They met as techies, code monkeys for the same computer company. And then, serendipitously, each answered the same Craigslist ad to join a musical band.
That group — a 1980s cover band called Doc Brown and the Time Travelers (an homage to “Back to the Future”) — broke up when one of the bandmates moved out of state, but Don Mayhew and Justin Carper decided to keep the music going as a duet.
“I didn’t want us to quit playing music,” said Carper, who still works as a software architect by day and looks forward to exploring his creative side with a different kind of keyboard wherever possible.
Appropriately, these two self-described computer nerds call themselves The Primary Keys (check your pocket protectors at the door) and they were just starting to find a rhythm two years ago — a gig here and there, but mostly just jamming together in one of their garages — when all hell broke loose and everything shut down.
“I love the camaraderie,” said Mayhew, who plays guitar and handles most of the vocals. “Every now and then, we’ll be practicing and it will be great — everything just sounds great.
That’s why they do what they do. Nothing more. They’re getting back into a groove and gearing up for their return to the stage — a May 6 show at Meadowlark Coffee & Espresso, 1624 South St.
“It’s just fun to play,” said Mayhew, a member of the Lincoln Board of Education who has since left the computer world to open Boxcar BBQ in Havelock. “It doesn’t matter about the money or the place we play. It’s just about having fun.”
There are dozens of area bands who share that sentiment. They’re musicians in the moment — weekend warriors — who make their daily bread as bankers, accountants or dentists. Go into just about any local bar on a Saturday night and you’ll find them having a blast — making music while people dance and sing along to their covers.
Don’t mistake them for those up-and-coming bands that consider themselves good enough to dream — those outfits with big-time aspirations and fantasies of someday playing sold-out stadium shows, of being rock stars, with all the trappings: the fame, the fortune and, yes, the groupies.
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This is simply a story about a couple of guys who like making music, whether or not anyone else is listening.
“You might not go to listen to our music, but you’ll hear it,” Carper said.
He’s being modest. The Primary Keys are far more than background noise. Evidence of that is a recently released YouTube video that combines their computer expertise and musical talent in a hauntingly addictive version of “Overkill,” a 1983 hit by Australian band Men at Work.
“I like taking a song and making it our own,” Carper said. “We steal when necessary. Borrow every now and then. … I love the harmony of this song. … Layers of meaning. We reconstructed it. We’re doing it 40 years later, and there are still little bits to pull out of it.”
Their version is simple, but memorable. Mayhew’s voice is pure and soothing, which for a song that speaks to the fears of the unknown, creates a sense of reassurance — a feeling that everything is going to be OK. When Carper joins in on the chorus, their voices mesh into something moving and inspiring.
They’ve put together a set list of more than two hours of covers, featuring everything from Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” to Shawn Mullins’ “Lullaby.”
“We’ve got a bunch of songs we have fun with,” said Mayhew, the son of a jazz studio guitarist who found a way to pass along some of his musical expertise to his son.
Early on, young Don had aspirations of becoming an opera star and wanted nothing to do with the guitar or any of the tips Irving was trying to give to his son.
“I wanted to learn piano,” he said. “I thought that was something that would go along with something I was learning. Through osmosis, I ended up learning a bunch of guitar stuff from him.”
And what he didn’t know about jazz, Carper, a native of McCook who studied music at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, helped by filling in the blanks.
“He’s helped me to increase my jazz vocabulary, which has really been a fun part of the journey for me,” Mayhew said. “It’s been the chance for me to kind of stretch, to increase my knowledge as a musician.”
It’s a musical journey that likely won’t venture very far outside of Lincoln, but that’s OK. Music is cathartic. It serves a purpose for everyone, whether you’re listening to it or making it.