It’s always fun to reconnect with an interviewee after a few years of separation. And such was the case when Steve Bither called recently concerning a performance of his group, The Wicked Good Band. This stalwart staple of Maine humor has been around a long time and has a lot of fans out there in our fair state. Those fans will be pleased to hear that the quartet will be returning to Hallowell for a show at Slates on June 3. To that end, Bither, from his home in the Portland area, got ahold of me not only to update me on what his band is up to, but also to give me a little more of an in-depth look at the group’s history. On May 11, I answered the phone.
Bither: Hi, Lucky, so we’re playing at Slates!

Q: Yeah!
Bither: I’m happy about that, too.

Q: You’ve played there before, I believe.
Bither: Oh, yeah — in fact, we started playing there in 1981.

Q: Holy mackerel, really?
Bither: Yup, and we’re doing the same material, too. We love that place; it’s a great venue. The audience is always great, and you’re right in the middle of the audience; so we really like playing at Slates.

Q: Do you get out much to perform?
Bither: Not a lot. One of our guys plays in many different bands, so he plays a lot. We only play, oh, maybe five or six times a year.

Q: Do you get a lot of folks who’ve seen you before out at the shows?
Bither: Yes, yes we do, and it’s kind of a fun thing. Our big gig of the year is at the Yarmouth Clam Festival. And we’ve played every year for over 30 years, so these people that come to see the show know the words to the songs better than we do.

Q: I can see you guys at a point where memory fails going, “OK, everybody sing!”
Bither: (Laughter) They love it. And they generally do expect us to do a lot of the same songs, and that’s fine — whatever they like. We like interacting, and we always have a good time.

Q: Now, do you generate new material from time to time?
Bither: Sometimes, and more of it is on an improv basis — some of the stuff in between the songs or we do a couple that we try to update to fit with current events.

Q: Is the lineup the same as when we talked last, which was back in 2014, I think?
Bither: There will be four of us. When we play some places, we have a couple of horns that play with us; but this time it’s just the four of us. Do you want the names?

Q: Yes, please.
Bither: I’m on the keyboards, and then Robbie Coffin — he’s terrific; he’s a real musician (laughter) — he’s our guitar player. And we have a wash-tub bass played by Bill Schulz, and then rhythm guitar and harmonica and wash board by Jere (say Jerry) DeWaters.

Q: Thanks, I appreciate that.
Bither: We tend to have a lot of fun. We always do, and I think it’s because we don’t play out that much. It’s always a treat to get up and entertain people.

Q: Now, you stated that you’ve played Slates for over 30 years — how has the band evolved over that time?
Bither: When we first started playing there, we were a jug band, and were just a band. The evolution occurred when we developed and did entirely Maine humor stuff. I think we tightened up some of the things to keep the show going. But it helped playing at Slates, because they were such a wonderful audience. They’d laugh at anything and we said, “Oh, we’ve been encouraged!” (laughter) But that doesn’t happen everywhere. So, it helped with our timing and with the Maine humor thing, which is all we do now.

Q: And I think that that’s what people would really appreciate: the connection you give to what they’re living every day.
Bither: Oh yeah, that’s right. And, there’s still a lot of things to discuss. Only in the role of musician and satirist do we miss Paul LePage, because he gave us tons of material. People like that, except perhaps LePage supporters. But everybody’s available as a target.

Q: You mentioned names and instruments played, so I’m wondering what do you guys do when you’re not performing as The Wicked Good Band?
Bither: Oh, OK. We all have day jobs. I’m a lawyer — that’s the real job — but I also play with one or two other guys doing some standard in nursing homes, the sing-along thing. That’s kind of fun. Jere is a professor of photography at UMA. Bill has worked in the insurance industry, and Robbie is in so many bands that he’s in, I don’t know when he sleeps. He’s also an IT guy.

Q: Are all of you original members?
Bither: Not Robbie. We call him “the kid” because he joined us in 1990; but Bill, Jere and I are the original members.

Q: Did you ever think back in the day that you’d still be doing this now?
Bither: No, but I’m glad we are, because it’s really fun for us to do. We started back in high school at Deering High School back in the 1960s. We had a jug band and when we got on stage and people laughed at us, we said, “OK, we like this!” So, we’re the core of the people that played in that jug band. We lost quite a few members along the way, of the jug band, so we’ve been doing it forever. We’ve done four albums and we wrote a book, and the book was a bestseller for a while — “The Wicked Good Book” — a long time ago.

Q: Do you want to do more of that?
Bither: I wouldn’t mind doing another album. We’ve got enough material that we could put together, it’s just getting in and doing it. The world has changed since the mid-’80s when we did our book, but there would’ve been some fun in doing that kind of thing again.

Q: As this interview winds down, is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you think we should that’s pertinent to the Slates show?
Bither: Not really. We’re always happy to play there, it’s a great venue for us, because it’s intimate and cozy, and it’s set up very nice for us and for the audience, but I can’t think of anything else.

Q: Is there anything, Steve, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Bither: Ah, “We’d love to see you there!”

 

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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