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3-7 Peice male band
Band of brothers
Monday, July 13, 2009 5:01 AM
By GARY DEMUTH/Salina Journal
\When Joseph Fears popped out from beneath a train and caused a startled Mythias Lee to nearly fall off his bicycle, the two boys had no idea they'd be musical brothers for the next 40 years.
Lee was 12 years old at the time and already a veteran musician. Born and reared in Salina, Lee had been playing in a local rhythm and blues show band since age 7. Fears was a new kid in town, a rambunctious 11-year-old from Hastings, Neb., who sat for hours on his front porch playing the guitar.
"A newspaper delivery guy saw me strumming the guitar and said I was good for a little kid," said Fears, now 51. "He told me that I had to meet Mathias, this other kid who played music."
The two boys had yet to be introduced when they nearly collided at the Union Pacific Train Depot in north Salina.
"I was riding my bike on my way to Carver Center when out pops this kid from under a train," said Lee, now 52. "The train was stopped and dropping freight, but I was still scared. I thought he was going to get killed by that train."
Before the two could say anything, Fears' mother suddenly appeared on the scene like a vengeful ghost, waving a hickory switch. She was not pleased at her son's antics at the tracks and was about to demonstrate her wrath.
"I was just trying to get home, and I wasn't going to let a train stop me," Fears said. "But my mom showed up with a switch, so Mathias' first sight of me was gettin' a whippin.' "
By the grace of God
Within a year, the two young musicians were fast friends and had formed their first band. In 1971, the boys met another teenage musician, Clifton Clark, who joined their musical brotherhood.
"God brought us together," Lee said. "It was destiny."
Although separated for years at a time by career paths and family obligations, Lee, Fears and Clark have now reunited in the Zafaja Band, an R&B, dance and show band that features both original songs and cover classics from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Zafaja, founded by Clark and Fears in 1995, will celebrate its 13th year as a group with a concert Thursday at the Eric Stein Stage at Oakdale Park. The performance is part of the "That's Entertainment" free summer concert series sponsored by the Salina Parks and Recreation Department.
Clark, 51, plays guitar for the group, Fears plays bass and Lee keyboards. The band also features Clark's 48-year-old cousin Tevin Townsend on percussion, veteran West Coast musician Matt Matthews, 62, on drums, and the "youngster" of the group at age 29, Amos Vega on lead guitar.
Going separate ways
It was surprisingly easy for Fears, Clark and Lee to pick up musically where they left off as teenagers.
"Coming back together is like coming home," Fears said. "We can have fun again like when we were kids."
Beginning in the early 1970s, after playing together most of their teenage years, Clark, Fears and Lee disbanded when each joined the Army.
Lee was the first to enlist in 1972. Clark and Fears followed in 1975 and 1976, respectively.
Clark decided to make the military his career. He stayed in the service until his retirement in 1995 but still managed to find time to play music.
After his discharge in 1976, Lee moved to California, where he tried to make a living as a freelance musician and producer, working for established musicians like R&B guitarist/songwriter Bobby Womack.
Fears returned to Salina, where he spent years as a disc jockey and radio personality for local stations KINA and KQNS. He now operates an Internet radio station.
Back with my homeboys
When Clark retired, he moved back to Salina and reunited with his old friend Fears. In late 1995, the two formed the genesis of what would become The Zafaja Band.
"My original concept was to come back here and get with my homeboys and form a band, starting back where we left off as kids," Clark said. "And I wanted it to be an R&B band."
Fears admitted he was skeptical at first that an R&B band would fly in Salina.
"In bigger cities, you have a melting pot that likes R&B music," he said. "I didn't see that it would work here. But we crossed a plateau that wasn't here before."
Clark and Fears were joined by other local R&B musicians, and in 1996 The Zafaja Band played its first concerts in the area. In 1998, a vital component was added when Lee moved back to Salina to care for his grandmother and uncle -- and reunite with his buddies.
"I live and breathe music, and I wanted to do it here with these guys," Lee said.
Townsend was invited to join the band last August after moving back to Salina following a failed marriage.
"I used to watch these guys playing as kids when I was 4-5 years younger than them," Townsend said. "I was inspired by them."
Great bunch of guys
The current Zafaja lineup was completed with the addition of Vega, a young guitarist whom Fears mentored and called "my musical son," and Matthews, a veteran drummer who moved to Salina in 1998 from Compton, Calif.
Matthews has a long musical resume, having worked with such blues and R&B luminaries as Charles Brown, Big Mama Thornton and Johnny "Guitar" Watson.
Coincidentally, Townsend's ex-wife happens to be Matthews' sister.
"We didn't grow up together, but Matt's been as good a friend as those of us who grew up together," Clark said.
Matthews is quick to return the compliment.
"They're a great bunch of guys," Matthews said. "It's the only black R&B band in this area. It's unique to this area."
Extra flavor, for dancing
The uniqueness of the band, Fears said, comes from its ability to take a standard classic rock song by the Doobie Brothers, Steve Miller or Hall & Oates, and give it a funk, R&B flavor.
"We give it an extra flavor so people can dance," he said.
In addition to making music, band members believe it's important to give back to their community. They strive to mentor up-and-coming young bands and performers, sometimes letting new bands open for Zafaja or inviting musicians to play on stage with the band.
"A lot of musicians are new in town and looking for other musicians to play with," Fears said. "It's like it was when I met Mathias under that train."
As for the future of Zafaja, Fears said, "The sky's the limit."
"When you're friends, sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard," Fears said. "It takes a lot of work."
"We do argue, fuss and fight a lot," Clark said.
But even when band members argue, Clark said, the love and respect they have for each other remains strong.
"(The love) not only makes it easier to play together, it makes it easier to stay together," he said.
nReporter Gary Demuth can be reached at 822-1405 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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