The Mix, at its inception, represented the end of a musical chairs existence, both figuratively and literally. It also marked an unexpected and joyous return to the past, both musically and personally.
When Vic Monaco’s last band, Stealin’ The Covers, disbanded, he decided to try something very different for him: a duo, with STC guitarist John Daly. That project, Daly Double, was a leap of faith, not only due to its loss of a rhythm section but also given Daly’s nomadic musical life that included touring with the late Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys.
Not surprisingly, Vic soon needed to find a successor to Daly and he once again turned to an STC bandmate, multi-instrumentalist and Grammy-winning producer Pat Robinson.
The project was renamed Musical Chairs, with the idea that on any given night the audience wouldn’t know which of the duo’s musician friends might sit in. The name turned out to be even more appropriate as guitarist Brian Nagy eventually became a regular presence.
With Vic serving as booker and musical director, and the project alternating between a duo and trio, the group name was changed to Vic’s Mix in the summer of 2013.
A house party that same summer would prove to be the start of something new and a return to something very familiar.
It was there Vic performed some songs with Bill Mecaughey, his very first musical partner from their teen years in the Fox Chase-based band Hot Ice. Their collaboration had lasted about seven years until Bill turned more toward R&B and jazz fusion.
They remained friends, and the musical shorthand they shared was obvious to them at that 2013 party. The two started rehearsing in earnest in the spring of 2014 and played their first gig Memorial Day weekend.
“When we first got together as teens, Vic introduced me to vocal harmony. Our voices blended surprisingly well, even then. Similarly, our differing guitar styles have always contrasted distinctively,” Bill said. “Still, no one was more surprised than me when we forged a musical re-connection after 30 years. It’s been fun reprising tunes we grew up playing together.”
The project took a giant leap ahead when Ric Lake added his bass and vocal harmonies to the musical mix in November 2014.
A couple months later Vic invited another former bandmate, drummer and vocalist Billy Walp, to make the project a full band, with four voices.
By January 2016, it was apparent the lineup and camaraderie had become rock solid, so Vic’s Mix became simply The Mix.
Change is inevitable and it came to the band in July 2017 when Bill, after more than three years as an important ingredient in The Mix, had to leave due to new full-time job responsibilities.
Given plenty of notice, the band had spent several months looking for a replacement, even hiring two guitarists who didn’t work out.
In search of additional work, Vic auditioned for a newly forming 60s band and met organizer Steve Hill. The two realized immediately they wanted to play together, and Steve soon decided he’d like to join The Mix.
Being influenced by The Beatles helped make Steve a great fit. But he also brought a different style of lead guitar playing, with influences including country rock and jazz.
2017 continued to be a year of change as exactly three years from his arrival, Ric departed The Mix to recharge his batteries and return to his musical roots of original folk music. Finding a bass player with strong vocals is no easy task. But the band got lucky, quickly hiring Gus Bruno. Originally from Cleveland, Bruno was a longtime member of one of that city’s biggest wedding/party bands, The Bruno Brothers. More recently he was a member of Collegeville-based Scattertrain.
The Mix stepped up its game in 2017 and 2018 with a residency at Baker’s American Bar & Grill in Southampton and numerous performances at The 360 Lounge at Parx Casino in Bensalem and at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley. At the end of the summer of 2018, after a debut at the prestigious Buck Hotel, Steve left The Mix to start his own band.
Vic, Billy and Gus chose to take their time in finding a new lead guitarist who would be a great fit, both musically and personality-wise. They also decided to go out of their comfort zone and soldier on as a trio in the meantime. Rehearsals and gigs in the fall saw Vic playing electric lead for the first time in decades and the band learning several R&B tunes. More importantly, the guys honed their three-part harmonies, with Billy taking on a significantly larger role in vocals and Gus singing more lead.
They were rewarded by finding several guitarists more than eager to become part of The Mix. In November they were inspired by Charlie Hallowell’s audition and became a quartet again.
A Newtown resident and member of the band Bellevue, Charlie is not only a top-notch lead guitarist but also brings keyboards to The Mix, opening up a whole new musical vista.
The band’s harmony-laden show features a great mix of tunes from the 1960s through 1980s. Think of a concoction whose ingredients include a dash of The Doobies, a sprinkle of Springsteen and just enough of The Eagles. While such names are very familiar, The Mix’s menu also offers songs you just don’t hear from other bands such as “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” by The Guess Who, “I’m Your Captain” by Grand Funk Railroad and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen. And then there’s always plenty of tunes from the biggest band of the 60s, The Beatles, along with solo efforts by members of The Fab Four.
“The Mix has always been about evolution, from its size and personnel to its “mix” of music. And the changes have really kept it interesting, I think not only for me but also those who come see us regularly,” said Vic.
“In addition, playing the music of my younger years is a joy, especially with such talented and nice guys. But just as gratifying has been watching the growth of our following — known as Mixers or Mixettes — and the friendships that have been formed and rekindled. It’s been truly heartwarming, and feels a bit like a new family. I’m very grateful for those surprising new bonds.”