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by Andrea Downing Peck, AARP Bulletin, January 14, 2010
The Kansas City Jammers aren’t proclaiming that 60 is the new 20. Nor are they looking for their music to deliver a message to a new generation of college students. The trio of aging rockers simply is treasuring every moment of an adventure launched a few years ago when fans of 1970s-era psychedelic rock and folk music rediscovered them on the Internet.
The Jammers—Jasey Schnaars, Bob Thompson and Geoffrey Greif—formed as a college band in Ohio playing bars and fraternity parties in 1968. Their closest brush with fame came in 1973 when their 45-rpm single, “Sing Me That Rock and Roll,” reached No. 20 on the local top 40 charts in Columbus, Ohio. The band’s album, Got Good (if you get it), never followed suit. It sold a few hundred copies, becoming a prized possession exclusively of the bandmates’ relatives and friends.
Yet the Jammers’ music did not fade with the passage of time. Unbeknown to band members, the Jammers had become Internet sensations in the new millennium, with copies of their self-recorded album changing hands worldwide on eBay for more than $100 per LP. When Void Records offered them $1,000 for the rights to reissue their album on the Web, the trio—now living separate lives in West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland—exchanged laughter-filled phone calls. They also took the cash.
“How can you possibly record an album on your own in 1972, and in 2007 some guy, out of the blue, calls and says I want to re-release your album?” says Greif, 60. “We thought it was the funniest thing we had ever heard.”
Back together again
In an effort to extend the run of immortality for a band “essentially no one has ever heard of,” Greif says, they hatched a plan over glasses of wine last summer to auction themselves on eBay.
The band will reunite in Delaware, Ohio, for a Jan. 16 concert at their alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University. The event will be shown on YouTube and will help promote an auction on eBay’s charity site of a private Jammers concert, with proceeds benefiting the university.
The trio, whose musical influences include Neil Young, the Who, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, spent their post-college years launching careers, marrying and having families. Yet music remained a vital part of their lives. Schnaars continued to write music and record, while Thompson and Greif played in numerous rock bands or community groups and wrote music as well.
While no longer yearning for rock ’n’ roll fame, the Jammers have not stopped chronicling their lives through music. Their newest song, “On the Cover of AARP,” tells of the band’s rediscovery on the Internet and their drive for a new form of stardom—landing the cover of AARP the Magazine.
“We are in the middle of this utterly ridiculous, delightful adventure,” says Schnaars, 59. “At our age, that is pretty amazing. Where is it going to go? Who knows? And we don’t care. That’s the beautiful thing about it. We don’t have to parlay this into anything. We’re just enjoying the ride.”
The concert at Ohio Wesleyan is allowing band members to relive—rather than redo—a magical period in their lives.
“We were always so happy to be together doing anything, whether it was making music, playing stoop baseball or going from pawnshop to pawnshop looking for guitars,” Schnaars says. “I think we enjoyed, really enjoyed, each other’s company. To be able to play music together was just a mountain of icing on the cake.”
When the Jammers disbanded in 1973 in order to get on with their “real” lives—Greif returned to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, Thompson entered Temple University School of Medicine (he’s now an internist), and Schnaars embarked on a high school teaching career in the Columbus, Ohio, area—there were no regrets.
“I think we got the Jammers right,” says Greif, now a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “For me, it isn’t about going back and trying to fix something we didn’t do. It’s like finishing a concert and being asked to do an encore. We’re being asked to do an encore 40 years later.”
Thompson says concertgoers may see a 60-year-old man onstage when he reunites with the Jammers, but he will remain a 17-year-old boy whose lust for life has not diminished.
“I’m still the same age I was when I was 17, frankly,” Thompson says. “I’m the same person. What I will carefully do is not look at mirrors during this whole process and just sort of ignore the fact these kids are looking at a bunch of old guys. … My gig is not nostalgia. My gig is making music.”
Andrea Downing Peck is a writer in Bainbridge Island, Wash.
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