Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Percussion has been beating in Michael Carbone’s veins since he counted his age in single digits. From the time he picked up sticks in his grade school band in Jamestown, North Dakota, he’s been keeping time – in marching band, in school orchestra, in touring Top 40 contingents as a teen and, now, as one of the area’s best-known professional musicians.
Soon the Moorhead will be beating the drum for a brand-new venture. Drummer’s Journey, a music store focusing exclusively on all things percussion, is slated for a soft opening later this month in the EasTen Shopping Center. Owned by Michael, his wife Terry and his sister Pat Carbone-Martin, the shop will handle top lines of drum kits including Gretsch, Mapex and Sonor, as well as Meinl hand percussion.
That’s just the start. “We’ll deal in used and vintage drum sets,” he says, citing favorites like Slingerland and Ludwig. “We’ll build custom drums, too, and handle bongos, congas, cajons and other ethnic and world drums. We’ll have all the equipment and accessories a drummer could need, from a kid looking for his first sticks and practice pad to a full-time professional.” Lifelong learning is part of the picture, too, starting with the basics for beginners to lessons taught by local masters like Matt Tinjum (32 Below) and Scott Lang (October Road).
There will be other brainstorms that catch Michael’s fancy to enhance what he calls “the community of drummers.” Among them: online chat forums, drum circles, clinics and even Sunday morning drummers’ brunches talking over the weekend’s gigs. “And we’ll have a large portable stage out there in that huge, beautiful parking lot,” he adds, thinking of good times and warmer days ahead.
Professionally, Michael is two people, and the soon-to-open EasTen space harbors both of them. By day, he is a consultant well-known among those in the human service field. “I work with nonprofits who focus on marginalized people,” he explains. In the two-plus years since he left the directorship of the North Dakota Coalition for the Homeless People – a position he’d held for eight years – he has focused half of his time on organizations involved in ending homelessness. The other half of his practice is for-profit corporations that want to develop socially aware components in their businesses. It’s what he calls “virtuous capitalism.”
By night, though, he’s all about music. As one of the founding members of the Blue Wailers, he pounds out the beat for the six-piece group known for its devotion to the blues. Unlike the Warped Melon Blues Band, which made a lot of noise in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he explains that the Wailers are more of a purist blues group. Initiated as an acoustic trio, they performed as the house band at the old Red Bear Lounge in Moorhead and Fargo’s Juano’s. Now they’ve evolved into a six-piece full electric band, but with their allegiance to blues intact. “We’re predominantly into Chicago-style blues, with some British and pre-war influence,” Michael reports. “We’re serious students of the blues in the traditional vein.”
The Jamestown native has been into drumming since he was in primary school. His parents, Hubert and Margaret, recognized his passion early. “When I was going through some of my mother’s things after she died, I found this,” he says, pulling out a receipt from a Jamestown music store dated 1968 for his first drum kit … $238.50, including 10 drum lessons.
He mastered the rudiments in school – parade drumming, playing the snare drum in the band. “I played through school,” he remembers. He was just 13 when he had his first paying gig: “We were staying in a cabin near Walker when my mom and dad went into town for a burger and beer,” he says. “A guy was playing piano there. Mom noticed a set of old Ludwigs on the stage behind him and told him, ‘Our boy plays drums.’ He told her, ‘Bring him in.’” She brought Michael in, and he did his best, accompanying the pianist through the next set or two. “At the end of the night, he gave me the contents of the tip jar,” he says. “I thought that was great.”
Back home, he put together a garage rock band. He playing in the community orchestra. “I played every chance I got,” he recalls. At 15, he was touring with a Top 40 band, Verle McDaniels and the Standby Blues, playing Holiday Inns and supper clubs in the Dakotas and Montana. He tried a year as a music major at the University of North Dakota, but admits, “I flaked out. Pretty soon, I found myself married with responsibilities and a masonry business.”
For the next 25 years or so, he laid bricks and pretty much laid his music aside, other than tapping his hands on the table and feet on the floor. “You never really stop. Even without a drum set, your hands and feet keep doing what you do,” he says with a laugh.
“But after a lot of years as a masonry contractor, beating up your elbows and knees, you’ve got to look for something else.” Michael went back to college, this time at Minnesota State University Moorhead as a nontraditional student. “The big qustion was what I wanted to do when I grew up,” he says. He was talking it over yet again with his wife Terry when son Rylan, then a preteen, told him, “Dad, all you talk about is politics. How about political science?’”
He was introduced to the F-M Coalition for Homeless Persons while working on a class project. After presenting it to the group, they invited him to become a member and then to serve on the board. Ultimately he was chosen as the coalition’s first executive director. A year later, the North Dakota group hired him away to lead the statewide effort. The Bismarck Tribune recognized his outstanding contributions as one of its “citizens of the year” in 2015.
Meanwhile, Michael rediscovered his passion for the blues at the first Fargo Blues Fest 25 years ago. A bricklayer, then social activist by day, he returned to music after dark. For 15 years, he played rock-driven, high-energy blues with the Warped Melon Blues Band, recording several CDs along the way and sharing the stage with John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, Canned Heat, Bernard Allison, Coco Montoya, Eddie Shaw and others, before he and fellow band member Marty Olson went on to form the core of the Blue Wailers. The group often plays the Hodo in downtown Fargo; on Nov. 15 they’ll open for the Lamont Cranston Band, a 50-year Upper Midwest blues favorite headlining at the TAK Music Venue in Dilworth.
Since the full-service Marguerite’s Music closed in Moorhead in 2015, there’s been a gap in the music world. Michael Carbone hopes Drummer’s Journey will help to fill it. “Marguerite’s sold a ton of drums over the years. I should know – I think I bought half of them myself,” he considers. “We want to fill some of that gap, but go farther,” he says. “We intend to have a strong e-commerce presence.” His sister Pat is developing that side of the business from her home in Virginia.
He reports that, as word of the new store spreads, the response has been overwhelming. “Just one Facebook post – and the response blew my mind! It’s spread from friends to people I didn’t know I knew to complete strangers tagging other strangers, all letting me know what they want, what lines I should carry, when they want it and most of all, how happy they are to hear I’m doing this. They’ve said they’re ready to order.
“People have even called to volunteer to come help unpack boxes,” he adds, shaking his head in wonder. “They can’t wait for us to get those doors open.”