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Keyboard Magazine (April 1999)

BY XANDRIA DUNCAN - Other genres have had their ups and downs in the last decade, but country has stayed pistol-hot. Tim McGraw is one of the new-country pack who's enjoyed tremendous coast-to-coast support . . . thanks in no small part to his ace touring band and high-energy keyboardist, Jeff McMahon.

The name of Tim's touring band is the Dancehall Doctors, "which Tim got from a Conway Twitty song," Jeff explains. "Some of the guys have been around longer than I have, but this band, as is, has been together since January '94. Nobody has left, which is unusual, and I think it says a lot about Tim.

Teamwork. In Nashville, it's not uncommon for singers to use session players on their records, and then hire a separate pack of road warriors for the tour. Tim McGraw is no exception, but Jeff takes it all in stride. "The producers have a lot of faith in the players they've worked with before. It certainly is a 'time is money' situation in the studio, and those [session] guys are innovative, efficient, and fast. I understand that. I have no desire to be a full-time studio musician, because I know that most of my strengths lend themselves to performing live." Having said that, Jeff admits he'd beeline to the studio if Tim ever needed him to lay down a part.

Onstage, the Dancehall Doctors stick pretty close to Tim's recorded arrangements, but there are times during the show when they're free to stretch their wings. "There are things that, as a band, we've rearranged because we feel it's more conducive to live performance. Tim encourages the band members to have their own identity. We're included in the tour book, his Web site, and a lot of fan club events. It's very team-oriented."

Gear. Jeff drives an Ensoniq MR-Rack and a Kurzweil MicroPiano module from his Peavey C8 controller. A Roland VK-7 is used to cover the organ parts. Several times during the show, Jeff straps on a Yamaha KX5 MIDI remote controller and roams the stage, thanks to an Aquila MIDI wireless system.

Whenever possible, he comes in before soundcheck to tinker with his gear. But now that the band is on a mega tour with George Strait, "that's not really possible because we have no soundchecks. And then we'll be doing festivals --- all-day affairs where there's no way to accommodate seven to nine bands coming in one after another with soundchecks." That's why simple and clean is the ideal way to go for keyboardists in situations like Jeff's.

Parting Shot. Jeff is no wooden Indian onstage. " I tend to get a little wound up during the show," he chuckles. "One time this girl came up to me after the show and said, 'I just love watching you play.' I thought about how I took all those piano lessons just to have her tell me she loved 'watching' me play. So I said, 'You know, you should hear me paint!'"

To read more about Keyboard magazine, visit www.keyboardmag.com.


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