It may have been baseball over which they first bonded, but it was bands such as The Beatles that solidified a friendship and musical relationship that has spanned almost five decades.
Kevin Sanders, Basehor, and Pat Ireland, Mission, met at the age of 7 when Ireland moved into Sanders’ neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan. Both the same age, they formed a friendship playing baseball together. By age 10, however, they had traded baseball cards in for records by The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and The Who.
“Like most people our age, we first were interested in British invasion rock music,” Sanders, who is now 56, said. “Those were like our four favorite bands.”
Together, Sanders and Ireland have since created several bands they say are inspired by those rock bands they first loved, but to the indiscriminating ear, the music may sound a little different. The music they have played and performed together as The Etcetera String Band (1973-2000), The Isles of Rhythm (2009) and The Rhythmia (2009-present) is ragtime — a very structured, syncopated genre of music that began in the mid-1890s and died out about 1917.
Sanders said he and Ireland discovered ragtime initially from listening to British invasion rock music and wanting to find out more.
“As we got older … we started looking into the kind of music that influenced those bands,” Sanders said, noting the blues as a big influence of bands like The Beatles. “And we kept going back in time and when we discovered ragtime, we really liked that and just kind of stuck with it.”
Ragtime, Sanders said, has a specific arrangement that is common to almost all ragtime arrangements.
“Generally, the first theme is played twice, (the second) theme is played twice, (the first theme) is repeated only once, and then the third theme is played twice,” Sanders said, adding that the third theme almost always changes keys. “Then we’ll stay in that key for the fourth (and final) theme, which is played twice. It’s a syncopated melody played over an unsyncopated, or steady, accompaniment.”
Sanders is a self-taught musician specializing in guitar, bass, banjo and percussion, among others. Ireland is a classically trained violinist. Both have written their own ragtime compositions for years, with Ireland saying he writes about one a day. The two formed their first ragtime band, The Etcetera String Band, in 1973 with fellow musician Dennis Pash. That band disbanded in 2000.
In 2009, Sanders and Ireland put together The Isles of Rhythm, which included mandolin and banjo player Bob Ault, specifically for releasing a Christmas album, “Merry Christmas Tonight.” The album includes ragtime, Caribbean and Irish renditions of well-known Christmas favorites, like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Ava Maria,” and also some Christmas arrangements original to The Isles of Rhythm band members.
“It’s surprising how that stuff fits together,” Sanders said of the different genres of music included on the disc.