It’s not unusual to find people with some musical ability or talent at any base, but what are the chances of finding three individuals at the same base with the same musical drive and talent who decide to form the only Native American-based Rock & Blues band?
In the case of three Edwards employees, three out of the five band members are part of the group known as Blue Mountain Tribe and have been selected, after an extensive audition process, to be the opening act for the American heavy metal band Dokken during the Thunder on the Lot event June 9 held once a year in the Antelope Valley. They will play at the AV Fairgrounds.
“Initially, I wanted an all Native American band, but there were a lot of Native Americans that just didn’t play Rock n’ Roll or Blues, so I started putting ads in but had no results or call backs,” said Robin “Bubba” Hairston, 95th Civil Engineering Division heavy equipment operator, who is the manager, agent and harmonica player in the band. “One day somebody said they knew of a musician on base that sung really well and decided to have him audition. Although he wasn’t Native American, because Native Americans make up only one percent of the base population, Bruce Shanks’ vocal ability was exactly what I was looking for. After that, we then found Jeff “Cooperhawk” who plays bass guitar and represents the Cherokee Nation, Gary Jones who is our guitar player and is of Chickasaw descent, and soon after found our drummer, Tom Wray. We found our musicians just by word of mouth.”
Of the band members, Hairston said that since his son Caleb Hairston, who plays guitar, and Bruce Shanks both worked for the 412th Maintenance Squadron, this was just one of the many benefits of working and living within the Edwards vicinity.
“Our support at this base is phenomenal. We even have some leadership that show up to our concerts and watch us play,” added Hairston. “In addition to the base support, the good thing about all this is that our families support us because they see our talent and the desire we have.”
As for balancing their full-time jobs and their musical endeavors, Hairston said it is a delicate balance.
“It is hectic. We all work full-time jobs, we all have families, but we see this talent we all have and we don’t want to put it aside, so we have to dedicate the whole day on Sunday by practicing up to seven hours,” Hairston said. “Our goal is to become a household band and to eventually get signed with a major record label but at the same time we don’t want to leave our jobs. This is imperative. We love this base and our country and want to stay here and work for our country. No matter how much we may get paid, we’re proud to work here and we love what we do here.”
In addition to being the only Native American-based band, the team of musical professionals pride themselves in also having the only awesome father and son duo that work at the same base.
“As a child, Caleb struggled in school, but once he picked up a guitar and started playing music, he had an ability to hear a song and play it, so I kept encouraging him to continue learning,” said Hairston. “Now, he’s well sought after and I know someday I may lose him to another band.”
No stranger to the limelight, Hairston said he started Edwards as an Army National Guard reservist who was stationed at Edwards after 9/11.
“I arrived at Edwards initially after 9/11 as part of an artillery unit that was augmented to the 95th Security Forces Squadron,” said Hairston. “It was here at Edwards, where I started getting back into playing the harmonica after being out of the music industry for a couple of years and going from there. I left Edwards after my service commitment was over and a year later I applied for a civil engineering position as a heavy equipment operator at Edwards and here I am.”
As for where the band plans to go from here, Hairston said that they plan to do what he initially said during his first Desert Wings interview a couple years ago.
“My first interview at Edwards I stated that I wasn’t going to knock on doors, I was going to kick them in and we, as a band, intend to do the same now and in the future,” said Hairston. “Overall, we’re extremely excited because we’re not only representing our Native American people but Edwards Air Force Base as well and our goal is to continue climbing, so this is a tremendous privilege to be able to do this.”
For more information on future Blue Mountain Tribe concerts and appearances, go to their Facebook page or contact Robin Hairston at (661) 822-9070.