The room – an intimate lounge area at Webb City’s Just a Taste restaurant – is vibrating on this February evening, from the wooden floors to the tables and chairs scattered throughout.
Having laid down a loop that includes a guitar lick, beatboxing and even a whistle, Doug Dicharry grabs his trumpet for a quick solo, his feet constantly in motion to add a percussive beat to his cover of Talking Heads’ “This Must be the Place (Naïve Melody).”
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
It’s a typically virtuosic performance by Dicharry, whose one-man-band Dance Monkey Dance! earns an enthusiastic reception from his audience during an evening of original songs and covers that run the gamut from John Prine and Jackie Wilson, to Bruce Springsteen and the familiar hymn “I’ll Fly Away.”
But it’s that Talking Heads’ cover that lands a bit differently, given Dicharry’s personal journey.
It’s a path which started as an elementary student in Texas, continued into the late ‘90s music scene in Joplin, and then launched into high gear as a member of the Ben Miller Band before settling down into the role of solo performer. It also led him to Missouri Southern State University not once, but twice over two decades.
Having had experience on the regional, national and international stage, Dicharry has settled into a work-life balance of family and music, and a clear vision for where he hopes his education will lead.
The easiest place to start, Dicharry says, is at the very beginning … provided you have the time.
“It’s a really long story,” he says on a recent morning at a local coffee shop. “I’ll try to shorten it down a little bit.”
But you don’t want him to; not really.
For those familiar with Dicharry’s stage presence, there’s little surprise that he’s not much different in conversation. When he finds his groove, you never know where his stories might take you next.
This story, however, starts with a statement that might have put a quick end to someone’s musical aspirations: “You don’t have natural talent.”
It’s something a music teacher in Texas told Dicharry when the fifth-grader expressed an interest in playing the drums. Instead, he turned toward learning to play the trombone and it wasn’t long before he was hooked.
“My junior-high band director in Texas instilled a love and excitement for music in me,” he says. “I remember one time he told us he wanted more energy in a note, so everyone played louder.
“He said, ‘No, I didn’t say louder. Put more energy into it.’ I remember trying to build energy in myself … isn’t that an insane concept to convey to a seventh-grader? Basically, I just put more intent into the note, and he was like, ‘Yes, that’s more energy.”
Dicharry’s family moved to Joplin in 1995, where he joined the Joplin High School band and began making friends with similar musical interests.
“We went to this ska concert at The Grind (a popular Joplin music venue at the time),” Dicharry says. “We showed up and the band was my age. There were horns and happy, fun upbeats and it was amazing. They were called the Rowskabouts and I asked if they needed another horn player. It was the first time I was in a band.”
After graduating from high school, Dicharry enrolled at Missouri Southern knowing full well that music would be a big part of his future. But as for receiving a formal music education … well, it just didn’t take.
“I came to MSSU right out of high school and had a music scholarship, but it was just poor timing,” he says. “I thought I knew everything and wouldn’t listen to my teachers. I just stopped going to classes.
“I didn’t sign out, I didn’t officially drop my classes … I just left.”
‘This magical thing’
After leaving Missouri Southern, Dicharry joined a “soundtrack noise band” called Freakflag, which became known for its performances accompanied by movie reels and with no breaks between songs.
Eventually, word reached him of a musician doing open-mic events in Neosho.
“This guy was playing the blues. Stuff like Son House, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson … but if you said those names to me at the time, I had no clue who they were,” Dicharry says.
With his trombone in tow, he went to meet and sit in with Ben Miller. While his horn skills were an asset, he also contributed to their distinctive sound by learning to play the washboard. One performance led to another, the band filling out with additional members as their reputation began to grow.
“We started going out and getting gigs in Joplin, Carthage, Neosho and then working our way out,” says Dicharry. “It was this magical thing (when we played together). It just jived. Some songs we didn’t event practice. Ben would just start playing and we would fall into line.”
His time with the Ben Miller Band would last more than 13 years, and include opening for the likes of Robert Randolph and the Family Band and multiple European tours with ZZ Top. A last-minute set at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland earned a rapturous reception from an audience of thousands.
And then … as stories about bands often go … there were creative differences.
“We just started wanting different things creatively,” Dicharry says. “I wanted to write music.”
Dance Monkey Dance!
Having left the band, Dicharry knew he wanted to go the solo route and enjoy the creative freedom he’d been seeking. But where the Dance Monkey Dance! name originated is a bit hard to pin down.
“When I was in the Ben Miller Band, I played so many instruments and we didn’t have a set list, so it was kind of like this monkey dance I would do (shifting from one to another),” he says.
Then there’s a line of dialogue he remembers from the 1999 film “Fight Club”: “Like a monkey, ready to be shot into space.”
“It’s kind of an ironic view of humanity,” Dicharry says. “We’re just animals … try not to be so serious about life. It’s all just a dance, so let’s have fun with the time that we’re here.”
There’s the intended dance aspect of his performance (more on that later), as well as the idea of using a name that sounds like the name of a band rather than a single musician.
“People are usually expecting a band, so it can create a lot of confusion,” he says. “It probably isn’t great from a marketing standpoint, but I think it’s hilarious.”
Equally difficult to pin down is his exact sound.
“If someone asks me, I’ll say it’s under the Americana umbrella,” Dicharry says, referencing a genre that shares influences rooted in folk, blues, jazz, rock and other genres. “I also have some really weird, jammy stuff as well. It’s hard to say.”
The instrumentation he utilizes can include the mandolin, ukulele, a resonator guitar, trombone, trumpet, foot drums, percussion instruments such as a shaker or samba whistle, and even some beat boxing to create more of a hip-hop vibe.
He also created a mobile, amplified stage – which he calls “The Stompstage.” Designed to provide a distinctive percussive sound and incorporating a looping station, the pallet under his feet provides a unique accompaniment to his already versatile sound.
“Originally I was going to perform standing up and choreograph some dance moves … with a kick sound on one side (of the stage) and snare on the other,” he says. “I did that for about three months until I got horrific shin splints. To do snare and kick at the same time, I was either jumping or going back on my heels. It was insane.
“So I went to Walmart and bought a stool, and it’s been fantastic ever since.”
‘An engaging spirit’
After years of touring, Dicharry says his priorities began to change and the idea of becoming a band director or music educator began to seriously take hold.
He credits his wife with helping him get over anxiety about returning to school to complete his degree.
“The first day, I showed back up (at Missouri Southern) and I was 20 years older than everyone else in band … it was super terrifying,” he says.
In a bit of irony, one of his instructors was the same whose class he brushed off the first time around.
“Dr. Wise was still there, and it was like, ‘This is my time … I can go make amends and apologize for wasting his time 20 years ago,” he says.
No apologies were necessary, however.
“Doug had a great bit of ability and talent, which was very raw at the time,” says Dr. Phil Wise, former director of jazz studies who retired from MSSU in 2021. “I did with him what I tried to do with all my students … which is to focus on the basic kinds of musical concepts that will take them where they want to go.
“He didn’t have the focus at the time to be in that kind of sequential mode of learning. Part of it was that he had such a positive and engaging spirit. He needed to do what he did, which was to go out and perform, tour, compose and learn to play different instruments. When he came back, he was an older, non-traditional student with a lot of life experience, and he was very open into delving into music history.”
To say that Dicharry threw himself into the music program at MSSU would be somewhat of an understatement.
He’s been a member of the Southern Jazz Orchestra and jazz combos, the Concert Band and has served as president of the Brass Alliance, which has brought in several professional musicians to give master classes.
“My old ass is even out there with the marching band,” he says with a laugh.
He’s set to graduate from MSSU in May and is considering his options for getting his master’s degree, but he’s looking forward to being able to share his passion for music with younger students.
“I love the idea of teaching difficult concepts to (younger students),” he says. “I love that moment when you reach someone and they get over a hurdle.”
It’s not unlike the hurdles he faced as a young music student turned professional musician turned music student again. He’s centered and comfortable; having found the “place” referenced by David Byrne of the Talking Heads.
Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
Special thanks to Joplin’s Chaos Brewery for serving as our cover-shoot location.