Put me in coach
Mike Askay’s life has always consisted of three goals: baseball, teaching and music. Fast approaching his 30s, it seemed one of those would be something he’d have to experience from the sidelines. Surprisingly, it wasn’t baseball.

After pitching at Ventura High School, Askay pursued a degree in teaching at Pepperdine University, a school that also happens to have a Division 1 baseball program. Despite being an average player in high school, Askay blossomed as a relief pitcher in college, even playing in the Collegiate World Series and alongside future pros in a Midwestern summer league. After two successful years of college ball, Askay felt it was time to focus on his education and chosen profession. With baseball checked off the goals list, the focused and wise-beyond-his-years Askay graduated from Pepperdine and took a teaching position back in his hometown of Ventura at Elmhurst Elementary. Happily married, paying the bills and still dominating local city league softball and baseball teams on the weekends, there was still one thing missing from the closet music lover’s life: the overwhelming need to rock. So in 2007, when his dad, a recently retired, long-time Ventura High School teacher, mentioned that fellow teacher Christian Gallo was looking for a guitarist to start a real deal country band, Askay jumped at the opportunity to finally be in a band, let alone one that was playing one of his favorite types of music.

Age ain’t nothin’ but a number
Askay and Gallo began planting the seeds for a country band that had its roots more in the California sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard than the dumbed-down Nashville of today. Plotting, planning and jamming in a garage, and giddy as high-schoolers plunking down their first power chords, the two set out to find like-minded musicians for their throwback vision. Not surprisingly, though, to complete the band with the quality of players they were after, the talent pool was residing in a slightly higher age bracket than most fledgling bands are seeking. They recruited Gallo’s close friends, bassist Brian Hubert and drummer Tom Mobley, both in their late 30s, along with pedal steel guitar player Charlie Peterson and fiddler David Roine, who are both 50-plus. Taking the better-late-than-never approach to starting a band, the very adult men took the name Big Tweed, paying homage to the tweed-covered amplifiers popular in the ’50s and ’60s that the band still uses.

More than a hobby
So for the past two years, Big Tweed has been steadily turning local dive bars into full-fledged honky tonks. Appearances at all the usual venues (like the Star Lounge, Billy O’s, the Red Cove and the Benchwarmer) along with slightly less bar-soaked-carpet venues (like Bernadette’s and Zoey’s) has enabled band members to hone their live show to an extremely polished level. With a debut CD under wraps, Introducing Big Tweed, the six-piece twangers have also written some impressive originals, such as “The Bat Masterson Swing,” a tribute to a friend who shares the same name as the famed Wild West lawman. Despite families and full-time jobs, this summer the band even managed to pull off a weekend jaunt to Montana, where their music was warmly received at a microbrew festival. They’re now gearing up to celebrate Askay’s birthday with a holiday-themed show at the Lodge in Ventura alongside one of the area’s more popular country/bluegrass outfits, Whiskey Chimp.

Loving life
As for Askay. He’s a man who considers himself beyond content. “I can remember being in a minor league park, getting ready to pitch, and The Blues Brothers’ version of “Sweet Home Chicago” came on over the PA. At that moment, I was more excited to hear that song than to play baseball. I had wanted to be in a band as long as I can remember. Now I’m playing music I really like with my friends who are great musicians. When that moment happens, when you’re playing together and it just clicks, and everyone has a smile on their face, it’s as good a feeling as baseball ever is.”    

Big Tweed will perform at the Lodge in Ventura on Dec. 11. For more information on the band, and to listen to songs from its debut CD, visit  www.bigtweed.com.

chris@armyoffreshmen.com