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Firefighters united for kiddie rock band, Poochamungas

Poochamungus features Frank Izzo (from left) AltSmith John Joyce Pete Cunningham DZaloudek.

Poochamungus features Frank Izzo (from left), Alton Smith, John Joyce, Pete Cunningham, Don Zaloudek.

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Poochamungas — ‘Block Party!’ CD release show, 2 p.m. Sept. 29, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport. $8. (773) 525-2508; schubas.com

Situated a mile west of Wrigley Field, just about on the corner of Damen and Grace, Chicago firefighter John Joyce spends his day waiting for the next call. And that uncertainty of just what the day will hold is something he still is not quite used to, despite a 17-year career on the force.

“It’s a job where you never know what is going to happen … every day is different,” says the firefighter from Engine 112, Tower Ladder 21 in North Center. “Obviously, there is a seriousness to what we do. We help people on their worst day, when everything is going wrong, and we try to make things better. So yes, the music in itself is definitely an outlet.”

“A lot of times, I will pick up my guitar when I get home in the morning,” adds fellow Chicago firefighter and friend Pete Cunningham. “It gives me time for me to decompress after coming off shift. It works well for that purpose. It opens up a different part of your brain. It’s a diversion, no doubt about it.”

These two men’s shared love of using music as an outlet from their day-to-day reality as full-time firefighters has grown immensely over the last few years, resulting in the creation of not only their own kiddie rock band, Poochamungas, but the Oct.8 release of their second kids’/family CD, “Block Party!” And a second career that has somewhat taken them all by surprise.

Just ask the “Head Pooch.”

“Oh yeah, they tease me sometimes,” chuckles Joyce, who also plays alongside fellow Poochamungas bandmates Frank Izzo, Alton Smith and Don Zaloudek.“We will talk about the music and a show or something, but it’s really not a big issue in the firehouse. It’s just something else I do.”

Connecting over their love of not only firefighting, Joyce and Cunningham really began bonding over their love of music while taking classes at the Old Town School of Music.

“I started playing guitar at 30 and learned three chords, which was pretty good because we all know rock and roll was made from virtually three chords,” chuckles Joyce, who was born and bred on the northwest side of Chicago. “At the same time I started writing these short stories, and once my daughter was born, I started playing these stories set to music for friends. We ended up getting a band together, and the next thing you know we were making an album.”

Celebrating the release of their new album “Block Party!” at a special CD release show at Schubas onSept. 29, the guys say they often find inspiration for songs simply by reflecting back on their days growing up in Chicago.

“Those summer block parties were a huge part of growing up for me,” recalls Cunningham. “I grew up on the South Side and we would block off that area and it was just so cool. It’s even cooler to see my son do it now. It’s such a simple concept, but when you spend all your time telling a kid they can’t ride their bike on the street, and then for one day you say they can, there’s nothing like the look on their faces. It’s like handing them forbidden fruit.”

Indeed, with both Cunningham and Joyce also holding the job title of dad, the kids have played a huge role in the trajectory of the Poochamungas and their music. “They are our little test subjects,” laughs Cunningham. “They are the pure critics. They give it to you straight. It’s an interesting managerial position within the band that they don’t even know they have.”

Tricia Despres is a Sun-Times freelance writer.



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