The Fairfax “Tuba Guy,” who marches around the Fairfax City area playing the tuba, has now been immortalized in the song “Tuba With Propellers,” written by a musician who’d never met him, seen him or heard of him. That’s because the musician, Steve Lauri, lives in England and spends his time playing and touring with the venerable British band The Hollies, who made hits like “Bus Stop,” “Carrie Anne” and “The Air That I Breathe” and have remained active for 50 years.
The Tuba Guy is Jay Converse, and he’s a familiar sight around Fairfax. He’s hard to miss. A founding member of the University of Virginia Pep Band, he keeps up a pretty good pace as he pounds the pavement, using the speed of the propeller he’s mounted above the bell of the tuba to make sure he’s moving at 100 beats per minute. He posts messages over the tuba which say things such as, “Sanity Is So Overrated.” He plays some show tunes, some Beatles, even a little “Free Bird,” for truly he’s a bird you cannot change. (Sorry.)
Among the many who spotted and appreciated Converse’s roving fanfare for the common motorist was Ann Davison, a Fairfax Station resident and major music fan. In 2011, Davison met Lauri through a mutual friend in London. Lauri, 59, has been in various British bands including 5000 Volts, backed up hit-makers such as Cliff Richard and Bonnie Tyler, and in 2004 he became a guitarist and singer in the Hollies, which still has two of its original members, but not founders Allan Clarke and Graham Nash. Lauri takes the vocal parts originated by Nash. The high parts. Think “Carrie Anne,” make-your-throat-hurt high.
Davison hired Lauri, another member of the Hollies and two members of the Moody Blues (!!) to play her daughter’s wedding in 2011, and heard Lauri practicing some of his own songs. She asked if Lauri had more, and “I sent her some,” Lauri told me Wednesday while sitting at the bar at JV’s Restaurant, the great yuppie-free roadhouse bar in Falls Church. Davison loved them, so Lauri sent her some more.
“She said, ‘I think you should do an album,'” Lauri said. “She was very insistent.”
Lauri had some songs dating back to 1988, but not enough for an album. In addition, one of his fellow Hollies, bass player Ray Stiles, wanted songs for his son’s band, Mothership. Lauri had a small recording studio in a bedroom of his home in Chatham Maritime, on the River Medway east of London. He set to work, using a computer program to create drum and bass tracks, and doing guitar and vocals live.
One day in August 2011, Davison saw the Tuba Guy, Converse, spreading his bass clef love along Route 123 south of Braddock Road. It occurred to her she had wanted Lauri to see the Tuba Guy while he was here, and so she described him to Lauri in a long e-mail. “She said, ‘He walks up and down the highway and blows a tuba,'” Lauri said. “‘Some days he has tassles on his tuba, on this day he had a propeller.’ I got this at about half past nine and I thought, ‘What a great title. “Tuba With Propellers.”‘ And I wrote that song in about two hours. And I had it done by six that night.” He e-mailed it to Davison, and within 24 hours of her note to Lauri, she had received a finished song.
“It was just an e-mail to a friend,” Davison said. “Telling him, ‘This is just a bizarre thing.'”
Lauri said he sat at his computer, typing up the images and thoughts in Word as they poured out that morning. “Red shirt, pink socks/Standing there like Goldilocks (well, it rhymes),” then “Up and down he ain’t afraid/He’s a soldier who’s on parade.” He said it all came quickly. “There were so many bits in this long e-mail. The whole story came from this e-mail.” You can hear the finished song below.
Next he turned to his Steinberg Cubase recording software, and created a drum pattern. “I wanted it to be a rocking song, almost like a swing thing,” Lauri said. He hammered out the rhythm on the JV’s bar to demonstrate. Then he worked on the melody using a bass sound, figuring out the chord progressions and then tweaking the bass line to make it interesting. He figured out the rhythm and lead guitar parts, and eventually laid down three guitar tracks. “I wanted it to be quirky,” Lauri said. “I wanted guitar players to say, ‘How did he do that?'”
Around “three or four o’clock,” he started singing the thing. In two hours, he had laid down three different vocal tracks. Six o’clock, done. “Tuba With Propellers.” In a few more months, Lauri had enough songs for an album, including a great tribute to his late father, and the album was produced in 2012, titled “At Last,” because he’d been gradually working on it for so many years.
But he still has not met the Tuba Guy. He will be playing a solo show at JV’s on Friday night (tickets still available, owner Lorraine Campbell would like you to know), but Converse won’t be there. Davison said they are planning to meet sometime next week, and Lauri has two more solo shows, one on Aug. 16 at the Lion & Bull in Haymarket, and then a private show on Aug. 18 in Clifton that is sold out. Then Lauri is back to England to play a fall tour of 23 shows in large theaters throughout the United Kingdom with the Hollies, which Lauri said was “a privilege and an honor.”
Of course, this was all a big shock to the Tuba Guy himself. Some lady drives up alongside him one day while he’s marching along Route 123 and gives him a card, yells out that he’s got to call her. So Converse called Davison, and got the news out of the cold blue that a British guy in the Hollies had written a song about him. That was not your everyday phone call.
“To me, as a small ‘m’ musician, to have a capital ‘M’ Musician do something like this,” Converse said Wednesday, “I’m flabbergasted and flattered…This was on my bucket list and I didn’t even know it.”
Converse has had a busy summer, including marching in the Fairfax City Fourth of July parade and playing with a fire-dance troupe at Floyd Fest, the famed folk music fest in Floyd, Va. Yes, fire on the tuba. That also began with some guy pulling over on the side of the road and yelling, “I’ve got to talk to you” while he marched.
He is hoping to meet Lauri next week, and then formally at the Clifton show, maybe sitting in on tuba. Wasn’t there a little tuba in “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”? No?
Meanwhile, here’s the Tuba Guy’s Facebook page, with pictures of his fiery tuba at Floyd Fest. He’ll be coming soon to a major thoroughfare or swim meet near you. Lauri’s website is here and his album is available online at Amazon.com,, which is a very fine company, I’ve heard.
And here’s the song: