The upbeat swinging tunes of local rockabilly band ’56 has had the crowd cheering for years now, but now they can bring them home with their debut album, Steppin’.
Steppin’ is a superb example of capturing the rockabilly spirit with classic style. From their nine original songs to the rockabilly staples they cover in the album, their fast-paced beats have something for everyone. Bret Kaiser leads the group on vocals, Tom Mein shreds on guitar, Austin Case lays down the rhythm on the upright bass, and Jeff Garten sets the pace on drums. Together, they make a blazing, sharp-dressed rockabilly team, headlining music venues and events all over the Valley.
Mein remembered when lead singer Bret Kaiser came by Mein’s solo performance and proposed he join Kaiser in a new musical group.
“He told me he liked my playing, and wanted to know if I would be interested in joining a group,” Mein said. “He already had some really great, pro players I knew about, and I love rockabilly so I was excited to join.”
Mein has been playing professionally for the better part of his 40 years guitar experience. He was in a rockabilly band of his own called The Level in Detroit in 1980 or ‘81, just before the Stray Cats got their big break.
“We played all around town, mostly crappy little places, and then the Stray Cats hit MTV, and we started getting better gigs. That band didn’t last too long, but it happened during a formative time in my musical career, and I developed a deep affinity and respect for rockabilly and roots music. I really like a lot of different styles of music – I play a lot of jazz, and especially enjoy vintage, swing-era jazz. I also dig traditional country, bluegrass, rock, punk, and blues. Rockabilly kind of has elements of all those styles – at least the way we play it – so it is perfect for me.”
Mein’s favorite part of being in ’56 is that everyone in the band works so well together.
“The rhythm section – Jeff, Austin and I – really listen and play off of each other,” he said. “And I’m an improviser, so these songs evolve over time because I never play them the same way twice, and Jeff hears me and plays off of what I play. Not all musicians are great at listening like that. It makes for a tight, fun band.”
Mein is always impressed by Bret and his great showmanship and his stage presence, not to mention how the rest of the band wows the crowd on a regular basis.
“We have a lot of little things we do onstage together that are fun and look cool,” Mein said. “We never rehearse that stuff; it just comes up at shows and develops over time.”
Mein loves everything about music and performing live.
“Interaction – with the audience, with other musicians… creating, improvising, working really hard on a difficult passage and nailing it in performance,” he said. “Jumping off the drum riser, OVER Austin’s bass, and landing in a power slide on my knees into a guitar solo. Hopping off the stage during a solo and dancing in the crowd. Making good music and spreading it around to as many people as possible. I love it all – everything but hauling the gear after the show.”
’56 finishes the album strong with a cover medley, starting with “Harlem Nocturne,” an instrumental cover. They slow it down a bit with this haunting melody. Mein’s powerful soloing keeps it in great balance.
Halfway through the track, Kaiser’s voice reclaims center stage, and jumps right into “I Put a Spell on You.” His howling “Because you’re mine” is a tremendous finish to an album everyone can enjoy.
Whether you are a die-hard fan of rockabilly music from back in the day, or if you just love moving along with great tunes from fantastic performers, ’56 and their debut album, Steppin’ will leave you cheering for more. Like they say in the song: “If you don’t like high-speed chases, you’d better not come along for the ride!”
If you want to see ’56 in action, visit them on their Facebook page, or head to their website (WARNING: music automatically plays. –Eds) to check for local performance dates. You should also check out the Steppin’ promotional video on YouTube.