Still crazy after all these years
Once the bassist for Crazy 8s and now a band teacher at Gordon Russell Middle School, Mike Regan plans to reunite with his group this summer
Edgar Alejo, a sixth-grader at Gordon Russell Middle School in Gresham, says he has a 'pretty good band teacher.'
Edgar says when he started playing trumpet, he didn't know how to use his lips and facial muscles to properly play it. But his teacher showed him how, he says.
'Now I can play really high notes!'
Little does young Edgar know that Mike Regan, his mild-mannered instructor, has a rather colorful past. Why, this unassuming band teacher has seen Ed McMahon's mini-bar - and lived to talk about it.
He's met Bill Clinton, and concluded he was a better politician than saxophonist.
He's shared a stage with Oingo Boingo's Danny Elfman, before he went onto fame and fortune as the composer of such ditties as the theme to 'The Simpsons.'
And now Regan is poised to reunite with the band that made this all possible - Crazy 8s.
Regan shared memories of the band after finishing a day's work teaching music at Gordon Russell, where he's worked for 13 years. He notes that for about a decade, gigging and recording with Crazy 8s was his day - and night - job.
'We weren't getting rich by any stretch of the imagination, but it was enough to live on.'
Last October, Crazy 8s, a group that was popular in the Northwest during the 1980s and early '90s, was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame (www.omhof.org). Regan, the band's bassist, says he was honored to join the hall, whose inductees include Robert Cray and The Kingsmen, among others.
Crazy 8s combined ska - reggae's upbeat forerunner in Jamaican music - with rock and other elements to produce a catchy, hard-driving sound flavored with socially conscious lyrics. The band was popular on college radio, charting with such songs as 'Johnny Q.'
Now Crazy 8s is planning to reunite this summer, and hopes to land a gig at an area festival on Aug. 8, 2008 - 8-8-08, Regan says. He adds that the group is negotiating a possible appearance at The Bite of Oregon, Aug. 8-10, at Waterfront Park in Portland.
If the band reunites, it should draw something of a crowd, given that Crazy 8s sold several thousand albums, appeared on the TV show 'Star Search' (where Regan and company met McMahon), drew kudos from Rolling Stone magazine and opened for such acts as The English Beat, The Violent Femmes, The Clash, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Neville Brothers.
Crazy 8s - the early years
Regan, 48, notes he joined the band in 1983 about four months after it formed at Oregon State University in Corvallis. The group played local clubs and fraternity parties, and realized it was becoming popular when people started standing in lines around the block to see them wherever they were performing.
'I think we were a really fun, live band to listen to,' Regan says. 'We weren't a band that stood around, looking sullen and engrossed in our own world. We were jumping around like jumping beans.'
Regan co-wrote about 'four or five' of the band's tunes, but says he was generally content to play the bass. He adds that he thrived on playing at large outdoor shows, and wasn't nervous despite having thousands of people view and hear him.
'I had more stage fright playing in front of 20 people,' he says with a chuckle.
Regan and his fellow musicians encountered a number of famous characters along the way, including Clinton, whom they met at a rally in Eugene when he was running for president in 1992. The band was to perform at the rally, and Clinton tried to play a band member's saxophone offstage.
'He tried to get up and play and no sound came out,' Regan says, though eventually, Clinton's huffing and puffing graced everyone's ears with some notes.
Regan also recalls meeting Peter Cetera, lead singer for Chicago and '80s pop god. Cetera sat in and played bass with the band and broke a string on Regan's axe. However, he bought Regan a couple of drinks and was a friendly guy.
As the band's popularity grew, major labels expressed interest, but Regan says the group never felt completely comfortable with deals offered, in part, because the big shots wanted to 'tweak our sound.'
Eventually, the group broke up as the times and peoples' musical tastes changed.
'Maybe we were just burned out,' he adds.
Crazy 8s has reunited from time to time, he says, adding that he himself has also played in other bands.
Giving the gift of music
Today, Regan is happily married - 'I married above my head, believe me!' - to his wife, Dagny, a bassoon and oboe teacher, and the couple has one son, Kenny, 12, who's also a budding musician.
After Crazy 8s ended, Regan decided to become a music teacher, and he credits Chuck Bolton, former band director at Barlow High School, as well as Ben Brooks, band director at Reynolds High School, for mentoring him in his early years as an educator.
'Those two guys are the reason I'm teaching music.'
Regan says he loves to interact with children, and particularly enjoys the fact that he has many students stay in the program from sixth through eighth grade.
'I like to see their growth.'
He adds that some of his students are aware of his past.
'There's kids here that say their parents have seen me play.'
And if all falls into place, this summer those kids and their parents will see the Crazy 8s again.