by Alessandra Selgi-Harrigan
When he was 11 years old, David Sanger was in a band called Etcetera Rock Revival. By the time he was 13, the band went on tour for two months across the U.S. Etcetera Rock Revival’s other members included his older brother George, who was 16, and two 17-year-olds.They traveled in a van, performed at friends’ houses, stayed with family, friends, or campgrounds along the way. The music hasn’t stopped for Sanger. Since 1986, he has played the drums for Asleep at the Wheel, a band that has won nine Grammy Awards.
Like his three siblings, Sanger chose his instrument in fourth grade, and still remembers the name of his drum instructor, Bruce Sharp.The Coronado-based Etcetera Rock Revival performed at pep rallies and high school dances.”We would’ve liked to play more but we weren’t playing popular music. We were playing oldies when people didn’t want to hear oldies,” he said. Sanger also played in the Coronado High School marching band and was recruited when he was in seventh grade. “Back in those days, the high school band was so small they recruited three from my junior class to fill up the ranks,” he recalled. At 14 years old, he left Coronado to attend a private school in Los Angeles and stayed there until he graduated from Occidental College with a degree in history. Throughout his high school and college years, he kept playing in a band with his brother George, who also lived in Los Angeles.
Playing the drums was something that came easy for Sanger. “I didn’t have to work on it very much. It was fun to do all the time,” he said. But Sanger didn’t think making a career out of playing music was a possibility. As a child, he remembers knowing only one person in Coronado that was a musician for a living and his job title was listed next to his name in the phonebook. “Now, kids literally grow up around professional musicians. It was an alien planet for me. I couldn’t imagine … I couldn’t think I could go and do it,” he said.
In 1984, Sanger, now 45, moved to Austin, Texas, considered the live music capital of the world, and started playing with W.C. Clark band. Two years later, he was the drummer for Asleep at the Wheel.
Asleep at the Wheel plays big band music from the ‘30s and ‘50s using the fiddle, steel guitar, and western instruments, and is known for reviving the genre. “It’s western swing. It’s cowboys playing jazz,” he said. The band has performed in Europe, Brazil, Japan, and still tours regularly in the U.S. The bread and butter of Asleep at the Wheel is reinterpreting older music. Last November, the band released four new records. Recently the band wrote a musical play on Bob Wills, who was the inspiration for the band, called, “A Ride with Bob”. Apart from working as a musician, Sanger owns Texas Music Roundup, a record and music distribution company.
The early Coronado influences have stayed with Sanger through the years. People like Joey Harris, Bruce Sharp, Rick Lee, and high school band director, Bob Demmon. played a role in shaping his musical career. “They were guys older than me that played music. These guys had a huge influence on me,” he said. Demmon was the first person that recorded Sanger’s music.
What did his parents, who were both physicians, think about his music career? Sanger recalls the moment when his dad thought it might be okay after all. It was when he was talking to a nurse and he told her his son was in a band called Asleep at the Wheel and she exclaimed, “I love that band!”
For more information on the band, visit: www.asleepatthewheel.com