Must Be This Twisted To Ride
The band brought together by a higher power
Words and photographs by Katie Sikora
Born and raised in a city that musicians and other artists flock to as if it were an unspoken Mecca, guitarist Jon Roniger couldn’t wait to get out. He had traveled and lived in places aside from New Orleans as a child and his family returned to the Crescent City for the majority of his adolescence. But it hadn’t quenched his wanderlust. At the age of 19, he moved to Colorado and then Nashville. But in 2012, after 25 years of being away, neither he nor his wife could resist the draw of this delightfully twisted city any longer.
Much like New Orleans, Roniger describes himself and his musical writings as twisted. And now, three and a half years since his return, he is leading himself and four other admittedly perverse musicians in what they have settled on calling The Good For Nothing Band. At one of their shows, a very complimentary patron attempted to argue that they were not good for nothing, not knowing who she was going up against. Alex Massa, the band’s trumpet player and notorious for arguing pretty much anything for the sake of arguing, answered succinctly, “We’re good and you didn’t pay to get in.” I have met and worked with these musicians many times and in many places before the formation of The Good For Nothing Band and yet, I was still curious as to how these five players found each other because, put simply, they are perfect for one another.
“This band was put together by fate,” Roniger told me. While living in Nashville, he and a friend there had conjured a massive repertoire of New Orleans songs — written essentially “in the style of a crooner but with twisted lyrics and based in New Orleans because New Orleans is a twisted place and we liked it.” After playing the music in Nashville for a few times and having listeners recognize it as something unique, it was time to bring those songs back to where they belonged. And once back in the true city that never sleeps (nice try New York), the music itself acted as a sort of bat-signal for the talented and sideways musicians Jon Roniger now finds himself onstage with three nights a week.
The first of the current lineup to join the band was the aforementioned Alex Massa. “We were doing a show at Banks St. Bar and I can’t remember who was supposed to show up but they couldn’t make it and they subbed it out last minute to Alex. [He] had just moved to town they day before or something but we knew immediately. He walked in and started playing and we were like ‘This dude is perfectly twisted, he’s like a perfect match.’ ” Shortly after meeting Massa, Roniger was offered a weekly time slot at The Maison on Frenchmen Street and so for a year and a half the two of them played that gig.
It was sometime in that year and a half that Roniger says Russell Ramirez, the trombonist, showed up.
“Somewhere in there we met Russell. I don’t know how he appeared, I really don’t, but so that’s why it’s fate, we didn’t look for him, he was just there one day.” And then there were three.
Enter Brendan Bull, the band’s first drummer. Bull and Ramirez had gone to school together in South Carolina and he also moved to New Orleans in the hopes of supporting himself playing music. Roniger never wanted drums before, but acting on a new personal theory that “you can’t hide the beat from white people”, decided to give it a go.
And it was during Bull’s first gig, his audition if you will, with the group that the universe sent the fifth and final member their way.
“It was Brendan’s first gig, [the bass player] shows up, sets up his bass, literally plays half a song and walks off stage. Leaves his amp on, leaves the bass onstage, leaves his phone on the windowsill and doesn’t come back.” It turned out that he was extremely sick but not knowing what was going on, Roniger spoke out into the audience at The Spotted Cat that night, joking that they were auditioning bass players and that anyone who could play the upright bass should get on stage. A girl who had been sitting at the bar for all of this pushed her boyfriend’s arm into the air, volunteering him slightly against his will. The couple was from out of town, visiting from Milwaukee and The Spotted Cat was the first place they stopped. He came up, played a few songs, and knocked it out of the park. It turned out that they were discussing moving to New Orleans. When Roniger found that out, he was so serious about working with this new mystery bassist that by the time he had moved down five months later, he was already scheduled on all of their gigs.
And that is how Evan Paydon became the last and perhaps most sane member of their disobedient group.
Maybe it really was fate. Aside from Roniger, none of the musicians are from New Orleans and the music wasn’t even written here. But since becoming a cohesive unit and using their name to pay homage to one of Jon’s songs about a band called The Good For Nothing Band about a group of ne’er-do-wells who pick the pockets of the audience during the show, the boys have hit the road and the studio to finally record the songs as they were meant to be heard. But it ultimately was their weeklong tour that changed everyone’s outlook.
“We realized we are a good band and people respond to what we’re doing. We get great responses from the audiences in New Orleans but it was very rewarding to go to a strange venue in a strange town and play our original music and have it be well received. We’re starting to develop our sound and band personality. Being on the road, sleeping in close quarters and getting to know each person’s habits just brings a band together. We laughed all day everyday and although we’re serious musicians, we carried that fun and laughter into our shows. People can sense that energy.”