Bringing the ’universal language’ home
Years ago, Jerry Fike was successful in launching a petition drive that brought ‘70s shock god rocker Alice Cooper (this was years before anyone would hear of Marilyn Manson) to Wichita.
More recently, Fike, manager of the Regent Theater, has invited performance duo Kirk Russell and Ebony Deschaine back to their hometown of Wellington to share their talents with family and friends.
Russell and Deschaine are scheduled to perform at 9 p.m., Saturday July 11 at the Regent. Local musician Braden Struble will open for them.
With Russell on acoustic guitar, they will sing duets of such pop hits as “Landslide,” “I Love Rock n’ Roll” and “More Than Words,” along with some newer songs that don’t get as much play, such as “Shalow” from the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper version of the movie, “A Star is Born.”
“We do a really wide variety of songs, a lot of things I don’t hear a lot of other bands or duos performing,” Deschaine said.
Russell and Deschaine have performed in Wellington, and throughout the surrounding area, but separately with other bands. Deschaine is lead singer for Groove 42, a Wichita band that plays mostly Top 40 dance music. Russell plays drums for Tribe, another Wichita area band that performed at Wellington’s New Years Eve party at Memorial Auditorium last year.
“Both groups kind of follow in the same shoes,” Russell said, adding that they play similar styles of music and venues.
The two groups were slated to play at this year’s Kansas Wheat Festival, which the Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors’ Bureau had to cancel due to safety concerns with COVID-19.
“I was a little bummed that Tribe couldn’t play,” Russell said. “We were so pumped up. Thankfully, Jerry Fike reached out to me to play at the Regent Theater. I worked there when I was a kid.”
Russell’s and Deschaine’s musical journeys go back to Wellington, even proceeding them by a couple of generations and with a little overlap along the way. Deschaine’s grandmother, Gracie Deschaine, was a lounge singer who sang a lot of gigs at the Elks’ Club. Years later, her father, Jeff Deschaine, took over from Kenny Boyd as lead singer of the country band Strawboss, a group that played fairs, festivals and opened for several big name acts. As a teenager, Russell played some gigs with Strawboss, on drums.
Although they knew of each other, growing up in Wellington, there was a five year age difference between Russell and Deschaine and they didn’t run around in the same circles.
It wasn’t until later in life that the music scene brought us back together,” Russell said. He has substituted as a drummer with Groove 42 and Deschaine has filled in as a substitute soloist with Annie Up, a band Russell used to play with.
Their age differences - Russell is 49, Deschaine is 44 - don’t seem so far apart anymore.
They both talked about how music has afforded them the opportunity to travel to places they may not have otherwise been able to. Russell said he has performed in 38 states.
“I’ve been very lucky to play near oceans and mountains and grasslands and beautiful venues,” Russell said. “It was really great until COVID hit.”
COVID left Deschaine, a middle school vocal music teacher, feeling bored, not being with her class or performing with her band.
“I’d been sitting around,” she said. “I was getting restless. I called Kirk. I said, ‘I really need some music ‘cuz I’m getting stir crazy.’”
Russell was as itching to play as Deschaine was to sing. They formed a duo and as small venues have gradually opened up, they have played at such Wichita establishments as YaYa’s, the Chicken and Pickle and the Candle Club.
“I never imagined myself being a performer like I am now,” Deschaine said. “I was always a pianist. My musical career started at age 5, taking piano lessons from Hankie Holefelder.”
Deschaine’s favorite class in school was band. Now entering her 23rd year teaching music, she began her career, teaching band and choir at a Catholic school in Hutchinson. Then she taught choir at Marshall Middle School in Wichita for nine years. For the past 10 years, she has been teaching choir at Wilbur Middle School.
In her late 20s, she was invited to be the lead singer of the band, Blue Eyed Soul, and her singing career took off from there.
“There’s a lot of transformation that’s happened over the last 17 years,” Deschaine said. “Being an instrumentalist has helped me become a better singer. Pop rock songs still use classical techniques. You use those techniques with any type of music.”
Russell has recorded two solo albums at Greenjeans Studios in Wellington - “Evolve” and “In the Wake.” He played all instruments on the albums.
So will Deschaine and Russell ever record an album together?
“It’s possible,” Deschaine said. “We don’t have anything planned at the moment. There’s no reason why we can’t do it.”
Fike said he’d like to book more musicians to perform at the Regent and even comedians. He’d like to have an open mic night, but he wanted to start with music.
“It’s the universal language,” he said.