Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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The Sound

Andrew Fleming, still truckin’


Andy Fleming and Brother Trucker play el Bait Shop the first Wednesday of every month.

Andy Fleming and Brother Trucker play el Bait Shop the first Wednesday of every month.

There’re a lot of reasons to like Andy Fleming. A gifted songwriter and a musician with a reverential approach to his craft, the Brother Trucker front man is also one of the most humble and sincere people you’re likely to meet on God’s green earth.

For Fleming, music’s more than a pastime or a profession; it’s life’s tapestry. Brother Trucker has been ingrained in Fleming’s life since before he had a name for it.

“(Brother Trucker guitarist Mike) Fitzpatrick’s been my best friend since I was 6 years old,” Fleming said in an interview. “We were in a band before we could play music, you know?”

Like a lot of songwriters, Fleming draws inspiration from what he sees. After moving to Des Moines in 1992 and working closely with the state Democratic party, Fleming became intimately involved in social causes around town. A lot of that translated into Brother Trucker’s music.

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“I worked one session at the (Iowa State) Senate and was completely disillusioned with it,” Fleming recalled. “I got a job at the YWCA. I did that for eight years, and (songwriting) was my outlet. I’d come home from work after hearing these stories (and) meeting people at a point in their life — that stuck with me. So I started writing about it.”

That writing style has come to define the Brother Trucker sound.

“I guess it’s the way I filter the news of the day, you know? When my first child was born, I had this big writer’s block. (Then) Johnny Cash died, and I thought, ‘Jesus, who’s going to write the songs about the things Johnny Cash wrote about?’ The Man in Black wrote about the downtrodden, the people.”

So Fleming writes about the people he knows and, in his own way, speaks for voices most of us never hear. There’s no doubt that Brother Trucker is a band that wears its politics on its sleeve.

“Proudly so,” concurred Fleming. “And it’s tough, being a local band and taking a stance like that. But we’ll work for the people who know where we’re coming from. I’m proud of that. I’m proud that we have social leanings, and we say what we believe.”

And, uber alles, Fleming believes in the unique joy of being Iowan. Deeply indebted to Iowa acts like Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown, Fleming considers it a privilege to carry on the rich legacy in telling the story of average Iowans.

“I think about (the legacy) to a degree. When we look back, there are so many people who have started their lives at a Brother Trucker show. A family started because (a Brother Trucker song) is their love song. That’s the mark of a band. Our legacy.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve gotten all of our fans one at a time. We moved here from Davenport, we didn’t bring our high school buddies to our first show. We literally had to win drunks over one at a time at the bar. Now here we are 15 years later playing to a full bar, and I can say, ‘That person’s from ’98.’ Or, ‘Wow, that guy first came to our 2000 show.’ If you’re going to do it for the right reasons, you get to be a part of people’s lives.”

And it’s that sense of connection — with the state, the people and the past — that keeps Fleming writing.

“We’re not done,” he said emphatically. “I feel like we’re getting better. Maybe the goal is to fill the spot of some of our heroes, you know? We’re out there, and we’re doing it as well as we can. With respect.” CV

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