Just four guys having fun
Relaxed friendships keep Uncle Hal’s Crabgrass Band in tune
Uncle Hal's Crabgrass Band is Harold Bosco, John Kunhardt, Dennis Avery and Jim Bonham.
After the guys have taken a couple of swigs of Pabst Blue Ribbon on the warm spring evening, Harold Bosco, 55, grabs his Gibson J-45 “workhorse” acoustic guitar, counts the first few beats to set the tempo of the song he has chosen and begins tapping his right foot and starts to play.
Sixty-two-year-old Jim Bonham of Buckland, 54-year-old John Kunhardt of Belchertown and 61-year-old Dennis Avery of Charlemont are right there with Bosco and will spend the next couple of hours playing everything from Bob Dylan and Hank Williams, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, to Steve Earle and Gram Parsons, just to name a few. They’ll even play a little Adele.
Bosco invites his three friends, his band members, into the attic of his Greenfield home almost every Tuesday night to rehearse. He’ll turn on the window fan if anyone gets too warm.
They aren’t always getting ready for a gig. Sometimes they just jam because they want to stay fresh — and because they like each others’ company.
“We have lots of influences,” says Bosco. “We play jazz standards, bluegrass, blues and even a little country. Sometimes, we blend it all together to create a musical stew.”
They call him Uncle Hal and his band Crabgrass.
Bosco has tried to change the name of the band simply to “Crabgrass,” but his bandmates and audiences seem to like Uncle Hal’s Crabgrass Band. After all, it is because of Bosco that the band exists, though he is much too modest to admit it.
“We’re just four guys having fun loving music,” says Bosco. “We’re also enjoying the friendship it has brought us.”
As to the music the band plays, Bosco offers this description: “It’s gypsy jazz and crabgrassy tempos and style ... We play other types of music, but ‘crabgrass’ them, if you know what I mean.”
Meet the band
The four men come from very different backgrounds — there’s Bosco, who substitute teaches in local schools and gives private music lessons. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts Music Department in Amherst, he taught music for 10 years in Connecticut. He is also a silversmith who has been teaching metalworking for the past 35 years. Currently, he is teaching at Fletcher Farm School for the Arts and Crafts.
Kunhardt works at Amherst College as an audio-visual technician. He was inspired to pick up a guitar while attending Ithaca College in New York in the late 1970s. However, his guitar collected dust from the mid 1990s until 2003, when he started attending jam sessions and playing the drums.
“I heard someone at one of these jam sessions playing a mandolin and I fell in love with its sound,” says Kunhardt.
He bought a cheap Chinese-made mandolin for $150 and learned to play. Later, he upgraded to his current 1957 Gibson A-Style mandolin.
Bonham, who is a builder in west county, plays a pre-World War II bass that he bought several years ago.
“I’m new to playing the bass and have only played the stand-up bass for a little over three years,” says Bonham. “My favorite thing about playing with these guys, besides Hal’s jokes, is our set list. I love the songs we play — such an eclectic mix.”
Avery owns and runs A.L. Avery & Son General Store with his wife and plays a Dobro slide (steel) guitar. He started taking music lessons in grammar school.
“I played the clarinet and later the flute,” he said. “I studied classical music when I got into high school and kept playing into college.”
Avery calls himself a lifetime amateur musician. He also has his own band, Small Change, which will play at Rowe Old Home Day and the Heath Fair this year.
“I love playing with (Crabgrass),” he says. “I’m having fun because everything is so easy-going.”
The band members all like to spend time kayaking together and they all love the outdoors. They each have their own interests and families as well, but say even their families like to mingle at times.
Bosco likes to bike and walk. Bonham is an avid athlete who does long-distance biking, snowshoeing and downhill skiing. Avery likes to bike, be outdoors and run his store. And Kunhardt is an amateur photographer who likes to bike, garden and raise goats.
“We come from different backgrounds, but have a lot in common,” says Bosco. “We’re together because we wanted a band made up of friends, people who like to spend time together, not only in the band, but doing other things. We didn’t want to have to work at getting along with each other.”
The band has been around for a while, but these four guys have been together for just the last five years.
“The greatest thing we have in common is our love for music,” said Bosco “It never gets old.”
“I used to go to a huge jam session in Bernardston,” he says. “I did that for 10 years every Friday night and there were usually about 30 people there.”
Bosco says it was during that time that he realized he wanted a band of his own, but members came and went until he, Kunhardt and Bonham finally found Avery.
That’s when it all fell into place, they say.
“We went through four or five guitar players,” says Bosco. “We weren’t taking this very seriously at the time, I guess.”
A couple of years ago, the band started booking gigs.
“We weren’t sure what we had, but we learned quickly,” says Bosco. “People liked us and we realized we worked really well together.”
He says the band doesn’t have a drummer because it doesn’t need one. “We have a very acoustic feel and use string for the rhythm,” he says.
The four play regularly at The Rendezvous in Turners Falls (on the second Thursday of every month), the Shutesbury Athletic Club, the Deja Brew Cafe and Pub in Wendell and the Mohawk Park Campground and Pub in Charlemont. It has also played at the annual Shelburne Falls Art Walk at Salmon Falls, the Green River Brew Fest and the Matoon Street Arts Festival in Springfield.
The band has a list of songs it plays and rarely, if ever, deviates. Members are always learning new songs though, so the list gets longer all the time.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do, so we stay with what we know,” Bosco said.
Bosco began a recent rehearsal with “Head Over Heels” (Skeeter Davis), singing:
“Every day is sad and lonely cause I’m thinkin’ of you only/I just can’t bear the thought of losin’ you/ I’m feelin’ so blue I don’t know what to do/ because I’m head over heels in love with you.”
Close your eyes and, within minutes, his bluegrass style and heartfelt vocals have you believing you are in Appalachia and wishing you could “fix” everything for him.
Bosco says instrumentation defines the band, making up about one-third of what it plays.
Whether the four are playing bluegrass, blues or country, they don’t always stick to the rules of that genre. “We’re not pretentious or uptight about anything,” says Bosco. “We’re a very relaxed group, so we go with what feels right at the time.”
During the rehearsal, Bonham sways back and forth, eyes closed, as he dances with his bass. You can almost feel him feeling the music.
Each musician takes a turn playing the melody of a song — every song the band plays seems to be a narrative on everyday life — and then backs off to play accompaniment and let someone else have their turn.
Just as Bosco gets into a song, he’ll call out for a solo from one of the other band members and if any of them, including Bosco, forgets a note, chord or the lyrics, they improvise.
“Ours is definitely not ‘in your face’ music,” says Bosco. “People can talk, dance or just listen when we’re playing and they don’t get indigestion. We play all different songs and put our own spin on everything.”
Bosco says the band usually draws a good-size crowd, in which some family and friends are usually included.
When Bosco turns back to his band mates, they are waiting to start the next song. He picks up his guitar, again counts the first few beats and starts to play “Buckets of Rain” by Bob Dylan: “Buckets of rain. Buckets of tears/Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears/I like your smile and your fingertips/Like the way that you move your hips/I like the cool way you look at me/ Everything about you is bringing me misery.”
Staff reporter Anita Fritz covers Greenfield and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 280.
Staff photographer Paul Franz has worked for The Recorder since 1988. He can be reached at email@example.com or 413-772-0261 Ext. 266. His website is www.franzphoto.com.