So how does the name "Mongolian Death Wyrm" symbolize J Alan Balmer's vision for his progressive blues/rock/funk trio?
"It doesn't symbolize it so much as it begs the question: Who are we? And what kind of music do we play?" said Balmer.
The name started as a joke.
"I don't exactly remember what I was researching, but it had to be something along the lines of urban myths," recalled Balmer. "And one of the sidebars of the research I was doing brought up this Mongolian Death Worm."
Balmer pointed out the mythical worm with snakelike attributes has some basis in fact.
"There are some rather large, hefty, worms in the Mongolian desert," laughed Balmer before conceding that despite a number of serious expedition into the Gobi Desert, this supposedly five-foot long deadly creature has never been verified. But it's a distinctive name that would make many a thrash-metal band envious, and has had its advantages.
"One of the things particular venues liked about the name is that it forced people to call them up and ask 'what kind of music is it?'" said Balmer.
If the band name begs the question, progressive rock is the quick and easy answer to the music Balmer and band-mates Michael Hill (bass) and Todd Asper (drums) creates. But even that label is limiting, as blues, funk, and even jazz creep into their songs. As Balmer often says, sometimes many or all those sounds end up in the same song.
"We'll do some Emerson, Lake & Palmer, we do some Jimi stuff," he said, referring to high profile prog-rock names. "But we also have a samba, and at the end of the samba part, Todd does a drum solo that evolves into a fusion tune that was really done by Billy Cobham."
Balmer and progressive rock both came of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a small window of time when bands, radio stations, and venues across the country opened up to (and experimenting with) all kinds of sounds. Balmer remembers turning the radio on late at night during his Grammar School and early High School days to hear indie Chicago stations playing a hodgepodge of music that still strikes his fancy.
"And there were places in Chicago like the Aragon Ballroom where you'd see seven bands in one night," said Balmer. "One time the headliner was The Kinks, and right before them was Dr. John during his 'Night Tripper' days. Prior to that were two of the original members of Yes who had a band called Flash. Blodwyn Pig was there as well as couple other bands."
And it was in those clubs where Balmer knew what he wanted to do.
"Back in that time, that's what we WERE doing. We were doing a lot of different stuff. But even back then, it was trending more toward the progressive stuff," said Balmer.
Mongolian Death Wyrm plays Starved Rock State Park Lodge on July 28. MDW plays Six Strings Club in downtown Bloomington Aug. 4, where they'll be recording. They'll mix the best of that show and an earlier gig at Fat Jacks in Bloomington into their first official CD.
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