Father and Son Band, Watch Reggie Run, Spread Messages of Positivity and Inclusivity

ALBANY – Music and the artists that perform it can tell an infinite number of stories, and relay a seemingly endless supply of messages. Out in the Capital Region, Dave Graham and his son, Luke, are telling one of positivity and inclusivity. The father-son team makes up the band, Watch Reggie Run. Uniquely, however, this project is a bit different than others: Luke was diagnosed as autistic at eighteen months of age. The project started as a way for Dave to bond with his son, and it was not long before it was realized what could become of the music. A story of love, compassion, and positivity, Watch Reggie Run is a tale of breaking down societal barriers, and bringing forward a much-needed message of inclusivity to every audience that comes out to see them perform.

I had a chance to sit down with Dave this past week to discuss the band, and more. What follows is our conversation.

Watch Reggie Run, top: Luke Graham, bottom: Dave Graham.

Lucas Garrett: Dave, I want to thank you for sitting down and talking with me tonight. How’ve you been?

Dave Graham: I appreciate you asking me. I’ve been good; I can’t complain.

LG: It was years ago that I met you and you were doing this punk-rock thing. But you’re not doing that, now. What you’re doing now is really cool. Why don’t you elaborate on it?

DG: I’m doing a bunch of things right now. Back when I was doing the punk-rock stuff with The Blisters, I started, at that time, writing songs for my son. He has autism, and he’s twenty-five now. Over ten years ago, I started writing songs that were inspired by him and kid-themed-type songs. I started gradually recording them, and I realized he liked the music. At the time, he’d liked when I would come into his room and play the music, and so forth.

I think I started recording the songs, accruing a bunch of them together. I thought we could call it a band, and then we put an album out on streaming services. That was in 2017, I think. We had to come up with a band name; all the good ones are taken!

LG: Where did the band name, Watch Reggie Run, come from?

DG: My daughter ran track in high school and college. When she was young, back when I was starting to write these songs, somehow, one of the girls on the team nicknamed her Reggie. I don’t know why; her name’s Rory. I said, “Geez, what do Luke and I do most of the time when we’re not playing music? We’re going to a track meet and watching Reggie run.” I thought we could make a band name out of that. We’ve been doing that since 2017.

I had a band called The Legendary Losers that was after The Blisters. That was more acoustic-driven, and we started doing more covers. Mainly so we could get more gigs; original music is tough to find places to play around here. We did that for a number of years and played all over the place as a two-piece, or three-piece with a drummer. That phased out as the pandemic hit, and my bass player, Chris Wisniewski, got into other stuff. He does a Waylon Jennings tribute band now. We never stopped The Legendary Losers; we just did a gig on Saint Patrick’s Day. We’ll play a couple of times a year.

Speaking of punk rock, I put a solo album out in 2021. I kept writing and recording songs, and that album was under the name Dave Graham and the Disaster Plan. I don’t have a band, but I recorded it. I’ve only played those songs solo acoustic on some occasions. I’ve really been focused on Watch Reggie Run.

LG: I hate to use the word “inspirational,” but what you’re doing with Watch Reggie Run is truly inspirational.

DG: Well, thank you.

LG: I think that word is bandied about a lot, but what you’re doing is awesome: incorporating autism into the mainstream. It’s what the world needs because, a lot of times, people don’t understand it.

DG: For sure. It’s such a hard thing for… it’s a difficult thing for people to understand. It’s the Autism Spectrum; everybody’s different. My son, Luke, has his challenges. He’s fairly limited verbally. Some people on the spectrum are higher functioning and have more skills with communication. Communication is a big challenge for him and a big source of frustration for him. The music has allowed me to raise some autism awareness and is really just fun.

He enjoys it; we’ve gotten the chance over the last couple of years… we did a lot of virtual shows, like people were doing, during the pandemic. He goes to a day hab program, and their staffing was an issue after the pandemic, like a lot of places. He wasn’t able to go anywhere every day during the week. We needed to find ways to keep him busy. I started reaching out to other day hab places and saying, “Hey, look. We do this music called Watch Reggie Run. It’s kid-friendly, family-friendly, and we’ll come to play and set up outside your building so it’s COVID-safe.” It was when things were opening up.

It was like we were on tour; we were playing every week! We played a lot of Thursdays because he couldn’t go to day hab on Thursdays because of staffing issues. Every week we were somewhere, and it was cool. We parlayed that into getting various opportunities to play summer events.

LG: Yeah, I saw you played Freedom Park, right?

DG: Yeah, we’ve played there three times with Watch Reggie Run, and it’s rained all three times. I played twice before with The Blisters, and it rained one of those two times. So, my lifetime batting average is pretty good there for rain. I’m four-for-five right now.

Watch Reggie Run, from left-to-right: Luke Graham, Dave Graham.

LG: That’s pretty damn good!

DG: Yeah, hahaha. It’s frustrating. Last year it started raining, and I didn’t know. Lucas, it was sunny out. It was gorgeous. I thought, “This is great, we’re back here, and it’s not raining!” All of the sudden, halfway through the show, I look up, and people were getting up and leaving! “Did I say something bad?” I didn’t know what had happened, and then I realized it was raining! I invited everybody there to come up onstage; it’s a big stage there. We turned around and lowered the volume, and played to them on the stage so we could finish the show. It was intimate. It was cool.

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall does a summer concert series at Barker Park in Troy. We’ve been fortunate enough to be asked to play that a few times; we’ve been asked to play again this summer. That’ll be in August.

LG: How do you feel the community response has been?

DG: It’s great. Last year, at Barker Park, we played on a day – it’s during a weekday – and it was 97 degrees. It was brutally hot; it was probably the smallest crowd we had. We had a blast, and the people that were there enjoyed it. We’ve gotten a really good response out of it. Because of the Barker Park gig. The first time we played there pre-COVID, I got contacted by a family and was asked if we play birthday parties. We started, from that point, playing kids’ birthday parties. We’ve played a couple of them now. I’d love to do more of them.

LG: How does Luke enjoy it?

DG: For the most part, he enjoys it. He likes to dance around; he enjoys being there. He doesn’t sing with every song, but he dances around. He joins in on some of the songs when he decides to. I think he just enjoys being in the band, you know?

I used to go into his room and play my guitar; that’s when I’d work on new songs. In the last couple of years, he hasn’t been as amenable to that as he used to be. He’ll ask me to leave and close the door. Hahaha. I don’t get to practice the songs with him like I used to, which is making the recording trickier. Unless I start playing some of the new songs out live, and he hears them enough times, when I try to get him to record on the songs, he doesn’t know them. But I just work around it. With digital editing, I spend a lot of time making a track out of his stuff. He doesn’t sing always right with the song. It’s a lot of editing.

He’s a big yacht rock fan…

LG: Hahaha.

DG: I think he gets that from my wife. He loves that. He’ll play Christmas music all year round. That’s another thing: I booked a bunch of Christmas shows. I’ve written quite a few Christmas songs that we do under Watch Reggie Run. He only played one with me, so I did a lot of solo gigs.

Once the day hab got full staffing and he was back in a regular five-day-a-week schedule… he’s very rigid and regimented on his schedule. My wife didn’t want me to take him out randomly to play gigs here and there. He thrives on repeated schedules and that structure. The pandemic was hard on him.

We did a Christmas show at his day hab, and he did that.

LG: Incorporating something that your son lives and deals with on a daily basis into the public eye isn’t an easy task.

DG: Yeah, you’re right.

LG: Do you have any words of advice for people that are so new to autism?

DG: Everybody’s so different. It’s helpful if you can network with other parents and people that have been in the same boat. Ask questions and so forth. That’s how we’ve learned a lot. We’ve been fortunate with the Wildwood programs. Unfortunately, the autism numbers have been skyrocketing. It’s probably diagnosed a little better now, so that may have increased the numbers.

There’s a lot of help out there. There are a lot of great programs, like Wildwood, Saratoga Bridges, AIM Services, Schenectady ARC, and all those. We’ve been very fortunate at Wildwood; he’s had great staff, and they do wonders there. It definitely helps to talk with other people that are in the same boat.

LG: Is there anything else that you want to talk about tonight that I may have missed?

DG: I’m working on the new Watch Reggie Run album. We’ve got a whole bunch of songs recorded now. I’m feeling the best thing to do now is to put singles out. When you get a bunch of them, you can put them together and say, “here’s the album.”

I’ve said this to so many people recently. For people at our level, it’s never been easier for us to record and put out music and get it on streaming services. But it’s never been harder to get people to listen. The pile of music is so high. Every day it gets bigger and bigger. I’m releasing singles now to get people to focus on one song at a time.

I recently put out a video that was prompted by his day program. He’s had a difficult time dealing with the word “no.” He thinks he’s done something bad and will sometimes escalate his mood. The program said, “Maybe you can write a song about it.” They gave me ideas for it.

I sat there and put it into a song. They use YouTube a lot at his day program. I don’t know why I thought of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” but… that’s where it came from. They’re using the video not just for Luke but for others there that also struggle with the word “no.” I think that’s pretty common, though, for kids and young adults.

LG: Well, I know I still don’t like the word!

DG: I agree with you, man! Hahaha. I like that I write songs that may be able to help people. It’s a lot of fun. We’ve been playing a lot of live shows. With the kids’ music, it can be very refreshing. A lot of these kids don’t get to see concerts. They don’t go out to see bands. We’ll play these places, and they’re just excited! They’ll dance around; they’re very uninhibited. It just seems like a lot of joy, and I like that. It’s more refreshing than playing for a bunch of people that are half-drunk at a bar yelling out “Free Bird!” You know what I mean?

LG: Oh yeah, I sure do.

DG: We termed the music “Kids’ music that adults can tolerate.” There’s a lot of kids’ music that is a different style than ours. As you said when we started the interview, you know me from punk-rock stuff. I’ll probably never completely get away from that, in a sense. There’s always a little bit of punk rock in whatever I do. That’s what feels the most comfortable: writing that style. A lot of these songs, as you hear them, have that big guitar sound, but it’s got a hook that’s catchy. Kid-themed with punk-rock sounds behind it.

 It’s fun. I really enjoy it. I didn’t anticipate getting involved int. It just kind of happened.

LG: I think that’s how a lot of life happens. We just fall into things.

DG: Yeah! I found there’s an audience for it. I’ve since been able to find these radio shows on different stations. I found them on the Internet, then I send our music, and we get played. I do it for fun! I’m happy when people get to hear the music!  

LG: Well, thanks again for sitting down tonight!

DG: Thank you! I really appreciate you having me do this. It’s awesome.

LG: Well, it’s awesome what you’re doing. Have a goodnight!

DG: You too! Take care.

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