A Cold Day in October

If I remember correctly it was the fall of 1997. I still lived at my parent’s house in the small town of Chester, Maryland on Kent Island. I was a freshman in high school, and I had yet to ever step foot on a stage. Like any young musician, I dreamed of being a rock star but the reality of one day landing a record deal seemed a million miles away.

The day in mind was a cold rainy day in early October. My friend, Jarid Robinson, had joined me in my parent’s garage for a jam session with our knock off Fender Strats and a practice amp. I specify one “amp” because neither of us had the money to buy our own personal amps so we shared a beat up old Marshall 15watt. My dad had picked up a spare box spring and mattress from a family member and stored it in the garage. Jarid sat at one end and I at the other, both of us eager to set the air ablaze with sound waves.

I had a stash of Guitar World magazines stored in an old rusted out file cabinet and the one that we pulled that day contained the guitar tabs for the Smashing Pumpkins song “Today”. Both of us being huge fans of the Pumpkins decided we would give our best shot at the two guitar part intro. We plugged into the old Marshall, flipped the switch igniting the tiny red “Power On” light, and studied the tablature like hawks planning an aerial attack. Jarid started plucking away at the single note lead and after a few measures; I hammered in with the power chords. Grins began to grow on our faces as the fuzzy sound of distortion hastily muted the sound of rain falling on the roof. Our eyes lit up with the idea that we could actually re-create something beautiful through 12 strings and a speaker. A monstrous determination began to grow inside of me that day and we both knew we had to form a band.

Now, as great as living on a small island is, it has its drawbacks when looking for like minded musicians. Jarid and I searched and searched for the perfect group of characters to join us in taking over the world… at least that was the idea.

One of our close friends, Chris O’Connor, was the first to enlist. He did not play any instruments at the time, but had a love of music, and a fiery ambition like none I had ever seen. He fit perfectly into the position of bass guitarist as he only had to learn four strings instead of six. Chris picked up a used guitar that was almost as big as his 5’2” frame at the time, but didn’t let that bother him. He battled with that stringed beast and honed his skill, eventually becoming one of the most unique bassists I would come to know.

Next on the list, and always the most difficult to fill, was the under-appreciated position as drummer. To be honest I cannot remember exactly how Ryan Mayes came into our lives, but he fit the bill to a T. Slightly insane with an inescapable humor, Ryan could keep time like a hand crafted grandfather clock… and was just as loud!

One last unplanned addition to our band, and probably one of the most naturally talented musicians was Jesse Becke. He had a vintage style about him with the voice of a full choir. I remember him leaving practice, an acoustic guitar strapped high on his chest while he strummed and sang with his eyes closed, blindly walking his familiar path home. I recall thinking how peaceful he seemed and how I wanted to be just like that.

We would come to be known as Negative Creep; the name taken from a favorite Nirvana song. I soon realized that band had become my therapy, my family, and my life. The feeling I got when we stepped on stage together and played for an audience was like nothing I had ever felt. I felt alive! I felt real! I felt complete! I truly loved those guys as well as the music that brought us all together. We were so diverse individually, but as a whole, we fused like molten metal forming the barrel of a gun aimed at adversity. We were unstoppable… again; at least that’s what we thought.

Now let’s flash forward a few years. Reality abruptly set in and just as most bands do, Negative Creep split up and it was honestly one of the worst days of my existence. Now, I realize that may sound very dramatic in the whole game of life, but that band was my life at that time. Yes, I was young and no, I had not experienced much outside of Kent Island, but we were going to take over the world, remember. My ideal future was swiftly stripped from me.

After about a month of severe despair, feeling as though I lost the biggest part of me in a house fire, I realized how much I had learned from that band. I realized whom I wanted to be and what I had to do to become that person. A dream was ignited that rainy day in October and although I had been broken, I was not beaten. I understood then that those guys, that band, and that experience was just one step on the path to the dream I have always envisioned. It proved to me whom I wanted to become and to this day I have not wavered from that path. My ambition burns hotter than it ever has and I will carry on. I am J. Coursey Willis.

There is one thing that I would like to add to this story. That is the absolute elation I feel when a fan tells me how much they enjoy my music. That makes all of this hard work worth while and feeds the motivational beast that was born that October day. YOU push me to forge ahead just as much as I do. After all what is the point of shedding all this blood, sweat, and tears if no one is willing to listen?

I look forward to many more hard, sometimes ugly, but always worth while experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are a part of that journey. Thank you for listening and for making all of this matter.

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