Passionate Pursuits: Andrew Wheeler, Blues Rhythm
The purpose of Excelsior Life’s Passionate Pursuits is to help shine a light on Faculty and Staff successfully balancing work, home and family – just like our students.
During the day, Andrew Wheeler is assistant dean for the School of Business & Technology at Excelsior College. Outside of work, his artistic talent shines as a lead guitarist and backup singer for Bent Rail, named #1 Blues Band in the New York Capital Region in 2011 (Metroland Fan Survey). Excelsior Life sat down with Wheeler to learn about his passion for making music, inspirations along the way, and a few musician traits that translate well to his day job.
Excelsior Life: At what age did you become interested in playing a guitar?
Wheeler: When I was around fourteen years old, my grandfather gave me an Eric Clapton tape and I was pretty much enthralled from day one. I also found an old Japanese-made Audition acoustic guitar sitting around at my parents house and I started to plunk around a little on it.
Excelsior Life: Did any family member encourage you? Did you ever take lessons?
Wheeler: My grandfather encouraged me. He suffered two strokes and yet found the drive to play guitar very often. Although he couldn’t move his left hand fingers independently, he had a great ear for music and could pick out melodies up and down the guitar neck with just one finger.
The racket I made on the acoustic must have been pretty bad because my parents sprang for lessons pretty quickly. I started taking lessons at a College of Saint Rose summer program at the age of fourteen and continued taking private lessons consistently until my thirties. During my undergraduate study in college, I took jazz and classical guitar lessons. I still take lessons as much as time will afford.
Excelsior Life: How did you get started in a band?
Wheeler: I started a band with friends in high school as soon as I could strum a few chords. I noticed playing music with other people was very different than practicing on my own.
I’ve found a band is as much, or more, about interpersonal communication, as it is about making music. My high school band played a local café quite frequently. Looking back now, it was pretty funny to play blues music as a 16 year old at a coffee house. Most of the artists we were covering were either dead or in their 70s and 80s!
The only time I have not played in a band was while I was pursuing my MA degree. I took a couple of years off to get the degree finished.
The ingredients for Bent Rail were formed a couple of years ago. We’ve played over 150 gigs to date, but who’s counting?
Excelsior Life: Where did your band name, Bent Rail, originate?
Wheeler: The bassist, Dennis, was searching for images and found some great pictures of a rail yard in Pennsylvania. The picture showed a train disappearing around a curve in the tracks. What’s more blues than that? The lore of rail travel and the prevalence of hopping a train from the Delta to Chicago (and all points beyond) is a huge theme in blues.
So, we went with “Bent Rail Blues” initially. However, we’ve dropped the word “blues” because we play a lot of genres.
Excelsior Life: Is there any correlation to your day job and the music industry?
Wheeler: Absolutely. Finding new ways to problem solve, staying innovative, and seeking out new opportunities are certainly transferrable skills! Being a “people person” is definitely the key to staying alive in both the education and music industry.
Loving to communicate, and especially listen, is a huge element in both roles. I love meeting new people at gigs, on band breaks, and after the music is over for the evening. Folks request songs or just want to make a connection with you – and you honor that privilege by always doing your best and putting your heart and soul into your work.
Finding out how Excelsior can assist someone achieve their educational dreams reminds me of feedback at gigs.
Excelsior Life: What was your greatest moment to date as a guitarist?
Wheeler: Meeting BB King. I only wish I was able to jam with him! But I consider myself lucky to have been able to sit and chat with him for a while. He truly is the “King of the Blues”.
Excelsior Life: Who is your favorite band?
Wheeler: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Jimi Hendrix & the Band of Gypsies. He was so diverse and innovative, yet paid such virtuosic homage to the blues players that helped shape him.
Excelsior Life: How can we learn more about your band or upcoming gigs?