Teens' band is on a roll playing the blues

NEIGHBORS

July 08, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN Westminster police officers cruised to Pennsylvania Avenue to tell a high school band to turn down the volume during rehearsal one night, neighbors walked outside to say, "It's OK, this is a good group of kids, let them play their music."

One month later, the band decided to return the favor by playing for free at a series of block parties, which were organized to promote family life on their street. They also have volunteered to play at birthday parties and graduation parties, and soon they will play at a fund-raiser for a family friend who is fighting cancer and has large medical bills.

It's not just the band members' charitable spirit that brings more and more people back to hear them. Their music is good.

Four teens who call themselves the Rollers belt out the blues better than some musicians who are twice their age and who have experienced more of life's hard knocks. When band members Patrick Bubert, Chris Laatsch, Peter McKibben and Nick Jewett sing "How Blue Can You Get," "Born Under a Bad Sign," "Crossroads" or "Plastic Jesus," it's hard to believe they are teens who attend Westminster High School.

They also belong to the National Honor Society and hold coveted spots in the school's Jazz Ensemble, said Nick's mother, Deborah Jewett Strauss.

"Their music is different than the stuff that most teens play, and everyone ends up enjoying themselves," said Danny Baer, a junior at Westminster High and a fan who has heard the group play many times.

"It's the raw emotions in blues that I like," said Peter, whose father, Richard, gave him a harmonica when he was 6 and said, "This might come in handy."

Later, Richard McKibben introduced his son to the music of Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton. Some of the other band members' parents did the same. And while their friends gravitated toward hip-hop and hard rock, Peter (vocals, harmonica, rhythm guitar), Chris (bass guitar), Patrick (drums, percussion) and Nick (lead guitar) knew they had to play the blues.

"They take the blues, the old stuff, very seriously," said Deborah Jewett Strauss. "They eat, sleep and live the blues and some classic rock. And when they play blues tunes, they play with integrity."

"One of our goals is to bring back this great music that most people our age don't think of," said Chris. "Yet the blues influenced so much of the music we listen to today."

Most of the band members' interest in music began in elementary school, where they tinkered with the alto saxophone, drums, trumpet and tuba. Some took piano and guitar lessons and music theory classes.

They pulled their band together in high school and called themselves the Rollers in honor of their favorite Saturday night hobby - bowling.

The Rollers captured first place at Westminster High's annual talent show this year. The group also captured the attention of employees at the local music store, who rent them a sound system and sell guitar strings and other equipment at prices band members can afford.

"We really couldn't have afforded things like picks, amplifiers and guitar strings without the help of Coffey Music," said Nick. "Peter had to buy a new harmonica after the block party because he broke his, and he got a good price."

The long-range plans for band members involve college, where they hope to study everything from music to graphic design. They also talk about attending the Peabody Conservatory, touring other countries and teaching music.

For now, they're looking forward to paid gigs and getting the most out of their music together.

"Feeding off the audience's enthusiasm is something that I had never experienced before. It is one of the best things I have done in my whole life," said Peter. "Sometimes it doesn't even matter what note you hit."

Information and the band's schedule: http://rollers.renegade online.net.

Living Treasure

West Middle School pupil Amy Newton honors her identical twin sister, Sarah, as her Living Treasure.

"We have so many interests that we share and we like to talk about the same things," Amy wrote. "We do everything the same as most teen-age girls, but we always have a friend's opinion or company. Even though we may fight, I know that Sarah is always there for me."

Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Send a name and specific reasons why someone has been your Living Treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster, 21157 or call 410-848-4703.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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