Twelve people from 10 cities in three countries equaled one big win for Bill Carr and his corporate band.
Carr, 52, of Washington, recently returned from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, where his band, OTN Speedwagon, clinched the top spot in the Fortune 2013 Battle of the Corporate Bands, sponsored by Fortune magazine and the Hall of Fame.
The 12-member group is comprised of employees of the Ciena Corporation, who live in different cities across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
They got together Sept. 28 and battled it out on the Hall of Fame main stage, competing against eight other bands from some of America’s biggest companies, including Hasbro’s Toys to Men, and Olympus’ Peripheral Vision.
“Just the idea of being at the Hall of Fame and to play on the stage gave me goose bumps,” Carr said. “I was so honored to have the opportunity to do that.”
Carr, who has played bass guitar for 35 years, has opened for some big names in the rock ’n’ roll industry, including the Greg Kihn Band, Foghat and REO Speedwagon, where Carr’s band got its name.
Carr set his bass guitar aside for the contest and took on the role of lead male vocalist.
His band was judged by some heavy hitters of rock ’n’ roll, which included Jeff Carlisi, the founding member of .38 Special, Liberty Devitto, drummer for Billy Joel, Ricky Byrd, a former member of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Rob Arthur, who played keyboards with Peter Frampton, and Antoinette Follet, the editor of Making Music magazine.
“It was really cool being able to talk with them and get to know them,” he said. “They treated a bunch of washed up corporate people like rock stars. It was a quick 15 minutes of fame.”
A Band Is Born
OTN Speedwagon was formed three years ago after Ciena employees who also play music razzed an executive about some not-so-hot musicians hired as entertainment for the company’s annual convention.
“Every year they bring us to Florida for the conference and hire a band,” Carr said. “The last night of the convention some musicians went up to a manager and said, ‘We can do better.’ He said, ‘Go ahead then.’ They put together a band and we have been playing there ever since.”
The band consists of Ciena executives, sales people, service operations managers, administrative assistants and the like who trade suits for spandex once a year and double as guitar players, bass players, keyboardists, vocalists and players in the brass horn section.
With band members stretching across the country, and even the ocean, getting together to practice can be a challenge, Carr said.
The group selected three songs to play for the competition, then everyone got MP3s and practiced their parts on their own.
Normally the band meets twice a year at Ciena headquarters in Maryland and practices for three days, but this year they met four times.
“You better know your stuff when you get there,” Carr said.
Carr said he is grateful to his employers for financing the practice sessions and the trips to Nashville and Ohio.
And that practice, along with a little bit of luck, paid off for OTN Speedwagon.
The band recorded and submitted three songs for the contest and made it to the semi-finals, held in Nashville, Tenn., where the band members competed against 17 bands.
OTN Speedwagon was eliminated.
Carr said the contest allows for two “wild card” entrants each year and his band was one of those chosen.
Besides being awarded the top band for 2013, OTN Speedwagon also won a couple of individual awards for best horn player and best guitarist.
While the platinum record will be hung on a wall at Ciena headquarters in Maryland, the band will be featured in Fortune magazine and its name will be hung on a wall in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“We will be in a little corner with all the past band winners,” he said.
Then he added, jokingly: “If you ever go there, I’ll send you directions with a magnifying glass.”