. He told me, and I quote, ‘I’d really like to play in a New Orleans dance hall band’ whatever that means. But it made me think of you, so I got his number. He told me you should call him.” It was that tenuous thread that sewed Erik’s and my fate together. Thank you for following up, Adam!
It took a few months of living our lives before we managed to get together, but on August 10th, 2003, Erik and I met. A week later, on August 17th, was the first rehearsal of what would become the Southside Aces. It took a couple weeks to name the band. “Southside” was going to be part of the name right from the get-go. Both Erik and I make our homes in South Minneapolis, and Erik always wanted to name a band “Southside” something. “How about ‘Southside Six’,” he suggested. “I’m uncomfortable naming bands with numbers,” I said. Friends will tell you I can be a worrier. “’Cause then you sometimes have to play with four or five guys, and some smartass comes up to you and says, “I see you are a quartet; how come you call yourselves the Southside Six?” I had been listening to Jabbo Smith that week. He was a trumpet man of the thirties who once ran a band he called The Rhythm Aces. “What about the ‘Southside Aces’?” I asked. We liked it. It stuck.
On September 20th of that year, we had our first job. We played out in an Apple Valley parking lot on a stationary flatbed truck for the Ring Around The Arts festival. This was not the type of propitious beginning that would cause you Nostradamus types to predict tenth anniversary shows. But at least the truck was stationary. The lineup was me, clarinet; Zack Lozier, trumpet; Erik, sousaphone; Robert Bell, guitar; and Joe Steinger, drums. See?! There were only five of us! Southside Six, indeed! Steve Sandberg would be our trombonist, but he couldn’t make it out to Apple Valley that day.
The band went through their first handful of months without officially hiring a drummer. Different guys cycled on and off the drummer’s chair, through jobs with Le Cirque Rouge at First Avenue, where we wowed ‘em with “The Mooche,” and our first job at the Times on December 20th. Finally, in February of 2004, Dave Michael and the Aces tried each other out. He first played with us at Jitters, the basement below the Times. Each guy received $20, food and beer. If any of you remember Jitters, you’ll recall it had a tile floor and corrugated aluminum flashing for a stage backdrop. Dave recalled, “It was like playing in a Chipotle.”
We played the Times a couple of weeks later, on February 21st. This was the first time we had a sub. I hired Ted Schryer to play tuba in Erik’s stead. When we all gathered for rehearsal after that show, we gave Erik hell—“Oh, Erik! You should have heard Ted! I just loved how he played “Hindustan!” Ted really knows what he’s doing! It was just great to play with Ted!” We went on and on. Finally, Erik had had enough. “You wait ‘til you guys get your Ted!” he warned. For a few years, whenever we needed a sub we’d say, “Did you get a Ted for that job?”
In May, we played for Longfellow Elementary over in St. Paul. This job is famous for being the source of the name of our production company. When I say “production company,” I mean to say that we’re still waiting to move into our first office. But if you notice on all our CDs, it says KGC Records. Around about the middle of this gig, we played “The Mooche.” All those elementary school age rugrats running around the place. Erik announces on mic, “Kids go crazy for ‘The Mooche’!” Kids Go Crazy. KGC Records.
The First Release
We’d recorded a demo in Robert’s attic in the fall of 2003, but our first real effort wouldn’t happen until a year later. In the autumn of 2004 we brought engineers out to two live shows. All Aboard!, our first record, was made from the best songs of those batches. On October 2nd we recorded at the Times, and on the 23rd at Lili’s Burlesque Review. Well, it was Lili’s space. That night there weren’t any dancers, just microphones and a crowd. If you were at those shows, you are an indelible, audible part of our history. Our traditional jazz CVs were kind of meager at that point. But even when I listen to that recording today, I’m comfortable with the amount of wincing I experience. This brings me to the end of 2004. There'll be more in the days to come, but for now I'll leave you with this image. Weren’t we just cute?