NEW MIDWAY, Md. – The lead guitarist for one of the Washington area’s most popular and enduring bands got sick and tired of sweating the rent.
Marshall Keith, co-founded The Slickee Boys in the mid-1970s. The Slickees blend of punk, garage, and psychedelia made them legend in the region, and popular around the world.
Still, they had to pay the bills.
Keith found a unique way to do it — tuning pianos.
After years of working a variety of part-time jobs — including construction and jewelry making — to supplement his efforts with the Slickees, Keith says, “I got to be in my mid-30s and I had an ‘uh-oh’ moment.”
“Every month when rent would come up, it was ‘how am I gonna make rent this month,'” Keith says.
“I got really tired of that,” he says, sitting in front of a $39,000 restored Steinway Grand, at Kramer’s Piano Store, located in Frederick County farm country.
Using an electronic tuner, thin padded inserts to dampen the sound of piano strings, and “relative, not perfect pitch,” Keith tunes pianos for bands, as well as in churches, homes, and the shop.
He learned the trade from his then-girlfriend, now-wife’s father, in an apprenticeship.
Far from the raucous, costumed energy of a Slickee Boys performance, Keith enjoys working alone.
“It’s actually pretty relaxing. Sort of a meditative kind of thing,” Keith says.
Keith says he’d taken on the role of tuning the band’s guitars over the years, “Because I knew how to do it.”
“Tuning a piano, with all these strings, it’s like tuning 35 guitars,” says Keith.
He estimates it takes an hour to tune a piano, which often has more than 200 strings.
The Slickee Boys, whose “When I Go To The Beach” video placed second in MTV’s Basement Tapes competition in 1983, stopped playing regularly in 1991, but played reunion shows yearly until recently.
“We finally decided to call it quits last year,” says Keith.
“With me it became a big struggle, ” Keith says now.
Keith has traded time spent with the Slickees for time spent with his family.