Local News: Asheville and HendersonvilleNews StoriesPete Zamplas

Christian Justus leads 28 Pages rock band

Christian Justus steps up his bass playing, with 28 Pages. Drummer Andy Balla was with Justus in Senatobia. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

By Pete Zamplas- Henderson County native Christian Justus leads the rock band 28 Pages a decade after playing in innovative alt-rock Senatobia, and recently had a reunion concert for his earlier band Euphoria.

The classic rock cover band 28 Pages played recently in Asheville — at Wild Wing Cafe South on June 16, then June 23 at Pillar Rooftop Bar — and in The Grey Eagle months earlier.

Its most recent gig was Saturday night, in South Rock Sports Grill off the Greenville Highway just south of Downtown Hendersonville.

The band will play in nearby Brevard on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Rock ‘n Bowl recreation center in Brevard and Aug. 21 in Peaks & Creeks Brewing Co. at 212 King St.; also Aug. 4 Sapphire Mountain Brewing Co.

Its Henderson County venues include Sanctuary Brewing and Black Bear Coffee Co. in Downtown Hendersonville, Triskelion Brewery at 304 Seventh Ave. E.. Bold Rock Hard Cider in Mills River, and Flat Rock Pizza at 712 Upward Road.

Starting this week, Jason Lane is returning as main vocalist and guitarist. The band covers hits from the Sixties into this decade — largely classic rock of the Seventies and Eighties. Keyboardist Steven Posey said, “We mix different styles. There’s something for everyone” into rock.

Band leader Justus said, “Music to me is such a rush — especially to play it live. Rock can go into so many directions.” In bands “I’ve played rock, metal, country, Top 40, beach, and dabbled in jazz.”

Former Fla. Gov. Bob Graham and U.S. senator (D-Fla.), now 81, is on the band’s mailing list after hearing about the band name, Justus said. The senator’s hunch was right it had to do with the 28-page commission report (in ’04) on the 9/11/01 attacks. Graham chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2001-03.

Justus is “fascinated with conspiracy theories” — mostly UFOs. The band voted for 28 Pages. He said it “sounds cool, and flows well.” He points out “this band is not affiliated with 28Pages.org, or any other activist movement.”

Though doing mostly covers, 28 Pages has originals including several light rock tunes by Lane, a few songs by Justus, with more new ones in the works. The band plans to record soon in Andy Bishop’s home studio Giraffe Studios in Hendersonville.

Justus’ musical message is on relationships in the ballad “There May be a Time,” which went over well with the audience Saturday night. There is much sentimentality behind it the song, which took about 30 years and two generations to evolve.

His parents Terry and Theresa Justus played psychedelic and other rock in Orange Purple Marmalade in the Seventies, then calling it the Justice Band in the Eighties. “I grew up around music,” Christian noted.

Terry died eight years ago. He wrote the song’s first verse and a half and two chords — back in the Eighties. Terry did not finish the song, record it or play it in public. But it sure was a hit at home. “I have fond memories of hearing Dad on acoustic guitar, and he and Mom sing it,” their son Christian said.

Christian wrote the rest of it, in recent months. “I wrote more of the story, and put in a bunch of chord changes. I kept the theme, the storyline. I elaborated on it.”

Christian married longtime friend Marie (Slowik), in September of 2016. Her stepfather Mike McMinn played guitar and bass in 1979 with Marmalade.

Euphoria in its recent reunion concert at Bold Rock Hard Cider is, L-R: keyboardist keyboardist Tim Smith, lead guitarist Kenny Stephenson, bassist Christian Justus, and singer Gene Miller. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Justus said his father’s lyrical theme was “people spend their lives together, but it’s not all roses. You go through the good and downtrodden times. But through it all, you stick with the one you love.”

He penned such lines as “Life can be so sublime. then in a blink of an eye, turn so unkind” in the chorus. The first verse includes: “When we don’t care anymore, when we don’t share anymore. But tonight, I’m going to love you.”

Christian Justus, 49, first formed a rock band in 1987-88 as a junior in East Henderson High School in East Flat Rock. The act was called Euphoria. They cranked out hard rock and rock originals, and played often in Asheville and Hendersonville.

“We hung out” as friends at East, future wife Marie recalled. Christian said they were “kinda dating” then. They both were in East’s marching band. Christian was shy and “had his circle of musician fans” then, Marie said. “I fell in love with him in 2004,” when they more truly dated. “We each married someone else. We met up again, in 2016,” she said. “We realized we should be together.” Marie has three children, and four grandchildren up to age five.

“Christian’s passion for music” remains vibrant, Marie said. As a bassist “he got better, over the years. He’s now a leader. He takes charge” more, beyond doing bookings for decades.

Former Euphoria members came from as far as Oregon to do reunion shows — first in 2015, next in The Grey Eagle last year, then in mid-June for a jam-packed outdoor show at Bold Rock. Justus also opened, with 28 Pages.

Euphoria lead guitarist Kenny Stephenson has known bassist Justus since they were both age five. Even today, gentlemanly Justus is more reserved and Stephenson bubblier. Their keyboardist Tim Smith is also a 1989 East grad. A want ad in IWANNA landed them East alum Gene Miller, as lead singer. The act lasted a dozen years, to 1999.

Theresa Justus was “integral” as interim drummer, as needed, Christian said, and drummed in part of the latest reunion show.

Stephenson plays guitar in the trio Awake in the Dream, often at South Rock’s monthly motorcycle bike nights. His band freshly covers classics and recent hits, and plays originals infused by progressive rock and recent styles.

Next (1999-2004) forJustus came popular alt rock Senatobia, which did mostly originals and was based in Asheville. The band made national college radio charts, and recorded three LPs and an EP. Justus was the main arranger, and backing vocalist. As bassist he adjusted to frontman Phil Lomac’s “bizarre tunings. I could play five or six notes under his chord, and it all worked. I gave me a lot of freedom, to write broader base lines” for a more dynamic sound.

Senatobia’s still-slender drummer, Andy Balla, now drums for 28 Pages. He and Lane are 28 Pages’ extroverts. He has not merely a day job, but owns a business in Hendersonville. As the newest “Mad Signtist,” Balla crafts business signs. The band often rehearses in his shop, at 408 Seventh Ave. E.

Posey, who sings many songs, also lives in Henderson County. Justus has lived in Asheville, but is back in his native Crab Creek. He is three weeks into work as a detention officer in Hendersonville. He has a less captive audience for what he has to say, at his music gigs.

Justus was out of state for much of this decade. He played “melodic metal” in band Echoes of Solitude, in Virginia. He and Lane played this area with Crystal Tears. “We jammed in his house in Brevard,” and later did a live recording there, Justus said. “It felt magical.”

He formed 28 Pages in July of 2016 before moving back to Henderson County full-time a half-year later in early ’17, to be with Marie and reconnect with friends and the music scene. Public gigs for 28 Pages began last summer.

In their gigs, Justus sings such rock hits as Tom Petty’s hypnotic “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” and ballads “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix and Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.”

Lane was the band’s original lead singer, playing for a year and a half before a job pulled him away from the band. He is back. Lane is adept on acoustic guitar, in his solo works. Band members including a departing duo he replaces lauded Lane’s vocals as the best in the band. Lane likely resumes singing l ead on some songs Posey has sung in his place.

Posey on Saturday sang REO Speedwagon’s up-tempo “Roll With the Changes.” Posey said he is a tenor, with also baritone mid-range. Posey sang Stevie Ray Vaughan’s soulful “Pride and Joy,” J. Geil Band’s peppy “Centerfold,” Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s ’97 hit “Blue on Black,” and Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” from 2010. Posey sang rock ballads such as Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page,” Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” and “Purple Rain” by Prince.

Lane can pull off Burton Cummings (“The Voice”) in the Guess Who’s fast-paced “No Sugar Tonight,” Justus noted.

Musicianship is a definite strength of this band. “Steven is top-notch on ‘keys,’ Justus said. Posey has played piano since age eight. The S.C. native has a music degree from Furman. He knows computer programming of sounds. He is a senior computer network engineer at Pardee Hospital. His wife of 22 years, Jeanine Granere Posey, was in East’s marching band with Justus. Posey said, “I love playing with these guys.”

Justus is creative like a jazz-like bassist. As Posey said, rather than playing a single note repeatedly like many rock bassists, “Christian goes all over the fret board.”

Balla’s drums are very prominent. He cues prolonged jamming. He even starts a rock hit with a different drum beat than the usual one. “It’s what I feel at the moment,” Balla said. “I’ll feel my way into songs” with a long drum solo. Balla said “I can direct” the music, into “free form” for a more “organic” sound.

His bandmates tend to promptly catch on, and adjust to his beat, he said. As such, they “roll with the changes” — as REO would word it. Posey calls Balla’s drum shifts a “fun” challenge, that “keeps it fresh.” Balla’s intricate drum “rolls” on an original instrumental inspired its name “Hot Buttered Rolls.”

A bonus has been live sax from Dave Robbins, such as the screeching opening on Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” and on “Turn the Page.” Justus said “I never heard another band cover ‘Baker Street.’ We tried the instrumentation, and it worked for us.” Going forward for such songs, Posey will play sax and flute among other sounds on his keyboard.

Saturday was 28 Page’s farewell show with Robbins and blues guitarist-singer John Powers in the band. Those two are now focusing on their blues duo Me and Dave. They often play in the Casablanca Cigar Bar in Asheville. Powers is Posey’s neighbor. Justus said “we’re all connected by music — different projects together” over decades.

For more on the band, check “28PagesBand” on Facebook, 28pagesband.com, or call Christian Justus at 277-8352.

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