Section: Arts

Four Handsome Devils jam to folk classics together

Four Handsome Devils jam to folk classics together

Julia Waldow | Arts Assistant

“Can I play a little bit of this song for you?” Director of Counseling Services Patrick Gilligan asks Professor of Anthropology David Suggs and Professor of Drama Jon Tazewell as the three sit clutching their instruments in Brandi Recital Hall on a wintery Saturday afternoon. As Gilligan begins plucking his guitar and singing Roy Rogers’s “Here’s Hopin’”, Suggs’ feet begin to tap and Tazewell whips out a fiddle and starts playing along.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Suggs interrupts, looking at Tazewell incredulously. As Tazewell laughs, Suggs exclaims, “Well, you learn something new every day.”

The group, along with John Murphree ’15, make new musical discoveries every time they host sessions together. Named after the cocktail “the Handsome Devil,” the musicians assemble at Gilligan’s house off-campus every few weeks to perform folk and bluegrass covers, as well as some of Gilligan’s original songs. They next plan to play for the Gambier community in Peirce Pub this Friday at 9:30 p.m.

“[Our sessions] sound a little bit loosey-goosey and relaxed, but [they are],” Tazewell said. “We’ll miss each other. We feel like, ‘Hey man, I haven’t seen you in awhile. Let’s get together and play.’ We take turns picking songs. Sometimes somebody says, ‘I love this tune,’ and we’ll say ‘Let’s play it.’ Sometimes someone will say, ‘You know what you should play?’ And then we try that. It’s a pretty wide smattering of stuff.”

Even though each member had played music individually, the entire group did not officially form until early in the fall, when Gilligan and Suggs discovered that they both enjoyed playing guitar. Gilligan later asked Murphree, whom he knew was a musician, to come play with Suggs, Tazewell and himself.

“Just in general, it’s been really fun to see professors and watch their interaction,” Murphree said. “Somehow it’s not that different from how students interact with each other. It’s not something you get to see in a student-teacher dynamic, usually.”

In their jam sessions, every member plays the role of both teacher and student. The musicians take turns instructing each other on playing new songs, breaking down individual parts in the process until they establish a flow.

“I think music is meant to be social, by default, and so it’s always nice to share that with other people and interact with them in a way that’s not a conversation,” Murphree said of the rehearsal process.

In addition to playing covers by artists from the Beatles to Amelia Curran, the band enjoys the opportunity to learn Gilligan’s new material.

“I’ve enjoyed songwriting over the years just as a form of mindfulness. It’s just something I can do to be totally occupied in a constructive way,” Gilligan said of his passion. “It wasn’t actually for the purpose of creating a song as much as for the purpose of performing the act of making a song. … You start with one musical line or lyrical line in your head and keep playing and things begin to develop and you have an outline and then puzzle the song together.”

When Gilligan commits himself to writing about a specific theme, he draws upon his own experiences or areas of interest. One of his songs, which includes the line “But I can’t think of us as just some dust in time when I’m standing next to you,” questions the balance between humankind’s insignificance within the scheme of time and space, coupled with moments that seem more meaningful than anything else. Another one of his songs deals with the frustrations of an imbalanced relationship.

“Every so often, you can start to feel [a song] rising to the surface,” Gilligan said. “Our most creative endeavors begin in a subconscious process, so when it moves into our conscious[ness], it feels like it came out of nowhere. It’s so cool to think that there’s this area of our brain working all day on long on something for us.”

Whether committing themselves to songwriting or performing, the Handsome Devils say they enjoy the opportunity to spend time with other and learn from each other’s musical talents in a nontraditional setting.

“I love the fact that we interact in that way at this place, at Kenyon. You can have these out-of-classroom interactions that really have nothing to do with being in the classroom at all,” Tazewell said. “You establish a totally different kind of relationship with each other. … It’s almost like we have another life when we’re in the band.”


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