If you have performed at an open mic in the Lehigh Valley in the last five last years, there is a good chance Dave Deubler was also on the bill.
He may have even been your drummer.
The Bethlehem Township resident has become a popular fixture at Porters' Pub, Pearly Baker's Alehouse, Colonial Pizza & Spaghetti House and other local hot spots where, as Deubler recently put it, "the mic is open and anything can happen."
One can usually find "The Deubs" perched behind his efficiency-sized drum kit during such nights, providing the backbeat for his fellow musicians as they bare their soul for faces familiar and new. Deubler will often take a brief respite from the back of the stage and move to the front, delivering a succession of acoustically-reworked renditions of "Gin and Juice," "Hot in Herre" and other '90s hip-hop hits.
"I usually do about three (open mics) a week. A couple of years ago I was hitting it pretty heavily, doing five or six in a week," Deubler said during a May 31 phone interview. "As a guitar player, I can't help but be astounded by how many different approaches there are to playing that six-stringed instrument. I'm so used to what my old man did, which was strum and sing."
His tall, burly frame is offset by a relaxed demeanor and good-natured self-depreciation. "What do I know? I'm just the drummer" is one of his frequently used phrases, typically accompanied by a chuckle and shrug.
Influenced early on by The Beatles, the Easton native's musical path started at the age of 10 when he learned how to play the drums. Later, prog rock caught his ear. "(The Beatles) were a watershed moment in my life," Deubler said. "They really changed everything and not just for me, but for an awful lot of places and people. Whole facets of our culture changed because of the Beatles."
By the time he graduated from high school, the guitar became Deubler's instrument of choice. "I suppose I should credit my dad, of course. Watching him play as a little kid obviously had an effect on me," Deubler said.
For about a six-year period in the mid-to-late 1980s, Deubler worked the Lehigh Valley club circuit as a member of the band RTD. Their catalog focused heavily on R&B and soul-infused rock 'n' roll of the era: Stevie Wonder, Hall and Oates, The Rolling Stones, Bobby Brown and (lots of) Prince.
"Unfortunately, one of bad habits we had was that we never stuck to a set list. We were always picking up new songs and never put the old ones down," Deubler said, followed by a hearty laugh. "When it worked, boy did it work. We got people up on the dance floor and they stayed there."
As the 1980s drew to a close and hip-hop began working its way into the mainstream, Deubler said he naturally gravitated to the genre. "I always liked black music. I always felt that rhythm in my soul," he said. "There was all this depressing grunge stuff at the time. And I'm not a depressing music kind of guy."
Though Deubler's focus eventually shifted away from performing, in recent years he has found himself once again at home on stage.
Deubler noted how much the local music scene has changed over the decades. "When I was a kid performing, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. We were just having a good time. We didn't understand anything about the business end of what we were doing," he said. "The bars around here of 30, 40 years ago were just crazy. I mean, the drunkest person you see at a bar these days was average back then."
In addition to his role as resident beatsmith and undisputed king of open mic night, Deubler serves as the drummer for Easton-based Acoustic Bite Trio. The group is rounded out by lead vocalist-guitarist Scott Harrington and bassist Shawn Cav.
"Shawn is such an amazing bass player. I don't know where he's going to wind up, but I can see him becoming a big name someday. (Scott), he dumbfounds me. He's something else," Deubler said. "It all works because we have our own role. I add the comedy relief and it all comes together."
Cav returned the gesture and added, "Dave is that unique player that will hold an audience by always keeping them on their toes through his very diverse song selections. He's one of the nicest and most genuine guys out in the scene who will support just about every open mic he comes in contact with. I sometimes believe Dave has the power to be in two places at once with the number of open mics he will perform in one evening. I've very happy to be playing music with him and call him a friend."
Earlier this year, Deubler recorded drums and percussion on singer-songwriter Leah Marie Fuls' Josie Music Award-nominated debut EP You're Never Gone.
"As I like to say, it's a small world in the Valley. It's an even smaller world if you're a musician," Deubler said. "We get to know each other pretty quick."
Before our conversation ended, Deubler shared this piece of advice: "If you're not enjoying it, you're not doing it right."