Ever try rocking “Free Bird” with arthritis? Carrying a keyboard with a bum back? Climbing stage steps with creaky knees? Squeezing your thighs together onstage while your enlarged prostate screams at you to piss just minutes into an hour-long set?
Growing old makes it tough to play gigs, but the fire seldom goes out even after the bones, back, and bladder do. That forever-young zeal for creating songs keeps Mark Merritt, Earl Musick, and Amos Staggs meeting regularly at Musick’s RockHouse Studio in East Fort Worth to record what they call the BOHICA Sessions.
In the past two years, they’ve created 15 EPs, each containing seven original songs. They compile the songs on a website and offer free downloads.
“We’re songwriters,” said the 71-year-old Musick. “We’re gonna fucking die. We don’t want to leave the music in us. Until the songs get recorded, they’re just words on a paper.”
Musick picked up a three-inch stack of paper sitting atop a coffee table at his studio. Hand-scrawled lyrics covered each page.
“We still have the urge to write,” Musick said, dropping the stack of paper on the table with a thud. “Writing the song has always been the most fun part.”
Writing words is easier than toting heavy amplifiers, particularly when suffering from neuropathy, which has damaged the peripheral nerves in Musick’s feet. He wears padded slip-on shoes 24-7.
“Neuropathy is really debilitating,” he said.
Staggs, also 71, deals with tremors that accompany Parkinson’s disease. He’s had songs recorded by artists as diverse as Garth Brooks and Santana and can still write and sing lyrics. He and Musick have been penning songs together and recording since the early 1990s. For years, they would record albums and then book gigs to play the songs and sell product.
Two years ago, Musick had completed his sixth solo album and was preparing to do the usual routine –– mixing, mastering, artwork, printing, and distribution. Typically, Musick would spend several thousand dollars preparing an album for release. This time, he hesitated.
“I was 69,” he said. “I thought, ‘Boy, there’s a waste of three or four thousand dollars.’ I’m not going to sell that many CDs. I’m not going to go up and down the highway, not at my age, not toting amps and setting up PAs.”
His buddy Staggs was similarly stymied. Even the group’s whippersnapper, 49-year-old guitarist Mark Merritt, was developing arthritis. Other regular contributors include Will Featherstone (drums), Peggy Martin (vocals, percussion), Mick Morrow (bass), and Earl’s wife Darlina Musick (vocals, percussion).
“We’re working hard as we can, fast as we can, but unfortunately not as fast as we used to,” Staggs said. “The circumstances or fate or whatever you want to call it brought us all to this point, like-minded to get this work done. It is indeed time-sensitive.”
After years of putting songs on online distribution sites, the BOHICA bunch decided to offer their tunes for free streaming. (BOHICA is Vietnam-era military slang for Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.)
“You look at your Spotify or CD Baby, and you’ve got 600 streams, and you’ve made 12 cents,” Musick said. “Woo hoo! A lot of people are listening to the music, but you’re not making any money on it.”
The BOHICA website allows listeners to download, copy, and share songs for personal use, although the musicians maintain all of the copyrights.
“Our main goal is to find artists who are going to [record an album] and are looking for songs,” Musick said. “That’s not free.”
So far, no other artists have recorded any BOHICA Sessions material. Still, the songwriters keep plugging. Music has never been about the money for these guys.
“I like to think that anyone listening to our tunes can at least appreciate the sincerity and the effort we put into it,” Merritt said. “If folks dig it, well, that’s just the best kind of affirmation.”
The BOHICA Sessions allow the musicians to polish their golden years into a self-soothing glean.
“I could retire and start going to state parks and spending the weekend in the bus,” Musick said. “That would suck. I still want to play and write. That’s what it’s all about. Making up a story, putting it together, and coming out with an end product that’s good enough to put out there for people to listen to.”