on this story
Every Friday at 9:30 p.m.
Borders Books and Music
Music Therapy plays just for the fun of it
by Greg Siedschlag
As the years pass and music becomes more and more commercialized, the authenticity of music played in public becomes more of a distant memory. Going out to hear a live act who plays music for music's sake alone is a rarity, as performing musicians most always have ulterior motives.
Part of the appeal of country, bluegrass and, especially, folk music is the supposed authenticity that these kinds of music offer. But the ideal of a family or a group of friends playing in some living room simply to hear the sound of their own voices and instruments together, and maybe entertain some shy non-participators, does not necessarily apply when this group steps out and becomes entertainers. Even within these genres, the initiative to leave the living room and play in public is almost always brought on by the hope of achieving some sort of notoriety or monetary reward.
In stark contrast to this modern musical climate or just about anything else in Knoxville is Music Therapy, a pick-up country/folk outfit that plays in the café at Borders on Friday nights. Founded by Danny Gammon, a semi-professional fiddler/guitarist/singer who also works at a local loan company, this loose and ever-changing coalition of local musicians serve as "facilitators" for musical meditation and relaxation in the heart of fast-paced West Knoxville.
Gammon moved to Knoxville at the age of 13 from South Carolina and grew up listening to the Beatles and playing guitar. But when Gammon was 19 or 20, the Beatles went their separate ways and he felt that he needed to broaden his horizons musically. "After the Beatles broke up, rock 'n' roll just didn't have the same attraction for me, so I had to get into something different. When I got into fiddle it just kind of possessed me for quite a while."
Considering that Gammon is in two other groupsone of the others being the more serious Danny Gammon and All Over the Roadthere is the assumption that this deep inner connection to music has held steady over the years. Still, anyone this involved in something can have periods of weariness. Gammon explains that Music Therapy serves to alleviate some of those stresses.
"That kind of stuff comes and goes, and there are those periods of time when I'm just not in the mood to push it, market it, to do it, so we've had this thing every Friday night, and it keeps me into music even when I don't feel like being into it."
Gammon views Music Therapy at Borders as an "extension of the living room," but this living room has grown increasingly crowded over the last two-plus years. It is difficult to find a seat in the general vicinity of the café section of Borders on Friday nights now, and the crowded gathering of families and friends who chat and listen to music has also made Borders quite a noisy place on Friday nights.
Nonetheless, Music Therapy has retained much of its original intimacy and charm, and despite the flurry of activity that surrounds them, the circle of musicians are as calm as the eye of a hurricane; and despite the noise, they still do not use microphones. If you can get a seat close enough to the action, you do not miss the lack of amplification.
Although numerous musicians have rotated out of the group, there are currently five members who are considered regulars and who show up every weekMusic Therapy has had as many as 12 players on a given night. Most of the instruments are typical of a traditional country bandupright bass, dobro, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica, and lots of guitarsbut there have even been flutists in the group before. Anyone can "join" Music Therapy, but come ready to workin its four-year history, there has never been a rehearsal.
Music Therapy does not give off the impression of being an unrehearsed band, but perhaps the no-pressure, no-stakes, at-ease persona of Gammon also eases the minds of new band members. The instrumentation and especially the soaring harmonies are always pitch-perfect even when they may not be well-rehearsed.
"It developed in such an informal setting of getting together once a week. We developed a repertoire, and people came into it gradually and learned the songs that we were already doing and brought in a few of their own. So now we tend to have a sort of set repertoire, so when a new person comes in it may feel sort of cliquish to them because they don't know our songs, but they're welcome to sit in and follow it. But being cliquish is something I always like to avoid, but at the same time, I like to do the songs that I like to do."
The inviting ambiance that Music Therapy provides for Borders with its living room charm brings people in, but the songs keep them listening and coming back. Gammon expanded his tastes as a result of taking up the fiddle, and the group covers everything from George Gershwin to Gillian Welch, and still finds room for the Beatles somewhere in between.
"We do a little bit of bluegrass...we do some old-time traditional fiddle tunes, some non-traditional fiddle tunes, some tunes that I wrote, and then we do our choice of songs, which come from all sorts of musical traditions. We do some traditional folk...depending on who's here, we've even ventured into Dave Brubeck."
The players are almost as diverse, and the past and present cast includes a teacher, a police officer, a TV producer, and a high school student. The common bond may lie as much in the meaning behind the band's name as in its music, which was conceived by Gammon when the group first started playing at Borders.
"So they just asked us when we were talking to the guy about playing here, 'Well, what's the name of your band?' Well, we're not a band, we're just, you know, a bunch of people getting together to play. So finally I said, 'Okay, it's Music Therapy.' And that's what it isit's our therapy. We always stand up at the end...and I stand up and say 'This is Music Therapy and I hope you all feel better.'"
March 23, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 12
© 2000 Metro Pulse