That Dad Band We Love

The Buzz Hounds are straight outta Arlington.

Clockwise from left: Bandmates Billy Fuller, Jeff Urbancic, Brent Baxter and Drew Pathwick with little hounds from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. To adopt a pup, visit awla.org. Photo by Liz Lynch

The Buzz Hounds were halfway through a recent charity gig outside Pete’s Apizza in Clarendon when the police arrived—ironically, midway through a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—and pulled the plug on the band’s amps, citing excessive noise and failure to procure the proper permits.

“We felt like the Beatles on the [Apple Records] roof for about 20 minutes,” drummer Jeff Urbancic says, referencing the Fab Four’s final performance, which was famously shut down by a well-intentioned (if tin-eared) squad of London bobbies for similar reasons in 1969.

But for Urbancic and his bandmates, the show wasn’t a total loss: “We still raised a good amount of money,” he says, on behalf of Bridges to Independence, the Arlington Food Assistance Center and Doorways for Women and Families. The fact that they could boast a common bond with John, Paul, George and Ringo was just icing on the cake.

The Buzz Hounds’ genesis can be traced back to the bleachers of a local baseball field. In 2011, Urbancic, whose son played on Arlington Babe Ruth League’s Rust Insurance Red Sox, struck up a conversation with fellow baseball dad Billy Fuller during a lull in the on-field action. The two quickly discovered a shared love of music: Urbancic had been a drummer for a succession of local bands; Fuller, a rhythm guitarist, played informally with friends.

Soon, the two—together with friend and guitarist John Brandt—were meeting for regular jam sessions at Brandt’s house in East Falls Church. As a tribute to Brandt’s hound dog, Brodi, who attended every practice (“no matter how loud or awful we sounded”) the fledgling band christened itself The Buzz Hounds.

In 2012, they scored their first official gig. Leveraging their status as regular patrons of the Westover Beer Garden, they convinced owner Devin Hicks to give them a slot onstage, delivering a set list that included the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and “Squeeze Box” by The Who.

Not long after, Brandt headed off to explore the Caribbean, and the band recruited lead guitarist Brent Baxter in 2013, followed by bassist Drew Pathwick in 2014. That’s when its signature sound—which Baxter describes as “acoustic-electric rock, with distinct colors of Southern rock and prog rock/jam bands”—really began to jell.

These days, in addition to the beer garden, they’re often booked at local venues such as Ireland’s Four Courts, Rhodeside Grill and Ragtime. They do play the occasional “road gig” in D.C. or Charlottesville, but their first love is Arlington.

After all, it’s their hometown. Fuller and Baxter both grew up here and went to Yorktown High School. Urbancic and his wife, Debbie, were house-hunting in Arlington’s Bluemont neighborhood in the mid-1990s when they met Baxter and his wife, Kim, walking their pet beagles, thought they were nice folks and decided to become neighbors. Pathwick, the band’s relative newcomer, moved to Arlington in 2000 in pursuit of Natalie, the woman who would eventually become his wife.

Today, the band members have eight kids among them, all of whom attend Arlington public schools. Their proudest moment, Urbancic says, was the time they were auctioned off for $1,000 at a McKinley Elementary School PTA fundraiser.

All four musicians have day jobs. Baxter, 52, is a trust and estate lawyer; Fuller, 50, works in human resources; Urbancic, 50, is a graphic designer; and Pathwick, 40, is a mechanical engineer. But on Thursday rehearsal nights and weekends they’re rock stars. They’ve even started writing their own stuff. A typical set list of 35 songs now includes four or five originals.

Of course, any party band worth its weight in Budweiser needs to be able to read an audience and tweak its repertoire accordingly. “We once played a birthday party and learned that the birthday girl loved Barry Manilow,” Urbancic remembers. “We couldn’t pull off ‘Copacabana’ since we lacked horns, percussion and backup singers, so we settled on ‘Mandy.’ The place went wild.”

Another fan favorite, the Blue Oyster Cult hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” routinely brings audience members onstage to provide more cowbell.

There are some “overplayed wedding songs” that Urbancic says he would happily ban, including “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang, “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger and the much-maligned “Macarena” by Los del Rios.

But Pathwick, for his part, is a bit more flexible. “If you pay me enough, I will play it!” he says. “I have no shame.”

And what of that inevitable voice from the back of the crowd demanding “Free Bird”? “We’ve been known to play around with the first part of the song, and then abruptly skip to the last part,” Urbancic admits. “Kinda like peeling the Band-Aid off real quick.”

Like so many of music’s greats, the Hounds have their quirky rituals. Baxter keeps his voice in shape by “avoiding fried foods, caffeine and chocolate, taking antacids and drinking apple cider vinegar.”

Fuller likes to play barefoot. “We almost always have a carpet we bring [to shows],” he says. “It helps define our musical space. You can say it’s a magic carpet ride.”

Each also has his own idea of the ultimate fantasy collaboration. For Urbancic, that would be Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Pathwick pictures himself onstage with Ben Folds. Fuller dreams of playing with singer-songwriter John Prine: “His play on words and perspectives always come together to create a song that tells a great story.”

Baxter, meanwhile, has his sights set a little closer to home. “I would love to do a project with Steuart Smith, a local guy who has made it big as the Eagles’ guitarist,” he says. “We have strummed together, but he’s just never around and, really, who am I to ask him to do a project with me? It’s an honor just to know him—we’ve been neighbors for 27 years.”

So far, the band’s closest brush with fame was when Pathwick’s rare fretless bass guitar was borrowed for a song on Bruce Hornsby’s 1995 Hot House album (long story, but sadly Pathwick was not the one playing it in the recording studio). “I was hoping for a credit in the liner notes,” he recalls wistfully, “but all I got was a T-shirt.”

In the end, it really isn’t about the fame (although they do take pride in relating the time local NBC4 newscaster Wendy Rieger came to a show and liked it). And it’s not about the money. “I make barely enough to keep me in guitar strings and amp repairs,” Baxter jokes.

It’s simply for the love of music, and a good time. “If you took what we make and divided it by all the time that we put into this band, we wouldn’t be making minimum wage,” Fuller says. “But it’s totally worth it.”

Rick Schadelbauer is an Arlington-based freelance writer and wannabe musician who instructed the DJ at his wedding reception not to play Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” no matter how many times it might be requested.

Follow The Buzz Hounds and check upcoming tour dates at thebuzzhounds.net.


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