Celebrating a milestone that few local bands ever reach, Dog Talk will mark its 10th anniversary this weekend with two special commemorative shows.
After appearing on Channel 8's Daybreak on Friday morning, Dog Talk will play from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. on both Friday and Saturday at Mickey's Irish Pub, 13644 N. Meridian St.
Dog Talk has been one of the most successful and original bands in its decade of experience. They are as comfortable swinging to a jazz song as they are playing reggae or island music.
They've played thousands of gigs, ranging from cramped, smoky bars to vast outdoor festivals.
"We still get the same kick when we jam together," says founding member Michael Beck. "Because we have so much trust in each other, if somebody wants to take the music somewhere else, they can."
Ironically, the band came together as a fluke. Percussionist Beck had submitted a solo audition tape to the Rock The Ripple festival and needed a backing band. "It was off the wall, wacky stuff," he said. "It was so different that I didn't think it would get chosen. When it did, it was, 'Whoops! Time to put a band together.' At that point, there were only a couple of people I thought could cut this material. One of them was [singer] Cliff White.
"Once we had the core band put together, we played Rock The Ripple and it was a friggin' nightmare. The sound guys were freaking out. But by the time we were done, a buzz was creating because it was so different."
After that gig, Dog Talk was born. In its first formation, they quickly developed an audience for its jamming, neo-reggae, world beat sound. "We started off playing nickel-and-dime dates, like any band starting up. But we got a buzz going for being different, unique and fun."
Beck added, "The original premise of the band was to start something that was positive, fun and happy. I was really tired of all of the depressing, negative bands around that time. Everyone was complaining and bitching. I wasn't in that space, so I wanted to create something that was up."
After bassist Jim Litchfield and guitarist Bill Lancton joined the group in 1994, Dog Talk's lineup has been remarkably stable, with the only change being the addition of keyboardist Kenny Kipp in 1999.
The band is largely comprised of veteran musicians in their 40s and early 50s, something not usually seen in local rock bands. "I get people coming up to me at clubs who ask me what I do for a living besides this," Lancton said. "They look surprised when I tell them that this is it."
Beck was a member of Happy The Man, a cult band which signed to Arista Records and gained some national fame in the 1970s before disintegrating. That unhappy experience led him to promise himself he'd run a successful and highly professional band.
They signed with a local entertainment attorney many years ago, once the band started grossing more than $100,000 each year. Now, each of the band members owns homes and supports their families from just the music - another local rarity.
Dog Talk began its career as an all-original band playing only nightclubs. "Suddenly we got hired to play a big corporate event," Lancton said. "We were then playing the Indiana Roof Ballroom, but we didn't change what we were doing. We got into this thing where we could play wedding and corporate events and come back and play the Patio."Lancton estimates as much as 65 percent of Dog Talk's income now comes from playing corporate shows, a testament to the band's ability to adapt to different situations. "We can cover all the territory," Beck said. "We can play concerts or be a party band. Our musicianship is that versatile." "We used to win Best Reggae Band every year in NUVO's Readers Poll," Lancton said. "That was a joke to us, because we weren't really a reggae band." "We do reggae, but we're far from a reggae band," Beck said.
Lately, Dog Talk has been gaining recognition as a jam band. "A lot of our stuff is open-ended, where we start off with a percussion jam and then lead into something else," Lancton said.
"We're reaching a 20-something crowd that's really into the jam band thing," Lancton added. "To them, we're kind of like the local Grateful Dead. The kids are looking at us like we're the originals."
Beck described the band's sound as a "funky Latin, New Orleans, jazz, reggae band. We can play jazz festivals as well as Mickey's Irish Pub. It's that diversity of what we naturally do that has been a key factor in our longevity. A jazz player can't play at the Patio. We've just kind of lucked out in that all of the influences each of us brings to the table has meshed into one diverse sound."
However, being so wide-ranging in their sound has also caused some confusion about the band. Radio stations couldn't pigeonhole the group, and some purists don't like them playing jazz clubs.
"Because we all write and we all have different styles, our CDs run the gamut," Lancton said. "Our goal is to have a CD that's more cohesive, in that a Caribbean pop tune is followed by a hard-core jazz song."
Another unique aspect to Dog Talk is the way in which the band is run. Instead of living from gig to gig, band members receive a base salary all year long.
"We've established a very nice in-house business," Beck said. "Everything we do is with our wives, friends, people we trust. We became a corporation a long time ago. We pay salaries and use a payroll company. We're run like a corporation so that when we're playing tripleheader gigs all summer, it provides for the lean times during the winter."
The band also owns its own PA system, has employed the same roadies for many years and is self-sufficient in other ways as well. They pride themselves on being able to play in any situation.
They've avoided the usual band squabbles over money and management by working collectively, but they also attribute their intergroup harmony to maturity.
"We are older, so we have been around," Beck said. "A lot of us have been on record labels and have been in and out of certain situations where you learn a lot really fast. Also, we're not going for the big record deal. If that were to happen, great. But we just love what we do. We're all friends and respect each other and what we do. There are very few if any arguments."
Beck attributed Dog Talk's enduring popularity to the band's good chemistry and realistic expectations. "I think a lot of groups put undue pressure on themselves. The fact is that you can make a living in music if you approach it properly. And you can make a comfortable living.
"And everyone in the band contributes something and is equal, whether it's in music or business. No one's feeling left out."
"Once we get on stage, it's just a lot of fun and we enjoy playing together," Lancton said. "Everyone trusts each other. And there's a realization that everyone has a role in the band."
"There are no ego problems in the band," Beck said. "We don't have any 'my way' attitudes."
Dog Talk takes pride in its professionalism, which they think has contributed greatly to its success. Beck advised other musicians to treat music "like any other job. Be on time, be nice, just common sense things. We do what we say we're going to do. If we say we're going to be there at a certain time, we are. We do what we're expected to do."
Other advice these veterans have for younger musicians: "Don't expect things too fast," Lancton said. "I think a lot of young bands get together and they don't have a recording contract very quickly, they get frustrated and break up. It took us two years to really create a buzz to where we were making a full-time living."