If a movie was made about The Free Man, a Deep Ellum Cajun restaurant and live music venue, the soundtrack would consist of songs by one band: The Free Loaders. Owner of the venue, and lead man of the band, John Jay Myers sits behind a drum set and microphone on his stage every Tuesday night.
On Aug. 21, after a set full of broken drum sticks and powerful covers, he walked next door to the postponed expansion of The Free Man and lit a cigarette. If there is one upside to Myers’ recent woes with city regulations, it is that he can smoke in his new place until the utilities are turned on. While most of his time is dedicated to finishing the venue, raising two kids and working a day job, he is still conjuring up plans for The Free Loaders.
Nowadays, Myers can almost count the number of band members on one hand — although, at times there are as many as 26 different people contributing to The Free Loaders. It is just a matter of who he wants to step in at the time, he says.
Between trying to pull together The Free Man's new facility and working out a solid lineup of musicians, the band has struggled to nail down a set of original songs.
"You're like, play 'Howl,' which is an original song," he says. "The guys will be like 'All right, let me pull out the chart.' It's like 'You already ruined it for me.'"
There's a downside to having so many people involved in the band, but Myers says he wouldn't have it any other way.
"I stacked the deck," he says. "I'm gonna make it to where I can be a fuckin' dildo, and this can happen because I've surrounded myself with the best people you could possibly imagine."
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Myers is optimistic about the band's break from original music. It has given the members time to understand their sound. In 2015, The Free Loaders recorded their first original studio album Howl. It was good but not great, Myers says. It did not capture what the band was about.
The goal for the band was never to be authentic. The Free Loaders have been nominated for Best Jazz Band on several occasions. If they ever won, Myers says he would probably get shot for lacking a more traditional spin on the genre. What his band does is more like blues-jazz on steroids.
"My goal was to take it and do something crazy with it," Myers says. "Have it be not like they played it at the time. I'm gonna take it, and I'm gonna bastardize it."
However, he did not always have a clear vision of where he wanted to go musically.
Before his current band, he came to Dallas from Florida in the '90s. He was in a group called Huge Peter. They kept hearing about bands like Toadies and Tripping Daisy getting signed and figured they would take it up a notch and test their luck in Dallas. It was terrible, he says.
"The guy that invited us out here was faxing all the clubs gay porn saying 'Huge Peter is coming,'" Myers says. "I guess he thought it was good marketing. It wasn't."
Needless to say, things didn't work out for Huge Peter. It was not until 2013, after Myers opened The Free Man, that he found himself in need of a Tuesday night act. He hadn't played drums in seven years, and he never really thought of himself as a singer.
"I said, 'Well, you know, I could get my drums out, dust 'em off and I could play on Tuesdays. I mean no one's here anyway, so who gives a fuck?'" Myers says.
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And so, The Free Loaders were born. The members in the first iteration of the band couldn't see it going anywhere. However, Myers began surrounding himself with the likes of keys player Scott Bucklen, saxophonist Shelley Carrol, bassist Dave Prez and guitar player Brady Mosher.
Back in his day, Myers was a badass on the drums, he says. Although, with years away from his set, he became rusty and eventually got fired as the band's drummer. He became exclusively the singer of the band, something he'd never really considered himself.
Those who filled in for Myers on drums were not doing what he wanted. He decided to fine-tune his percussion skills and pick up where he left off as the band's drummer and frontman on vocals.
Today, Myers calls himself the “lead carnival barker” for The Free Loaders. He and the band rock the house at The Free Man once a week. As soon as the venue’s expansion is wrapped up, Myers anticipates he will unload enough original material for a new album that will capture the band’s true sound.