It is hard to play a musical instrument.
When I was a kid, I played the piano from age 5 to 10, and it was hard. I wasn’t Mozart. It was a struggle. A few years later, I started playing the guitar, which was difficult for me at first, but I worked so hard at it I eventually became a serviceable player. A few years after that, I started playing the mandolin, which I love, but it’s a lifelong journey toward mastery, and I’m just getting started. I did all of that instrument switching and learning one instrument at a time, and it was often hard for me. I struggled, and often felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
Then, there are people like Penns Valley’s Danny Brumbaugh, the Psychic Beat One Man Band, who plays four instruments ... at the same time.
“I’m a one man band,” Brumbaugh said. “I play a bass and snare drum with my feet while playing the guitar, harmonica/kazoo and singing all at the same time.”
Brumbaugh was bitten by the music bug at an early age and is largely self-taught, which, from a musician’s standpoint is really interesting. He isn’t inherently shackled by the confines of music theory and otherwise in some kind of artistic or conceptual box.
“I’ve been playing as long as I can remember,” Brumbaugh said. “My grandma had an old player piano that I was fascinated with. As early as 2 years old I was banging on the keys. This racket eventually evolved into the formation of patterns and chords. That old piano was part of the foundation of my love of music. I’ve been playing for 31 years now and I’m still learning.”
Brumbaugh brings his barrage of simultaneous sounds with some style — actually, lots of style — albeit a style uniquely his own, just like his music and his approach to performing.
“There’s a giant Elvis face on my bass drum with google eyes that jiggle every time I hit the pedal,” he said. “There are longhorn steer horns mounted to the top of my bass drum. It’s quite a spectacle. My shows are a mish mosh of genres, stories, originals and old timey covers. All these things provide the take-home experience for someone attending one of my gigs.”
Brumbaugh regularly plays Monday nights at Chumley’s in State College, and works his way into other gigs as well, with very little discrimination when it comes to deciding where to play.
I can be found in bars, restaurants, backyards, motorcycle clubs, on the street corner, churches — anywhere I can set up my gear and make music.
“My gigs are all over the place,” Brumbaugh said. “A month ago I played cocktail music at a country club bat mitzvah. Shortly before that I played for the local women’s roller derby team. I can be found in bars, restaurants, backyards, motorcycle clubs, on the street corner, churches — anywhere I can set up my gear and make music. One of the most interesting (and weird) gigs I ever played was in a Belgian prison.”
Although Brumbaugh keeps busy performing regularly and also working at least two other jobs, he keeps pushing forward, fanning the flame of his artistry. He’s always looking for new approaches to sounds, and, as is obvious in what he has to say about himself and his music, looking for new and innovative ways to have a good time.
“I would really like to concentrate more on writing and recording in the near future,” he said. “I have a ton of songs that are so close to being finished, but I just can’t find the time outside the rest of my life to complete them. I would also like to travel and meet more people. I would love to travel in South America and learn more about the music and culture. In five years I see myself doing more of what I’m doing now with a broader network. I meet new people all the time and in doing so get more opportunities to play at new venues.”
In the end, it all boils down to what’s going on in inside the music.
“When I’m in the zone, it’s sort of like being possessed,” Brumbaugh said. “I lose myself. I just become a channel for the music to flow through. Sometimes it’s out of my control. It’s great. I find myself playing riffs I didn’t even know I could play. Every part of my body is moving and I become a human rhythm machine and I feel like I’m tapping into something much bigger than myself. There’s really nothing quite like it.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.