MCC instructor’s musical talents displayed for Valentine’s dance

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 6:24 pm on Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dr. James Brown plays several instruments including the violin and electric bass guitar. He began playing the stand-up bass a year and a half ago. — Daily News/Cory Smith

If you go …

• What: Valentine’s dance
• When: 7 p.m. Feb. 17
• Where: Montcalm Community College, Sidney
• Cost: Free


SIDNEY — By day, people know him as Dr. James Brown, an information systems instructor who teaches computer classes at Montcalm Community College (MCC).

By night, “Doc,” as fans call him, takes the stage as a stand-up bass player in the rockabilly music trio The ChupaCobras, entertaining people throughout the greater Grand Rapids area with the band’s unique rhythm-driven rock music.

On Friday, Feb. 17, Brown and his band will perform at the MCC Valentine’s dance in front of faculty and friends, an opportunity Brown says may be “a real surprise” to those who only know him as an instructor at the college.

“Some of the faculty knows I’ll be performing,” he said. “A few of the folks have said, ‘We’ve got to see this’ and that’s been fun, but with my students, I have no idea. If they don’t know and see me on stage, they’ll be in for a real surprise”

The dance, which begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m., is free and open to the public.

MCC Dean of Instruction and Faculty Gary Hauck said the dance, which is in its third year, is usually attended by a combination of students, faculty and people in the community.

“We’ve had teenagers all the way up to people in their 70s attend this dance and they always seem to enjoy themselves,” he said.

Hauck said he was glad to bring in faculty member Brown and his band as musical entertainment for the dance.

“It’s nice to be able to highlight our own college talent,” he said. “Last year he performed during our faculty music recital and I thought he’d be a perfect match for our Valentine’s Day dance.”
Taking on a hobby as demanding as being in a band and trying to balance it with a professional life has been a challenge for Brown.

“It really is a culture shock, if I can call it that,” he said. “Dressing up in suits and knocking out a bunch of music all night long, then returning to being a straight-line professor in a classroom setting, it’s very different.”

Brown said he started playing the stand-up bass in November 2010 when he was asked by band member Michael “Killer” Miller to take on the new instrument.

“He contacted me, realizing I wanted to play again in a band, but he wanted me to play an upright bass, as opposed to electric bass,” he said.

Dr. James Brown strums a few notes on one of his stand-up basses, the instrument he’ll be performing with at the Montcalm Community College Valentine’s dance Feb. 17 with his band, The ChupaCobras. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Learning to play a new instrument is nothing new for Brown. He learned to play the violin at age 7 and currently plays in the Kent Philharmonic Orchestra.

He began playing the electric bass in high school when he was asked by his high school band director to take on the instrument for the sake of the school’s jazz band.

“I thought after 33 years, an upright bass would be similar, but it’s not even close,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of frustrating hours, probably 12,000 in total in the last year and a half practicing.”

As opposed to lessons or learning from others, Brown taught himself how to play the stand-up bass learning from watching YouTube videos.

“I can learn so much going online and watching YouTube videos,” he said. “I would watch it again and again and I’d become frustrated because as simple as it looked, it was an incredible challenge, but now I love it.”

Brown is hoping the spirit he encounters with fans when performing at various locations throughout Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Kalamazoo shows up when his band performs at MCC.

“I’ve never been to this dance before, but I think it will be a different environment from the normal bar scene,” he said. “I’m hoping that we get a fair turnout. I’d love to see a lot of people there because it just makes it so much more fun. If you’ve got warm bodies in front of you, you just start playing and you go. But if it’s a smaller turnout, we’ll personalize the show with everyone who is there and we’ll all have a good time.”

The dance will take place in the MCC gymnasium and refreshments will be available.

“If you feel like getting out and dancing, possibly even dressing up, you’ll have a good time,” Hauck said. “We are hoping for a great turnout.”

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