Addison Groove Project was all but graduated
from college in 2002. One by one, each member achieved the goal
they set for themselves and were ready to explode into a national
tour-de-funk. But just as they came to the finish line, the
excruciating news of bassist John Hall’s critical cancer
nearly stopped them in their tracks. But it didn’t.
What could they do but go on? They had no choice
and they certainly weren’t going to let John’s illness
stop the band cold in its tracks. That would have been worse
than getting cancer in the first place, for John. To see his
friends’ dreams dwindle away because of him would be unacceptable.
Despite a friend and bassist on hiatus, AGP continued to tour.
After all, the band was named after Hall’s father, Addison.
It came quicker than anyone thought. On the
night of Thanksgiving, November 25, 2005, after spending the
day with his family from all over New England, John Hall passed
away from cancer at the age of 25. Despite a year and a half
battling the disease, Hall would never allow it to be the focus
of attention. From his bed, he played an active role in the
band’s national tour. His selfless dedication to the band
drove every member to constantly keep the temperature rising.
Now, as Addison Groove moves on with the encapsulated
life of Hall in front of them, they are driven by the memories
of his relentless positivity and unceasing commitment to doing
what he loved.
* * *
Prior to the Boston
on February 2, 2005, the opening act, Akashic
Record was going through soundcheck, and AGP was back stage
relaxing before the show. Rob Marsher’s mom showed up
unexpectedly with a birthday cake for the keys player even though
his birthday was still a week away. She wanted to be sure and
get some time with her favorite keyboardist before the show.
That’s not hard to believe, she’s his biggest fan.
The backstage lounge was relaxed as the band
prepared for their first Boston gig since John had passed away
in late November. Knowing that I was there to talk about John,
everyone was very open about their experiences and agreed that
we should get together to talk. Now, however, it was time for
That morning, the band arrived from their
Burlington show. They spent the last night at the new Higher
Ground, celebrating music with old friends. They felt a tremendous
welcome from friends of John from Skidmore College—and
friends of John’s are friends of yours.
For the first time, people were really starting
to talk about John; about his life, his illness and his death.
Up until then, it was never a subject of focus. “He never
wanted to bring attention to his cancer,” says Marscher.
“Now that he’s passed away, we feel more comfortable
getting the story out. We know how it ends. We’re really
looking forward to letting lose for this show, having a good
time with all our friends—not weighed down with eminent
I could hardly believe the enthusiasm coming
from Rob’s lips. Then I realized why it made sense, he
and John are not like most people. They spend their lives doing
what they love: “All I want to do with my life is have
fun and play music. Nothing else matters. This is what I’ve
got to do because this is what’s important in my life.
I’m not going to get a job that I don’t like, I’m
just going to play music,” says Marscher. “I could
last time the band was all together with John was on his 25th
birthday, on November 20, 2004. Going into the Boston Avalon
show that night, Brendan McGinn on guitar, vocals and trumpet,
wondered if he was going to see John again. “I had a sense
I might not see him again. Then it was confirmed when I was
trying to reach him that week, the week before Thanksgiving.”
Brendan reached down to show me the text message on his cell
phone. It was his last message from John. “Sorry I’ve
been having a rough week,” it said.
What John Was to
It was obvious after talking to the five remaining
members of Addison Groove Project, that John Hall was the performer
of the bunch. He was always focused on the presentation during
shows, served as the emcee between songs and wrote all the setlists
before each performance. Rob Marscher, on clavinet, synth and
organ, recalls: “He would always remind us to look at
and interact with the crowd, he was a leader in that aspect.”
only did John constantly work the audience, together with Andrew
Keith on drums, he was a solid foundation of the rhythm section.
Now that Marscher has stepped in as John’s replacement,
playing all the bass lines with his right hand on keys, he has
a new found respect for what John provided musically: “I
don’t know if it was the head bobbing that he did, but
he really held down the groove. He was just like a rock; that
was always great to have.”
With a relatively long history for such a young
band, the members have become firmly entrenched in each other’s
style from years of playing together. After drummer, Andrew
Keith, and Hall made their debut playing together for a seventh
grade English project, Keith and Hall did a few gigs with McGinn.
Keith recalls: “We’d get together with our band
and play our favorite tunes. And John from the very beginning
brought a real energy. He loved the music we played—you
could tell. He always had a sense of performance energy that
he really tried to bring to all of us. He always tried to get
us to step up to the plate for a gig and encourage us to really
rise to the occasion.”
Not only did Hall keep the band focused on
playing to the audience, he did so in a very humble manner.
Ben Groppe, tenor sax player for the band, says, “He was
very unselfish with his playing. He played with a lot of energy
to hold down the groove but he’d do it without dressing
it up or drawing attention to himself.”
better to recognize his humble playing than other bassists?
“He would get compliments on that from other musicians
all the time. We hooked up with the guys from Big Birth at the
Belle Cher music festival in Asheville. After we played, the
bass player went right up to John and said ‘you were really
driving the band, you really know what you’re doing.”’
Keith added, “it was especially a compliment to John because
that bass player was the centerpiece and focus of that band,
the musician of that group.” Groppe continued: “I
also remember how Beau, Tom and Max [from Uncle Sammy] were
really into John’s playing when we were touring with Uncle
Sammy. And they had Brian O’Connell in their band—an
incredible bass player.”
If other members of the band complained that
the crowd wasn’t into it, John would point out that it
was their responsibility to read the crowd and get them into
it. He would take responsibility for getting the crowd groovin’
to the music. He always engaged the crowd to keep them riled
up and looking for more.
A Send Off to
There’s nothing easy about losing a friend. You can not
escape the deep hollow feeling in your heart, no matter what
you do. The realness of the sensation feels a bit like heartburn,
a bit like dehydration, a bit like someone is standing on your
chest; and no matter what you do to try and distract yourself,
the feeling is ever pervasive. Pain, loneliness, sorrow; you
just can’t escape it.
Even though the cancer came quickly and took
care of John in just 18 months, the band had long hours on the
road to contemplate what all this meant. And it all ended before
they even realized it was so serious. Chronic enthusiasts, each
band member always felt hope that John would once again join
them on tour—to complete once again, the troop of musical
evangelists traveling the nation to spread the groove.
Most surprising, was their overwhelming positvity.
Not only were they all very optimistic through the struggle,
that John would be cured, they were optimistic to the end. Even
the day of his funeral, where his soul was put to rest with
the aid of 750 people in a grand celebration. People from his
elementary school, from college; family and friends from Vermont,
members of the church. It was evident how many people he touched.
All his friends were together, that’s how John would have
John was happy when he died. He knew that
he lived life on his terms, exactly as he wanted it. Just like
any of us, all of life wasn’t perfect. But John had a
remarkable ability to see the glass half-full side, always.
He took full responsibility for his own happiness, and tried
his hardest to pass that happiness to the revelers in the audience
dancing to the searing brass-studded funk streaming from Addison
Groove Project’s music.
Where the Groove
the past four years, the band has gone through considerable
changes musically, however continually refining the unique sound
that sets them apart from the typical jamband. The unique lineup
is the beginning of the individuality of this band, with the
inclusion of two full time sax players and Brendan’s ability
to put his guitar (and voice) down and pick up the trumpet for
extended brass sections. The next most noticeable nuance of
this Boston funk band is the complex chord progressions composed
into the songs. Marsher, on organ, synth and clavinet took his
classical training in impressionist composition and weaves an
intricate richness deep into the chords of the songs. Sometimes
the music frolics like Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun in
the mid-day sun, other times it delves deep into a dark mideval
labrinth of somber realism. On top of Andrew Keith’s beats,
any venue is sure to be filled with dancing feet.
Now that the band is permanently down a bassist,
that too adds to the uniqueness of the sound. But their compromise
is quite unique. Not only does Marscher play the written bass
lines that Hall played, he plays them through Hall’s bass
cabinet and amp head. There are still bass strings in the case,
Hall’s picture is still on the tour poster. McGinn feels
its good to have him around for a bit. “It’s kind
of like playing Jimi Hendrix's guitar. There’s a kind
of ethermal feeling that’s happening.” Not to mention
that the music is a living embodiment of his spirit.
“We didn’t know what we were going
to do for tour,” Dave Adams explains. With all the plans
in place, and their friend to represent, they knew it had to
happen. So Rob learned the bass parts. “He was a savior,
it was unbelievable!” remarks Adams. It was a very humble
moment for Rob since he now had two parts to play. “But
despite his right hand being tied up holding down the written
bass lines, verbatim to what John played, he still went off.”
Continues Adams: “Rob is the kind of guy that is so excited
with every note he plays. It’s a pleasure to listen to
him. But without seeing him, you’d never get sense of
the music he plays. You’d never guess that such ferocious
music comes from such a quiet, soft-spoken person.”
As Adams speaks compassionately about John
and his fellow bandmates and what they went through together,
his face lights up. It seems this 25-year-old has spent considerable
more time smiling than the average person his age. And for a
good reason: they bring smiles to thousands of faces with every
tour they go on.
With the spirit of John Hall before them, each band member has
learned something specific to their own lives:
realized he needed to take things but a bit more lightly. “We
started to go out and have a lot more fun than we were before,
we realized what was secondary to some larger things. It turned
tour into a much more enjoyable experience, because we’re
not taking anything for granted. That really got pushed in our
face, and for the best.”
Adams has come to figure out how to love life.
Through out the last 18 months, a lot changed for the band.
But through it they’ve grown much closer as friends. The
level of connection can be heard in their music.
“If I had to point to one concept about
John, and his life,” explains Keith “it was his
relentless forward motion. No matter what the stakes, he gave
it his all, and he wanted people around him to give it their
Ben Groppe agreed, “It was incredible
to see him deal with cancer with that same attitude. His family
was like that too, so strong, especially his mom. He was so
matter-of-fact about his struggles. Even towards the end, he
spoke in such a relaxed and straightforward tone. It was so
reassuring that John was the same guy even though he looked
so different. He was taking it in stride in a way that was so
For Marscher, it reinforced his belief that
you can’t get wrapped up in the little things. “You’ve
got to look at what you want to do with your life. I think about
how the universe is a billion years old and all the things that
had to happen through evolution and natural selection to bring
you to this moment where you’re alive. I wonder, maybe
your spirit does exist outside of your body, but its not an
experience like this, this is totally different.
As John discovered, life is short. You can
either guide it or let it guide you. If you don’t take
control, you never know where you’ll wind up and you can’t
blame circumstance for misguiding you. You must seize the moment,
work hard and enjoy life. Which is what John did. Says Brendan:
“It was a short life lived well."
November 20, 1979 - November