Max Q Live
In space no one can hear you sing.
- By Michael Cassutt
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
(Page 2 of 7)
“I went out to a local pawn shop and bought a Yamaha amp for $150 and a guitar for $75. You know it was quality stuff.”
Now all they lacked was a drummer. Shaw and Nelson knew that Jim Wetherbee, who’d been in the astronaut corps for three years but hadn’t yet flown a shuttle mission, owned a drum kit, which, it turned out, he hadn’t played in 17 years. Nevertheless, Wetherbee was invited to the Friday night rehearsal.
Gibson recalls that he came up with the name Max Q, an astronautics term referring to a moment that happens shortly after every launch. “It’s the aerodynamic term for maximum dynamic pressure,” Shaw says, “and the equivalent of maximum noise.”
On Saturday night, Max Q took the stage in the open air at Walter Hall Park in League City, Texas, not far from the astronauts’ office at the Johnson Space Center. They played a few songs and closed with a medley of Chuck Berry tunes: “I started with ‘Rock and Roll Music,’ says Shaw. “Pinky followed with ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ Hoot did ‘Maybellene,’ and I finished with more ‘Rock and Roll Music.’ ”
That first appearance—preserved on a video recording that the original band members still guard zealously—could have been Max Q’s combined debut and swan song. Feedback from the rest of the astronaut office was enthusiastic, though. “We weren’t good,” Gibson reflects, “but we weren’t bad. Estella Gillette, one of the administrative staff, asked us if we would appear at a Fajita Fiesta. That was a month away, so we had more time to rehearse.”
Did they worry that their boss, the famously secretive George Abbey, might not approve? “No,” Shaw says. “We were doing this on our own time.” Besides, the Fajita Fiesta’s sponsor was George Abbey.
Not long after that, Steve Hawley, who’d been an astronomer before becoming an astronaut, told the musicians, “You need a keyboard player.” Just like that, the band had its fifth member.
Over the next several months and into 1988, Max Q expanded its repertoire until it could play more than two hours of music. They went on to appear at NASA-related events, as well as a Christmas party and two New Year’s Eve dances at a Holiday Inn not far from the space center. The band even did weddings, Gibson says. “We wound up playing like a real dance band, from 6:30 to 12:30 or 1 a.m.—four sets, fast songs, slow ones.