By Danny R. Phillips
Ben Constable is many things. A dedicated father, punk rocker, troubadour, friend, singer/songwriter, Giver of bad band names.
Over the years that I have known Ben, we have spent many an hour over Jameson and PBR; like minds and a shared love of the band Bad Religion fueling hours of debates, sometimes arguments but always able to see each other’s side.
One thing that strikes me about Constable as we sit with drinks in the back patio area of Magoon’s during a break in his set is how steadfast his conviction is to the music of his youth. Also with the ideals that loving punk rock instills in some: stand up for your brother, raise your voice against the tide, question authority and the concept of right and wrong, never hold any one down, if you work for it you should get your due. Constable has very particular thoughts on certain things; paying an artist for their work is just one he struck on tonight.
“I had a friend say to me “Man, don’t buy the record, I’ll download it.” After a pause, Ben clears his throat. “Man, I want those bands to have that money, I want for them to be able afford to tour so I can see them again.” Drawing from his story vault, he punctuated his point. “I once drove to Texas to buy a t-shirt so they’d have gas money. Being a fan is about dedication. Wanting to buy the record, needing to buy the shirt, dedication, absolutely needed all you can get from a band.”
From his days in the straight ahead punk band Benkirland, to the surf rock/country punk hybrid Jerkface, alongside drummer Brian Shank and singer/guitarist Jesse James (he was also in Spastic Assholes with James), onto his current solo adventure crafting songs of loss and triumph, tragedy and hope. Drawing from the influence of performers like Tim Timebomb, Chuck Ragan, Billy Bragg, Woody Guthrie, The Flatliners, Days N’ Daze, and the late Tony Sly, Constable has traded his electric guitar for a Fender 12-string acoustic.
He’s traded amplified bombast for the clear chime of music mixing fully with words of rage and worry. Rage at the political system in America, worry for the music scene in our fair city.
“When it comes to politics, government and, especially the upcoming Presidential election, whether we go with Clinton or Trump, we are screwed. Those people don’t care about people like you and me, the people that need help, that may be struggling, that need a good education system to push them ahead. They (politicians) are out for their selves. We need to find our own way.”
We seemed to agree on one good thing about Trump being elected, the ONLY good thing: Perhaps a Trump Presidency would stoke some anger, throw fuel on the fire of disappointment, sparking an explosion of new, exciting punk rock. It worked when former movie star and California Governor Ronald Reagan was placed in the high office, stirring up an already smoldering scene helping to create hardcore punk.
“Do you think growing older and the changes in styles qualifies your growth as a musician?” I asked, catching a glimpse of our friend Bob, sitting on the bench, listening, a big smile crossing his face. “Well, I am getting older, Constable answered, “and I’ve also matured as a person and a musician. I’m open to more things but I still like what I like. I don’t like KKJO 105.5, I don’t like the stuff that my girlfriend listens to, it’s manufactured bullshit. There’s so much good stuff out there that most people won’t hear because they only listen to the radio. Those people are missing out.”
When I ask Constable if he fit into St. Joe’s music scene, he hesitates. “Oh, I guess I do because I adapt to it. I don’t think I belong here, the west coast, east coast maybe. I play shows here and there, Magoons, The Rendezvous. Filling in a spot if someone can’t make it. I’m playing tonight because Barry (Woodhull, owner of Magoons) asked me to. I adapt and try to cater to the audience I have. Honestly, I may be done here soon. I’m settling down, raising kids. I’m not out trying to get shows; I’m staying home writing song cycles, playing guitar.”
Constable has seen St. Joe music’s heyday; the wonder years gone by when bands like Ramey Memo, The Rogers, Lovebucket, The Waystation and Hooray for Me, roamed Felix Street, packing The Rendezvous with people eager to hear live music, ready to be part of something. Constable believes those days may be gone for good.
I asked, in my patented defeated tone, “Do you think there is even a scene left? Is it dead?” His answer didn’t surprise me; “I don’t think it’s dead, it’s hurting right now but not dead.”
“Don’t get me wrong, we have good bands. The Creeps, Scruffy and the Janitors to name a couple; we used to have a thriving scene (in St. Joe), people supporting each other, going out, seeing shows. I just don’t see that anymore. Here’s the thing, it’s important for me to go to shows because I may encounter my next peer that I look up to. I get to talk with them, get to know them and discover their music.” He continued his thought after answering a call, an action he apologized for repeatedly.
“We have a small scene here and it seems like everyone is in a bubble. It’s almost like we’re secluded from the rest of the world, like there’s a wall around St. Joseph. People like John Riha (of DOA Productions) who are trying to change that, to make bands aware of St. Joe. It’s a slow process but at least he’s trying.”
Constable has always tried. Whether he was screaming at the Universe with a ragged voice and boiling blood, trying to bring a friend out of a deep depression by showing love, acceptance and understanding or sitting on the corner with his guitar, Constable is genuine, sometimes intense and always looking for the next song. He’s there to give a leg up or a floor to a traveling band, a dollar to a man on the street or a kind word of encouragement. Constable is what he is: real. And if he leaves this town, he will be sorely missed.
Ben Constable is currently writing and recording a new solo album.
You can find him on facebook or check out the Ben Constable page on Youtube.
The scene isn’t dead it never was. They play to a group of like 20-30 people. I mean really? That hardly counts as a following.