PLAINFIELD – Few venues form house bands led by their owners, as Gruben’s Uptown Tap in Plainfield did.
Even fewer take that band on the road. But that’s what Steve Gruben, owner and lead singer, and some fellow artists did with Gruband. Gruben feels the band is a result of casual jam sessions, as well as laid-back open mic nights at Gruben’s.
John Sather of Joliet, Gruband’s guitarist and vocalist, said those early sessions were simply musicians – their friendships dating back to the 1970s – who hung out when another mutual friend visited from Florida.
“It was nothing more than flexing old muscles,” Sather said.
Still, Sather said he was stunned when he realized the extent of Gruben’s vocal range – Gruben can sing AC/DC covers – during those impromptu concerts. Also surprising was receiving booking requests after playing ’70s and ’80s blues rock at Gruben’s open mic nights.
That’s when Sather thought, “Well, let’s see if we can glue this thing together.”
About that time, the current bass player left for an acoustic band. So Sather and Gruben contacted Greg Brucker of South Elgin – bassist for Shadows of Knight as well as the Cryan’ Shames – and asked if he could perform a concert with them.
And the concert was that night.
Brucker, who said he has worked full time as a musician since 1972, was catching up on family business related to his mother’s death when Sather called. But after reviewing the song list and realizing he already knew 95 percent of the material, Brucker agreed.
Their chemistry onstage was so strong that Gruben and Sather invited Brucker to join them – when he wasn’t busy with the other bands, that is. Brucker didn’t hesitate.
“I said, ‘Sure, that sounds great,’ ” Brucker said.
Gruband has an acoustic version of its band known as Power Outage. To allow for scheduling conflicts, the band also has more than one musician to fill some of the roles.
According to Gruband’s website, Eric Larson of New Lenox plays drums for the band, as does Greg Votta, owner of the Wilmington-based Shear Design hair salon. John Morrison, a Lewis University music student, also plays bass.
Sather said Gruband performs mostly classic top-40 commercial hits because that’s the music crowds – mainly people in their 30s and 40s, but some 20-somethings, too – prefer hearing.
“If you can put a smile on someone’s face – that’s nice, that’s cool,” Gruben said.
But Gruband also will slip in some Humble Pie or the B-sides of Led Zeppelin and Steve Ray Vaughn hits, “things that didn’t have mass market appeal but are certainly good songs,” Sather added.
Sather feels Gruband’s “top-notch” instrumentation and amazing vocal harmonies separate it from the average cover band. Neither he nor Gruben apologize for the band’s lack of original material.
“We’re doing someone else’s music,” Gruben said, “but we’re doing it well.”
These guys aren’t strangers to the stage: Gruben, for instance, first performed in a rock band while in high school and then spent many years hiring musicians for his club, according to the website.
Also according to the website, Sather has played electric and acoustic guitar for more than 40 years. Before completing college, Sather toured throughout the Midwest as a member of Probe for three years. That band opened for such national acts as Styx and Cheech & Chong.
But, Sather said, since that time, they’ve established careers, raised kids, been “this close” to record deals and endured the drama and ego of fellow artists. Performing today is about enjoyment, nothing else.
“We’ve learned to roll with the punches and stay on course,” Sather said. “It’s a lot easier to do when you have experience under your belt.”
Brucker would agree. The life of a professional musician is one of uncertainty, but by making the best of each situation and following up on opportunities, Brucker said, he’s continuing to live his dream.
“The primary goal for me is to play music and for a living, and I’ve done it full time,” Brucker said, adding, “with a little help from my friends.”
Speaking of fun, Gruband’s Halloween show on Halloween will feature a costume contest in addition to the music, Gruben said. He won’t leak details about his costume. All Sather said is that he is ready.
And Brucker? He smiled mysteriously before speaking.
“I have about half of it,” Brucker said regarding his Halloween costume. “But I can’t tell.”
ˆIF YOU GO
WHAT: “Gruesome” Gruband’s Halloween Bash!
WHEN: 9 p.m. to midnight Oct. 31
WHERE: Gruben’s Uptown Tap, 24035 W. Lockport St., Plainfield
ETC: Costume contest