The 4 Man String Band makes the show last
The 4 Man String Band may seem new to the local Atlanta music scene, but that doesn’t mean they’re a rookie group. The four members are local boys who have completed their daily work, and together they have over 198 years of musical experience.
The first time the four – George Eckard, Clark Brown, John Miller and Charles Absher – got together for training was in January 2019. Their first live performance was a month later at the Intown Coffeehouse. âWe really love playing together, and I think our fans can see that in our music,â Brown said.
While continuing to perform, the band members kept a sense of humor about the project. âOur fan base is mostly friends and family, as well as members of the Central DeKalb Senior Center, where I think we’re the ‘official’ home group,â Absher said.
This may be in part because band members can relate to their audience at the center. Eckard is 70 years old. Brown, Miller and Absher are 68 years old. âI think it’s important to note that I’m the youngest in the group,â Absher said. “I’m not sure the other band members appreciate my pointing this out.”
âWe think he’s young, but he’s promising,â Eckard said.
Meet the group
Eckard, who lives in Decatur, plays guitar, harmonica, banjo and mandolin. He has lived in the Atlanta area since the age of 11, when his parents moved the family from Baltimore in 1962. âI have played music all my life, and now that I am retired, it is ‘this is how I spend my time,’ mentioned.
Eckard played guitar in a rock ‘n roll dance group in high school and did a few solo singer / songwriter performances in college. After obtaining his business degree from UGA, he worked in the field of information technology (IT). âFrom 1985 until my retirement in 2017, I worked for a financial services company, Primerica, doing various IT related activities,â he said. âIt was a great career. I went from punch cards to the Internet.
In the late 90s, Eckard got together with a group of friends to play music in society; after a while they started performing under the name The Unusual Suspects. He said that was when his interest in songwriting was renewed. âI’ve made quite a bit of money as a musician over the years,â he said, âbut I realized early on that the benefits and the pension plan were a bit meager. For me, playing music is a great and enjoyable retirement activity.
Brown contributes mandolin, guitar and tambourine on foot. Until recently he lived in Brookhaven, but is now originally from Adairsville. He was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and brought to the Atlanta area at the age of six months, after “my father got his first real job at Lockheed, where he worked the rest of his life. Brown said.
For most of his working years Brown worked in the printing industry. He started playing guitar in 1966, he said, and his first gig was a graduation party at Decatur in 1968. He picked up the mandolin around 1975.
âI’ve played in a group my whole life,â said Brown. “I’ve been playing for a bit of a living for the past ten years or so.” He added that it was the most organized group he had been in. “We just play for fun because we love to entertain people, and in turn, that entertains us.”
Miller and Absher, from Decatur and Avondale Estates respectively, add their guitar skills to complete the group.
Miller started playing guitar around the age of 11 in his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, “So I’ve been playing for over 50 years,” he said. But he really started after his retirement in 2010.
In 1970 Miller moved to Atlanta to study engineering at Georgia Tech. âJane and I got married in 1973 and we’ve lived here pretty much since, except for a dozen years in northern Virginia,â he said. “We came back after retirement because our grandson is here.”
Miller worked as a civil engineer. âMy day jobs included 30 years of federal service, which consisted of construction inspections on hydroelectric projects for eight years and 22 years leading various inspection programs for multi-family dwellings,â he said. He also had 30 years of service in the US Navy, primarily in the Seabees Reserve. âAll of this tended to hamper my musical progress,â Miller said.
Absher, born in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, moved with his family to East Point when he was only three months old. They settled in DeKalb County in 1966, when Absher was in his first year in high school, and has lived there practically ever since. Absher worked as a civil engineer for 30 years. Prior to that he worked in industries related to construction. âBefore that, I tried music for a living,â he said.
âI played in The Bluegrass Band in high school and in my late teens,â he said. âWe were Lick Skillet’s bluegrass band at Six Flags for three years and performed on a Crystal Pistol (Pistol Packers on Parade) show for a year. However, we couldn’t keep the group together after high school.
In his early twenties, he said, he performed in several bluegrass, country, and folk / rock groups – Corporate Square and the New Deal String Band in Underground Atlanta, and the Saturday Session at the Chelsea Pub in Powers Ferry Landing. . âI made a weak attempt at touring, but it never worked,â Absher said. “Once I met my wife and we started having kids, playing music was not a very stable profession, so I hadn’t played professionally for many, many years.”
He took a musical hiatus for about 10 years when he returned to school at Georgia Tech to graduate at the age of 36. âI’ve been playing as a hobby since around 1995,â he said. In the 2000s, he played in two groups: Acousticlectic and HapyDady.
Since his retirement, music has become his favorite activity. âI take great pleasure in music and write songs more frequently since I retired,â Absher said. “I have also attended songwriting workshops which I find very enjoyable and rewarding.”
Absher said he felt very lucky to have found the 4 Man String Band. âI have been playing music all my life (with a hiatus of about 10 years when I returned to college), but never had so much fun and enjoyment playing music until that part of my life. I hope I can play and sing well until I take my last breath whenever it happens, âhe said.
How the group came together
All four lend their voices to the music they classify, according to Brown, as Americana. The group takes songs from artists they admire, according to Absher, and arranges them for their acoustic instrumentation: guitars, mandolin, banjo and harmonica, plus some light percussion.
âWe take songs from all genres,â Brown continued, âand we arrange them for the guitar, of course, and add the mandolin and the banjo. We also have a number of songs on our songlists that we do. the band members wrote. âTheir tracklist includesâ You Never Can Tell âby Chuck Berry,â White Rabbit âby Jefferson Airplane,â Turn the Page âby Bob Seger and a few Beatles songs.
Absher claimed Eckard was the catalyst for the four of them to come together. “I had heard that we played music at Woodlands Garden [in Decatur], so I emailed the manager, who directed me to George and his wife, Phyllis. They coordinated the music and invited me out and play, âAbsher said.
He said he remembered Brown being in one of the song circles they would do in the Garden Gazebo, where he thinks he first met him. âAfter that, I was preparing an environmental concert, ‘Voices for the Earth,’ in my church, Holy Trinity Episcopal, and I invited George to come and play in the concert. He in turn invited his friend John Miller.
The underlying connection has been the Frank Hamilton School of Folk Music at Decatur. âGeorge and Clark teach there, and John and I took classes,â Absher said. “About six months to a year after George, John and I performed in the ‘Voices for the Earth’ concert, George called me up and asked if I would be interested in joining a band with Clark, John, and him. – even – a group called the String Man Band 4. I said yes, and the rest is history.
The four band members meet regularly to practice and work on new songs. Eckard said: “My wife likes how Clark once described our rehearsals as” like a reading group, but without books or wine. “”
Places to play
The 4 Man String Band has performed in several area coffeeshops, including Wallers, Intown Coffeehouse and Lena’s Place. âWe have also performed at the Decatur Arts Festival, the Decatur Book Festival, Oakhurst Porchfest, and the Mountain Moonshine Festival in Dawsonville,â Absher said.
The band performed live on WRFG Radio and did a Decatur-style “Twitch” show from Miller’s garage. âWe have performed at farmers’ markets – Peachtree Road, Norcross, and Tucker – and at the Oak Grove Festival, Central Dekalb Senior Center, a number of private parties, and some civic and charitable events where one or more of us have a personal connection, âMiller added.
Before the pandemic, the group performed in retirement communities including Wesley Woods and King’sBridge. Eckard said that while COVID-19 made a difference, it didn’t slow them down for long.
âAfter the pandemic started, we canceled some dates, but we started playing outdoors at Briarlake Forest Park, Frazier-Rowe Park, Waller’s Outer Space and, again, in various communities around. outdoor retirees, including King’s Bridge and The Holbrook, âhe said.
The band will perform for free on October 29 at 6 p.m. on the porch of a house at 1122 Berkeley Road in Avondale Estates as part of AvonWoodstock. Miller said the band will also perform the next day, Saturday, Oct. 30, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Frazier-Rowe Park on Lavista Road. The group lists other shows on their Facebook page, facebook.com/4ManStringBand.