by Dennis Dalman
When Adam Hammer of Sartell was challenged in a “Songwriters’ Contest” to write a song about “skinny-dipping,” he accepted the challenge. In 20 minutes, seemingly without any effort, the song just came to him, and it remains a favorite of his listeners.
“Underwater Love Song” Hammer describes as a “tongue-in-cheek sweet little love song.”
Audiences will have a chance to hear Hammer’s skinny-dipping ditty at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, the latest “Local Roots” concert at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud. Hammer and his friend and musical colleague, Dave Cofell of St. Joseph, will perform a set of their all-original songs that night. Tickets may be purchased at www.paramountarts.net.
Both Cofell and Hammond are songwriters who have been honored as a duo for three consecutive years (20011-13) as “Best Original Music” by the annual “Best of Central Minnesota” poll.
The duo will be backed by guest bass player Jeff Engholm of St. Joseph and by Bennett Velline, the 12-year-old grandson of rock-pop legend Bobby Vee. Also on the night’s program is “Harper’s Chord,” a bluegrass-folk-country blues band comprising lead singer Jill Moore and seasoned musicians Roger Fink and Paul Drinkwine – all long-time performers from the St. Cloud area. Their latest CD collection is called “Natural Bridge.”
Hammer and Cofell also have their own CDs, which have received warm reviews and frequent radio play. Cofell’s CD is entitled “No Substitute (For You).” Hammer’s is entitled “Broken Like You.”
Raised in Henning, Hammer grew up in a family brimming with musical talent. Playing an instrument and singing were as natural, to him, as breathing. He’s played guitar since age 12.
“I like to play progressive folk and blues and tend toward the more modern folk style,” he said. “Dave (Cofell) goes more for traditional folk and blues, but our two styles overlap nicely.”
At the Paramount show, the duo will play only original tunes, alternating between one by Dave and one by Adam, although both join in on most of the songs.
Hammer said he and Cofell are very pleased about how the Paramount Theatre saw fit to feature so much local talent in its periodic “Local Roots” concerts, including the upcoming one.
“I really love these concerts because they put the focus on local music, especially on local original music. We’ve often played small gigs here and there, but to be in a big theater like the Paramount is just incredible.”
Hammer is also glad to share the stage with “Harper’s Chord,” a band he’s guest-played with many times. Hammer added he is also happy to have drummer Bennett Velline back him and Cofell.
“Bennett just turned 12, and he’s just an incredible drummer,” Hammer said.
Despite his busy performing schedule, Hammer has a day job. He works at St. Cloud State University in media relations and publications. He graduated from SCSU in 2005 with a degree in mass communications. He was managing editor for the SCSU “Chronicle” newspaper and also wrote entertainment news for the St. Cloud Times.
Cofell was raised in Collegeville, the youngest sibling of seven children. His father headed the Education Department of St. John’s University and his mother is a botanist. Cofell has played instruments almost before he could walk. As a child, he never watched television as his parents did not own one, so instead he read a lot of books and learned how to play any instrument that came his way, including banjo, recorder and marimba. He currently plays guitar, harmonica and kazoo.
Cofell estimates he has written about 300 songs, so far. Many of the songs come from personal experience, but others are just imaginative lyrical riffs that just come to him, seemingly out of nowhere.
“After I quit a job one time, I turned that experience into a train song – about trains, about leaving,” he said. “I’ve written a lot of songs with weather in them – the seasons, rain, snow, fog.”
Many people are familiar with Cofell and Hammer as the hosts of Open Mic Night at The Local Blend coffee house in downtown St. Joseph. He and Hammer play about 150 gigs far and wide every year. Cofell also teaches guitar at Ham’s Music in St. Cloud and also teaches Quan Li K’an, a form of martial arts for self defense and safety.
His first true love has always been music.
“I try to play more from the heart than the head,” he noted. “Things that are really important to me. My genres are just about anything – blues, folk, jazz, rhythm and blues. Adam (Hammer) and I teamed up about five years ago. We have different styles, but we complement each other well in performance. My songs tend to be more serious and melancholy than Adam’s.”
Almost anything can spark a song in Cofell’s head, including the time a friend had to leave New Orleans in a heckuva hurry when Hurricane Katrina came howling in. The friend left food in his fridge – food that quickly rotted. Right away, Cofell decided to write about the man’s dilemma and the fate of the abandoned food by including the humorous chorus sung by rotting-food items.
People will have a chance to hear that tune, “The Fridge Song” during the Jan. 11 concert at the Paramount Theatre.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.