August 26, 2012

TESTED & TRUE (profanity alert):

From O-lineman to frontman : Ex-Pats practice squad player Brian Barthelmes plays on with his band, Tallahassee (Scott Barboza, 8/17/12,

From early on, even in his high school days at Kenston High School in Bainbridge, Ohio, where he played football under his father, Lee, Barthelmes never felt like a football player. He was a standout basketball player, but in Ohio, linemen are linemen and he didn't have much say in the matter. Football was his ticket to a Division I scholarship, and he considered it foolish to turn that down.

By the time he was let go by the Patriots for the final time during training camp in August 2007, Barthelmes' mind was all but made up -- he was leaving the game for good.

All it took to crystallize the truth were some terse, poignant words delivered by Bill Belichick.

"I'd been cut other times, but that time was different," Barthelmes, 29, said of his exit meeting with Belichick and Scott Pioli. "It was more serious. The other times, it was always along the lines of 'We're cutting you because of numbers' or 'We'll have you back in a couple weeks.' This time it felt very final.

"[Belichick] told me that I needed to figure out what I really wanted to do."

That's when Brian Barthelmes became a musician.

At Virginia, Barthelmes had a peek into his future when he started plucking on banjos and learning guitar chords in his free time. Then, it was just a hobby. He went on to be a four-year letter-winner for the Cavaliers before landing a rookie free-agent contract with the Patriots.

Through a series of signings and releases by the Patriots, he was living in Plainville, Mass., in 2006. His apartment was spartan; he slept on an air mattress on the living room floor. He turned the bedroom into a soundproof room filled with his instruments and an 8-track recorder -- a private studio of sorts. Without any formal instruction, he began writing songs and recording them.

It was in this humble surrounding where Barthelmes began to settle into his skin. He had always been more court jester than jock or prom king, but he never got around to starting to live like it.

In 2007, not long after he was released for the last time, Barthelmes was introduced to Scott Thompson while out with a friend one night in Providence. He talked to Thompson, then a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, about music and mentioned that he'd been working some solo material. Thompson, a guitarist, was busy with school but invited Barthelmes to come over to play early one morning.

"I can't believe he actually did it," said Thompson before a recent Tallahassee show in Allston. "I could tell he was really serious about it from that point." [...]

In Barthelmes' time with the Patriots, back when there were two-a-days, before the current CBA limited practice time in training camp, there was a lot more downtime during camp. Players looked for ways to keep themselves occupied in between meetings, practices and workouts. Some players dutifully would use the time to bury their nose in the playbook or watch film. Or they'd turn their attention to non-football hobbies, such as playing video games or cards, or brush up on reading. Sleeping rooms filled with mattresses were also common.

Of course, Barthelmes' favorite pastime was playing the guitar. Sometime during the 2006 season, he began giving "lessons" to his teammates on the offensive line. Matt Light and Dan Koppen were among the first to be captivated by the six-string.

Eventually, players on the other side of the ball joined in, including Tedy Bruschi and the late Junior Seau. "I actually purchased a guitar from my local music store and began to learn," said Bruschi, who is also an accomplished saxophonist. "The season came and my interest faded, but Junior continued to play and he loved his guitar and ukulele."

Barthelmes has fond memories of Seau and recalled the process of teaching him how to play. Because Seau's catcher's mitt-like hands were so big and his fingers so thick, Barthelmes took the novel approach of first teaching Seau on a 12-string with its octave strings removed. It allowed Seau more room to work with on the fretboard.

"I remember this one day, I was walking by a room and Junior was laid out on a bed, he told me to come in and sit down and start playing for him," Barthelmes said. "So there I am, playing a future Hall of Famer to sleep and I'm thinking, 'This is just crazy.'"

While Barthelmes' turn to music wasn't immediate, his teammates could clearly see where his passion was.

"[He was] someone that knew where his future path led," Bruschi said. "Music was obviously it."

Posted by at August 26, 2012 10:43 AM

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