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Chad Amborn of The Alrights and former Twin Ports biggie Crazy Betty was called at the last minute to fill in for the drummer of a major band leaving in a few days for a show in Lagos, Nigeria.
“Evidently the main drummer for Alexander O'Neal had issues with his passport or getting a Visa or something like that,” Amborn said. “I was hired at the last minute to play with him for a show in Lagos, Nigeria. O'Neal is an R&B singer best known in the 1980's and early 90's. He was originally with The Time before Morris Day replaced him. Along with Wyclef Jean, they were headlining a really cool fundraising event for the Lagos Preparatory School there. To my understanding, the music director went through the usual names in the Minneapolis scene, but the other drummers couldn't do it for one reason or another. My buddy Erick Ballard, who is with Bernard Allison, called me up and asked if I wanted to do it.
Luckily for Amborn, he had recently updated his passport.
“I had just gotten my passport a month or two earlier for a trip to Ireland and Scotland and so there was no red tape there. I was free to do it and said yes,” Amborn said.
With everything happening so fast Amborn had very little time to prepare for the shows, but he was able to meet quickly and get the tunes down.
“I was asked on a Thursday and then drove down to the cities to practice the following Tuesday and Wednesday.” Amborn said. “Then I had to fly out that Thursday. We flew back from Lagos that Sunday, so I was only there for a few days.”
Last weekend The Alrights had a show at Norm’s in Superior, which is a far cry from the audiences he saw in Nigeria. I asked what his thoughts were of the people he met on his trip and how it compared to a typical Twin Ports show.
“I love The Alrights’ fans and local shows in general because it's so personal and I've gotten to know a lot of our followers personally,” Amborn said. “I love that they come to see the band and us individually. With O'Neal, the fans are there for him, not the band itself. So naturally that plays a factor in the atmosphere of the gig in general. The audience in Nigeria was certainly fired up because there was an American R&B legend playing for them. I didn't have any time to mingle with the audience and fans with the exception of the backstage and hotel people. They were all very kind and extremely grateful though.”
With being so famous one would expect that the audience would be rushing the band for autographs, but Amborn said that wasn’t the case.
“One thing I noticed for sure was that people weren't all about autographs. In fact, I don't recall seeing anyone sign anything. They did want pictures though, and that was kind of crazy. Everywhere we went people wanted pictures. At one point we were having to take picture after picture with the armed guards, venue staff, and fans for about a half hour straight when we were waiting for our ride back to the hotel after sound check,” Amborn said.
So with only a few days prior notice I asked Amborn how he prepared to play with an entirely new band.
“With a lot of tears,” he said jokingly. “Actually, when I got the gig I had no idea at first who he was and what kind of music it was. I just said yes to help my buddy out who couldn't do it and of course for the chance to go to Nigeria. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It's not that the songs were hard to learn, but the musicianship was all top notch. They didn't need a flashy drummer; rather, they needed a solid drum machine style with feel. I'm used to playing with a click and actually like it, but in the craziness of getting everything together I left it behind. That was the scariest thing for me because even though I'm a solid drummer, no drummer has perfect time, and this gig called for it.”
Even with practice Amborn still felt challenged by this experience despite his many years of playing as a professional musician.
“When the musical director sent me the songs I just learned them as quick as I could at home,” Amborn said. “Then when I got to the cities to practice we literally ran through each song once. So there was very little prep time. A few of the songs were actually different at sound check than what we had rehearsed, so even some of my makeshift charts didn't matter when it came to show time. Honestly, what ended up getting me through the gig in my opinion was at one point, between sound check and show time, instead of chilling at the bar I went to my room, got on my face, and prayed for like an hour. I realized how much more I needed than my own abilities allowed. There's nothing worse than giving 150% and realizing it isn't cutting it. What was cool though is that when it came time to do the show I got the job done and the experience was wonderful. Scary, nerve racking, exciting, joyful all rolled up into one. It was cool.”
While Amborn comes from a family of musicians and has an uncle who is very well known trumpet player on the touring circuit, nothing prepared him for the limelight that he would face. I asked him what it was like to hang out with famous musicians in this type of setting.
“It was humbling,” he said. “That's the best word to describe it and the only word I'll ever use to describe it. I had only played with national musicians of this caliber a few times before and each time was humbling. The tour with Papa Mali was my first and an eye opener to the expectations required of you when you're hired for a gig like that. Character is everything, then there's the business part and last would actually be your playing ability. When I think about it, I'm beginning to prefer my experiences this way. You learn more, it keeps you grounded, and you certainly appreciate the experience more.”
Amborn also found comfort in a former band mate who also ended up being in the same band for the tour.
“When I got to the cities for rehearsal I realized that Russ King was the 2nd keyboardist on the gig,” Amborn said. “He and I used to play in Crazy Betty together years ago so that was comforting for me. I love that dude and he helped me quite a bit. Art Hayes was on bass and all I can say about that dude is he is sick. He's absolutely amazing. George Parrish (Musical Director and Guitarist) is so good as well as keyboardist Chris Nelson. They are so fluid and tasteful with what they came up with. Shade was doing back-up vocals alongside Marcia Day, who were both awesome. Everyone was amazing and I was simply blessed to have the opportunity.”
With this type of experience the memories will last a lifetime. I asked Amborn if anything funny happened and what stories he could share with the readers up here in the Northland.
“I wouldn't say they were funny experiences, but there were just so many things that were memorable,” he said. “Russ doing a piano battle with Wyclef's keyboardist in the hotel lobby, Wyclef joining them after a bit, having the chance to hang out with Wyclef and his musicians, the yacht ride down the river to the beach house after party with an amazing view of the Atlantic ocean, the jaunt through the jungle to get to that beach house, armed guards that took us to and from places, and how could I ever forget - the drive. I'm serious when I say that the drivers out there are the best, but it's the scariest experience I've ever had in a vehicle. If there are laws for driving there isn't a single person that abides by them. It's a race track with no instinct to stop for pedestrians who are running through the streets like the game Frogger, and I'm assuming that every traffic light color and stop sign means go.”
Are there any plans for the future with the acts Amborn toured Nigeria with?
“No plans for me in the foreseeable future,” he said. “Of course I'd love to have another opportunity to play for Alexander again with all I learned from that gig. I know that I'm first call for Papa Mali when he comes through the Midwest, but I look at these gigs as blessings in my life. I don't want to look at them any other way or anticipate anything more from them than what they were at the time. I hope they lead to other opportunities too; however, my real focus these days is at church and playing music with my wife. The feeling I get from playing worship music alongside my girlie and what we have going on there has no comparison. That's my foundation today and regardless of what comes down the pipeline in the future, this is where my heart is at now.”
You can go to www.chadchavoamborn.com to follow Amborn’s travels and music.