Mike Branch Band adds keyboardist/vocalist, continues to draw fans to local area venues
By Cat McGinnis
Photo Credit: Jim Dorothy
You may know The Mike Branch Band (MBB) as Portland’s musical court jesters and the ultimate purveyors of Bombastic Jackassery™. There are those that love them or hate them for their relentless marketing, exceptionally busy schedule and seemingly endless selection of merchandise. They are highly visible. They are hard to escape. They are everywhere.
Some significant changes have occurred in the world of the MBB since the first of the year. Mike Branch is still on guitar and Rojer Blaine continues to hold down the bottom end on the bass, along with drummer Joe Fazzolari rounding out the rhythm section. But it’s the recent addition of Tom Crockwell on lead vocals and keyboards that is the big news in the MBB personnel department.
Here are a few of Branch’s thoughts about bringing Crockwell on board: “I was introduced to Tom last summer by our dear, mutual friend John Ward of Irishtown’s Sunday showcase fame. Tom was playing in the band Spellbound at the time and was interested but reluctant to leave his current situation. I continued to chip away at him for about five months, but it wasn’t until I gave him the winning numbers for the Nigerian lotto that Tom became convinced that I meant business.”
Playing a wide variety of classic rock spanning the ‘50s through today, the MBB likes to say that they are playing the soundtrack of people’s lives. The addition of Crockwell on the keyboards expands the band’s play list and opens up even greater boundaries than ever before. Branch comments, “Tom knew a bunch of our stuff but still had to learn an additional 50 or so songs,” says Mike. “After we were done catching him up to a total of about 65 songs, we’ve added another 17 new songs just since January. We have such a great, regular following that we’re always looking to add new material to keep it fresh and interesting to both us and the regulars.”
Branch continues, “All kidding aside, Tom turned out to be the perfect choice. He ‘got’ all the MBB core philosophies and concepts immediately; the FAMClub, the Jackassery™, the self-deprecating humor and the fact that we’re serious but don’t take ourselves too serious. He’s funny and witty and brings a new, high level of energy to the lineup that we absolutely love. The fact that he’s also a keyboard player was a huge plus that opens up a ton of musical options for us as well. It’s all worked out so well that we don’t have the heart to tell him he’s on permanent probationary status.”
As you can see, MBB definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously. What they are serious about is putting on the party week in and week out and constantly building the fan base. Starting with unrelenting promotion and culminating in some of the most engaging live shows in the region, MBB continues to add to their extremely loyal following. Drummer Fazzolari sums it up like this: “We came up with this FAMClub (no fans, just family) thing and we take it pretty seriously. Our base of followers is as loyal a group of people as you’d find in any family. We don’t take it for granted for one minute. Without those people coming out week after week, show after show, we don’t get to do what we love to do. We couldn’t be more grateful for each and every one of them. Make no mistake, they are family. We don’t take our good fortune for granted.”
The MBB will be the first to tell you they’re not the greatest band in the city. Even if they were, they wouldn’t say it. But, what they can lay claim to is having some of the strongest marketing in the city. It’s the marketing that initially engaged the people that then made it out to the shows. It’s the shows where the engagement process kicks into high gear in real time, face to face, both on and off stage. Branch points out, “We have people tell us all the time that they appreciate that we seem to go out of our way to make them feel welcome and part of something. For us, that’s not calculated or premeditated. It is part of paying back the gratitude we have for them. My wife Brandy, Rojer’s wife Linda, Joe’s wife Debbie and Tom’s fiancée Vicki are also a huge part of that engagement process. I say this with a smile but it’s at least half true, people come out to see the wives; the band is just background music. Our wives are the MBB’s secret sauce.”
And speaking of shows, MBB has played close to 400 shows in just the last three years alone. “We’d play more if we could,” says bassist Blaine, “but unfortunately, the nature of the market just doesn’t allow for it anymore. All four of us came from an old school background of playing five to seven nights a week back in the day.”
Currently on the MBB agenda is, not surprisingly, expanding the turf geographically and continuing to build the base following. A couple of things are still labeled “TOP SECRET & CLASSIFIED.” They are also constantly adding to the broad selection of merchandise they offer, which has become quite collectible. “We’re in a pretty luxurious position when it comes to swag production,” says Branch, “Rojer and his wife Linda have a company called Sew Fine Dezign that does custom embroidery, silk screening and are able to put the MBB brand on virtually anything. We can cook up an idea for a new T-shirt or button on a Monday and have it ready to go at shows by the weekend.”
In the meantime, you can catch MBB at a local venue in your area. And if they’re not in your area, they will be soon as you can see by glancing at this snippet from their schedule: March 20-21 at Hollywood’s Hot Rod Bar & Grill; March 27 at Spud Monkey’s; April 3-4 at the World Famous M&M Lounge; April 10-11 at the Lehrer; April 17 at The Springs; April 24 at Trails End Saloon; April 25 at Billy Blues Bar and Grill, just to name a few.