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Worcester’s Cosmic Slim Delivers Eclectic Jams

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Photo courtesy of Rob Colclaser Photography

The members of the memorably named Cosmic Slim and His Intergalactic Plowboys admit they are getting rather advanced in age, but this fact of life, that we all must encounter someday, has not vanquished their life-long love of music.

In fact, by all accounts, time has only made it more potent. They still have an unending passion, as their motto states, for "touring the cosmos for your listening pleasure."

They describe their brand of music as eclectic, and there is truly something for everyone. Ultimately, the band plays what they personally find interesting and fun, and that can become pretty much anything. For this reason, they joke, "one thing is for sure, we aren't in it for the big bucks."

"Some us come from Folk, Country, Jug-Band, and old-fashioned Rock 'n Roll. And sometimes we'll just jam away on some Grateful Dead stuff," says the band.

"Our varying backgrounds are what's behind our sound. It's not only that our playlist is eclectic -- the elements within a tune grow that way too."

"For example," they continue, "in an old jug-bandy kind of song, which are usually pretty straightforward harmonically, the jazz guy will occasionally throw in some of those 'ambiguous' chord voicings. Or we'll be doing an old boogie-woogie kind of thing, and suddenly you're hearing a finger-picked electric guitar, or a bass line that feels more like a Texas Shuffle. And imagine the thrill of doing a sweet old Blues Ballad, when the Pedal Steel speaks up!"

The Pedal Steel player is Tim Bowles, who indeed has a "long and glorious history" around the Worcester music scene. He has been a member of such local acts as The Trailers, Prudence and the Plowboys, the Prairie Oysters, and Dave Pike's Good Old Boys. Two other members of the band are legends of the Worcester rock n' roll scene as well, Rick McCarthy on drums and the newest member Phil Nigro on guitar.

The rest of the band consists of the three friends who met while attending Clark University back in the late 60s. Guitarist Rick Levine, bassist Bill Fisher and keyboardist Sten Gustavson played together in college before going their separate ways. Rick and Bill went on to help form the Prairie Dogs, while Sten moved to Arizona. Despite the distance, they stayed in touch.

"We've reconvened off and on since then, and this 'Slim' thing happened."

This "Slim" thing happened in a perfectly ordinary fashion. Once again, the common story of a bunch of guys coming together out of a unitary desire to play fun music.

"You need to know that this whole thing started out as just a weekly jam. Yes, we always intended to bring it out, but basically this is about us having fun doing tunes we find interesting," they said.

As a young and quite unique creation with a non-traditional sound, they will play basically anywhere that will have them.

"We'd like to find that mix of fun and dancing rooms and 'listening' rooms. Something like a coffeehouse that would be happy with a 6-piece, all-electric-except-for-the-drums eclecto-improvisatory experiment that's always riding the line between art and a trainwreck!" they joke.

As of now, they have some dates planned at Holden's Blue Plate Lounge and a few private parties.

For those residents of the cosmos lucky enough to experience a performance by thw band, they can succumb to any number of possible emotions. Which one of the musical genres from their wide repertoire the band chooses to play depends on the context and setting in which they are placed.

"We do some tunes which are simply fun -- people out in a bar will dance and enjoy themselves," they said. "But then there are other things we do which are more for listening. We hope people enjoy them, but 'fun' would probably not be the right descriptor. These are the things you might more commonly hear in a coffeehouse or lounge setting."

But no matter what they choose to perform on a given night, they recognize the one important quality that unites all music, that truly makes music an art form in every sense of the word, i.e., its ability to stir special, potent feelings in both the listener and the musician, feelings that really can't be created by any other type of event.

"It's a fascinating exercise on a personal level. You're trying to bring technical skills to create or recreate an emotional event. We've been playing around with the idea for a long time now, and we still find ourselves asking 'How can that possibly work?' But it does. It's the almost magical part of artistic endeavors."

The band's music can be seen as purely improvisational, almost chaotic. They don't even consider any one individual a traditional 'frontman.' In other words, they are a 'band of sidemen.' But it is an organized and welcoming chaos that they bring to the music world, and after all, can't all music (and indeed the cosmos) ultimately be described in such a way?

"In a group context, the teamwork aspect is a thrilling kind of challenge. Our stuff is pretty improvisatory, but even when you're playing a tight arrangement, you're constantly listening and adjusting to what's going on. Lots of practice and repetitions make it more predictable, but you never quite lose that constant, unspoken sort of dialogue that's going on underneath the song," they explain in terms all true musicians can understand.

The band has no plans to record in the near future, but that's okay with them.

"Some of us are old guys. We'll be happy just to keep on playing, and if an audience can find some pleasure, satisfaction or peace from what we do, we'll be proud to have been part of that."

But that does mean they aren't ruling out the opportunity to record in the future. In fact, they would welcome the challenge.

"I'd like to try recording some of our stuff. Studio work is so very different from stage work. In some ways, it's more demanding. But you have the chance to mold a performance to a higher level than you'll usually be able to on stage," says Sten.

The most essential thing to them is that they continue to love to play together and support each other in the process, making sure they don't let egos get in the way. It has been remarked that they, despite their improvisational nature, are always able to "share the stage" well. These are things that sound simple, but the lack of proper cohesion and unchecked egos have been the death of many a band. As long as all continues to go well, these guys will be bringing their eclectic brand of music to the galaxy for a long time coming. 

Find Cosmic Slim and his Intergalactic Plowboys on Facebook.


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