CAPE COD – In early 2020, the world was going along as it seemingly always did when suddenly the whole system got a case of the jitters.
Things froze up. Things started up, then stopped again. It was worse. It was better, and then it was far worse. It was all so jittery.
In this chaotic atmosphere, a Cape Cod band was born. They were physically miles apart from each other, but they connected through the wonder of technology and the virtue of patience.
Meet The Jitters – Liam Hogg on drums and vocals, Rick Barry on guitar, and Paul Roberts on bass – three calm yet passionate musicians who were determined to make music during the pandemic despite dealing with a technology that at any time might get the jitters.
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Using an app called JamKazam – sort of like Zoom for musicians – the three began playing music together a year ago and have not stopped since.
“If it were not for the pandemic, none of us would have explored what this software has to offer,” said Roberts.
Three nights a week for the past year, Hogg in Harwich, Barry in Marston Mills, and Roberts in Plymouth, have hooked up to JamKazam and played music with each other live and mostly in-synch (when there are no jitters) over the internet as if they were in the same room.
“I can’t think of any musician that wants to play alone,” said Roberts. “For a while, this is as close as we could safely get.”
This story begins, as a lot of pandemic stories do, on Friday the 13th – March 13, 2020.
“My last gig was Friday the 13th,” said Hogg, who was already in several bands before The Jitters. That night, as word came that the state would be shutting down for two weeks to flatten the curve, Hogg recalled that while some bands were cancelling gigs, his band, Earth Junior, “decided if everything is going to shut down, we better play.” They played.
“After that,” said Hogg, “I stayed at home watching the news for two weeks.”
Meanwhile, Barry and Roberts, both of the band, Soul Purpose, had been playing a couple of nights a week up until the shut down.
Barry recalled a gig with another band he is in, Anna & The Moderns, shortly before the shutdown when the toilet paper shortage was big news so the band offered a 12-pack of toilet paper as a prize for a dance contest winner.
“It never occurred to me that I would not be in another room full of people [for more than a year and counting] when the lockdown happened,” said Barry.
And Roberts said, “When the pandemic hit, it was just going to be a few weeks and then [I expected] the world will wake back up.”
After a couple of weeks of quarantine, Hogg said, “I started to think, How am I going to play?”
Roberts said he soon realized, “I missed playing with people. I missed playing for people.”
Barry, who works from home, said, “My life didn’t change. I was just no longer playing music on weekends.” And, he said, between his two bands, he had so many gigs lined up for 2020 that it was supposed to be “the best year ever.” So there was disappointment on the business side.
He soon realized how much he missed the music for the sake of music part.
A couple of weeks into the shutdown, both Barry and Hogg, unbeknownst to each other, had remembered being introduced individually to the app with hardware, JamKazam, a few years earlier.
Barry and Hogg recalled thinking it was an interesting product. But neither had pursued it because practicing together in person is what musicians always did.
“My impression at the time was that this 400-dollar piece of hardware can’t possibly reduce lag with all the variables and every piece of wire between you and the other person,” said Barry. “So I just ignored it.”
Hogg thought it would be a way for musicians to practice together without having to travel. “I looked into it but I couldn’t get anybody else (in any of the bands he is in) on board,” he said.
When the pandemic hit, Barry was in Marstons Mills with his guitars and his computer. Hogg was in Harwich with his drums. They had rarely crossed paths, having met only once at a charity fundraiser that each was playing in a few years earlier.
Barry and Hogg had also talked by phone a few times. “He called me every once in a while when he needed a fill-in drummer,” said Hogg. Hogg never did fill in with any of Barry’s bands, because he was always already booked to play with one of his bands.
But they were connected on Facebook.
When Barry decided to try JamKazam, he put out a message on Facebook, and Hogg responded.
They each set up their connections and set out to play. They tried Be-Bop-A-Lula by Gene Vincent, and The Who’s version of Eddie Cochran’s song, “Summertime Blues.”
“It was not easy,” said Hogg of the first few tests using the software. “It was trial by fire.”
“It was weird, really quirky,” said Barry. “It was really laggy. It was slow, it was disconnecting.”
But they persisted.
A few weeks later, Roberts joined a session.
“It was originally haphazard. It slowly morphed into three nights a week,” said Roberts.
There were a lot of technical glitches – a JamKazam musical version of the well known Zoom game of, “Hello, hello, can you hear me?”
“In the beginning, we were on for three hours and we maybe got five songs played,” recalled Roberts.
“Or we’d play two songs and then one player would suddenly drop off. We’d sometimes have to turn it off and turn it back on again,” said Roberts.
“We live with jitter every day,” said Barry. “Jitter is the one thing that will fuck up your session.”
“A few nights it worked well,” said Roberts.
JamKazam, explained Roberts is “a browser extension. It integrates with the browser on your computer, which allows you to connect to JamKazam servers where you can then connect to other players.”
“The basic equipment needed is a computer and an audio interface, which is a small version of a mixing board,” said Roberts. “It takes the signal from the instrument, whatever instrument or microphone it is, and it feeds it into the computer,” he said.
When they first started playing together over the Internet, JamKazam was free, but much more jittery than now.
A Go Fund Me campaign was started and all three band members contributed so that the founders of the app could upgrade.
It was upgraded in January. It now has a monthly fee service but it works much better, report the band members.
“One individual will start a room called a jam,” he said. “You can make the room public or private.”
The Jitters usually make their room private and practice with just the three of them, but they have on occasion left it public.
“Rick and I have both played with Annie from Monreal and Tony from Brooklyn,” said Hogg. “We jam with them. It’s like we have another band.”
Although there can be jitter and sometimes they have to reboot, Barry said, “JamKazam is “an effective and functional tool for us…. It’s very useful for rehearsal.”
Although Hogg and Roberts are each in popular Cape bands, Roberts said that prior to joining JamKazam sessions, “I had never set eyes on nor heard about Liam.”
Hogg and Roberts, and their bands, traveled in different circles. Hogg is well-known on the Outer Cape, playing a lot of originals, rockabilly and obscure and not-so-obscure covers with Earth Junior, the Rip-It-Ups, and Sarah Swain & the Oh Boys! among others.
Soul Purpose, with Barry on guitar and Roberts on bass, is a popular cover band. Based in the mid-Cape and Upper Cape, Soul Purpose plays “dance music, yacht rock, and disco,” said Roberts.
Barry called Soul Purpose “blue-eyed soul, album-oriented rock.”
Barry also plays with plays with Anna & The Moderns, a pop group performing covers.
The point is, Hogg barely knew the other two Jitters before they began making music over the internet.
First, Hogg and Barry played together a few times with using the software. Then Barry asked Roberts to join.
“Me being a tech head, I said absolutely!,” recalled Roberts.
There remained glitches. “Those guys being very computer savvy pretty much helped me get all my stuff set up right,” said Hogg.
And they were off. Music was being made over a jittery internet connection.
“We’re all very patient,” said Hogg.
Early Beatles, 1970s disco, and a famous 1980 televised drum battle between Animal of the Muppets and Buddy Rich are some of the early musical influences of the members of the Jitters.
Briefly, here is more on each:
- Rick Barry, guitar
Barry would not reveal his age but described himself as “old enough that I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and I remember it.”
He was born in Patterson, New Jersey and grew up in Albany, New York, a place he described musically as “a suburb of New York.” This meant that bands that played in New York City soon enough found their way to Albany, he said.
He began playing music because his best friend, at 13 years old, started playing guitar. He bought a cheap Japanese guitar and solid state amp “that sounded terrible,” he said. His musical journey had begun.
His first gig ever was at a high school talent show, just as he and his friends were learning to play. “A DJ was giving away stuff. Singles, 45s. When we played, people were beaning us with 45s. We sucked.”
Afterward, his band stuffed themselves and their equipment into a big Buick Electra and talked about whether to continue. They did. “It was the punk ethic. We were doing what we love,” said Barry.
He also got a lot better at playing guitar.
He played with several bands with varying levels of success and band drama in the Albany area. He also worked towards undergraduate and graduate degrees to pursue a career in technology with the idea being that he could also live a life dedicated to music.
Eventually he moved to Boston because bands were breaking out of Boston. He immersed himself in that scene as well as his technology career, and then moved to Cape Cod to be involved in a startup.
While his technology career in tech startups was thriving, he connected into the Cape music scene through a series of events revolving around and through a service call for his car and an open mic where he met many musicians he is still friends with now.
Barry played with several Cape bands and musicians over the years, including with Jake Bautista, who Cape Cod Wave profiled making a song at Jon Evans Brick Hill Studio in Orleans. He still plays with Soul Purpose and Anna & The Moderns, besides The Jitters.
For his day job, Barry is a cyber security architect.
- Paul Roberts, bass
Roberts, 55, was born in Queens, New York and went to school there through 8th grade. His family had vacationed on the Cape and moved to Hyannis when he started high school.
“I was absolutely into music,” he said. “Coming from New York in the late 70s, disco, that whole vibe was going on.”
When Roberts moved to the Cape, he quickly discovered, “disco was definitely not a thing here.”
When he started at Barnstable High School, he began to play guitar, and then bass. “My main goal was to find people to fit in with,” he said of why he started to play music.
Roberts began getting into bands, “at least ten over the years, and some of those the band members changed over time. I can’t hardly remember the names of the bands.”
He was in blues bands, rock bands, and classic rock bands. “One of my big goals was to expand my horizons. I didn’t want to be typecast as I only play the blues, or I only play rock,” he said.
“Soul Purpose is the first band I’ve been in that had the ability to do dance music,” he said. “My love of disco goes back to my roots in New York.”
Also, said Roberts, “Soul Purpose is the first band I’ve been in that lasted more than two years,” he said.
For his day job, Roberts runs a runs a printing company in Sandwich.
- Liam Hogg, drums & vocals
Hogg, 49, said, “I was born in a turnip field.”
Sarah Swain has often said on stage of her drummer that he “grew up on the mean streets of Eastham.”
His first instrument, in fifth grade, was trumpet because a new music teacher at his school played the trumpet. “But I didn’t take to trumpet,” said Hogg.
Then one night, “Buddy Rich was on the Muppet Show. He had a drum battle with Animal,” said Hogg.
“That was the kicker for me. That was the coolest thing I ever saw. I saw that and I said, I’m doing that.” recalled Hogg. “Animal was my favorite muppet anyway,” he said.
He took up drums and stuck with it, playing with school bands as well as talent shows with friends.
As for his early musical tastes, Hogg said, “I was a hair metal guy when I was younger… I kind of got into that whole harder rock stuff.”
He began playing out with bands on his 16th birthday when his older brother snuck him in to a place to see a band. When the band took a break, the drummer, a friend of Liam’s brother, asked if Liam wanted to play a song. “The crowd went wild,” said Hogg.
“I quickly became addicted to the crowd going nuts,” he said. “It makes you want to do it again.” For the next few years, he was introduced on stage as “16-year-old drummer, LIam Hogg,” he recalled.
Hogg played drums in a punk band, and a political grunge rock band playing for “all those kids running around with flannel shirts wrapped around their waists, wearing big boots,” said Hogg.
He started playing with Earth Junior, and then he discovered rockabilly. Shortly afterward, one friend of his wanted to start a surf band and Hogg said, “No you don’t. You want to join a rockabilly band… I became completely obsessed with anything rockabilly.”
His first rockabilly band no longer exists but Sarah Swain and the Oh Boys! play a lot of rockabilly, helping to satisfy that musical itch.
Hogg is also in the Rip It Ups, a five-piece band that plays originals and covers. They may be best known for playing every October in front of thousands, usually with a stage full of guest musicians, at the Wellfleet Oysterfest.
For his day job, Hogg works in construction.
The first time The Jitters were seen on Cape Cod was when they contributed to an “Old Cape Cod” medley of Cape musicians, and later they played virtually, from the Cape Cod Media Center, for the Woods Hole Film Festival.
The band also played a couple of gigs in person. There was a socially-distanced automobile audience from the huge stage at the Falmouth Drive-In as well as a gig at Cape Cod Beer.
But unlike other bands the three members of the Jitters belong to, the primary point of this band is not to get paying gigs. There were no paying gigs when they formed.
The point is, to play music.
Three nights a week, they connect, make jokes and banter about song choices, and then they play.
“The style of music we play is all over the place,” said Roberts. There is some British rock, early ZZ Top “when they were still a blues band,” NRBQ, the Kinks, the Foo Fighters and more, make up their growing song list, he said.
“Hardly any of it is danceable,” said Hogg. “It’s more of a listening band, I think.”
Essentially, the Jitters play what they want to play. All three have to want to play it. They take turns picking songs. “We play nothing but covers but nobody knows any of the songs,” he said of the songs and audience reactions.
Barry said that “each of us are players in commercial bands where it’s music for the sake of gigs and money. So we absolutely are commercial musicians. Tradesmen… But this one just came out different.”
When gigs stopped, the importance of playing music became maybe more important. “This is who I am,” said Barry. “It’s not what I do. It’s who I am… I want to play music until the world doesn’t let me play anymore.”
And Hogg has spread the word about JamKazam to his other bands, while playing online whenever he can with whoever he can.
“I love it,” said Hogg. “I just can’t wait to get home at night and get downstairs and play music.”
Hear a song by The Jitters, “My Baby Likes To Boogaloo,” written in 1966 by Don Gardner.
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