What’s up with the name “Studebaker”?

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my handle is @ChipStudebaker. It’s a pseudonym I’ve used in various settings for nearly 30 years but I’ve rarely explained it.

The question came up again the other day so I guess it’s time to tell the story. I was sitting in the control room of Dark Pines recording studio with Max, the owner, and my old friend Steve.  We were getting ready to add some tracks to a song we’d been working on for Steve, with whom I played in several bands dating back to our late teens. This recording was being done under the name The Studebaker Brothers.

“So I gotta ask,” says Max…

“Where did the name ‘Studebaker’ come from?”

Steve and I looked at each other and grinned. “It started as a joke,” I began.

We were sidemen in a country music band based in Durham, NC in the early 1980s. We lived a couple of counties away and were making the 45-minute drive together to Durham one afternoon either for a gig or rehearsal.

On the way we were listening to a rock radio station and we heard a commercial for a nightclub in Sanford, NC called Studebaker’s. We never played there, never even set foot in the place. I tried to research it online before writing this piece but came up empty; I wish I could tell you anything about it.

But for some inexplicable reason the name caught our ears and we spontaneously invented two alter egos – I became Chip Studebaker and Steve became Steve Studebaker. To this day I still can’t really explain why. We just started calling each other by our new names really as an inside joke.

Then the personas grew.

Allman Brothers Band logoWe always were – and still are – fans of The Allman Brothers Band, having covered countless of their tunes and seeing many of their live performances through the years. Thus our imaginary identities went on to form their own imaginary band, naturally called The Studebaker Brothers Band.

Steve and I eventually left that country band and later worked together in a couple more bands through the ’80s and early ’90s, all the while joking with each other about our Studebaker identities.

Then came a span of several years in the early ’90s where we didn’t play together. Steve was doing his own thing and my playing was focused on Sunday morning praise music at the church my family attended.

Just when I thought my gigging days were done…

Steve called one day in early 1996 to ask if I had any interest in playing in a band again. He’d been in a group that had just broken up due to the usual conflicts but he and Vince, the lead guitarist, still wanted to play together. I agreed to meet with them to see if there was any potential.

The first meeting in Vince’s living room led to a jam session in which we realized we were on the same musical wavelength, so to speak. This could be fun!

Um, how about the Studebaker Brothers?

If you’ve ever played in a band, written an article, or had a kid, you know the “creating” part is the easy part. It’s the “naming” part that will drive you crazy. I don’t know why, but coming up with a decent name for anything or anybody is absolutely the hardest part of the whole process.

Once we decided we wanted to give it a go as a trio we had to face this challenge. Each of us started tossing around ideas that were mostly lame. But Steve and I really knew this was a chance for our fantasy band to come true. There actually could be a Studebaker Brothers Band!

Studebaker Brothers Poster

Studebaker Brothers Band Poster, 1997

Vince took a little convincing. He had his own favorite ideas and wasn’t too keen on the other two guys, who had a long history together, taking control of the band’s identity. We assured him we weren’t interested in controlling anything and the “brother” identity could be a fun marketing angle for the band. He was finally persuaded, and became Vince Studebaker.

The Studebaker Brothers played together for the better part of four years. We developed a loyal local following and earned some gas money. We were all in our early 40s at that time and had families. At one point between four members (Milton Studebaker joined about a year after the band formed) we had a total of ten kids. Family was our real priority. We had no illusion of becoming rock stars – we just hoped to not lose money after expenses. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, the Studebaker Brothers covered a few Allman Brothers tunes.)

It was great fun while it lasted, but all good things do have an end. Life, careers, and family responsibilities eventually led us to call it a day. We played our farewell gig in September 2000 at one of our favorite venues, then packed our gear and went home.

Chip, Max, Steve

(L-R) Chip Studebaker, Max, Steve Studebaker, 2013

A few months ago Steve called to see if I’d be interested in recording a few of our songs for posterity. Seems we both wanted to have something preserved that we could point to and say, “I did that.”

That’s how we found ourselves at Max’s recording studio explaining what the deal was with the name Studebaker. I bet he’s sorry he asked now.

Do you have a band story?

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