Jan 17, 2008 - 2:12:42 PM
Photo by Lauren Clough
Mike Dumas: ‘We Make Magic Together’
Posted in: Entertainment
By Melissa R. Weidman
Jan 17, 2008
You may not see him on MTV or hear him on iTunes. But here on Cape Cod, drummer, singer, and bandleader Mike Dumas is a very successful musician—it all depends on how you define success. If it's someone with lots of gold records and chauffeured limousines, he doesn't rate. But if it's someone who's continually growing and honing his craft, who has opportunities to play with other great musicians and is heard and loved by audiences across the region, then he has reached the pinnacle. Dumas is as hard-working a drummer as you're likely to find anywhere, playing often six nights a week in high season at weddings, nightclubs and bars, leading a band that has employed many of the most well-respected players around. And he's been doing it for years, ever since he was a child.
Like many baby boomers, Dumas's seminal moment came when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Dumas was in fifth grade in Centerville when the lightning bolt from Liverpool struck, changing him and his entire generation forever. "The energy that was coming through that TV set was incredible," he recalls. "As soon as I saw them, I was hooked." He and his two brothers put together a drum kit out of cardboard boxes and a couple of flying saucers, complete with Beatles and Ludwig insignia scrawled across the front. At first they were pretending, but the drive to become their heroes was too strong to resist. Dumas began taking drum lessons at Centerville Elementary School. "I remember I was the only one in the class who could count to four without fumbling." The brothers practiced in their basement, and soon became good enough to form a real band of their own, which they dubbed "The Cape Cod Trolls."
Their father encouraged the boys, got them bookings and drove them to gigs all through junior high and high school. They played every dance and battle of the bands possible, wearing matching performance costumes they'd bought at Crackerjack's, a store in Hyannis. They were so busy their mom would keep three different envelopes of cash for each brother. When he was 16 years old, Dumas bought his first car with straight cash from gig money.
As soon as he graduated from high school, Dumas hit the road with a band called "Sons of the American Buffalo," a country trio led by a former session guy of Merle Haggard. He crisscrossed the country playing honkytonks and juke joints, learning the business. After a few years, he returned to the Cape and brought some local musicians into a new band, called "Looseleaf." They went back out on the road throughout most of the 1970s, playing country rock in college venues.
He returned to the Cape to marry his childhood sweetheart, Patty Gibbons, and raise a family. Today, after 27 years of marriage, they have three children and three grandchildren, and Mike's still on the road playing, albeit closer to home. His current band has a double identity: as the Mike Dumas Band with the Hollywood Horns, they play Top 40 hits and familiar standards. The same players also make up Platform Soul, performing a 70's funk & dance repertoire, sometimes in matching zebra-skin suits and sunglasses. Both bands feature a full horn section alongside Dumas's driving beat and soaring vocals.
Running a band is an art, requiring healthy doses of public relations, logistics strategy, interpersonal communication and negotiation, and a good sense of humor. Longtime former Dumas band member Malcolm Granger, who now lives on the West Coast, says, "Mike's a testament to tenacity. Every gig was an adventure of some kind, and I always looked forward to them. If the Dumas Band Bus pulled up in front of my house tomorrow, I'd get back on. He's as solid a drummer as you'd ever need, and a great singer. Every time (without fail) he sang "Let's Stay Together," it sent chills down my spine. Really, there's nothing more you can ask for at a gig."
Dumas loves his band family, which currently consists of guitarist Paul Good, singer Leslie Boyle and her husband keyboardist Fred Boyle, bass player Rich Hill, and horn section Rich and Lori Labedz, Bob de' Breeze and Steve Ahern. Many of them also play in the Paul Good band, which features Good's Santana-like solos. "We have a lot of fun," Dumas says. "We make magic together." That magic is contagious, as bride after bride testifies on the mikedumasband.com website. "You all were amazing & we're still hearing about it! Even the wait staff were on their feet dancing to you all." Dumas's business model depends on word of mouth as well as advertising. "It's like tentacles that go out. When you get a call from the niece of an uncle whose wedding you played five years ago, you know you must be doing something right." But night after night of playing Top 40 hits can wear on anyone.
"It's frustrating sometimes. As kids we used to get together and jam. Now, it's difficult to find the time. There's so much talent in this band and we have so much to say musically, but we don't get the chance to do our own music." This led Dumas to book some studio time recently so they could all come together and record new ideas. He dreams of writing a book someday about his music adventures, and spends a lot of time listening to music and reading about other musicians.
Dumas has words to the wise for those starting out in the music profession. "Recognize your desire, keep your dream alive. How bad do you want it? Find someone who can teach you the rudiments. Learn to read music, study, practice every day. No one said it was going to be easy, but success is built on inconvenience."
After all these years of pounding out the hits, like many Cape Codders Dumas still has to pound nails at times and do whatever odd jobs are available to make ends meet. But he counts his blessings for his music career, which he considers successful. "When everything else fails, the music has always sustained me. I've always been able to rely on my ability to play—the phone rings and I'm out the door—music pulls me through. I continue to grow and stretch because I want them to call me next time, so I never say there's anything I can't do."
The magic of being a musician doesn't wear off for Mike Dumas. That same energy that ignited him back in the fifth grade keeps him coming back for more.
(Melissa Weidman, a local musician and freelance writer, can be reached at email@example.com.)
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