After the Andy May – Texas Tabby Crabb Band dissolved, I worked all kinds of music gigs. I developed a circuit of clubs, dance halls, schools, coffee houses, and colleges in about six states throughout the Northeast, performing solo, in small combinations or as a band leader. I also completed my first recording project as an artist, Ride with Me, and released the LP on my own newly formed record label, Swift River Music.
Early in the 80’s, I began working with the folks at the The Arts Extension Service (AES) at U Mass. Amherst. This agency had been formed to promote and support the arts in that region of the country. I was ready to get out of depending on bar gigs as the source of a large part of my income. AES helped me get focused as a performing artist, through workshops that they sponsored and through advice that they shared. They also had compiled directories of music event presenters, which I was able to tap into. Those regional booking directories offered me the opportunity to book indoor and outdoor concert events. That appealed to me a great deal. I once read a book my mom had given me about the great opera singer, Marian Anderson, who had learned to book her own concert appearances. I figured I needed to do the same, so I went to work and did!
Ride with Me, which contained mostly original material, was getting good reviews, and I was determined that my future performances would feature a lot more of the material I was writing. I’d had a band sound in mind for that record and had produced it primarily as a band record. So now, with the prospect of booking actual concert dates, I put a band together of some of my favorite players in my area: Musicians who were respected professionals and whose playing would be enjoyed anywhere on the planet! With Tim Griffin on percussion, Rudi Weeks on bass, Rick King on electric guitar, and Jimmy Heffernan on pedal steel guitar, dobro and banjo (Tim, Jimmy, and Rick had also played on Ride With Me), “Atlantic Express” was born. Later, Joe Belmont replaced Rick King on guitar, and Jeff Potter came in on keyboard and mouth harp.
With Andy May and Atlantic Express, I was able to do a lot of what I had set out to do. We had a yearly circuit of outdoor concerts, events and festivals. I was performing lots of my original material. We worked well together, made good music, and had fun on stage – and people loved our sound. By 1987, I was becoming a sort of poster child for new Indie musician movement in the northeast.
The photos in this video are from a 1984 festival Atlantic Express played in Hartford, CT. The sound track is from Andy’s “MaySongs” CD, adding Jim Weeks (keyboards), Eric Levine (fiddle), and Sterling Silver- (Background Vocals) to the band. Video by Kevin Helm.
That said, being a do-it-yourself working performer is a challenge in many different ways. I was spending many hours each week researching the venues, making the inquiry calls, creating the promotional materials, sending out said promotional materials (this was pre-internet), doing the follow up work, booking the shows and arranging the dates, maintaining the band vehicle, writing and arranging the music, and setting up and producing band recording sessions and rehearsals. Then, there is hauling and setting up sound system gear, and, if you are a regional act like we were, there can be many hours of driving before and after each show. And, bills need to get paid in a timely manner each month even if a show gets cancelled or the weather shuts things down. Sound stressful? It can be hard on relationships. I had a wife and young child at that time, and I tried not to be away from home if I could possibly get back after a performance. It can also be hard one one’s health. Predictably, in the middle of it all, I got run down and wound up with double pneumonia. I couldn’t work or perform for over a month. I know that many folks who are self-employed can relate to what I am saying here: It is challenge in many different ways, and it can take a toll.
Then, an employment opportunity arose in northern Colorado that seemed like an good enough prospect for my little family for us to leave the beautiful New England countryside and head West. Our Plan was that I would continue performing for and booking the market I had back East while I developed a new Western market for my music. So, as a family, we moved. 1988 found me living in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Then things changed, including The Plan.