Music has always been a family affair for Dr. Ted Friehling, a cardiologist at Fairfax Hospital and lead guitarist for Offtrax. His mother played saxophone, his father could handle the harmonica, and even his grandfather was a drummer. A member of many bands dating back to his elementary school days, he wasn´t about to let a little thing like his career in medicine stop him from playing.
"After college, I used to meet up with people from my old bands every summer and even in winter and we would jam. It just takes so much effort to get a group of musicians together and really be able to play your own songs, I just didn´t want to stop once I got it going," the cardiologist explains. He played professionally during the summers and throughout college.
When Fairfax Hospital encouraged staff members to form a band for a local benefit dinner in 1996, that was all the impetus Friehling needed. Offtrax floored the audience at its debut performance, and has been together ever since. Albert Del Negro, Aldo Esposito and Bryan Raybuck jumped in on keyboard, rhythm guitar, and bass. The drummer Glen Shuster, sells pacemakers, and an old friend of Friehling´s, vocalist Stacey Cohen, was later added.
"It´s hard because you want to play your own stuff that you worked on for so long, but you also have to play covers to get the crowd moving. We´ve worked really hard promoting the band, so now we play as much as 60% original stuff during our gigs, which is a thrill," Friehling says.
Offtrax´s original material is generally blues/r&b, and features strong guitar work courtesy of Friehling. The group primarily plays three bars in Northern Virginia: Vienna´s Tap and Grille, The Shark Club, and Maryfield. Since four of the band members work in the Fairfax Hospital´s heart center, they can´t afford to be much more than a few minutes away from their work (saving lives), but they have played as far away as New Orleans.
James Novak, the owner of Vienna´s Tap and Grille, couldn´t be happier with the arrangement.
"I deal with a couple of the local bands in this area, in addition to some of the national names. These guys are the exception, they pack them in every night, and it´s a great bunch of guys. A lot of their co-workers and former patients came by for all their shows. They came to me after they had first got together, and I was a little nervous about them, but the band has just been great," Novak says. The June 26th CD release party sold out weeks in advance. "We should have done two nights, in retrospect," Novak grimaced.
The CD Too Long is also a family effort, with Friehling´s wife Linda and three sons contributing to much of the song writing. One song "Dark Side of the Mountain" was honored in both the rock and pop categories of a recent Mid-Atlantic Song writing Contest.
"We are releasing the first album now, but we are already halfway through our next album," Friehling says. The band writes new songs all the time, usually rehearsing once a week, minus members who are taking a shift at the hospital.
The grueling course load of medical school had forced Friehling to shrug off a record deal with Apple Record, the Beatles label. He sold his amplifiers and went acoustic, playing whenever he could at home, but rarely playing in a group until he had finished his residency.
Friehling recalls, "I did a residency in pediatrics, one in internal medicine, and a fellowship in cardiology and another in cardiac electrophysiology. So it was like 14 years even after I finished medical school. I don´t regret it, but it was a lot for me to give up for so long,"
It´s been a long haul, but with their choice of venues and their CD debut, it´s safe to say he finally has the best of both worlds.
Brett Widness, The Barstool