There are three rules to playing with Donne Langlois: you can't miss practices, never be late and he can't drink until the last set. Those rules have provided the means for the 59-year-old drummer to overcome alcoholism, a physical disease and his troubled past to make the most of his last opportunity before hanging up his drumsticks this Thursday night.
“I cannot give enough credit to this band for giving me another chance to play music and I have graciously accepted the gift,” Langlois said. “But after this night, I'm done. I'm tired. It wasn't the music, but the politics of running a band that tired me out.”
“He used the drums as a form of expression and motivation,” Steve Gustafson said. “He's one of the best drummers I've ever played with, and it's going to be a pretty big challenge having to replace him.”
Last Chance has been a regular act at MQT businesses like Fat Boyz, My Place, The Bayou and more. However, Flanigan's Bar was the first business to let the band play. It will also be the last place as the band will play Don and Pam Marple's fifteenth anniversary of ownership party.
“Donne is a great drummer and he's going to land another gig if he chooses to continue to play,” said Don Marple, who is also a former drummer. “He is a friend of mine and I'm proud of all his accomplishments and how far he's come.”
That journey was long and troubled from Langlois's last band, Third Street Traffic. Consistently drinking at performances, he was pulled over and arrested for his fourth driving under the influence in 1997. Langlois served 196 days in jail, but had work release to keep his job as an automotive reconditioner. After serving his sentence, Langlois called the band and was told the devastating news he would never play with the band again.
“(Third Street Traffic) called me a worthless drunk. I saw my drums sitting in my kitchen after the call was over and I couldn't deal with it. I sold off all the equipment and was just done,” Langlois said.
Giving up performing after thirty years behind a drum kit, Langlois did not play until the Gustafsons slowly incorporated him into their band. Steve Gustafson would lie to Langlois, inviting him over to his house to listen to music and then ask to play with him. The ploy didn't fool Langlois, but after getting a better feel for the group, he decided to join the band.
Langlois now plays on a borrowed drum kit from Marple. It is a big improvement from his four-piece set that he purchased from a friend when he was nine years old. His father said that he would split the costs of the $150 set with his mother since the two were divorced, but his mother didn't want to make the investment. Langlois then stole $75 from his Mining Journal paper route and lied to his father to get the rest of the money.
“My mother was besides herself when she found out,” Langlois said. “She made me do odd jobs and chores to pay the newspaper back.”
The divorced couple was just as split on supporting Langlois as he grew up playing music. His father was always supportive according to the drummer, but it wasn't until his mother first heard him play professionally at the former Snuffie's Saloon when she fully appreciated his talents.
“We had a family reunion going on at the time and everyone decided to go to the bar to hear me play. I had the honor to sing the Tennessee Waltz and my mom and dad danced together. By this time, time had healed their relationship and they got along, but that meant so much to (my siblings) and me,” Langlois said as he pulled up his jacket sleeve, revealing the goosebumps he still gets when he shares the story.
Langlois also suffers from Dupuyten's Contracture, a disease that permanently tightens tendons to curl fingers inwards to the palm. It left his middle and ring fingers on his left hand and ring and pinky fingers on his right disabled. Not only can the fingers not straighten to their full extension, but it also effects the ability to grip. To fight this, Langlois will pour 7up or a similar clear soft drink to give extra grip on the sticks.
“When someone comes up to shake my hand after a set, they aren't too pleasant because they're hands are stickin' together. Sometimes if a guy was causing problems during the set, I'll shake their hand a little bit longer to get them really sticky.”
The childish prank shows Langlois's style of humor. Whether in between sets at a gig or just patronizing a bar, he will go stool to stool to get the people around him to crack a smile.
“You have to see the humor side of life. My daddy would say, 'you have to make people laugh and laugh yourself. You're only going around (life) once, so enjoy yourself,' and I still stick by that.”
He continued enjoying that life today, September 24, as Langlois gave away his oldest daughter Jenny at the Marquette County Courthouse. With his difficulties both externally and self imposed, Langlois's demeanor and outlook on life still resonates with a positive tone.
“I dont regret anything,” Langlois said. “I was asked about a month ago if I had the change things, would I go back and do it. If I did, something would occur that didn't happen. (I've) had a lot of good times, a lot of grief and a lot of tears. But I've been fortunate to have my three children, the employers I've had, the good bunch of people around that have been so great to me, I wouldn't change a minute of it.”
Langlois and Last Chance will play at Flanigan's Bar from 6 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 26.
Brice Burge is the managing editor of MQTSocialScene.com. He can be reached at BriceMQT@gmail.com