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Getting a pop music lesson from Crowfield's Parker Gins

The School of Rock

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Parker Gins is a fount of music trivia — and with good reason. Instead of watching Sesame Street like the other kids, young Master Gins grew up watching MTV. A later trip to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, only furthered his indoctrination into the cult of rock.

Which is why when the time came to select a location for an interview, one place stood out from all the rest: the Gibbes Museum of Art. More specifically, the museum's Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock 'n' Roll Photography exhibit, featuring photographs of the world's most iconic musicians.

When we first meet, Gins is finishing his coffee. Shortly after, he begins talking about the time Crowfield opened for Rusted Root in San Francisco. "We were playing at the Fillmore, and I went into the bathroom thinking, 'Wow, Eric Clapton took a crap here.' "

Gins stops to admire a photograph of former Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed from 1972. He remarks, "That's when Lou Reed was getting weird, doing a lot of heroin." We walk by photos of David Bowie, Kiss, Freddie Mercury, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, and Bunny Wailer, which leads Gins to note in astonishment, "Look at how small his hands look next to that joint!"

Passing by George Clinton and his crazy blond locks, Gins brings up the movie PCU, starring Jeremy Piven and David Spade. The Crowfield drummer is shocked to hear that I've never seen the flick and tells me that Parliament Funkadelic made a guest appearance in it. Then he says that he had a friend who played sax with the Clinton back in the day. "He is a crazy old dude," he laughs, shaking his head.

Up ahead, Gins eyes a photograph of Little Richard. "Little Richard was the original cross-dresser, even before Bowie, dressing up with make-up and everything," he says.

The Crowfield drummer stops to check out Barry Feinstein's photograph for George Harrison's solo debut All Things Must Pass. The washed-out photo features the one-time Beatle in his bearded best sitting among a bunch of garden gnomes. Harrison reminds Gins of Crowfield's hirsute frontman Tyler Mechem. Gins jokes that he once told Mechem that he'd quit the band if the singer ever shaved his beard. Mechem has since cleaned up a bit, but the beard remains.

Gins, too, has changed. Looking at a photograph of Bob Dylan circa 1965, the drummer mentions that his hair used to look like Dylan's, but the big, white-boy afro became too much to handle. Even worse, he started to feel dirty, so he cut it. He pulls out his driver's license to prove it, and boy, was it ever a shocking head of fluff.

After we finish walking through the exhibit, we purchase a pack of rock 'n' roll trivia cards and meet up with Mechem at the Blind Tiger. The bandmates sit across from each other in the newly decorated back room, which also happens to be the site of Crowfield's first gig. Since their days at the Blind Tiger, the boys have traveled across the country, packed out the Music Farm, and opened for big-timers like the Wallflowers. This year, the quintet — Mechem, Gins, Ben Meyer (bass), Ryan Holderfield (guitar), and Whitt Algar (who also won keyboardist of the year) ­— picked up a City Paper Music Award for Rock Band of the Year, and they also released The Diamond Sessions, which was named after their late manager Johnny Diamond. After headlining last week's Jail Break IV, the band will hit the road again to promote The Diamond Sessions, which they funded through a Kickstarter campaign.

Sitting back at the Blind Tiger, the two bandmates have almost finished their beers, but Gins is still rattling off questions from the rock 'n' roll trivia deck. One in particular has tripped up Mecham: Which 1970s rock star is called the Motor City Madman? Gins offers his Mecham a hint, but despite his help, his bandmate gets the answer wrong. A trivia master's work is never done.

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