The 1990s...March Or Die.

When Robert Kidney began performing again, he put two important decisions into motion that changed the band dramatically. First, he brought his brother to the front of the stage, where they would stand together sharing vocals and song writing. Then he established the sound he tried so hard to accomplish from the beginning; an emphasis on subtlety.

Fred Trabuzzo and Frank Casamento were asked to re-join the band. Through his bass playing, Fred brought his sense of composition to the rhythm section, complimenting each song with simplicity and force. The bass drum was no longer patterned, but became more of an accent. This required Frank to re-think his playing.
Later, Jack would pick up rhythm guitar to re-ignite the double guitar sound. When Bill Watson replaced Fred in 1992, his stand-up bass added a deeper, more traditional sound to both the jazz and blues aspects of the band. In 1995 Frank Reynolds brought a creative and more aggresive energized bass style that recants the older Numbers Band sound, similar to the early '70s. In the winter of 1997, Terry Hynde turned fifty, and the band is hotter than ever.

Above Right: Jack Kidney and harp, 1995. Left: Jack with Gibson Victory, 1996. Photos by Angie Casamento.
Somebody Shot Him from the "Hotwire" CD. RealAudio file, 3k.
© Copyright 1992 by John Kidney. All rights reserved.

The Benefits. In 1990, Jack Kidney stepped up to the microphone to front the band during Robert's two month absence. Two concerts were performed to raise money for mounting medical bills. Years later, another benefit concert was held in Cleveland to help the band recover some stolen equipment. More on the benefits at a later date...too much stuff!

A very special relationship developed in the 90s. Steve Etherton (a long-time fan of the band) took a personal interest in recording The Numbers. Steve's technical skills and understanding of the music were great assets for the projects that followed. His first project was to produce a CD that would celebrate the band's 20th anniversary. Everyone contributed tapes, and Steve listened to hours of music searching for the right mix to represent the vast styles and growth of the musicians. The result was 15 60 75 Twenty. It is a wonderful tribute, and has been enjoyed by old and new fans ever since. "High Heels Are Dangerous" was played heavily on the local stations upon release, and you can still hear it on WONE 97.5 FM.

"Hotwire", Steve's second project, featured three never before released songs which were previously written, and six new songs. The CD is a blend of live and studio recording. Again, unfortunately, it did not get a lot of airplay. Only "Lucky" is under the crucial four minute standard, which reflects the band's priorities. Robert Kidney doesn't like time constraints, "The recordings are a historical record. No one is going to get rich from playing our music. If you don't understand that, you won't last in this band."
Right: Cover art for "Hotwire" (left) features an oil painting by Robert Kidney called "The Devil's Plate".

I Got (very tight) Rhythm...

The rhythm section plays a more traditional role in The Numbers Band. Robert Kidney explains, "The groove is NOT the main focus of the music. David Robinson defined our rhythm back in the '70s; it comes off as abstract, but it is very tight and precise. Frank Casamento studied with David. He has a respect for the music, which is essential, because it is difficult to play. Keeping the members of that section consistant has also been difficult. The drummer has to be able to watch everybody, especially the vocal. They have to learn it my way first, and then improvise. "

Rhythm for the 90s, left to right: Bill Watson on stand-up, Frank Casamento, Fred Trabuzzo, and Frank Reynolds. All photos by Angie Casamento.

Right: Robert and Frank at the Kent Heritage Festival, July 4th, 1997.

Blues By The Numbers was a long awaited effort to catch the powerful live energy of The Numbers playing blues. By all accounts, Steve's work on this release is his best yet. Typically, recording a live band in a club is very difficult because there are so many uncontrollable variables. But The Numbers are not studio musicians. They love the live sound, including the mistakes, the feedback, and the spontaneity. Steve recalls some of the frustration, "Every time I think I've heard the their best version of a song, they top it a few weeks later. Some things they do may not be musically correct, but it sounds great. The feedback wasn't supposed to be there, but it works anyway. The band follows no single musical standard, so very few rules apply. These live recordings are just a slice of time. You have to see it happen to really appreciate it."

Left: Terry and Jack re-invent the great sax the band is known for. Photo by Angie Casamento.

Robert believes that the group of musicians he has worked with since 1990 are the best ever assembled, "Everyone is healthy, happy, and at the top of their ability as musicians." Robert can now honestly say he is glad to be alive. The transplant improved his health and strength dramatically. He hasn't had a drink since the first operation. "I was never really healthy, not even as a child, but I didn't know it then. I've missed so much. Now, I can live." The obstacles they battle today are being fought by every local band. Music clubs are closing one after another. Robert has his theory, "The tougher DUI laws keep people at home on the weekends. I'm not saying the laws shouldn't be enforced, but it does effect our business. Many of our fans have grown with us. They have families, established careers. They're not going to risk everything for a few drinks at a club." Kent used to be full of music, now only two clubs feature live bands. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic (BYOB) juice and coffee bars have not flourished in this area as they have in other parts of the country. And recording companies are not so hot to jump on new prospects, it has become a very calculated business.
"A (record) label would have to set us up very well. We're not kids anymore, we know what we want. By now, everyone in the band has a career that pays the bills. We (as a Band) already have hits waiting to be exploited. The idea of going on the road and playing a city a night in a beat-up bus is not an option we would consider.", Jack explains. And Robert agrees, "We want the opportunity to professionally record what we've already written, and have the financial freedom to develop and record our new songs. But it's our way, or no way. We won't sacrifice the integrity of the music for anything."

Right: Bill Watson is pictured here in 1995. His use of the stand-up bass complimented the more subdued style the band had developed after 1990. He stayed with the band for four years, then returned again to replace Frank Reynolds. In addition to his title as the current bass player for 15 60 75, Bill continues to play as a session musician and is a regular member of the bluegrass band Hillybilly Idol. Photo by Angie Casamento.

When asked by "Fitz" of WCPN (Cleveland National Public Radio) during a 1994 fund drive interview, "How would you describe your own music...?" Robert replies, "Although it won't be recognized as such for 40 or 50 years, it is classic American folk music, in the truest sense. We are two brothers, singer/songwriters who write about the events in our lives. We borrow from all forms of music; blues, jazz, rock, country, alternative, classical."

Hitman, from the "Hotwire" CD. Written by Bob and Jack Kidney. RealAudio file, 70k.
© Copyright 1992 by Robert J. Kidney, Jr. and John Kidney. All rights reserved.

The style of this band's live performances has created a reputation as being "intense". They do not jump around on stage, and they don't wear baseball hats. Robert's collection of vintage suits is extensive, and he has the traditional (historically correct) accessories. Robert was close to his grandfather and was influenced by the detail and attention of the "well dressed" man. He also enjoys paying respect to the tradition of the blues and jazz performers of the 1940s and 1950s. One fan remarked, "When Bob puts on his hat, you know he's getting ready." The powerful music makes up for flashy appearances. The clean, sharp lines of the front man sets a serious, no bullshit attitude which becomes the one thing all the band members have in common on stage.

Left: Bassist Frank Reynolds, at The Outpost.

Jack stands steadfast with his hands crossed over his harp, starring out into the audience, expressionless. Terry lights a cigarette and waits for his solo. Frank and Frank are locked in. It's all very nonchalant, but there's this intense energy generating all around them, like the eye of a hurricane. The Numbers have taken a lot of criticism for their laid-back style, when actually, the band is extremely serious and dedicated. After 31 years, they still get together and rehearse every week.

Left: Friend and local musician, John Thomas, sits in at The Outpost.

Right: Terry Hynde awaits his solo.

I remember a conversation between two people in the audience during a particularly great 15 60 75 performance at the Cobalt Club. A fan was standing next to a newcomer who had the familiar confused look on his face. He liked the music, but couldn't figure out why. He nudged the fan with his shoulder, pointed to the stage and asked sarcastically, "Who the hell do they think they are?" Annoyed by the interruption, the fan replied..."They are who they think they are. This is the real thing." The young man reluctantly pondered the comment, and stayed. If you can get passed the fact that they are genuine, the night takes care of itself.

The Numbers were asked to play at the Kent State University "ResNet 99 Symposium" event held at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, June 19th, 1999. Center photo below from David Futey. Robert under the eye of Elvis by J. Kidney.

Every summer The Numbers play one of their favorite gigs, The Akron Art Museum. The venue is a great place to take the family and relax after work, and so far, the rain has held out. The photos below are from Angie Casamento, at the museum July 29th, 1999. Top row: Frank Reynolds and Frank Casamento. Bottom row: Terry Hynde and Jack Kidney.

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