Written By: Brian Wolff
It was a warm October night in Austin, Texas and I was a lost dog in a brand new city. I had a couple of friends I ran around the music scene with in college who had moved down here from New York, and they ran an open mic downtown at a place called Firehouse. I was a big fish in a small pond in my hometown, feeling pretty confident and sure of myself. In Austin, I was a stranger. I made a quick realization: Austin was a brand new world and I was just an average Joe at this OPEN MIC. What the hell!? In my mind, open mics were always the place people would go to express themselves if they couldn’t find other stages to do it. But this place was different. This was a room full of hungry musicians (probably literally and figuratively) who were trying to find other players and trying to find a place in this crazy music scene. Here I was in awe of everyone around me, and it was then I realized- I was middle of the pack here on my best day.
Then, at the end of the night, the one and only Derik Kroeze hit the stage. I had no idea who he was. My eyes and ears lit up entirely as soon as he hit his first chord. Here was this guy with a guitar playing stuff like Bob Dylan and Neil Young and even some original songs he’d written that were in the same vein, and he was going absolutely nuts. Derik was stomping on the stage and doing that Kroeze growl that we’ve all come to know and love. He was generating this insane amount of energy on stage that I’d never seen before and he was just by himself. While I respect anybody who has that sort of energy and passion for music, here was a guy who was doing that and sounding incredible in doing so. I knew at that moment I’d have to try to at least talk to him. Over time we discovered that we liked, and grew up on, many of the same bands. We both loved baseball, and most of all, we shared a burning desire to write and perform great music in the “Live Music Capital of the World”. I had a new friend and it was awesome. There is nothing like a new friend to make you feel less like a stranger in an unfamiliar scene. We were both pretty drunk on a particular night at that particular place. If you know us, that probably isn’t a huge surprise. We were catching up, as usual, on progress in getting solo gigs navigating the scene. Then it hit us- we had to start a band together.
His girlfriend, now wife, and my girlfriend at the time went on a trip to a winery together as a girls’ day out. No boys allowed. Derik had a regular standing Saturday gig at a place on dirty 6th street called Bat Bar. Derik asked me, the morning of, if I wanted to join him for his 3-hour gig, knowing I probably didn’t have much going on that day. Having never performed or even practiced together, I was skeptical and nervous. But I didn’t come to Austin, TX to not take chances. So here we were on stage figuring out what songs we both knew on the fly, and if one of us didn’t know it, we taught it to each other on the fly. It was something special. I had some experience playing at this place and had never really noticed many people in there during the day, no matter what sort of band was on stage. Maybe the stars lined up just right, but by the time we were halfway through the set- damn- we had a packed house. Even though we were being master bullshitters on stage, people were loving it. After that, we knew it was going to work. We started doing duo shows around town, occasionally with the goal in mind of starting a real rock and roll band. We just had to find the other players.
We had a bass player, Kyle McIntyre, and a drummer, Colter Lutz, down to join up with us and try a show or two. To do so we needed a name. At the time, Stray Eagle was the best name we could come up with. So, for no good reason, we called it Stray Eagle. We booked our first and only show at Red Eyed Fly. Kyle had to move away before the first show! So, we were down a bass player. Luckily, another guy I’d met, Daniel Corder, was a great player that was up for filling in. We stumbled our way through a 45-minute set of mostly original music. I can remember playing “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads. It was a blast. We had a great time. We just didn’t really gel that much as a group. We could feel that it wasn’t right at the time. Derik was starting to sing with his future wife, Jessica, at his gigs under the name Regal Dreamers and I had joined a 6th street cover band called Hollie and the Hype. We just sort of decided to put Stray Eagle on the back burner. Maybe we’d come back to it someday… maybe we wouldn’t. It was fun while it lasted.
Here I was, playing in a band on 6th street, in addition to the bazillion solo gigs I had going. It was good for a while, and man did that band have incredible talent through and through. I knew before long that it wasn’t going to be a permanent band. I just wasn’t passionate about it. The extra money was nice and the practice on stage with a band was important. Also, learning how to be second fiddle in a band helped me in a lot of ways. I knew I wanted to start an original rock and roll band though. That had to happen. So I gave the band a 6- month notice that at the end of the year I’d be leaving and pursuing my vision of a rock and roll band. Brett Winning was the bass player of The Hype and he told me right then and there that he was 100% in on board with whatever I wanted to do. Since then, he’s been my right hand man in so many ways. Joe Valadez was the drummer and he was unsure at the time of his future as he was about to graduate college. So I told Brett about Derik and it had begun. We all got together and started writing. Stray Eagle was to RISE FROM THE ASHES. Only, we all agreed that name was terrible.
We found a drummer named, Brittney Flippo, and the band Fair City Fire was complete. We worked very hard to get a set together of original rock and roll songs that we could be proud of and did our first show at Stompin Grounds. It went over extremely well. It seemed like every friend I made in Austin up til that day came out to support. The energy in the room was electric. Time went by and it seemed Brittney wasn’t the best fit for the band. We talked to Joe and he was chomping at the bit to join. So, then we had a solid lineup that wouldn’t change again for over 2 years.
Through hard work and steadfast belief… we were able to do amazing things in our 2 and a half years as a band with Derik. An EP, a full length album, 2 national tours, multiple shows at a dream venue called Stubbs and so much more. They’ve been the best years of my musical life by a million miles. We’ve gotten so much support from everywhere. We can’t thank you enough. Derik will be leaving the band after our last show with him December 15th… for nothing but perfectly good reasons. While I want to be sad and that is my instinct. I’m just so happy and so proud to have gotten to be in the kind of band I always dreamed of being in since I was little when I fell in love with music.
We are unsure where we’re headed as a band, but I know for sure, things will never be the same without Derik Smash destroying every stage we hit. Cheers to Derik and cheers to the future for all of us.