The Dogs Way

7 Ball May/June 1996

The Dogs Way

7 Ball May/June 1996

by J. Peter Roth

"We gotta keep this coffee coming, man." Gene Eugeue has been up since 5 am so he could make an 8 o'clock show at a small university in the middle of the northeast Indiana cornfields.

The four Lost Dogs sit down and work out their song list before Mike Roe goes out to warm the crowd up with a solo acoustic set. Eugene, Terry Taylor and Derri Daugherty throw out ideas while Roe strings up his guitar.

So far, they've scribbled down the song titles "You Gotta Move," "Scenic Routes," and "Built for Glory" on a piece of crumpled notebook paper. Eugene suggests "Bad Indigestion," to "wake 'em up," perhaps followed by one of Roe's "famous blues numbers."

Eugene, his trademark baseball cap missing and Green Day-esque bleach job in its stead, goes over the partial list scratched in front of him and checks the time-length of each song. He stops a minute. "I'll play 'Built for Glory' as long as we don't play it too slow... please don't play it too slow... Mike."

"I'd rather not rush it," Roe retorts blandly.

Though the mood is light and the brotherly sarcasm flows as freely as the coffee, they consider the song style, the key the song is in and who wrote the song, as they carefully direct the set into what will seem a nearly effortless experience for the crowd - an experience come to be known as The Dogs' Way.

"We have this thing called 'The Dogs' Way,'" Roe later explains. "We go in there and it's sloppy, you know, you just kind of throw it together. The songs are thrown together. Everything about it just kind of... casual and fun, without being half-baked, you know what I mean?"

Eugene, Taylor and Daugherty continue on the list, often digressing to less pressing topics, while Roe moves about the room.

Roe speaks up as he sorts through a bag of equipment and expressing his disapproval of the form the set is taking. "It's always the same thing," he says. He suggests the "strong beginning, introspective middle, and strong finish." approach, or perhaps the "Paul McCartney plateau." to the set.

"I like the Petra approach," the long quiet Daugherty says, "where you bore 'em through the whole thing."

While Roe goes off to the side to warm his pipes and fingers up a little, the reamining Dogs hammer out the rest of the list and try to figure out how long Roe will play. Daugherty asks, "Mike, you using any tracks tonight?"

"Yeah, I'll throw out tracts.... Holy Joe, You Goofed, Bernardo."

Soon a set of about 25 songs is listed.

Meanwhile, Roe is giving a college kid with a goatee and gray beret last minute instructions on how to do the introduction: "OK, do it like this," he says, "Ladies and gentlemen'... then pause, then pause... "the only man on stage..."

The kid follows his instructions, which is followed by a rousing, collective hoot from the audience of close to 200.

After the show: It's about 10:30 now, and the Dogs are rooting through containers of stale pretzels and snack mixes. Most decide to pass, except for Roe.

"It was a little rough," Daugherty assesses of the show that night.

The stage was small and atomosphere relaxed, leaving a feeling much like an MTV Unplugged special. Mostly quiet during the songs, followed by a wave of what seems almost neighborly gratitude after each one. Only this show has a little more than the usual interaction between band and audience.

"Sorry, we're used to playing the big rooms," Eugene says at the out-set, apologizing for some minor technical problems. At one point of the set, Roe's strap came off his guitar. Later, he sang the wrong verse. At one time or another, each Dog laughed at another for missing his cue.

The four performed a bare bones set. Four guitars. No drums or bass. Daugherty and Taylor strummed their accoustics, Eugene was on a quite electric while Roe took care of percussion, bass riffs and lead guitar on his Fender. When you remember that he's also the opening act, Roe clearly carries quite a bit of the show.

"It's much harder for me," Roe says. "They're all just kind of strumming and singing, and I have to do all this... stuff. It's very hard to do." He far prefers those gigs where the Lost Dogs play with a full band.

Actually, Roe and the rest of the Dogs don't seem to think much of what would seem a lopsided load of responsibility or share of the spotlight. "Everybody has their own rhythm," Taylor explains. "Everybody has their way of working." The experienced veteran is the most laid-back of the bunch. His quiet growl of voice has a mildly cynical, sober tone.

The Dogs' Way slowly defined the roles of each member over time, and has slowly won a special place in each member's heart. In hindsight, none of the Dogs were sure if the original project would actually fly or not. Most of the members knew each other fairly well and decided to get together to make a collection of mainly gospel standards and began to evolve from there. When the four - whose regular gigs include the 77s, Adam Again, Daniel Amos, Swirling Eddies and the Choir, as well as production help with several up-and-coming young bands - finally gathered at Eugene's Greenroom studio, each member had brought some prewritten music. Roe brought a sketch of a blues song; Taylor brought four or five finished songs; Eugene had complete songs without lyrics; and Daugherty brought some ideas for a few numbers.

Roe, whome Daugherty pegs the "most skeptical" of the four, was somewhat surprised at the quality of the music that came from the partnership. The rest were inspired to polish their unfinished pieces, many times collaborating on lyrics and music. "A couple of times we'd just sit around with a piece of paper, and we each just wrote down lines," Daugherty says.

This was all done in the back room of the studio. Instead of the all-business walks of the studio, the back room's fireplace, coffee machine and circle of couches and chairs provided the atmosphere for the album. One of the members would bring in a song, each member would learn his part, and an hour or so later the four guitar parts and the basic vocal tracks were laid with guitar, drums and other assorted instruments to be added later.

"Because everything gelled so quickly - there weren't any ego conflicts, we knew how to handle each other's idiosyncrasies and adjust to one another so quickly - it was such a kick. The songs just starting taking on a life of their own," Taylor says.

Daugherty explains the success of the Dogs is because of a special outlet of friendship, accountability and music the group provides for each member. "We all have certain things musically that we like that aren't necessarily appropriate for our bands. It's not the kind of pressure that you have when you're doing your own band thing. In this instance, you can kind of lean on everybody else. I can say, 'Hey, Terry, here's a melody, what do you think?'"

"It's pretty much a four-headed thing," Eugene says. Taylor calls their way "pretty much a back-to-the-roots kind of thing."

As the Lost Dogs prepare for a month long tour this spring, which Taylor says he hasn't done in years, the camaraderie will be especially important. The tour and their new album, Green Room Serenade, will surface sometime in May. Though perhaps a bit rockier, Eugene says the upcoming release will fit right in with the personality found on the first two Dogs albums. And though about two years have gone by since the making of their last record, Red Riding Hood, the same Dogs' philosophy is still present.

"You could almost take one day out of any of the records and plug it into another record and there are similar things going on," Eugene says.

Maybe that consistency is what keeps four musicians - who have separately made names for themselves - writing, recording and touring as a group. The Dogs' Way has a quality that transcends the ages of its members and allows enough room for four stars to explode.