Janesville60.1°

Mill Road Band rediscovers old-time chords

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Anna Marie Lux
September 7, 2013

TOWN OF NEWARK—Phyllis and Frank Seibert were married more than 40 years before they discovered how well they harmonize.

Veda Olson was afraid to sing all her life. Then, in her mid-50s, she mustered the courage to let her voice flow with some sweet old melody.

Ed Vroman had not played guitar since high school. With coaching, the 64-year-old rediscovered all those lost chords.

Most members of the Mill Road Band have stories of how they once enjoyed music, lost it and rediscovered life's soundtrack with white hair.

“I didn't sing for a number of years,” 75-year-old Frank said. “Then, I started up again about 12 years ago.”

The band is playing from noon to 4 p.m. today at Beckman Mill's popular Heritage Days celebration, which brings alive the sights and sounds of rural life a century ago in Newark Township.

Band members are Phyllis and Frank of Brodhead; Ed of Footville; Al Olson and his wife, Veda, of Juda; and Norm Sutherland of Beloit.

Faithful followers enjoy the band's gospel and country western music from the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the band's favorites songs include “The Old Wooden Cross,” immortalized by Tennessee Ernie Ford; “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a popular Christian hymn; and the lively “Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms.”

The band has volunteered its time and talent for Heritage Days for about a decade and plays at Beckman Mill three times a year.

For the Seiberts, embracing music has created a new life.

“We didn't realize we could sing so well together until we got in the band,” Phyllis said. “We never in our wildest dreams thought we would be doing something like this at our age. We marvel at it.”

She loves songs by Patsy Cline, who was part of the 1960s Nashville sound.

“Her voice matches mine,” Phyllis said. “When I sing with her tapes, my husband says he can't tell if it is Patsy Cline singing or if it is me.”

The band started when some members, who worked together, began jamming in their homes.

“People would come and listen,” Al recalls. “Then someone would ask us if we would play for them. To this day, we don't advertise. We've just picked up a lot of different people who like our music.”

Band members never intended to play in public until they got an invitation.

“The first time I got on stage, I thought, 'Oh my gosh,'” Al said. “Now I look out and see the people smiling and tapping their feet. People are relating to us, and that's what it's all about.”

Al went to a bluegrass jam a few years ago and saw how much fun people were having.

“I got such a kick out of it that I started playing guitar when I was in my early 50s,” 69-year-old Al said. “I play by ear. I don't read music.”

Band members often perform at nursing homes.

“When we get there, some of them have their heads down,” Frank said. “When we leave, they are bright eyed and want to sing some more. I like to get the crowd involved. Many like to sing along with the old songs.”

Decades ago, Frank sang with his grandparents and parents.

Then he was away from music for much of his life.

With Al's encouragement, he picked up and learned the guitar.

“At first, I told Al I was too old to do that stuff,” Frank said. “Then, I bought my guitar and started jamming at his house. It brings back a lot of good memories.”

Today, in addition to playing bass guitar, twelve-string and upright bass, Frank sings many songs from childhood.

The band also has inspired 64-year-old Ed.

The last time he strummed on a guitar was in high school.

“Back then, we were trying to impress the girls,” Ed said. “Now, it's extremely nice to be playing again. We all work together and have fun. I think the world of those guys and gals, who took me under their wing and never criticized me when I started playing again.”

Lead guitarist Norm plays mandolin, accordion and piano.

“He's very talented,” Al said. “He was playing, already, when he was in the service.”

Two of the original band members—Richard Markee and Michael Lindsey—have died. But Al is determined to keep the old-time music alive long into the sunset.

“We enjoy every minute of it,” he said. “The band has been such a blessing in our lives. I hope we have many years left to play.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

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