The Story of Stabone

Stabone, (L to R) Chris Walbridge, Jason Beem, Ryan Armstrong

Stabone, (L to R) Chris Walbridge, Jason Beem, Ryan Armstrong

When most people think of the Seattle music movement they think of the grunge wave of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Mudhoney (oooooh).  But this is the story of the other Seattle music movement.  The one that occurred in the early 2000’s.  And the band in question is Stabone.  But let’s go back a few years before Stabone took the University District of Seattle by storm.  Let’s go back to September 3, 1996 and go to a small classroom on the second floor of Kent-Meridian High School.  I remember I was so nervous, being in a new school for the first time after transferring for baseball reasons.  Sitting in the corner seat, I looked directly across the room and saw two people.  One a tall gangly guy who was cracking up all the gals in the class and looked like the coolest guy ever.  His name was Ryan Reed.  He was talking to another guy, who was much shorter, probably 5’9 or 5’10 and had a huge collared sweater on.  There were rumors he tucked in his sweater but that can’t be confirmed by anyone but Mike Nguyen.  I digress.  The man with the sweater was Ryan Armstrong.  Throughout the next two years of high school I got to become good friends with both Ryans.  Whether it was golfing with Ryan Reed, or sitting at Godfathers with Ryan Armstrong while he nibbled on his girlfriends’ ear, they became two of my best friends.

I went off to The University of Washington while both Ryan’s went to Green River Community College for 13th grade.  The Ryan’s would often come up to my fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega and party once in a while and I could tell Ryan Armstrong was dying to get to UW.  Ryan Reed hurt his knee like 9 times during his 3 years at Green River and also pursued a solitary life as a fisherman.  But Ryan Armstrong wanted to get to UW and was accepted in spring of our freshman year.  Ryan and I decided to get an apartment together for our Sophomore year.  Ryan brought his drums up to the apartment, I had my guitars and amps and that entire year we played cover songs together.  Scorpions, Metallica, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath and many other awesome butt rock bands were our songs of choice.  Ryan and I would invite girls over to the apartment and we’d play shows.  We needed a name.  Now I had been nicknamed J-Ball or Ball since I was about 4 years old.  And Ryan was performing under the stage name Tony Large, which was a shout out to not only his Italian heritage, but his massive “size” as well.  So using a naming tactic like Hall and Oates, Seals and Crofts, Crosby, Stills and Nash……Ball T Large was born.  However once the school year was over, I moved back to the frat and Ryan moved in with a guy named 46.5 up in North Seattle.  Practices were rare during that Junior year and it appeared Ball T Large was fading fast.

Ryan "Tony Large" Armstrong going to work

Ryan “Tony Large” Armstrong going to work

Then came the summer of 2001.  Ryan Armstrong moved in with Ryan Reed, who finally joined us up at the UW and Ryan’s parents bought a house in the Wedgewood neighborhood.  I was home most of the summer as my dad was sick with skin cancer.  He died on July 24, 2001 and one of the things I did to cope was write songs.  I wrote songs about my dad, one that reflected the sadness of those final weeks and days with him and one that reflected how conflicted I was about him, because like any father and son, we had our issues.  The nice song was called Floating and the conflicted one was called Haggen, named after a can of green beans that had no connection to the song.

Me playing on my Zach Wylde Bullseye Guitar at a Stabone show.

Me playing on my Zach Wylde Bullseye Guitar at a Stabone show.

Now when I went over to the Ryan’s house, they had a huge basement that was dedicated to playing music.  We jammed all the time down there.  We made videos about being a band.  But we weren’t a band yet.  I continued to write songs and then one day, Ryan said that a guy named Chris Walbridge wanted to come and play with us.  Chris went to Kent-Meridian as well, and even though I’d honestly never really said two words to him while we were in school, Chris was my nemesis.  And he was my nemesis for one reason.  Leading up to the Sadie Hawkins dance of my senior year, I was hoping and praying that this gal who I was in love with would ask me.  I had all my friends tell her to ask me and drop hints that I wanted to go with her.  Instead…she asked Chris Walbridge.  I didn’t care if he was the nicest guy ever, this guy was my enemy!  Well fast forward to late 2001 and Chris comes down into the basement to jam with us.  I was irritated the whole practice, because three years ago this guy did absolutely nothing but say yes to a hot girl who asked him on a date.  In other words I was being very rational.  But musically there wasn’t that much of a connection.  But Chris practiced his ass off.  Like all the time.  And the next time we jammed it was better.  And the next time even better.  Sooner than later, Chris was part of the band.  But we needed a name.  We sat and brainstormed and brainstormed.  Finally, somebody suggested (I’m guessing it was Ryan) the name Stabone.  It was an ode to our favorite character from Growing Pains, Boner Stabone (RIP).  Now afterwards there was some debate on the spelling, because I was contending since it rhymed with Stallone, that we should have two b’s in Stabbone.  But Chris and Ryan lobbied that it should just be one b and they were right and won.

Chris Walbridge on lead guitar.  He looks so boss here

Chris Walbridge on lead guitar. He looks so boss here

Now it was about this time in the band that I was over at the house hanging out with Ryan Armstrong.  I was sitting on his bed with my guitar as Ryan was telling me all about his new love.  She was blonde and gorgeous and had a friend who was like 7 feet tall who wore all black and we called Darth Vader (that’s a whole different story for another time).  Ryan was telling me about all the trials and tribulations that went into him dating this Polish beauty.  I suggested “We should write a trash 80’s love ballad about you and her”.  In literally 15 minutes, the song Over The Top was penned.  It’s loaded with innuendo’s and humor and is named after the 80’s arm wrestling movie.  But it’s catchy as hell and at it’s core, is really a story about a man trying to come to terms with getting in a gal’s pants.

We wrote more songs and started playing shows and Over The Top took on a life of it’s own.  People that had seen us sang along and we knew right away this song was bigger than any of us.  The song even got it’s own special intro with Ryan getting on the mic to tell the story of the song while Chris played the role of backup singer, a position he was great at.

Summer of 2002 saw Ryan and I graduate from the University of Washington.  I remember the weekend we graduated, Friday the 14th of June was my dad’s birthday, Saturday the 15th was graduation and Sunday the 16th was Father’s Day.  I was very emotional.  And that Monday morning we went into Mirror Sound Studios to record what would become our one album, Rock Hard.  It was six songs.  Ken Fordyce was the producer and he would go on 20 minute breaks every hour it seemed.  The tension in the studio was palpable as Ken and I battled over creative control.  Ken named Chris associate producer even though I wrote all the songs and was the band leader.  But all that tension fueled the creative process and we blew through those six songs and after a week we had an album.  The album opened with Alarm, a fast, kick your ass rock song inspired by our friend Ryan Reed.  Obsequious was a riff-licious rocker that had a boss bridge and ending.  Over the Top was over the top, Haggen rocked, Floating was for my dad, and the last song was another ballad.  It was written about and for the girl that Chris had gone to Sadie Hawkins with.  I had carried an obsession about that girl for years and finally put down to words that I was wasting time and wasting words on someone I used to know.  The song was called Wasted Time and it’s fucking awesome.

Stabone played a ton of shows during 2002-2005.  We wrote new songs.  I gambled in my spare time.  Ryan started working towards a career with the fire department.  Chris finished up school.  But the music remained.  People say if you walk along 89th and Wedgewood you still hear the echo of Stabone.  In March of 2006 I was fortunate enough to land a job at River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio.  We decided we needed to play one last show.  There was even a movie retrospective made about the band getting back together for this last show which you can see below.  The show was amazing and Stabone went into the night as true stars of the Seattle music scene.  This band survived deaths of loved ones, school, booze, drugs, chlamydia, Ken Fordyce, Vader, and many other obstacles.  We’ve always said that Stabone never broke up.  As long as the three of us are alive, anything can happen.  But Stabone was really one of the best parts of my life.  I love Ryan and Chris.  I mean really love those guys.  I love Ryan Reed as he was our honorary 4th member even though he can’t play a note of music.  I love all those memories.  I love all those songs.  Every I listen to the Rock Hard album I get emotional.  Stabone will always live on inside of me, Ryan, Chris and the millions whose lives we touched.

Behind the Mic–Guest John Lies

John Lies in his booth at Lone Star Park in Dallas

John Lies in his booth at Lone Star Park in Dallas

John Lies has been announcing races at Lone Star Park for almost a decade now.  A Southern California native he’s worked at Del Mar as the paddock host as well as calling races at the short but amazing Kentucky Downs meeting.

How did you get into horse racing?

JL: My Dad was a small-time trainer in Southern California where I was raised. Some of my earliest memories were on the backstretch and in the roaring grandstands at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, and I was a fan at a very young age.

How did you get into announcing and what do you remember about getting that first job offer?

JL:  I wanted to be an announcer since age ten or so when I got the opportunity to meet Trevor Denman and spend time with him in the old booth at Del Mar. I didn’t pursue live calls myself until I was 27 mostly because of my interest in training, which I abandoned at about 25. I was offered the job at Lone Star Park at age 28 off very little experience. I remember feeling a mix of about 80 percent excitement and 20 percent apprehension, based mostly on the fact I had never lived anywhere outside Southern California before including having gone to college there and would have to face the reality of hitting the road to become an announcer.  

We all remember our first race call, tell me about yours?

JL:  My first race call was in July 2004 at the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa, CA, an arrangement made possible by their track announcer at the time, Vic Stauffer. It was the last race of the day and televised live on TVG. I was very nervous, increasingly so as the last horses moved into line. My heart was pounding harder than any of theirs. It was hard for me to believe that I was actually up there doing this, a very strange and new feeling. All went well enough considering, but there is nothing like getting that first one out of the way I suppose.

You’ve been at Lone Star for nearly a decade now, what have been some of your favorite races and calls since you’ve been there?

JL:  Game On Dude’s Lone Star Derby is memorable because of what he has accomplished since. There was a turf race for fillies and mares years back where two South American-breds turned for home together on the lead in a line of four, and I remember feeling as though this must be what calling races at the Hippodromo is like as the names “Voz de Colegiala” and “Paz Ciudadana” enjoyed obligatory repetition through the stretch call. And the final win by Wasted Tears over that course was memorable for her dominance and hometown appeal.            

You’ve worked at Del Mar during the summers, what makes racing there so special to you?

JL I grew up there six days a week each summer early as I can remember. There is an association with having met Trevor there, though that was the old building. That’s when the “roar of the crowd” really was a roar because all those people packed into those tiny old grandstands created a noise I had never heard before when the gates opened for the first race on Opening Day. Del Mar is very different today but the last five summers I was able to spend there with my Dad before his passing when traveling back to Del Mar from Texas to work as the simulcast host were very special.

Every announcer I’ve met or talked to has memories of Luke Kruytbosch, what are some of your memories of Big Luke?

JL: When I was working at the Southern California tracks in my early twenties my buddies and I would make annual pilgrimages to Arizona for spring training each March. Luke was friends with everyone in the group, of course, and we always visited him at Turf Paradise. He was largely responsible for much of the fun had by all on that trip in those days. One year I was getting buried before winning a $600 jackpot on a dice game called Captain’s Ship Crew that Luke set up for us after the races in the backstretch bar. Years later he gave me my very first opportunity to work as an announcer standing in for him at Ellis Park for three days in August 2004. The last year Luke called Kentucky Downs before his passing I was brought on as their paddock host and he asked me if I wanted to call a race one day that season. For some reason I turned him down but now I wish I hadn’t.    

You announce at Kentucky Downs, which is without a doubt the most unique track in the country.  Tell us about the track and about how tricky calling races there is?

JL: The 1-1/2-mile course runs quickly by the stands the first time into a sharp first turn, wanders up a gradual hill and to the right to “the crest of the rise” (a Luke term) where our view is then of horses running down and away. Then they dip and bank left for the long, sweeping final turn. When they straighten away the horses appear from the stands to be running almost straight at you and still have over a quarter of a mile to go, then the course will undulate in deeper stretch. It does present a number of obvious challenges for the announcer, not to mention the riders, plus I am low and out in the elements. But just like that first call, it just takes doing it and getting comfortable. I wish they had more days.

As a handicapper, what’s one of your most memorable selections or hits at the windows?

JL: Have never been afraid to step up to the window on races I don’t call, but I would have to leave horses my Dad trained or I was otherwise involved with out of it to qualify it as a true handicapping score. A memorable selection was Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby because I gave him out at Lone Star and several people I know that never bet said they cashed because I picked him. And I seem to remember my close calls and bad beats at the windows much more readily than the ones that worked out. Isn’t that awful? I will say that I am a fan of the 50-cent Pick Five because of the low takeout and have had some success but wish they would move it to the last five races of the day instead of the first five to get larger fields and producer bigger payoffs.

Who are some of your influences as announcers?  Any guys you really like listening to call?

JL: As I have heard you say in so many words, announcers are like ice cream flavors and everyone has his favorite. That’s why there are 31 in the shop. For my taste, Trevor Denman is in one race and the rest are in another. 

The last race at Lone Star is over and i want a great dinner, where you sending me to eat in Dallas area?  Same Q for Del Mar

JL: The abundance of good places to eat in Dallas is one of the nicer things about the city. Eddie V’s and Bob’s Steak and Chop House are in a dead heat for steak, Maggiano’s for Italian but Grimaldi’s for pizza, then Chuy’s for Tex Mex. At Del Mar the Brigantine is a “must do” but I prefer places in the downtown plaza area like Pacifica Del Mar or Sbicca just down the street.  

Southbound Book Trailer

Very excited to announce the book trailer for Southbound.  My friend Rob Moog of Archetype Content shot the video for me and Jeremy Hutcheson was kind enough to play the role of Ryan McGuire.  Our goal was to kind of lay a bit of foundation to where Ryan was coming from and what was leading him to head south to L.A. and spend his time as a professional gambler, even though that’s always been a destructive thing for him.  The book will be out in 30 days, I can’t wait!