People generally enjoy origin stories, whether they involve a spider bite turning a guy into a superhero or a couple of kids named Lennon and McCartney meeting at the St. Peter’s Church Garden Féte.
For the band OG WS, let’s go back 15 years to a party celebrating a Mt. Lebanon High School hockey championship, where three classmates take control of some musical instruments.
“All of us were in the basement, and the first track that we wanted to play was ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love,’” Matt Vaughan said, citing Queen’s 1980 hit. “And we crushed it.”
He was on drums, with Mike Dugan on guitar and Jonah Petrelli on bass. No vocalist, but who really can do justice to the legacy of Freddie Mercury?
Enter Chris Cain, another Mt. Lebanon High School alumnus, who joined his former classmates several years later to complete what today is a quartet with a repertoire of more than 200 songs, ready to rock the socks off the audience on any given night.
You’ll notice that not one of the guys’ first or last names starts with the letters O, G, W or S. And so the natural question: What does that mean, anyway?
Flash back nine or so years, to an early rehearsal attended by a friend named Stu who provided an idea.
“I think Jonah was wearing a cutoff,” Cain recalled about the bassist’s arm-revealing shirt, “and he said, ‘I think it would be funny if all of you wore cutoffs, and one of you wore really long, flowing sleeves.”
Yeah, that’s right: One Guy With Sleeves.
“And we did that for our very first show,” Dugan said about the shtick before his bandmates corrected him. “And we did that for our very first two shows.”
By the third, they were wearing whatever the heck they wanted. But the name stuck in its acronym form.
That kind of anything-goes spirit, though, continues to prevail. Sitting in Vaughan’s Dormont studio before a recent rehearsal, the guys talked about their past, present and future, usually not getting all that far before someone broke into laughter.
“The bottom line is, we just have so much fun,” Petrelli said, using some colorful adjectives to describe the attributes that the others bring to the band.
As far as what they play, the calling card of OG WS is “not your average cover band.” Sure, they dig into the discographies of many of rock’s best-known artists, but many of the songs are not ones you’re likely to hear many others playing around Pittsburgh.
And that can be refreshing for some of the more savvy listeners.
“There are always three to 10 people who are like, ‘Yeah!’” Vaughan said about audience reaction. “We try to play a lot of those tunes, where it’s maybe not going to hit everyone. But the people who do, they’ll be very happy.”
Beyond the song selection is the band’s collective ability to pull off the material, especially considering its relative size.
“It’s really difficult to emulate these songs just being guitar, bass and drums,” Dugan explained, but they’re so used to one another musically that everything usually clicks.
That especially applies to him and Petrelli.
“We’ve been playing together on a regular basis since summer school between seventh and eighth grade,” Dugan said. “All it takes is just a little look. Jonah will be over here playing, and he’ll just look at me. And I know exactly where we’re going. But we all now kind of have that chemistry because it’s been so long. We’re going on a decade of doing this band on a consistent basis, and it shows.”
Meanwhile, Cain can sound like the singers on the originals, all the while giving the audience a show in his own right, something Vaughan has noticed since the days before OG WS:
“He was a natural. Let’s just put it that way. He was a natural frontman.”
While OG WS specializes in covers, band members have written and performed their own material in a thoroughly out-of-the-ordinary venture. The host of a YouTube series called “Four Minutes” challenged them to compose as many songs as they could in a couple of days.
They came up with eight or nine, all just one minute in length and covering a variety of genres. “Admiral Boathouse,” for example, sounds like Red Hot Chili Peppers-type funk, and “Party On the Farm,” featuring Cain’s spot-on Elvis Presley impersonation, is straight from the country.
As far as building on that experience and working on more originals:
“There’s some potential if we ever do decide to take that step forward,” Dugan said. “We have some other projects we’re all kind of involved in, but those are all kind of coming to a finish, and we’re going to be able to, hopefully, spend some time doing that.”
In the meantime, OG WS continues to entertain audiences, including those who attend the Explore East Liberty Wine Festival on Sept. 14, with their energizing brand of music. As the band members proclaim on their Facebook page:
“After someone says, ‘This party sucks’ at your next party … not for long, friend, ‘cause OG WS is on the way.”