By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Randy Wheeler, who plays keyboard, trumpet and
saxophone with the Beat Poets, says the group
is like a band of brothers.
It's been one long gig for the musical group the Beat Poets, whose 22-year long "relationship" has outlasted many marriages.
Beat Poets keep the rhythmBy Dawn Sagario
going after 22 years
The secret to the band's staying power is adaptability. "Being really versatile is our selling point," said drummer Danny Cruces.
"I find it extremely boring to watch a band that is stuck in one set of influences," said keyboardist Scott Dougdale. "The best musicians are those that can take influences from different eras, and then incorporate and learn from them."
This means that keeping up with music's many short-lived trends is Beat Poets' top priority. The band's mix ranges from current hits by groups such as the Beastie Boys, Nine Inch Nails and Fat Boy Slim, to splashes of nostalgia with songs from the '70s and '80s. This makes for a fast-paced, high-energy show whether the band is playing in a club or on the street, which is where it'll be for Friday's Nu'uanu Nights block party.
"We make sure that the songs we play are danceable," said Dougdale.
"You could say our music is everything that's happening today," said guitarist Andre Barboza. "That's what we're all about."
The melding of these various talents had its beginnings 22 years ago in a summer music school at Chico State University in California. After hearing about a talent show contest, Cruces, Dougdale and Brian Howard (who is no longer with the band) formed a group and put together a repertoire of three songs.
"We consider that our first gig," Cruces said. "We won first place, and the rest is history."
Listeners immediately liked the band, whose sets consisted of music from the Beatles, Bee Gees and Eagles. More performances followed at barbecues and on the local radio station. The group hit the road with a traveling tutor.
Managers saw the band's potential. "They wanted to market us as 'teeny-boppers,' but we continued more of our musical career instead of that 'teeny-bop,' idol kind of thing," Cruces said.
In the early '80s, the band went through several changes and called themselves Leoswift. Playing the title track for the 1989 movie "Zapped Again," they also traveled to Guam, Alaska, Japan and Hawaii.
Nowadays, when the Beat Poets play certain songs, it seems as if they've come full circle.
"It's amazing," Cruces said. "I think, 'Oh my God, I remember us playing these songs -- like 'LeFreak' and 'YMCA' -- when they were still new."
Interest in the band doesn't seem to be wavering. While other bands play a few times a month, the Beat Poets are performing six to seven times a week at spots such as Moose McGillycuddy's Pub & Cafe in Waikiki, Gordon Biersch, The Pier Bar at Aloha Tower and Hard Rock Cafe. The group recently played 21 gigs in a row.
So, trying to find time to record has been hard. Band members say that is one reason they haven't been able come out with a CD of original songs.
Band members also juggle individual projects outside of the Beat Poets.
Wheeler is pursuing a degree in Information and Computer Sciences at Kapiolani Community College. He is also putting together his own CD, which he describes as a "cross between jazz, classical and new wave." Its release date is tentatively set for December.
Cruces is doing studio work for several groups, writing and producing songs. Dougdale is working on a project for an educational television series, while Barboza has already released his own CD entitled "La Esperanza," featuring flamenco music.
"For us to find time to sit down and create is difficult," Dougdale said.
Still, the band hopes to release a CD by fall. Barboza hopes releasing the originals will dispel the negative associations of being a cover band, one that performs other bands' music. The stereotype is something he dislikes.
"People say, 'Oh, they don't even have a bass player. They don't know what they're doing,'" Barboza said. "But they don't understand what we're doing and that it takes a lot of work with Scott (Dougdale) doing the computer programming.
"I think that once we come out with our own music, we'll prove everyone wrong," Barboza continued.
The group began playing only original songs, but their choice of music became a matter of economics. What club audiences wanted to hear were current hits.
"It became unreasonable to make a living off of originals," said Randy Wheeler, who plays the keyboard, trumpet and saxophone.
"Just being a working musician is important," Wheeler said. "Making a living is very important. If you can't make a living, creativity suffers."
The number of years the band has been together is not only reflected in the trends they've seen come and go, but in the members' constant teasing and ribbing.
"When you've been together that long, it's pretty much like brothers in a family," said Wheeler.
"We fight like brothers and we love like brothers," Barboza said. "I could never leave them. We'll be together for a long time."
Block Party: 6 to 11 p.m. tomorrow
Place: Nuuanu Avenue, between Pauahi and King streets
Click for online
calendars and events.