The sun’s still above Cobb, but it’s steadily easing behind it, stretching the light into the four-car garage, where, tucked in a corner and surrounded by sound-dampening cloth, Breaker One-9 finishes up a song. A few thumps and bass notes fiddle around, then quiet as the band takes a break from practicing their first set. In an empty bay of the garage, papers, a tablet, and Diet Coke spread across the pool table. Mike Mendenhall sits at its edge in a foldup chair, his knees pressed against the table.
Danny Prather, the band’s rhythm guitarist, saunters over to the pool table.
“Howya doin’, Dave?” he greets me. He’s been telling me about the band for months, and I had to come by a practice to hear for myself. “You met Mike?” Mike pops out of his chair and greets me.
“So you’re the manager?” I ask.
Mike laughs. “I’m everything. I do promoting, sound, advertising, whatever needs to be done.” He looks at the band members. “Have you met everyone?” he asks, then takes the time to introduce me to Bob Greene on bass, Marc Roberge on drums, Peter Wilson as lead guitar, and Eric Patrick on rhythm acoustic and backup vocals. Off to the side, Tony Zagajowski, the band’s vocalist, takes a swig from his Arizona Iced Tea, then greets me.
“I’ve met you before,” I say, recognizing him from the open mic at The Roadhouse. You were doing something different then.” Back then, he sang a couple of songs that had the audience roaring in laughter and shock.
“Yeah,” he replies, adjusting his camo trucker’s hat and laughing. “I did that on a dare. It was fun watching the audience. They were smiling and laughing at the beginning, but by the end, I just watched their jaws drop.” He re-enacts it, his mouth wide open.
Tony heads back to the mic as the band regroups from the break.
“Okay,” Danny says, “We’re goin’ to do the first set.”
Mike chips in from the pool table. “Back to the beginning.”
Tony flips the microphone to his mouth and sings, “It must be the whisky,” he belts out, “I’ve been drinkin’ to remember, drinkin’ to forget.”
He closes his eyes and sways, pulling the microphone cord to his belt buckle and resting his hand on it! “Mmm, that was good!” Tony smiles as the song ends. A few seconds later, the band picks up again, and Tony swings into Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”
I’m sitting next to Mike as he works the band’s sound on the tablet. “So, how did you get into this?” I ask him.
“I was a racecar driver until the Valley Fire,” he tells me, leaning in a bit to be heard over the band. “And I lost everything then. Then I got into music and found out that I get a high from it like I did from racing. So I got all the gear for a band and did it. Music’s like racing. If you come to the track unready, you aren’t going anywhere. It’s the same with a gig.” He takes a swig of his Diet Coke. “Then I met Tony at the open mic at the Greenview and told him, ‘Man, let’s do something together. I’ll go as far as you want to go.’”
Just then, the band stops suddenly, mid-song. “How do you want to do that?” Danny says, trying a riff on the guitar. They discuss it for a second, then Tony says, “Let’s go back—do it from the chorus,” and the band’s off again.
“So,” Mike continues, “At first, it was just Danny, Tony, and me. Then we got some great musicians to finish the band. People tell me we’re lucky to have the people we have.”
And it shows. This time, the band nails the tune and closes the tune out beautifully before launching into Jon Pardi’s “Heartache on the Dance Floor”.
Mike turns to me again. “We do a bit of everything. Outlaw Country, old stuff, new. And we’ve got great stuff. This is just the first set. By the time we get to the third, it’s all high-intensity.”
I step outside for a few minutes and chat with the three or four guys hanging out in the driveway, not part of the band, just hanging out, smoking cigars, and enjoying some live music.
“They’re pretty good,” I say. Everyone smiles.
“I can’t believe the difference just from last week to this,” Barry Thomas says, sipping on his beer, his long white beard falling nearly to his waist. “It’s incredible.” Everyone nods, swaying to the tunes. “It doesn’t get better than this,” he adds. “Where else would I want to be?” As the sun dips behind Cobb Mountain, turning everything red, the band starts up Cody Jink’s “I Cast No Stones.”
“But I cast no stones,” Tony sings. Warmed by the music, he’s pulled off his hoodie, revealing an armful of tattoos. “So what gives you the right to tell me my business? Good God, man, you’re out of your mind.”
Mike gets up from the table, stretches, and walks over to me. “You know,” he says, “We’re going to have two debut dates: June 5th at the open mic at Riviera Hills Country Club, and we’re going to be at Middletown Days on June 19th. And Tony’s going to be singing the national anthem at the Middletown Days parade.”
“Say a prayer for me, brother,” Tony winds up the song. “And I’ll see you on down the line.”A moment of silence settles as everyone soaks in the music. “Oh, that felt good!” Tony yells. “We hit it right there.”
To book Breaker 1-9 at a private party or event, get in touch with Mike Mendenhall at 707-816-9063. You’ll also get a chance to see them at Middletown Days.