Arts November 01, 2008
Harmonic Convergences
Served Family Style

Some families seem to have musical notes embedded in their DNA. The list of family acts that have made it big crosses every decade and every genre—the Beach Boys, the Jackson 5, the Bee Gees, the Judds, Hanson, the Von Trapp Family, and the bratty twins Tegan and Sara, to name a few.

Whether you believe in nature or nurture, families who play music together communicate with one another in a special kind of way. Harmony, the blending of instruments, and telling stories through song all require the magical arts of listening and cooperation.

Music has taken the Stocking family to church on Sunday, the Flahertys to a hometown crowd in Bellevue’s City Park, and the Braun family to Hollywood. But, eventually, the music will always take them home.

 

The Brauns
Clayton, Idaho

There’s not a chord that these guys can’t strike alone or together. Here from left to right are Micky, Billy, Muzzie, Gary, Uncle Gary, Willy and Cody.

Photograph courtesy Muzzie Braun

 

A writer from Seattle cornered me recently, pressing me to name someone famous from Idaho. I reeled off people of notoriety in no particular order: Larry Craig, Sacajawea, the guy who invented the television, and Muzzie Braun and the Boys who appeared twice on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, every self-respecting state fair and rodeo headlined the act, dad Muzzie leading with vocals and guitar, Cody on fiddle, Willy on drums, Gary on yodel, and little Micky on bass.

The matching Western outfits and Americana music were as impressive and well known as the family’s talents. Muzzie and his brothers Bill and Gary had been part of Idaho’s music scene since they were young boys in the ’60s—sons of Musty Braun, an early staple of Jackpot, Nevada, lounge acts.

In 1972, Muzzie and his young wife JoAnn moved to Stanley and eventually settled up Slate Creek near the scenic mining town of Clayton. Within five years, the couple had four young sons in a rustic house with no electricity.

Their remoteness and touring schedule necessitated home schooling. “The boys had a great perspective on a simple way of life,” Muzzie noted. “There was no TV, no Game Boy, no outside influences, so they used their imaginations and their talents. Most of their childhood was spent right by our sides.”

All four sons now reside in Austin, Texas: Cody and Willie with the chart-topping country group Reckless Kelly, which just released their seventh CD; and Micky and Gary, who front Micky and the Motorcars, an edgy country-rock band that looks more like they hail from the rough side of Seattle than Slate Creek.

“If they were still standing up on stage with straw hats and scarves, playing fiddle and yodeling, I’d wonder about that,” Muzzie observes.

The family’s following in Idaho is proven, even cultish. Last summer, they elected to cap the tickets to the annual Braun Brothers Reunion weekend in Challis (population 1,000) at 3,000. The three-day event includes every configuration of Braun talent—Muzzie, Billy, Gary, Cody, Willie, Gary the younger, and Micky—both orchestrated and spontaneous, with JoAnn tirelessly minding details that make it one of Central Idaho’s best summer parties.

Muzzie and JoAnn join both bands frequently on the road and in Austin. JoAnn discounts the inevitable band/sibling rivalry. According to her, her sons are tight, frequently golfing, going to baseball games, and hitting antique stores together.

Muzzie, with streaks of silver in his trademark full beard, is fine with missing some of what he calls Clayton’s “eight months of winter.”

The pair shrug off my attempts to clarify how famous they and the former “little” Braun boys are. If they would revel in their Tonight Show or Grand Ole Opry appearances, I’d have some ammo against the doubting Seattleite.

Instead, they leave me with simple words of wisdom, Idaho-style: “Above everything else, the boys are good people,” JoAnn says quietly, respectfully.

Adds Muzzie, “The fact that I have people come up to me and tell me what good kids we’ve raised—nobody has ever once told me they are jerks—that’s our success.” >>>

 

 
The Flahertys
Ketchum, Idaho

Move over Jonas Brothers­—there’s a whole band of cuties ready to take your spotlight. Appearing live throughout Blaine County, the Silver Streak, from left to right, are: triplets Braden, Dane and Sean. Fallon is the only girl and Jake in the back is the eldest.

Photograph Mitzi Mecham

 

Mitzi Mecham, proprietor of Hailey’s Notes Music and Music and Me, is insisting that the members of Silver Streak schedule extra practice time. “Your show is in 10 days and you’ve got to be ready,” she tells them, making eye contact with each of the band’s five members. “Really, guys,” she adds for emphasis.

Aside from making their debut at Bellevue City Park, Silver Streak’s members are on-the-go people. Band practice has to be squeezed into the calendar along with soccer, tennis, golf, skiing, and acting, for starters.

“I’ve got football jamboree,” calls out lead guitarist Jake Flaherty. Jake cites his age at 12, a decent explanation for why this is the most botox-free classic rock cover band I’ve seen for some time.
Jake is the band’s veteran and leader­—titles that would be hotly contested by fellow band members Sean, Braden and Dane (Jake’s triplet 10-year-old brothers), and seven-year-old sister Fallon, if they heard them.

The Flahertys started as piano school students at Mecham’s music school. Now Jake and Braden sing and play electric guitar, Sean plucks the bass guitar, Dane keeps time on drums, and Fallon works the electric keyboard.

“Like Lori Partridge,” I offer.

“Who’s that?” she wonders, signaling that not even Nick at Nite goes that deep. Lori Partridge could be Fallon’s grandmother, or at least a seriously old great-aunt.

Still, a little bit of old creeps into the act. Silver Streak is working on nailing Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water for their big performance.

Sean scoffs at modern sibling bands like The Jonas Brothers. “They play girlie songs,” he explains.

“They only have one good song,” Dane adds.

“Burnin’ Up,” Jake finishes. “We don’t like all the poppy crap.”

“I like the poppy crap,” Fallon contests under her breath as she contorts into a backbend over her chair.

Fallon has recently completed a stint at Hannahmania, one of Mecham’s summer rock camps. “Her brothers all think she’s a diva—and she is,” Mecham confirms with a loving squeeze to the squirming girl.

Mom Tracy has no illusions that Silver Streak is going to be the next big thing, but she’s encouraging the children to pursue music. “I always wanted to play an instrument,” Tracy says, “but when I was growing up, we could never afford a piano or lessons. I wanted to make sure the kids were exposed to more than just sports.”

For now, she enjoys watching her five childrens’ on-stage personalities and their at-home discipline for practice. “They don’t want to let each other down,” she explains. “I hope being in this band is a lifelong confidence booster for them. No matter what, they will always have the memory of playing in a band with their brothers and their sister, and that’s pretty cool.”

The fledgling band stretches each member’s musical prowess on The White Stripes’ lively Seven Nation Army (I’m too scared to ask if this also falls under the classic rock category). The notes on the page govern the drumbeats, the keyboard, guitars, and bass. Brothers and sister unite, if only for the length of the song.

The orderliness vanishes, as they pile into the backseats of the family’s black Denali and fight over who has to sit in the middle. “They really are kind to each other,” Mecham observes, “but they are still family.”

Maybe that’s why the Partridge Family had a bus. >>>

 

 
The Stockings
Carey, Idaho

Kim Stocking and father Dale tipping hats before a concert. Family connections and rituals are important to help Kim’s confidence before she takes the stage.

Photograph Gina Knudson

 

Talent in the tiny town of Carey is discovered and put to work quickly. Good cowhands, a steady-handed barber, or a nimble-fingered seamstress don’t look long for work. Likewise, June Stocking’s voice has given her a permanent invite over the years to all of Carey’s social events—weddings, graduations, funerals, and church.

Sometimes, she sang with her husband Dale, a former dairyman and now a Blaine County deputy sheriff. Soon their oldest daughter Kim joined the act. “I’ll tell you how long ago we’re talking,” June explains. “I was practicing Debbie Boone’s You Light Up My Life. Kim followed me around the house as I was practicing and pretty soon just belts out the whole song. She sang it perfectly and she was THREE.”

June smiles at the memory. “She sang at a graduation and nobody could believe what they were hearing.”

The Stocking family eventually grew to six children: Kim, Season, Ember, Ladd, Haylee, and Landon. Church provided the Stocking songstresses their first stage. Then music teacher Max Stimack landed in Carey, polishing the sisters’ singing style and music education.

“I never learned to read music so I made sure the girls stuck with it,” June says.

Music filled the house. June, Season, and Haylee sang the melody while Kim and Ember harmonized with the high and low parts. “They could practice for an hour and a half and have a new song down. Meanwhile, nobody was getting chores done,” Dale jokes.

“The only time we all got along was when we were sitting in the living room singing together,” Kim recalls, an arm around youngest sister, 25-year-old Haylee.

For the most part, the family’s talent remained Carey’s best-kept secret. “One summer we did go to the Twin Falls County Fair in Filer when they had the karaoke booth and cut a CD,” June reminisces. “We thought we were pretty hot stuff then.”

In 1997, Kim formed a band of her own. For five years, sister Ember shared the stage with her. Mike Saul, guitarist for what has become one of the Wood River Valley’s busiest bands, laments Ember’s decision to move to Boise. “There is something about sibling harmony that is so great. Now I have to try to come in on the high parts—it’s just not the same.”

As Kim, Mike and Chip Booth play at the Blaine County Fairgrounds in Carey for Pioneer Days, Mike does his level best to back up Kim’s vocals as she ranges from the Mary Chapin Carpenter lows to Alison Krauss highs. Much of the Stocking clan is in the audience. Dad Dale rests a hand on Kim’s youngest brother Landon, confined to a wheelchair with a severe disability known as Angel Man’s Syndrome. “Hey sweetie,” Kim calls out to him from the flatbed trailer stage.

Towheaded young nieces dance as Kim and the band cover the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Fishin’ in the Dark. Between songs, June motions to Kim to talk with the audience more.
“She plays at the Northern Rockies Folk Festival in front of much bigger crowds and she’s not nearly this nervous,” June says. “It’s the hometown factor—her grandparents and former classmates are here.”

For a little girl who grew up singing in the family’s LDS church, another thing that can make her nervous is having her mom watch her perform in a bar. When June came to watch her sing at Bellevue’s feisty Silver Dollar Saloon, Kim assigned what appeared to be bouncers to sit on either side of her mother. “She thinks I’m so naïve,” June comments, her blue eyes crinkling with her smile.

And while she’s enjoying success in her own right, Kim’s hope is to perform as a family someday soon (in addition to Ember, she’s recently pulled Haylee and brother Ladd on stage).

Will they sing You Light Up My Life? June thinks about it. “Maybe we should.”

Gina Knudson lives in Central Idaho and serves on the Salmon Arts Council Board of Directors. She loves outdoor concerts and believes that the iPod is the most important invention of our time.