by Erinn Fortson
In the last 30 years, Speed the Plough has undergone several transformations. John Baumgartner has been there since the start. He and wife Toni formed the band back in 1984, watching several band mates come and go during the group’s three-decade stint.
More recently, Speed the Plough’s music has come full circle as the torch has been passed to a second generation of rockers. Mike Baumgartner, John and Toni’s son, now officially shares the studio and stage with his parents as one of the newest members of the band. And the family ties don’t end there. Speed the Plough’s current drummer is John Demiski, nephew to John Baumgartner and son of former member Stanley Demiski.
“It’s a little bit like Appalachian music is and was and has been over the years, where families play music [together],” says John Baumgartner. “That’s what they do, instead of [say] going out to dinner; we do that do,” he laughs. “We happen to play music [as a family]. It’s been real kind of a heartwarming thing to find that [connection]. The kids, obviously being in their early twenties, [grew] up with all kinds of different music. But, they’ve appreciated what we’ve done, which is kind of an interesting development.”
Like the many other musicians that have taken the ride with Speed the Plough, Mike Baumgartner and John Demiski brought something different to the table when the two joined the family band. The process of welcoming new members into the group seems to be the reason Speed the Plough has remained fresh in sound since the beginning. The ability to genuinely adapt to those changes has played a part in that too. After all, that’s more or less how Speed the Plough got its start.
First, there was the Feelies, a New Jersey grown band that formed in 1976. In the early 80s, some of the group’s members left and went on to start the Trypes. A few years after the first Feelies offspring was born, Speed the Plough was created. For the most part, Speed the Plough has remained active since beginning three decades ago. Even when the band took a 15-year “break”, the music never died. John Baumgartner especially kept busy.
“I kept writing songs throughout this whole period and I guess felt the need to voice them among my friends and co-players,” confirms John. “A good part of the [Speed the Plough] hiatus period, to us, was not really much of a hiatus, except in the public sense. Tony, Mark, and I, who were the originators of the Trypes, kept playing on a pretty serious, weekly basis with Stan Demiski, the Feelies drummer and Glen Mercer, who’s a Feelies songwriter and guitar player, and Dave Weckerman, who’s the percussionist and the front man of Yung Wu.”
We were playing in our basement a good seven or eight of those years on a very regular basis,” continues John. “And it really was, I think unbeknownst to most of us at the time, a wood shedding period.”
In 2010 Speed the Plough officially began getting back in the swing of things, focusing on new music and once again shaking things up with the band’s lineup. That wood shedding period John Baumgartner describes, proved to be beneficial as some of the material he wrote during that period was included on Speed the Plough’s 2011 album, Shine.
Last year, the band released a retrospective album that captures its 30-year journey. Entitled The Plough & The Stars, the record offers a glimpse at the group’s history, showcasing significant songs that tell the musical tale of Speed the Plough. Because John Baumgartner and company have been involved in so many different projects over the years, the band’s fan base has remained uniquely diverse. From the Trypes to the Feelies, to the latest version of Speed the Plough, listeners have followed these various outfits and supported the artists behind them.
“[It’s] not a huge number, but [there’s] a very devoted group of people that have been on board throughout the years, that may not have been specifically Speed the Plough fans,” confirms John.
And there’s always the excitement of connecting with new followers that are interested in getting to know Speed the Plough better. “Anybody, being a musician, would be crazy to say that they didn’t want to expose their music to new fans and get new fans.”