By Timothy Gillis
PORTLAND – This Friday, August 17, Tom Faunce and friends will pay tribute to the guitar master, Jimi Hendrix, by covering an ample sampling of his best songs. Faunce has assembled a local all-star line-up of multi-faceted musicians to fete the fiery, left-handed strummer who set the 1960’s scene on fire, quite literally at times.
Faunce, who plays guitar with Band Beyond Description – a Grateful Dead cover band, said he had considered tackling Hendrix in the Tuesday night Cover to Cover series, but noted that the legendary guitarist had a number of albums, each with one or two smash hits and then a lot of obscure jams. Selecting one of his albums to cover, beginning to end, wouldn’t be nearly as fun or fruitful as doing a greatest hits show. He approached Ken Bell, the owner of the Big Easy, and asked him about doing a Hendrix tribute show that covered all the great hits and broke out of the Cover-to-Cover construction for an evening.
“He’d been wanting to do a Hendrix tribute for a long time,” Faunce said, so he got the green light.
The tribute band consists of Faunce on lead guitar, Harley Smith on drums, Tim Sullivan on bass guitar, Frank Hopkins on keyboards, Roger Sampson on guitar, Kenya Hall and Chas Lester offer vocals, Jason Ouellette plays keyboard and sings, and Mat Zaro also sings.
These musicians won’t be taking the stage all at once, however. The evening has been arranged into two sets of tribute tunes with a variety of musical combinations.
The first set features Faunce, Sullivan, Sampson, and Smith, playing the more popular stuff ‘60’s rockers know from the radio: songs like “Purple Haze, “Hey Joe,” and “The Wind Cries Mary.”
“We’ll play ‘Stone Free,’ Castles Made of Sand,’ ‘Freedom,’ ‘Fire’ – who knows, maybe ‘Spanish Castle Magic,” said Faunce. “For the second set, we will bring up a different artist for each song.”
Once or twice a year, he and his bandmates will do a Blues Brothers tribute, when Band Beyond Description gets together with Sly Chai’s horn section. But this is the first Hendrix homage.
“I used to have an Allman brothers band for couple years,” Faunce said. “But I called it good. I like to do what I’m doing now, where I play with BBD and then throw together seem sort of showcase.”
Hailing from Gardiner, Maine, Faunce is keenly aware of the poetics of his hometown, famous for its affiliation with Edwin Arlington Robinson, who penned “Miniver Cheevy,” a sobering tale about the town drunk, and “Richard Cory,” about a man envied by all until “one calm summer night,/ (he) Went home and put a bullet through his head.”
Faunce lived on Plummer Street in Gardiner, in the home of the real personality on whom Robinson’s based his suicide poem, according to a classmate’s research paper.
“Richard Cory was a fake name,” Faunce said. “The real guy’s name was Plummer – or at least that’s what I heard. It was a big house, some weird things happened. TV’s coming on by themselves, lights turning on by themselves. When I was in 6th grade, we had to memorize that poem.”
Faunce said the deadly connection didn’t disturb his early years. But perhaps the poetic link made its way into Faunce’s rhythmic structure, prompting early on his love for meter and tone.
“I was about ten years old was when I started playing guitar,” he said, but quickly added that he failed band in high school. It wasn’t cool to play in the concert or marching band then, he said.
“I joined the band so I could play guitar in the jazz band. Then I realized I didn’t like the school band, so I didn’t go to classes and failed,” he said. “I was an athlete, played football, ice hockey, and ran track. I even played football for a year at Husson and realized I was just trying to relive my high school days.”
Faunce enrolled in the music program at the University of Maine in Augusta and graduated in 2008. He currently lives in Farmingdale but spends four or five days a week in Portland, couch surfing and practicing what he loves most.
He is also an independent video editor, and is now taking classes at Southern Maine Community College in the film production program, so work and class bring him to Portland quite often.
He just made a film called “Driven Under,” about a vet from the war in Iraq who returns home. Faunce wrote the script with David J. Spenlinhauer and Jeremy Vandroff, and they are submitting it to Portland Film Festival.
“When making a film, I relate it most to making an album in a studio. There are long hours to create a little product,” he said. “You spend twelve hours on a film set to get one scene, like you spend several hours in the record studio to get one song.”
What was hard about this film was there was no designated head writer, he said. “So we all had to learn how to go though this process collaborating without one person necessarily having the final word.”
Faunce wrote the original music for the film – three or four songs, some with lyrics, some instrumental.
There’s a song called ‘Freedom’ with the lyrics “you don’t know freedom until it’s gone,” reminiscent of the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” wherein one finally knows the worth of something only in its absence.
Faunce knew right away the worth of Band Beyond Description, this cosmic Dead cover band. He got into BBD by simply being one of their fans. He met Chris Dow, the drummer, at one of their shows at the old Ale House, talked to him on set break, and told him how much he loved the Dead. “I gave him my card, and he called me the next week.”
This was 2009, they had an opening, and Faunce has been with them since then.
While Faunce loves to cover his favorite bands, he also creates original music.
“My original music is more stuff that I just do – I like to experiment in the recording studio,” he said.
After the Hendrix show, Faunce said he’d like to do a Pink Floyd tribute, and he knows he’ll continue to have the support of the Big Easy.
“Ken’s by far the best club owner I’ve dealt with,” Faunce said. “He likes to take care of the musicians and the people who work there.”