Simpson and bandmates try (try, try) again

From left, Mike Kornelson, Kenny Rea, Ben Simpson and Dave Luna are the musicians in Third Time Charmed. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Ashleigh Tarkington

From left, Mike Kornelson, Kenny Rea, Ben Simpson and Dave Luna are the musicians in Third Time Charmed.

Ben Simpson is almost obsessive in his quest to find your favorite bar song – and your least favorite. He wants to know what’s overdone, what gets your foot tapping and what gets you to put another dime in the jukebox.

His quest has led him and his new band, Third Time Charmed, to create a set list of barroom greatest hits.

The band, which played its first gig at the Wild Horse Saloon last week, is a longtime coming for Simpson, who sees the project as his lucky shot to get it right.

“I’m not a guy that shows up and tries to play a little bit of drums. I’m obsessive about things done well,” Simpson said a few days before the band’s first show.

Simpson splits his time between working as a Los Angeles City firefighter and his home in Durango. After playing with Ralph Dinosaur for five years, Simpson moved on to the popular regional band Formula 151. After the untimely death of his good friend and Durango musician Michael Parnell, Simpson stepped back from the Southwest music scene – until now.

Don’t let the name fool you – Third Time Charmed is reliant on anything but luck. Simpson is approaching the project with the intensity of an escaped zoo tiger.

“I wanted a band where everything was done right,” Simpson said. “I’m not putting together a flimsy band. We are going to rehearse like maniacs for half a year before we play.”

Simpson brought along fellow Formula 151 veteran Mike Kornelson to the project, stumbled upon David Luna through an acquaintance and literally pulled lead guitarist Kenny Rea off a Durango stage before they’d even met. The result is a highly talented group of musicians with more than 20 years of collective experience.

“Usually, bands have this time period where they can kind of get to know each other,” Luna said just before they took the stage at the Wild Horse. “Ben just grabbed the reins and took off like a banshee. We never really got a chance to get to know each other. They don’t even know my favorite color.”

Simpson’s goal since the beginning has been to play the music you want to hear on a night out. Their set list is as eclectic as any jukebox – ZZ Top to The Counting Crows, The Refreshments to Van Halen, the Rolling Stones to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And they’re surprisingly good at it.

With only a few missteps in song choice (say, Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long” or 3 Doors Down’s “Kryptonite”), Third Time Charmed nails it.

Rea’s stoic take on Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is impressive – if not solely for his passive approach to rocking out.

Kornelson on bass makes up for Rea’s coolness with a performance straight from his 80s rock past.

Front and center is Luna, who though he might not be able to totally pull off a David Lee Roth, has enough of a presence and voice to hold his place on the stage.

Then there’s Simpson on drums. Providing backup vocals, Simpson is both literally and metaphorically Third Time Charmed’s marching beat… and orders.

The players’ approach to selecting a big enough variety of songs that will appeal to all tastes runs the risk of never allowing them to establish an identity of their own.

Third Time Charmed is a good cover band, but band members should give themselves more credit than that.

Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer based in Durango. Reach her at margaretyh@gmail.com.