Jason McCoy plays bass guitar and joined the
G&S Experience in July of last year.
ALBANY — Not long after realizing what would be most musicians’ sweetest dream — being flown to New York to play saxophone on his buddy and “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips’ debut album — Frederick Williams Jr. got a call that made that dream even sweeter.
Paul Ward, drummer for G&S Experience, Southwest Georgia’s most eclectic — and easily one of its most talented — collection of musicians, called to ask Williams if he was interested in joining the combo.
“After we all played with Phillip at the (‘Idol’) homecoming concert in Leesburg, I went to Paul and told him I’d like to play with them,” Williams said of G&S, which had been formed by Chevalier “Tom” Coleman in 2004. “He was really cool about it, told me he’d hit me up on Facebook and let me know.
“After Phillip flew me up to New York to play on his album, Paul let me know I was in. I’ve played with a lot of bands in this area, but this is the band I wanted to be in. They fit my personality, and I fit theirs.”
The four members of G&S, which originated as the loosely organized house band for the local spoken word gathering “Groovespeak,” are indeed a tight-knit group, dishing on each other with good-natured jabs that you’d expect to hear in a frat house or in dialogue from a buddy movie like “Swingers,” but with a more G-rated bent.
Coleman, who plays keyboards and vocoder (yes, vocoder!), started the band almost a decade ago and has refined it to include its current lineup of Williams (who in addition to sax plays the ewi, a strange-looking electronic wind instrument that few have even heard of, much less mastered), Ward and bassist Jason McCoy, who stopped playing music altogether for 13 years before talking himself into a slot with G&S in July of last year.
“What I’ve tried to do with G&S Experience is find musicians who are humble, willing to listen and eager to learn,” Coleman, a minister of music who studied for two years at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston before running out of money and coming home to Albany. “Because the music we play involves a collection of styles, it’s important that we get along and are open-minded about music.”
Open-mindedness in their attitude about music is one of G&S’s most appealing qualities for fans whose musical palates are not limited to a single genre. Attend one of the band’s shows, and you might hear the George Benson version of “On Broadway,” the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Guns ‘n Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Usher’s “Nice and Slow,” Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay,” Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
This definitely is not your grandpa’s cover band.
“I love music, and in my house I grew up hearing Motown, Phil Collins, REO Speedwagon, Led Zeppelin, just all kinds of music,” Coleman said. “I don’t set any limits to the songs any of these guys want to play.”
In fact, much like a Grateful Dead or Dylan performance, set lists at G&S Experience shows change from night to night to night.
“It’s not a dictatorship; nothing’s set in stone,” Williams, who studied music education at Albany State University, said. “In fact, we’ve got this cool thing where whoever gets a gig for us gets to be in charge of what we play.”
That, of course, can lead to some interesting performances.
“When I’m in charge, we might end up doing all hip-hop and urban music,” Ward said. “That’s the thing with these guys. I know they can play whatever anyone comes up with.”
After returning home from Berklee, Coleman finished requirements for his degree in music at ASU in 1997 and was band director at Calhoun County High School for a couple of years. He put the production and engineering skills he refined at Berklee to good use over the next several years, writing and doing studio work on albums recorded by Larry Mallory, Juice and the Tri-County Workshop Gospel Choir before recording his own LPs: The light jazz “Grown” and R&B/rap “Geek or Genius” in 2007, and jazz instrumentals “Soundscapes” (2009) and “Soundscapes II” (2011).
He formed G&S in 2004 with Jermaine Hall and Jeffery Newberry, but the combo gradually morphed into its present lineup.
“I was roommates with the bass player in the group (Hall), and I used to hang out at their gigs like a roadie,” said Ward, who started his musical career at age 5 playing percussion in the church where his father was pastor. “They had a gig one night, and the drummer (Newberry) didn’t show up. Tom told Jermaine to call me, and I’ve been with them ever since.”
Williams established his reputation as one of the area’s top sax men and came on board with G&S after his stint with Phillips. McCoy, who had taken up the bass in high school, quit playing music altogether after turning 22 and didn’t play again until three years ago.
“I started work and just didn’t have the time to play,” said McCoy, a Clark Kent lookalike (jokingly called “Superman” by Williams) who now works with the Vansant & Corriere law firm. “I’d been following these guys around for a while, and about three years ago I picked up my guitar and started playing again. I finally worked up the courage to ask about joining the band, and I kept begging until they gave me a shot.
“I don’t know if I would have continued playing if I hadn’t gotten into this band. I just liked their music; they’re different from everyone else around here.”
While G&S have steadily built a larger following, playing at pretty much every local venue and gathering, the growth hasn’t been without strain.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about just walking away plenty of times,” Coleman said. “It’s so frustrating sometimes trying to keep something like this going.”
Adds Williams: “All musicians get in that funk at times. I’m only 24, but I’ve been gigging since I was 12. When I get in a funk, I’ll go buy something or try something new to spark me. (That’s how he came to master the ewi.)”
But Ward said the members of G&S have an advantage over other such bands that get into the funk Williams described.
“The thing about these guys is that even though all of us have different characteristics, we all like each other,” the drummer said. “This is, I think, the most talented group of guys in Albany. But even without music, we’d all still be friends.
“I was talking with Tom last year, and he said, ‘I’m ready to sell all my equipment and give up.’ I knew he was just frustrated, though. If he actually did try to sell his equipment, I’d buy all of it so I could give it back to him when he got ready to come back.”
G&S are currently writing music together, getting ready to record their first album this summer. Planned as a showcase for their disparate tastes (“From country to gospel to R&B to pop to jazz,” according to Coleman), the album could be the catalyst to take the band beyond its current rather limited area of influence.
“I think we’ve got to get organized, get some content out there,” he said. “I think once we do that, we have a chance to expand beyond this region.”
“People who’ve seen clips of us playing are always hitting us up on social network, asking about the band,” he said. “We have regular followers from throughout Europe, from Nigeria, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Germany. That let’s me know we have the ability to take this to the next level.”
Even the musician who’s been with G&S the least amount of time sees the potential.
“I believe this band can do anything we try to do; this is a bunch of overachievers,” McCoy said. “My patience had worn thin when I gave up playing music before; I just didn’t enjoy it anymore. But I love playing with these guys; I want to make music with them. They inspire me.”