Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is shown in his modest recording studio inside his home in Somerset on Feb. 19. The veteran musician has made the most of his downtime during the COVID-19 pandemic by composing original rock and fusion songs, many of which have been played lately on local radio.

Dave Nichols and his band The Boomers have not performed live since last September.

COVID-19 put the brakes on the band’s three-jobs-a-week schedule last March. Since then, they’ve only scrounged up a handful of gigs on decks and in gazebos.

The band is not alone. Many of the venues that hosted live music are either closed or banned from having acts with full drum kits and electric instruments.

Nichols and his bandmates, Bob Helbig and John Shimko, are trying to find work wherever they can during the pandemic.

“I’m forced to try and go outside of where we normally play,” he said. “It’s like reintroducing the band again after all these years. It’s a big mess.”

Nichols, of Somerset, said that competition has added to the misery as the number of venues has diminished, but the number of gigging musicians has not. That, as well as vague restrictions open to interpretation, have caused frustration. He wonders if and when the live music scene will ever return to normal, as full bands are gradually beginning to take the stage.

Social media posts of live acts performing to unmasked crowds have added fuel to the fire.

“I have a problem with the uneven application and hypocrisy of the laws,” Nichols said.

“I’ve played all of my life and I don’t like sitting at home. It has been a rough go. If I’m not playing, and we’re having trouble getting work, and we’re not allowed to play because we have drums and an electric guitar, it’s disheartening.”

Nichols, however, has made the most of the break in action to record his own music, and many of those pieces have found their way to local airwaves. Jim Price’s Homegrown Rocker broadcast on 94.3 FM in Altoona has aired about 10 of Nichols’ original songs.

“From a mental aspect, it’s wonderful. It’s absolutely terrific.

“It’s not so much hearing the tune, it’s just hearing the introduction,” said Nichols of the honor to be broadcast on Price’s show.

“If I’m not allowed to go out and play with others, at least that gives me some validation – some self-worth. The fact that I’m still able to write and get that stuff aired is really a big deal for me.”

A gigging guitarist since 1967, Nichols honed his chops with area bands such as The Stang, Stillwater and the Johnstown Classic Rockers, but admitted that time spent with Dan Gargon of the ’80s band The Latest was invaluable for his songwriting.

“He could really craft a song. And he had a marvelous voice,” Nichols said.

Nichols began recording in his home in 2009 with a MAC work station and simple programs such as GarageBand. It was around that time that he began recording an instrumental fusion CD called “Speechless” with Zupe, of Windber, and their song “Step on It” placed eighth in an Emmy nomination in Hollywood.

Since then, his studio expanded to include a full drum kit, bass guitar and keyboard, which Nichols also plays over his vocals. Be it rock fusion or jazz, to keep things fresh, he sends Homegrown Rocker different genres of music and awaits feedback.

“If I think it’s good and hope it’s good, then I contact him and hope for the best,” he said.

Nichols’ first song to be aired on Price’s show was “I Want to be Free,” from a CD he recorded in 2019 called “Sunshine and Lollipops.” Last year, Price shared on his Facebook page one of Nichols’ music videos called “19 in 20,” meaning “COVID-19 in 2020.” Other Nichols creations aired on Homegrown Rocker include “Hey Kids,” “Romp ‘n’ Stomp,” “Old Stone” and “Pieces of You.”

“I was fortunate enough to still have a creative streak going,” said Nichols, who admitted it was fueled partially by the stress of the pandemic. “To me, it’s a release.”

Like most songwriters, Nichols said that, ideally, he would like to see his songs become hits on the radio, but that’s not the driving force behind anything he’s done.

“It’s not why I’m doing it, but I’m not saying that I don’t have that thought,” he said.

While trying to book as many jobs for the Boomers as possible in 2021 and waiting out the pandemic, Nichols has made every effort to stay connected to music, and sharing his mastery of the fretboard is no exception. Teaching guitar to students at Somerset Music Academy was an unexpected joy that blossomed out of necessity.

“I was always hesitant to teach,” Nichols said. “I didn’t think I would have the patience to do that. Even that is an outlet for me. I’m surprised that I’m enjoying it as much as I am.”

Nichols’ original songs can be heard on Homegrown Rocker from 8 to 10 p.m. Sundays on 94.3 FM.

John Rucosky is a photographer and writer for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5055. Follow him on Twitter @JohnRucosky.

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