THE BIG QUESTION - The Unstoppable Carl Finch / by Bo Gerard

Here’s the next in my series of blogs profiling some of the great artists and performers I have worked with in the last 40 years. They all get the same 6 questions, and then I ask them “The Big Question”. This week I profile Carl Finch of “Brave Combo” fame.


Carl (born Texarkana, Texas) is a guitarist, keyboardist, accordionist, vocalist, songwriter, and record producer, who co-founded the Grammy-winning polka/dance band “Brave Combo” in 1979 in Denton, Texas. Carl has two art degrees from NTSU (UNT) - a BFA in Advertising Art, and an MFA in Drawing and Painting. He started Brave Combo in 1979, as he was finishing his MFA, and the band has been rocking clubs, concert halls and festivals across the country and around the world ever since.


What were your influences? “Growing up I listened to a lot of everything. My brother and I started buying records when we were in grade school. I liked pop and rock the best, but, seriously, I listened to everything. Played in my first sorta professional band in the 10th grade. At that time, I was way into stuff like The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, Nazz, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck. Wanted to rock!!!”


What other jobs have you had? “Almost none. In high school, in addition to my bands, I worked for my father. After high school I did a little lounge piano and a few years before Brave combo I had a DJ business and played country and disco music at parties and clubs.”

Do you have any hobbies? “My wife and I rescue cats and dogs. We are, apparently, very good at it. I make strange things, some, of which, have no function. My work has always blended into my hobbies. I do a lot of photography and am now shooting video for several new tracks I have just finished in the studio. Half Brave Combo, half my own stuff.”


Can you tell me about some of the highlights in your career? “Touring, playing all over the USA, Europe and Japan. I have been to so many cool places and have never had to pay for any of it. In fact, I was always paid. That's crazy. Winning two Grammy Awards and receiving seven nominations; Having my music in so many TV shows and movies; Being animated on THE SIMPSONS; Being covered by Bob Dylan and to hear him talk about Brave Combo. That was a real mind-blower.”


“In the early days, being featured in so many hip magazines and papers, so often, including THE VILLAGE VOICE. Lester Bangs was an early supported and his stamp of approval meant a lot. Working with David Byrne on his movie, TRUE STORIES, and then playing his wedding. Recording an album with Tiny Tim. Doing several shows with Drew Carey at the MGM in Las Vegas. Being inducted into The International Polka Association Hall of Fame in Chicago in 2016.”


What was the craziest gig you ever did? “There have been so many and crazy can be achieved so many ways. Once we were about to play a show in Norman, OK and we were informed that a severed head had just been found in the dumpster. Another time we were playing a show in Berlin and the local opening act came on with one of our songs We did a TV show in Japan and our promoter had us all wear Santa Clause suits (our Japanese record company was the first to release our Christmas album, “IT'S CHRISTMAS, MAN”.”

“We marched in The Macy's Parade, which was mighty weird, but how we got the gig was even weirder. All of the shows with Tiny Tim! And the entire experience of appearing on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon - every second - including sharing a dressing room area with Phyllis Diller and Shecky Green.”


What has changed the most in your business in the last 10 years?” “A lot. Club attendance has plummeted. Live music, in general has had to reinvent itself and, in some ways, its whole purpose, to survive. No one is buying recorded music anymore. Everyone is streaming. YouTube has become massively important. Strategy is essential, if you wanna keep making money with your art. On the other hand, polka is sorta alive and well, at least during September and October. Lots of new opportunities to play have sprouted up in recent years, centered around traditional music, like polka.”


“The Big Question” - I have personally witnessed you numerous times on stage when you were in, what I call, “The Zone”. That place where you and the audience become one, and all your years of performing power you and your audience into a magical place that can only happen in a live performance situation. Can you comment on what it takes to be in “The Zone”? “What it takes for me to get into "The Zone" is to be as prepared as possible and to have good stage sound. Once I'm there I can project my wishes outward, which is to create that connection. I almost always have to feel like I'm going out on a limb a little bit, but it's important. I have to make the audience trust me AND remain interested. For that, timing is everything. I look for holes; places I can inject my ideas. My yelling from the stage is all pretty calculated. Once I'm in control everything starts to glide, almost float. And when several band members are in sync, the magic happens. Everything gets super easy, at that point. People (the audience) want to be led, but they have to trust the performer and we ask a lot of people who come to our shows. Many of them feel like they're going out on limbs, as well, by jumping into that conga line when they never imagined dancing in public before. Or putting their left feet out and their left feet in.”