Laying down tracks

Chris Dodds playing to new expectations

Chris Dodds, far right, with his Legendary Trainhoppers bandmates. photography by Ellie Bogue

When Chris Dodds began playing music in Fort Wayne a couple decades ago, he had one goal and one goal only: to one day take the stage at Columbia Street West. He’s done that and more, recording two CDs with the newly reformed Legendary Trainhoppers, playing a weekly house gig at one venue for 15 years and earning a reputation as a skilled guitarist and keyboard player. He’ll be the first to say he’s exceeded all of his expectations.

Already well-versed in music – playing violin, piano and saxophone since childhood – the North Side graduate attended Ball State University and decided to take up the guitar.

“I knew three chords, which was all I needed, in my mind,” Dodds said.

One day Dodds was showing off his skills to a gathering of girls on campus when “a little guy with a guitar came up and asked if he could play, too.” Dodds agreed only to discover this guy knew a lot more than three chords – a humbling experience.

“It was a big life lesson. If it wasn’t for that little guy, I might still be playing those same three chords. I tell people that story all the time because whenever you start thinking you’re good, you realize there are a thousand guys who are better.”

Instead Dodds, who returned to Fort Wayne after college and a couple years in Indianapolis (“because that’s what you do when you leave Ball State; you go to Indy”), has broadened his scope considerably. He met Matt Kelley early on and they were in a cover band, Go Dog Go, before they were paired in the Legendary Trainhoppers with a few other musicians from local bands. The band recorded its first CD in California and played the inaugural Down the Line, covering the music of Bob Dylan. Dodds was also playing acoustic shows, often solo, and had a remarkably steady calendar.

“In 2000 I started playing every Thursday night at Black Dog Pub, and it was an early gig – 8:30 until 11:30 (p.m.). Usually you don’t even leave the house until 10. So I thought ‘If I can get them to pay me to play every week for two or three months, that would be great.’ Finally last July, after more than 15 years, I decided to quasi-retire because I realized they were never going to fire me.”

By that time, the seeds of a Trainhoppers reunion had already been sown. Having gotten back together to write songs last March, Dodds said, the band’s process had changed.

“Before we would each come with our own songs and work on them, but this time we sat around the table and wrote the songs collaboratively, which is a completely different approach. It’s been great, but it’s certainly slower.”

The new Trainhoppers have already played the 10th anniversary of Down the Line, covering Bruce Springsteen. They have an upcoming vinyl release, another dream come true. It looks like this train might be on the tracks for a few years to come.

First appeared in the April 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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