- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) - A late arrival to baseball practice changed John Fabian’s life for the better.

Fabian said he was coaching a Little League team, ages 9 and 10, that nobody else wanted to coach. The players practiced in an unsafe neighborhood.

“One day I pulled up to practice, and I was about five minutes late, and all of them were standing there waiting for me, ‘John’s here! John’s here! John’s here!’” Fabian told the Muskogee Phoenix (http://bit.ly/1L0C30F ). “And I was just, ‘My God, these kids don’t have anything. I mean something to these kids.’”

Fabian, 61, said he decided he was going to appreciate what he has and “start being a better person.”

Fabian grew up in Muskogee, dividing his passions between baseball and music.

For the past 30 years, he sang with the blues group Bluefish.

In 2007, he recorded the first of five solo CDs. Many were recorded with the help of Zach Swon, the dark-haired half of the Swon Brothers country duo.

“I saw how talented Zach was,” Fabian said. “I said, ‘I want to work with you before you hit the big time.’”

John Fabian’s blood runs red for the St. Louis Cardinals and his former Little League team, the Bulldogs.

He grew up with the Cardinals.

“My uncle was a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Mother and Dad were big Cardinals fans,” he said. “We used to listen to Cardinals every night. When we could, we’d go up to St. Louis and watch the Cardinals play.”

Fabian recalls seeing Cardinals play in their three latest stadiums - Sportsman’s Park, the original “round” Busch Memorial Stadium, and the current Busch Stadium.

He said his father nurtured his interest and skill in the game.

“He’d come home after work every day, long hot summer days,” Fabian said. “We’d go out there in the back yard and we’d practice and practice and practice. He made me into a good player.”

Fabian pitched for the Muskogee High School baseball team and earned a scholarship to play for Bacone College.

“I didn’t throw real hard, but I had real good control,” he said. “I had a hell of a curve ball and a hell of a screwball.”

After two years at Bacone, Fabian set aside the bat and glove.

Fabian said that in the early 1990s, an official with Muskogee’s Little League asked him to coach.

“She said she had some kids who signed up for baseball and she couldn’t find anybody to coach them because they didn’t have any gloves or any kind of equipment,” he said. “I went out there and started coaching those kids. It was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

Fabian’s musical roots also reach to early childhood.

“My mother played piano and my dad sang,” he said. “And then, I think I was about 3 years old the first time I saw Elvis Presley. My mom said I used to run around the house with a guitar in my hand, acting like I was Elvis.”

Fabian was 9 when he was in his first band, Robbie and the Robbers. He played drums.

At age 12, he had a second band, the Notations.

“We used to play for skating rinks a lot,” he said. “My first paying gig ever was at Baker’s Tastee Freez. He paid us in hamburgers.”

Fabian recalled one thing that kept him in bands.

“Girls,” he said, breaking into a hearty laugh. “I wanted them attracted to me. I was already attracted to them. Once I saw Elvis and I saw all the girls screaming over Elvis, I said, ‘Heck, that’s what I want to do.’”

By high school, however, the sound of “play ball” turned Fabian’s head, and he concentrated on baseball.

Fabian got back into music in the mid-1970s, about two years out of high school.

Ron Boren, a lifelong friend, got him involved with a band called Hott Shott. They later joined guitarist Shane Curtis and keyboardist Jimmy Robinson in a band known as the Shakers.

About 30 years ago, Muskogee’s musical stars aligned to form Bluefish.

“Me and Shane and Jimmy were playing in the Shakers. Jim Loftin and his brother had a band, and the drummer was Ricky Johnson. He played in his own band,” Fabian recalled. “About the same time, all three bands kind of disbanded, and we formed Bluefish out of that.”

Bluefish members shifted over the decades, but a core group remained: Fabian at vocals, Curtis at guitar and Loftin at bass.

“We’re friends first is why we’ve been together for so long,” Fabian said. “The way I looked at it. I’ve been blessed to play with these two guys. They’re great musicians and great people. And we’re friends. Nobody in the band has that musician’s ego. They’re all down to earth. They’re so fun to play with.”

And, over the decades, they kept playing the same rhythm and blues. That makes Fabian proud.

“We stayed true to who we were,” he said. “We never started playing any kind of country, or anything like that. We never sold out. We always stayed in the rhythm and blues pocket. People know to expect when they come see us, a good rhythm and blues band.”

Bluefish now plays a couple of gigs a month, Fabian said.

“We don’t do a whole lot of clubs anymore,” he said. “We like more of the private parties, weddings, those Thursday night things at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. You get started early, and you get home early.”

The band has played about six times at OMHOF.

“It’s a lot of fun down there,” Fabian said. “We have an older following. It seems like a lot of people who enjoy Bluefish would rather go there than go hang out at a bar until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. We draw really good crowds down there.”

___

Information from: Muskogee Phoenix, http://www.muskogeephoenix.com

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