BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Selectman Gardner Trask has become accustomed to standing at a microphone in front of dozens of people, and not only when speaking at Town Meeting.
Last September, Trask auditioned to become the lead singer in a classic rock band called The Shotz Band, which was founded 12 years ago by guitarist Ron Sheppard of Saugus. Trask landed the job, even though he has no formal music training and only began singing karaoke eight years ago.
Trask has a big, husky voice with a wide range, and he’s not afraid to sink it into standards such as Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister.” Fulfilling his rock ‘n’ roll dream has not been easy, however, given that he has to fit in with a well-established act and has had to learn 40 to 50 songs in the band’s repertoire in a short amount of time.
The other original member of the group, bassist Bob “Coach” Walles of Merrimack, N.H., and Sheppard have been jamming together since they were 14. The band also includes lead guitarist and vocalist Paul Lemieux of Salem and drummer Jamie Melville of Peabody.
“It’s tough to jump into a band of people that have been playing together for a long time,” Sheppard said, who describes Trask as “a work in progress ... I think he’s trying to find his niche.”
Still, Trask, a 51-year-old married father of three grown children, said he is having the time of his life fronting a rock band at an age when many rockers have hung it up. About two times a month, he sings at gigs.
He fits that in around his duties as a third-term Danvers selectman and his full-time job as a project manager for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. His wife, Patricia, comes to his shows. His daughters came to a show at Supino’s Restaurant on a recemt Saturday night.
So, how did he come to front a rock band after spending most of his life singing along to the radio?
About eight years ago, Trask discovered his hidden talent when he sang karaoke at a sports bar in Beverly and “it wasn’t a train wreck,” he said. Before that, he’d never sung before an audience, and he did not study music in high school or college.
That karaoke performance sparked something in Trask, who helps organize the annual Danvers Idol singing contest.
“I decided it wasn’t so bad,” Trask said. A friend, Ira Malkin, invited him to practice using a karaoke setup in his basement. He signed up for an introductory singing course at North Shore Community College.
His love of karaoke singing might have remained just that until he was introduced to live band karaoke at Hennessey’s pub in Boston. He got to sing along with a band called The Jukebox Heroes.
Trask and a friend, Maureen Benson of Danvers, began singing karaoke at the same time, and today Benson is the lead singer of a group called Jazzport.
“I was going to open mikes, and he was going to karaoke,” Benson said. She was surprised when she heard Trask at the microphone.
“He was special. He’s got a beautiful, nice voice,” said Benson, who had been singing at open mike nights in Salem and Middleton. She urged Trask to try singing with a live band at In A Pig’s Eye restaurant, and he began to join in their blues jams on Friday afternoons.
Trask found he liked the “different freedom” of singing with a live band, rather than a recorded track. He began singing Thursday nights at blues jams at the Franco-American Club in Beverly and at Giuseppe’s Ristorante in Gloucester, which has a piano bar with performances on Fridays and Saturdays nights. That’s where Trask became comfortable performing in front of a live audience.
One of those people who likes to sing there is School Committee Chairman Eric Crane, who said Trask has a good voice, can a do a variety of styles and leans toward the blues.
“Gardner and I both sing anything from your crooner-type song to rock ’n’ roll, but Gardner has taken it to the next level,” by joining a rock band. Of coming to music later in life, Crane said: “Every once in a while, you have to take a shot.”
About a year ago, Trask took out an online ad seeking a band that was looking for a blues rock singer. The ad caught the eye of The Shotz Band, a fixture in the Chelmsford and Billerica area, which contacted him last August. Their lead singer for six years, Brad Purcell of Danvers, was taking time off, Sheppard said.
Trask auditioned at a house party last September and began to front the band in January.
Trask said he’s singing for the fun of it, and part of the fun is watching the reaction when people who know him in another role see him take the mike.
“It’s a lot of fun to surprise people,” he said.
Gardner Trask and Eric Crane will both perform Monday, Aug. 26, at a Karaoke Night at the Danvers Rotary Pavilion, as part of the Danvers Recreation Summer Concert Series. The Shotz Band is scheduled to perform as part of this series on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Maureen Benson’s Mo Benson Quartet will perform on Monday, Aug. 19.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.