By Seth Daniel
For the Transcript
The garages in Winthrop, like garages all over America, are no longer alive with the sounds of music.
In fact, the garage rock and roll band that used to be such a common experience for young people (and their unfortunate parents’ ears) has all but vanished into history. No longer do kids get together with their instruments at a friend’s house and try to replicate Beatles or Rolling Stones tunes.
Today, musicianship too often is confined to video games like Guitar Hero, or the occasional piano lesson, and kids spend most of their time being shuttled from soccer practice to football practice to study sessions.
One Winthrop man, Rob Mahoney, and a dedicated group of kids – some as young as 9 years old – have put a dent in that trend with the formation of the Winthrop Jam Band.
The band is made up of 11 Winthrop young people that range in age from 9 to 15 years old. They get together religiously with Mahoney and have played about 10 shows since they formed over a year ago. And this isn’t your average, scrappy, tone deaf garage band; it’s a group of kids that can really play and has impressed just about everyone in Winthrop who has heard them.
“It’s been more successful than I ever really imagined,” said Mahoney, who moved to Winthrop six years ago and gives private lessons to many kids in town as a side job. “Originally, we just got together two hours a week and I gave them direction about playing as an ensemble. It blossomed into this thing where we started getting asked to play out – whether it was a family day or the sandcastle day or whatever. We’ve played about 10 shows in the last year, most of them in Winthrop.”
Mahoney said when he was growing up, everyone was in a band. It was the popular thing to do even if you weren’t a great musician. Mahoney was a talented musician, playing numerous instruments and getting a degree in music performance from the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. He also played professionally for years before starting a family and settling down.
He said with that background, he noticed that his students and other kids around town weren’t involved in any bands.
“After a few years, I started questioning my students, and I found out they weren’t in bands because they needed rides and didn’t know any other musicians,” he said. “It’s such a different world now. Everything’s changed. My goal was to get the kids together and get them to go off and start their own garage bands like we did when we were kids. That’s actually started to happen…All of a sudden, we now have kids who know each other because of the Jam Band.”
However, it’s the Jam Band that has become something no one expected.
So far, the members are vocalist Meg Dolan, Forest Eimold on keyboards, vocalist-keyboard player Abbey Lloyd, vocalist-guitarist Jacob Lloyd vocalist-guitarist Sean Egan, Dan Manning on bass and drums, guitarist Brian Manning, Gerry Driscoll on drums and keyboards, Charlie Gosselin on saxophone and percussion, and guitarists Anne Krivit and John Marden. Additionally, one parent, Walter Egan, runs the sound board along with Mahoney’s 10-year-old son, Michael.
Mahoney started the Jam Band by putting up fliers around town in January 2008. He received a good response, and several kids came out to join. For quite some time, they were content to practice together and learn to play together, mistakes and all. However, once they began to start playing in front of people, things became a little more involved.
Playing about 95 percent classic rock, such as the Beatles, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Mahoney began giving small homework assignments to challenge the group.
“We all agreed that we can’t just come in and jam and make mistakes and keep going,” he said. “If we were going to start playing out, we had to be more polished.”
And polished is what they’ve become. Last weekend, they played Winthrop Day at Suffolk Downs Racetrack, and recently they’ve played at the Winthrop Beach Day and at fundraisers for CASA’s Kathy’s Place Teen Center. Mahoney said it was the crowds that took the Jam Band to another level.
“We played our first show for two hours, and everyone in the audience went crazy and the kids got one taste of that and realized how cool it was to be up front with everyone screaming as they played,” said Mahoney.
In watching those experiences, Mahoney said the Jam Band has fulfilled another goal of his – to provide another outlet besides sports for the kids in town.
“Like many towns, Winthrop is a big sports town, and maybe a lot of parents are looking for something else that will balance things out,” he said. “The sports are great and I love sports, but this is nice for the kids to have that mix and make them more balanced.”
The story becomes even more interesting when one learns what Mahoney’s day job is. He’s a prison guard at South Bay House of Corrections, and the contrast between leading a kids’ band and giving music lessons and then guarding dangerous prisoners isn’t lost on him. With a smile, he said he gets asked about that all the time.
“For the most part, people say, ‘What do you do?'” he said. “‘You run a band for kids and then you’re on the unit with bad guys?’ I like the mix. I like to have a good time with the kids when I’m away from work. We stress that. We don’t want to get too serious. I always wanted to be in a jam band where you have guitar solos and drum solos – things you don’t get in music lessons. This has been amazing so far, and the kids have improved dramatically since they started. They may not realize that.”
But certainly, anyone who has heard them won’t mistake them for the average garage band.