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5-1-Tunes: Eleven Fingered Charlie

By Jane Claire Hervey

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          The Band: Eleven Fingered Charlie

          Genre: Reggae/rock

          Check Out: “Reap What You Sow”

          Similar sound: Sublime

Damron (front left) and Fletch (back right)

Damron (front left) and Fletch (back right)

Reggae music drifts almost inaudibly through the sleepy neighborhood. Listening close enough, a bass, drums, vocals and electric guitar can be picked out through the blend of reverberations coming from the house on the corner of the street — the house Eleven Fingered Charlie uses for their weekly, three-hour rehearsals.

“We always practice on Tuesday,” lead singer Travis Damron says.

“Unless it’s Wednesday,” adds Justin Fletcher, or Fletch, the red-headed bassist with a tattoo sleeve and “MOM” permanently written within a heart on the back of his right calf.

The drummer, Darren Debree, sits behind a wall of cymbals and percussion heads, peeking his head out from behind his set-up every once and a while to chime in to the guys’ conversation. Together, Damron, Fletch and Debree fill the living room with sound.

“Except we’re missing Rodney,” Damron says. “He plays the keyboard and the sax. He’s like our melodic glue. Right, Darren?”

Darren nods his head. The band decides to pick up where they left off, continuing their way down the list of songs for their next show’s set.

Debree on the drums

Debree on the drums

Eleven Fingered Charlie, or EFC to those familiar with the group, formed in Damron’s apartment during his days in college at Texas State. From what was originally just a hobby for Damron and his roommate, EFC quickly evolved into its current four-person ensemble, as they played local gigs and took on new members.

“Everyone used to party in college, but we weren’t really into that,” Damron explains. “We just liked to jam.”

Now located in Austin, the band has opened for reggae legends like Sublime, Slightly Stoopid and Pepper. They even performed at President Barack Obama’s political rally in San Marcos in 2007.

Two years before the rally, the band released its first album “Eleven Fingered Charlie.” Since then, the band has released two more albums (“Never the Same” in 2007 and “Patterns” in 2010). All of the albums feature completely original material.

“I start with the music, and then I get into the words,” Damron says. “It’s like verbal diarrhea at first, but the timing is key and the rhyming is key.”

Although all in their 30s and married with children, or settled down with a lady friend and a dog (which Fletch calls the “typical Austin three-piece”), the band managed to go on a tour through Colorado and the west coast in 2010. From losing their equipment trailer on a mountain to eating a homemade beef dinner with the rapper Coolio when they opened for his show, the band survived their tour on the road with the help of “tuna and crackers,” Fletch says.

For Damron, who listened to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” as a kid in junior high, meeting celebrities and some of his inspirations has been one of the weirdest things about being in a band. However, he chalks up one of the strangest experiences in his music career to a group of audience members.

Rodney Howell, the keyboardist and saxophonist

Rodney Howell, the keyboardist and saxophonist

“This group of people just came on in,” he says. “Their eyes were like teacups, and they were just stretching. They stretched for an hour on the floor doing toe touches. And the show was small that night, too, so it just made things more awkward.”

The band currently doesn’t have any tours on the horizon, but if they did, they say they would want to play with bands like Passafire and The Expendables. For now, they regularly play shows in various venues around town. Each member has his day job, and Fletch says that’s what makes the band “cool.”

“This is not a business for us,” Fletch explains. “If it were, we’d be really different.”

Despite all of the shows they’ve played, the celebrities they’ve met and the superstar headliners they’ve opened for, the band stays humble, Damron says.

“It’s not about playing the shows,” Damron emphasizes. “It’s about playing the music.”

Eleven Fingered Charlie will be playing a show at 10 p.m. at Third Base Sports Bar on Friday.

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