July 2008

Squirrels+ Pickles = Band Chemistry

Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: Photography By Anne

A singer in a smoky room, smell of wine and cheap perfume,” is what you often find in a local band at a local bar anywhere, but please “don’t stop believin’”

Instead of street lights there is sunshine; and though there are lots of strangers, they won’t be waitin’ up and down the boulevard. They will be struttin’ up and down the beach in bikinis with clear skies and the smell of cheap 80-proof girly drinks and 30-proof sunscreen.

The scene is the Tiki Hut on South Forest Beach Road. And though there has been a recent band-chemistry drought on the island, let us not forget to bask in the spirit and talent of JoJo Squirrel and the Home Pickles.

Mike Kavanaugh

They have been here, and the tourists know it; but the locals may have forgotten that we still have a cover band that can hold a candle to some of the classic rockers of our time. They just play during the daylight. Did we forget that day drinking is one of the most beloved activities of southern culture?

Well, there is something to be said for a quad of good looking men in plaid shorts, Birkenstocks and Ray Bans who inadvertently challenge the Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Tom Petty to a friendly match of who performed it best. Straight sober it’s a timely decision, and after a few cans of Foster’s, there is no competition. The local band, whose goal is to perform songs as close to how people remember first hearing them, rocks.

John Bruner

Everyone can agree that JoJo Squirrel and the Home Pickles, as a name, could be a mixture of what you swerved off the road for this morning and what you had for snack at Stu’s Surf Side. But as a band, squirrels, pickles, Mike Kavanaugh, John Bruner, Jevon Daley and Gary Pratt have what it takes to be entertaining and respected.

The band hasn’t always been made up of the fab four, but for the last two years they have created a band chemistry that generates great music. And over the last couple of decades, they have individually grown as musicians in every genre of music worth listening to.

Family man, Mike Kavanaugh, one of the founders of JoJo Squirrel, hails from Western New York and came to the island in the ’80s when he was 21 to follow the supposed music scene. Unfortunately, when he arrived, there was no music scene because everything had changed over to sound systems. Kavanaugh claims that he wasn’t very good at that point.

“That’s why I didn’t get any jobs,” he laughed, “because of disco.”

Kavanaugh, who started playing guitar in a garage band at age 16, moved back and forth from Hilton Head and New York, teetering between an everyday job and being a fulltime musician. But ultimately music won and so did the island. Kavanaugh started his island career playing in a trio called the Mike, Jim and Todd Band, because when a band has no name you settle for your own. As band members changed, the original JoJo Squirrel came about in ’96 and was named after one of the original band member’s need to “save his nuts for the winter;” because he had just lost a job. The Home Pickles became an extension to the band’s name due to a typical case of inability to compromise. Thus JoJo Squirrel and the Home Pickles was born.

Jevon Daley

Like relationships, bands have their ups and downs until they break up, in hopes to be reunited, or move on in hopes to find the shoe that fits. Turns out Kavanaugh found several shoes, starting with John Bruner.

Bruner, who has been a Squirrel for five years, grew up in Chicago playing everything from mallet instruments to steel drums. His mother was a concert pianist, so he got bit by the musical squirrel early in life. Bruner, who appears to be the most reserved of the band’s personalities, started a career in paramedics up north and moved to the island after being just plain old burnt out. He is now a fulltime musician playing electric drums for JoJo Squirrel and solo gigs in addition. Not only does he play but he sings on most songs. In fact, all the members of JoJo Squirrel play fulltime, including other bands and solo gigs, and they can all sing lead and back-up.

Not at all shy or unfamiliar with singing lead is Jevon Daley. Daley, whose fans proclaim him as eye candy, grew up in Pennsylvania. He played the saxophone in the high school marching band in ’83 and has been a musician and islander since age 10. Like his band mates, Daley came from musical talent. Both his parents played and performed on the island in the past and his mother has been compared to the likes of Janis Joplin. Daley can almost be recognized singing lead for the Silicone Sister and can be remembered for playing and singing in Lowcountry Boil. He also gives guitar lessons. Though one of the youngest and newest member of JoJo Squirrel, he sings and strums with the rest of the band like he’s been doing it for years, because he has.

“We have the best chemistry,” said Daley. “None of us take each other seriously, but we also take each other very seriously.”

Gary Pratt

Another not so serious personality would be Gary Pratt. Born and raised in the mean streets of Albany, New York, Pratt came to the island like the rest of us locals. He visited so many times he just decided to move here. Currently playing the bass and guitar, Pratt started his musical career at age 13. While the rest of us were making mud-pies and playing fort, Pratt was dabbling in piano at age eight. After moving to the Island in ’99, he played with a band called Trayn Rekk and currently plays in Silicone Sister in addition to playing with JoJo Squirrel for the past four years.

Add the musical dedication of the four individuals described above and the perfect beach atmosphere and you get the kind of chemistry some of us thought the island was missing. Because let’s face it, can we really enjoy half the bands we try to see in the chaos of the summer month’s bar nightlife? Maybe we can, but do we remember seeing them? Okay maybe, but there is no way you remember hearing them.

Well you won’t have a problem hearing or remembering JoJo Squirrel at Tiki Hut on Saturdays and Sundays during season. It’s not the performance aspect of the band that is all that exciting; it’s the sound and accuracy of the music and song. Basically, they are wearing shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses like everyone else, and they kind of sway side to side, barely.

“Sometimes I find myself looking out into the crowd and wondering if everyone staring at us is saying, ‘Why aren’t these guys moving?’” said Daley.

But, it isn’t necessary, especially when they chime in with Hotel California and you feel like The Eagles are visiting Hilton Head for the day. Not to mention the diversity of artists they can cover. Requests are taken on everything from napkins to dollar bills. From Pure Prairie League to Hootie and the Blowfish to the Rolling Stones and even Wilson Pickett, the favorites of the crowd roll in.

The fans’ ages range from late teens to late life; and when JoJo Squirrel plays, everyone listens. They still drink and talk, but the eyes cheat towards the band because they hit harmonies like they’ve been singing together since Sunday school. The tones and quality in the voices command attention, and the Bose system they are plugged into really commands attention.

Local fan Erik Smith said, “This is the top notch of the bands on the island because they really put work into the production of the music and are very diverse.”

JoJo Squirrel rehearses for a month before season starts and learns about 20 new songs per year. Rehearsals are said to run like show rehearsals at the Arts Center and it definitely pays off.

“They play amazing songs and flow from one song right into another without missing a beat,” 21-year-old Janelle Hare of Savannah said.

She also confessed a crush on the band member to the far left (Daley) and announced that JoJo Squirrel would be playing at her wedding when she found “Mr. Right” one day.

The best part is these guys are members of our community, hanging out just like the rest of us. Mike wanted to be a house painter growing up until he was; and once he achieved that dream, he moved on to the next one. Jevon is a real estate investor, loves the Grateful Dead and likes to sing Hootie songs with Mike. John was going to be a doctor at one point; he loves the Pixies and likes to eat at Fat Baby’s. And Gary wanted to be Kiss growing up. You can find him at Sunrise Café or Casey’s.

Though they have earned local recognition, the band has no real interest in fame and making it big time. They are down to earth and just want to play the songs that people love. In the words of Mike Kavanaugh, “I always said when I was 21 that I wanted to make it big, but nobody came by my mother’s house to discover me.”

Thank goodness for lazy boys and passionate men.

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