Music: TreeBeard, Friends to the End
by Bruce Bressack
They came, they saw,
they conquered. Then they took a "short", 20-plus-year hiatus.
However, fate and
friendship, and the pure joy of playing music, pulled the group
TreeBeard back together
Being a musician is
like being in the Mafia; once you're a "made man", you can
never get out. Think of the scene in the Godfather where Michael Corleone says, "Just
when I thought I was out, they pull me back in".
In the case of
TreeBeard, being pulled back in is a good thing, especially for us,
because we get to see and hear what it's like when old friends like
Philip White, Brian Bethune, and Rick Schaitel get together to "just play
Why the name
TreeBeard? Is it a reference to the "Lord of the Rings"
character, or did you guys make it up?
Phil: No it was taken from the "Lord of the Rings" Trilogy by J.R.R.
Tolkien. This goes back to 1978; we needed a name and started using
TreeBeard. When we first started out we just went by Brian Phil and
Rick, then one place started to advertise us as "Wind Blown" which we
didn't like and the next time we played there we were billed as "Ham and
Eggs Special". It was at this time that we decided that we needed to
come up with a name of our own, "Free Beer" was already taken and
somehow we came up with TreeBeard.
When did you first play together, at what point did you part as a
band, and when did you get back together again?
Phil: Back in 1977 I was playing with a couple of friends of mine Doug
Seed and Dane Gardner and we used to do this Open Mic at this little
place called "The Sting" in Salem NH. At this same time Brian was
playing with a buddy of his from the Navy by the name of Paul Grasso and
Rick was playing in a Duo with a friend of his named Randy. Well to make
a long story short I really liked the things that Brian was doing and we
got together one night at my house and from that night on it was "Brian
and Phil". As we started to work up material we both thought that a bass
guitar would sound real good with us so we asked Rick to come over for a
get together with us to hear what it would sound like. We all liked it
alot and knew that this was the right mix for us, 12 string guitar, 6
string guitar, bass guitar and three vocals. But before we knew it we
had a drummer and then a steel guitar player and we were a five piece
band. We started out playing acoustic folk style music but that
eventually transformed into a country rock band. The whole thing lasted
about five years. We went from "The Sting" in Salem, NH to winning the
state Finals in the Wrangler, Dodge Trucks Country Showdown and
competing at the National Finals in Nashville, TN and a television show
at the Grand Ole Opry. That was in 1983, we went our separate ways at
the beginning of 1984. We got back together in January of this year but
it wasn't because we wanted to reform the band, it really was just about
three good friends getting together and enjoying each others friendship,
the music is just the frosting on the cake.
What got you back together?
Brian: It was really our friendship and the joy of the three of us
Rick: It's kind of
funny because at the time that Phil called to see if I'd like to get
together over at Brian's I was about to sell all of my equipment but
things have changed since then.
Phil: At the time we
got together it really was more of a social thing, none of use really
thought that we would be doing this again.
Rick: Yeah, but it is
alot different this time, this time it's to just enjoy ourselves.
What's different about playing together these days, versus when you
Brian: We have gained wisdom and matured musically. It also is about us
this time around and those we share our music with...it's for the
enjoyment and the fun.
Rick: Everyone is
more seasoned and everything falls together easier this time...it's kind
of like riding a bicycle.
Phil: When we first
started out it grew very quickly, from a duo to a trio to a four piece
band to finally a five piece band. Also, the music changed just as quick
from a very acoustic sound to a harder five piece county rock sound. We
never really had the chance to explore what we were really capable of a
trio...now we have that chance and we are having a ball doing it.
How would describe your music style, and who are your favorite
Rick: It's kind of hard to describe...its American music...Americana,
which covers alot of ground and styles but it is very hard to categorize
it. To be honest, I don't really think in those terms, we kind of
gravitate towards music that works for us...there is some stuff that
just wouldn't work for us and others that seem almost made for us.
Brian: I agree. It
would be considered Americana, a combination of Folk, Country,
Bluegrass, and Rock.
performer...the list could go on forever so I'll just name a few: James
Taylor, The Beatles, Jim Croce, Neil Young, CSN&Y, America, Simon and
Garfunkle, Gordon Lightfoot, The Eagles.
When you played Tupelo's Open Mic the first time, how'd it feel when
folks in the room started singing along with the band?
Phil: That was fantastic, we had only been back together a month and
somehow managed to get a few practices in, to be received like that was
amazing...it was good to be back.
Rick: I thought that
it was great! It's always such a fine compliment when that happens.
Brian: When I
realized that they were singing along with us I got a lump in my throat.
It's a great gift when people do that.
Where do you want this musical journey to take you?
Brian: As far as three good friends want it to take. We really enjoy
each others friendship and have alot of memories together. It will be a
great trip to the end together.
Rick: I'm really
trying to enjoy the moment....life's too short. If you can get together
with good friends every once and awhile life is good...and if you can
play music with them and make new friends life is even better.
Phil: When we first
started things went very fast and we were always focused on the end
goal...when this happens you end up missing alot, this time it's all
about enjoying the journey, where it takes us won't be half as fun as
the ride getting there.
TreeBeard will be the featured act at the Tupelo Music Hall open mic
series on Thursday, September 8. The doors open at 6:00pm, and TreeBeard
will perform a half hour set beginning at 8:30pm.
For more information about TreeBeard, visit their website -