Our Odyssey

By John Erler, Fri., Sept. 25, 2009


Journey is about making dreams come true. I know this because in less than a year I went from closet Journey fan to lead singer and bassist for Odyssey, Travis County's premier Journey cover band.

In 2005, Caroline O'Connor and Elisabeth Sikes came to me with Odyssey. Neither knew how to play an instrument, but they loved Journey and wanted to have some fun. Caroline bought a drum kit, and Elisabeth bought a guitar. Their first "practices" were in Caroline's living room with a boom box, trying to imitate what they heard. Next they approached me. When two ladies with no musical experience ask you to join their Journey cover band, you really can't say no.

After months of practices, we learned the songs and how to make them our own. We changed the time signature of ballad "Open Arms" from 3/4 to 4/4 and turned it into a driving rocker. My rudimentary baritone somehow worked in place of Steve Perry's virtuosic countertenor. We recruited ringers: my sister Susannah played violin in place of keyboards, and trombonist Nick Smith (now of Foot Patrol) added talent and humor. He showed up to our Kiss-themed Halloween gig in face paint and a rented unitard – rented! – as the imaginary fifth member of Kiss, the Hawk.

In no time we got gigs: a few house parties, a couple of recitals at an Italian grill, and one junior high school prom. Then bigger game came our way: Hole in the Wall, Whisky Bar, Alamo Drafthouse, and the Blanton. People were now seeking us out for gigs. We opened for MiniKiss, a Kiss tribute band comprised entirely of little people. A year earlier we couldn't play our instruments, but by 2007 we were voted fourth best cover band in the Chronicle Music Poll. Our success was as improbable as Jonathan Cain's keyboard magically suspended on the wall in the video for "Separate Ways."

But things change, and people drift apart. We haven't played in more than a year now. Our moment in the sun disappeared like Steve Perry's mustache in the video for "Faithfully." I sometimes reflect on what people liked about us. Partly, it was the novelty of hearing Journey played slightly wrong and with a hint of irony. I also believe – and here's where things get corny – that Journey's songs have a quasi-magical power to bypass the cool defenses of the mind and go straight to the heart. I know this from watching people transform into teary-eyed, fist-pumping fools at the opening strains of "Don't Stop Believin'."

And I know this because that's the best explanation for why we got as far as we did on nothing but heart and drive.

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