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The Helicopter: Practice, persistence pay off
Jul 28 2000 12:00AM  By By Tami Watson pop writer

The history of The Helicopter sounds a lot like "Spinal Tap" - two guys form a band, but they can't keep a drummer. Eventually, they break up without ever playing a gig. Luckily, being the persistent people they are, bassist Jeff Cooper and guitarist Jeff Richardson never gave up.

"The drummers kept quitting," Cooper explained. "We finally found one that would stick around - he was from France - but, he got kicked out of the country. Eventually, we were able to throw a band together. We practiced for a few months, but Jeff (Richardson) came down with the chicken pox, and we were forced to cancel our first and only gig. That pretty much ended things."

Downhearted and desperate, Cooper and Richardson did what many mourning musicians do - party. It was probably the best decision they ever made.

"I ran into Jeff again at this bizarre 'spin-the-bottle' party. It was a birthday party for one of our friends, and some people decided that you had to kiss whoever the bottle landed on - even if it was someone of the same sex," Cooper said. "Jeff and I thought that was a little weird, so we left the room. We started talking, and Jeff told me about some four-tracks he had just finished.

"We wound up listening to them, and I thought they were cool," Cooper continued. "Eventually, we started playing together - just the two of us."

Cooper eventually played Richardson one of vocalist Billy Egle's four-tracks (Cooper and Egle played together in Star 66), and he liked it. With the addition of Egle, they only lacked one thing - a drummer. With Cooper and Richardson's history in the drumming department, this signaled impending doom. Finally, Cooper remembered that a co-worker's husband played drums, and a band was born.

"Chris' wife and I went to school and worked together, and I knew he played drums," Cooper said. "The four of us struggled to get to know each other, and then it clicked. Luckily, Chris hasn't been deported yet."

After those early ups and downs, the two are finally finding some stability - along with Egle and Squires - with The Helicopter. Although Squires doesn't plan on leaving soon, it seems the "Spinal Tap" curse hasn't totally lifted. Squires injured his hand, so the band is currently on hiatus from live performances. They expect to be back on stage by September.

On a more positive note, the Norman-based band recently released its first, self-titled album, and they are already rehearsing and recording for a follow-up. They are also focusing on writing, marketing the album and setting up a regional tour.

"We're working on some new songs and some new ideas so we can put on a better show," Richardson said. "We're also trying to play a music festival in Oregon. We'd love to go out on tour for a month or so."

Turn it up

A band that's not afraid to play loud, The Helicopter produces pure, guitar-driven rock. Egle's smooth soprano vocals often add a Flaming Lips flair, and trippy, psychedelic chords often add a Beatles touch. The band considers both to be influences, and they list Paul McCartney and John Lennon as two of their favorite songwriters.

"We like a lot of the old bands, like the Who, the Stones, the Clash," Richardson said. "I've always been amazed at the energy generated by those bands. Very raw, yet well-sung and well-played."

Richardson, himself, has an affinity for writing interesting lyrics - something he takes to quite unconventionally.

"Songs usually come to me in the spur of the moment, by accident or by luck," Richardson said. "Well, except sometimes, I hear this voice coming out of my God-hole that sings me to sleep. In the morning, I try to write down what I remember of it."

Richardson professes that the "God-hole" is actually his "third eye" or belly button.

"You know - it's the place on your body where Jesus can jump in," he explained. "Anyway, we have to take chances and come up with new ideas. They seems to be the only way to survive."

Honing skills

In the world of MP3s where anybody - including their dog - can put up music on the Internet, survival is a very important factor. Getting signed to a big label, Cooper said, is like trying to run through a brick wall. Although getting signed would be nice, the guys in The Helicopter are content to hone their skills for a while.

"A lot of bands don't really know how to play," Cooper said. "Now, all they care about is how (they look) in a pair of pants on stage and if their sunglasses look cool. Eventually, people won't put up with that anymore.

"There are so many bands in the world, it's hard to get people to notice you," Cooper added. "It's hard to get the ball rolling."

Members of The Helicopter aren't quite sure if they want to be rock stars, but they do want to be musicians. They are hoping people in Norman will realize that there are good bands in town who work hard and deserve to be heard.

"Hopefully this 'boy band' trend will die soon, and people will start appreciating real music," Richardson said. "If anything, we'd like to inspire other talented people to write good songs and play really good rock 'n' roll."

For more information on The Helicopter or their CD, check out their Web site at The CD is also currently available at Hastings.


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reprinted without permission ©The Norman Transcript 2000