Sudden success for Southern-style rockers

Friday, October 15, 2004

Without being told, you would never guess the six guys sitting together at a large table at Broussard's in Cape Girardeau Tuesday night were a band -- and a successful one at that.

You might mistake them for your average college students or just locals out to enjoy some beer, but not aspiring musicians.

Then again, the music Fusion Blue plays is not art rock, hip-hop or pop, it plays a blend of Southern rock and jam band music, genres not exactly known for purposefully going after a certain look or image.

The guys of Fusion Blue -- Branston Keefer, Nathan Beck, Drew Dollar, Trey Presson, Tim Morrison and Josh Monroe -- are all adamant that it's their music that takes priority. Musical influences run from the iconic Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers to jam bands Widespread Panic and the Grateful Dead.

While they may be lackadaisical about their attire, they have been anything but that when it comes to seeking success.

In the seven months Fusion Blue has been together, the members have played at least four shows a month in Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Mo., the band's hometown. They have also recorded a seven-song demo and are booked to play gigs at Cicero's in St. Louis and the Old Daisy Theater in Memphis.

The fast rise has actually been a source of anxiety for the band members, who are 21 to 23 and have lived in Sikeston all their lives. All have day jobs in Sikeston, except for Dollar, who is a student at Southeast Missouri State University.

"The biggest issue is definitely fear of how fast this band is moving," said one of the band's managers, Ronnie Sells.

Fusion Blue started off in typical style when longtime friends Keefer and Presson decided to start a band and recruited fellow friend Monroe to play bass (even though he was a guitar player) and acquaintance Morrison to play drums. Keefer plays guitar. Presson plays rhythm guitar and provides the main vocals.

The band played as a foursome until last month, when Nathan Beck joined as a percussionist on the bongos and Drew Dollar became the band's keyboard player.

Morrison was hesitant at first about having a second percussionist in the band, but when Beck joined them on stage during a gig at The Camp, he was sold on the idea.

Then Dollar joined, although he had never even played the keyboards or piano before.

"We kind of threw him to the wolves," Presson said of Dollar's introduction to the band.

As a longtime friend of the other guys in the band, Dollar's inexperience was not much of a consideration.

"We're not a bunch of musicians who just met each other," Keefer said. "We're a bunch of people who are interconnected."

That interconnectedness is readily apparent. They all try to talk at once and urge one another to tell a certain story and talk about "the band house" in Sikeston where they spend most of their time.

The members were also friends with the Brandon Brown, who with Sells became the band's managers in late June. Brown had been a longtime fan of jam band music and been involved with Sikeston bands Brother Booth and Shady Deal when he first heard Fusion Blue play and was impressed by what he saw and heard. He then told Sells to check the band out.

"I was really impressed," Sells said. "About a month later I invited them over to my lake house at Lake Egypt and decided to throw my wallet at them."

"We've seen this band take off from playing in a garage to playing at Camp's and Cronies to playing Beale Street," Sells said.

"It's a pretty big accomplishment to play the Old Daisy after just seven months of being together," Brown said.

The Beale Street gig is what has really gotten the band excited.

"Huge bands that have influenced us have played (at the Old Daisy Theater)," Monroe said. "It's really unbelievable that we're playing at Beale Street for the first time at the Daisy."

Before they play Memphis, however, there are some more gigs to do in Southeast Missouri, including one tonight at Broussard's, which will be the first time Fusion Blue has played at the Cape Girardeau restaurant and bar, and a Saturday night show at The Camp along with the band Speakeasy.

They are hoping for a repeat of last Saturday's gig at Cronies in Sikeston when about 150 showed up and, according to Dollar, "were all into what we were doing."

"Last Saturday night the energy level was absolutely incredible," Presson said.

The band also plans to record a 10-song demo in December with original material and a cover of America's "Sandman."

kalfisi@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182

Want to go?

What: Fusion Blue performing live

When: 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday

Where: Broussard's tonight and The Camp on Saturday

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