For years, the Mid Life Crisis band has made listeners want to get up and dance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SALISBURY — When they were 40-something in 1993, the idea of calling their classic rock band “Mid Life Crisis” seemed right on.
But now that it’s almost 20 years later and some band members are in the 60-something range, shouldn’t they consider a new name?
Not on your (mid) life.
“We plan on living to about 120, I guess,” says Lonnie Carpenter, one of the band’s original members.
Numerous graying musical groups across the world have called themselves Mid Life Crisis, but few have kept playing as long as Salisbury’s version.
Those others aged out, the guys joke.
While their number of gigs have diminished with the economy — replaced by less expensive DJs and karaoke machines — Mid Life Crisis still packs a wallop with a wide range of music now taking in rock, rhythm and blues, soul, beach and original songs.
In other words, Mid Life Crisis makes you want to dance.
They all laugh — at drummer Ric Christy’s expense — recalling the spectator who kept calling out for some Rolling Stones music. When the band obliged, the man danced so hard that his shoe came off.
It went flying through the air and hit Christy square in the forehead.
“I think we were playing ‘Brown Sugar’ when that shoe hit,” says Tom Lowman, the bass player.
Lowman and Carpenter are the two band members left from the original Mid Life Crisis, formed in October 1993.
They are joined by Christy, Robert McCowan and Larry Pinkston, and all five band members consider themselves Woodstock-era survivors who plan to keep on playing until, as Christy says, it’s not fun any longer.
Right now, it’s still a whole lot of fun, such as the time at John’s Tavern when two girls, dancing in the audience in front of them, changed into each other’s clothes.
People in the crowd always have been their chief source of entertainment, if not each other.
“The Manifesto” is another famous band story. Lowman, who retired in 2001 as a battalion chief with the Salisbury Fire Department, blames red pills he was taking for his sinuses for making him print out policies and procedures for how the band’s equipment was going to be loaded and unloaded in the future.
The other guys arrived at practice to find chairs with “The Manifesto” waiting for them. It wasn’t well-received.
“Ric looked at me and said, ‘I don’t need this,’” McCowan recalls.
Lowman, who put in 30 years with the fire department, still apologizes — to the other guys’ delight — for his exuberance. “I was treating them like firemen on my shift,” he says.
Pinkston, an excellent guitarist, says the difference between old rockers — he’s now 62 — and young rockers is that the old rockers are powered now by naps and caffeine.
“We enjoy each other’s company,” says McCowan, who joins in the vocals with Carpenter and can play just about any instrument.
“And we just want to get it out of the building sometimes.”
The band practices almost every Sunday afternoon in McCowan’s music room at his home in Neel Estates.
Back when Mid Life Crisis started, the core “groupies” included wives, children, parents and in-laws. After almost two decades, the core followers now might take in grandchildren — McCowan and Lowman each have five.
All of the guys’ sons, at one time or the other, have jammed with them during practices.
Christy’s son, Garrett, filled in for him almost a year on the drums while Ric recovered from rotator cuff surgery.
The roots of Mid Life Crisis go back to the Hefner VA Medical Center, of all places.
Dave Baker, a VA employee, posted a notice at the hospital one day saying he was looking for people interested in playing the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s with him.
The posting caught the eye of Bill Barton and Joe Sulkowski, also with the VA. They added Lowman first, then Carpenter, who was married at the time to a VA employee.
Carpenter and Lowman were old friends, having attended Frank B. John Elementary School together.
Debbie Barton, Bill’s wife, came up with the band’s name. The group played at the VA, for private parties, at Moose lodges, weddings, reunions, local bars and for events such as Mayfest and Landis Heritage Day.
Early on, it was the house band at Petroglyph in Salisbury.
Attrition came quickly. Baker, the founder, left in 1996, followed by Sulkowski and Barton.
In late 1996, Lowman stopped by the Carriage Room for lunch and ran into his old friend, Pinkston, who had just left a band called Smokehouse.
Pinkston agreed to join Mid Life Crisis, and he delivered Christy in 1997.
“These two brought tremendous talent and song possibilities,” Lowman says, noting how the playlist expanded dramatically. “They were my heroes, really.”
Ed Clark joined Mid Life Crisis briefly on keyboards, but he was replaced in 1998 by McCowan. Back in 1980, McCowan and Lowman had formed the band Tahiti, which had a good four-year run locally.
So from 1998, Mid Life Crisis has been Carpenter, Lowman, Christy, Pinkston and McCowan. (More recently, it had some instrumental and vocal help from Jeryl “Spanky” Smith and Milton Mull.)
Mid Life Crisis is not your typical garage band that just happened to get old. The guys bring some chops.
Christy and Pinkston toured with “Mr. Excitement” Jackie Wilson as part of the Hot Smokin’ Brass, a jazz-rock fusion band that played the hotel circuit.
Christy also did some studio work in the 1980s for the Jordanairs, once the sound for Elvis Presley.
Carpenter toured as a bluegrass performer in his early days. His band played at the now extinct Land of Oz theme park, and he opened for the likes of Johnny Cash and the Statler Brothers.
He won Nashville Networks and Tru-Value talent shows in the Southeast and placed a couple of his songs on the beach music charts, including one that made the Top 20 playlist.
Before he was even a teenager, McCowan played regularly on a WSAT radio show. He later performed in numerous talent shows and battles of the band, before becoming part of the Melodie Egan Show.
Before Mid Life Crisis, McCowan also had played with the Silver Nickel Band.
Lowman, picked up his first bass guitar in 1970 and joined a country band by 1973, but he always had designs on playing hard rock — and that opportunity came in 1993, thanks to those guys at the VA.
For the record, the band members’ ages range from Christy, who is 57, to Pinkston, who is 62.
Pinkston, McCowan and Christy are still working. Christy is, for example, a team leader at the Freightliner truck plant. Carpenter, who seems to be part of bands everywhere, also performs with Motel Soap, the Salisbury Swing Band and the Moondance Orchestra.
They all started in music early — Carpenter was with the Tar Heel Folk Singers as a third-grader.
It’s always fun to hear the name of a musician’s first band.
For Lowman, it was Mike Williams and Sundown; for McCowan, The Purple Flower.
The others laugh when Christy sheepishly reports that the first group he belonged with was named Teddy and the Contempos.
The guys who make up Mid Life Crisis are, of course, best friends by now.
Lowman experienced that togetherness again Sunday night. After band practice, he and his wife, Evelyn, took off for their son Matt’s home on Goodnight Road, where Tom expected to enjoy a quiet dinner.
“Everything looked normal as we went in,” he says.
But waiting inside were all the band members, their spouses, neighbors, children and grandchildren, surprising Lowman for his 60th birthday.
Alas, he’s “mid” way to 120.
Mid Life Crisis has two CDs for sale, and the band is available for bookings. Check the band’s website at for more information. Contact Mark Wineka at 704-798-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost. com.