Iowa City’s The Recliners Mix Career And Musical Passions



Inside Tavern Blue, purple lights illuminate members of Iowa City-based band The Recliners, who pluck the strings of their guitars and sing the lyrics to songs from Jefferson Airplane and The Who.

The 27-year-old group performed at the Coralville Pride Festival on Sunday, headlining the new event as its eight members brought a mix of rock, indie and folk covers to the indoor crowd.

Recliners are a local staple, playing at Summer of the Arts-related festivals, weddings, and the mill. On Sunday, the group even performed an original song about the beloved, now closed venue.

The Recliners, an eight-member ensemble based in Iowa City, will perform at Tavern Blue on Sunday as part of the Coralville Pride Festival.

But between each performance, the band members are busy doing something else: working.

Not as musicians, but as doctors, researchers, real estate agents and more.

The group is their refuge.

“I feel good playing music. I like to play music. And so I don’t want to stop playing music, ”guitarist Paul McCray said. “So I always found a way to integrate it into my life. “

“Great stress relief”: musicians at night, medical researchers by day

McCray works as a pediatric pulmonologist, specializing in children’s lungs, with the University of Iowa Health Care.

The Davenport native met the band’s founding member Kevin Hanick when McCray first moved to Iowa City in 1977. When McCray moved to California for a job at a children’s hospital in Oakland, it was Hanick, a real estate agent, who sold his house.

When McCray returned to Iowa City in 1991, the two resumed their relationship and began playing music together, ultimately forming the Recliners.

McCray’s primary research at UI was in cystic fibrosis. His lab work also focuses on coronaviruses, studying SARS, MERS and COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic.

His responsibilities include laboratory appointments, holding managerial positions in the pediatrics department, attending children’s hospital and seeing patients in outpatient clinics.

“So that’s my day job,” McCray said.

Another member’s “day job” is also affiliated with the UIHC.

Guitarist Jack Stapleton has been with the Recliners since 1999.

He is professor of internal medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. He created the UIHC HIV / AIDS clinic in June 1988 and has managed it ever since.

Stapleton has been playing guitar for 58 years, going so far as to change his college major in music for a year. But his interests in science – which started with chemistry and then ended with a degree in zoology – took priority, especially once Stapleton realized he was not at a level for become a concert guitarist.

Like McCray, Stapleton’s work varies.

He spends time seeing patients in the clinic, supervising infectious disease fellows, and even some inpatient supervision work at the Veterans Medical Center for Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases.

In the midst of it all, McCray, Stapleton, and the rest of the recliners meet in the basement of Hanick’s house about once a week and rehearse for two hours.

“People rush around at a quarter to eight, tune in, chat and talk about the shows we have coming up and the setlist if we have a gig coming up, and then work on songs that we think need more. attention and try to learn a new song or two, ”Stapleton said.

“But I think the thing that we’ve all played music our entire lives and love and find is great stress relief and kind of spiritual touch.”

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Music is a valuable “sink of time” for the bassist of Recliners

John Kramer followed Stapleton, joining the band in 2001. Kramer played bass, but growing up took piano lessons, played viola in college, and guitar in high school.

“Music is like a pipeline to my youth, in the sense that when I start playing with people it’s such a joy,” he said. “It immediately connects me to all the phases, the earlier phases, of my life when I was playing music. “

Kramer earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at UI, but works primarily in research alongside his commitment to be part of another group, Brad and the Big Wave.

Between the group’s commitments and the work, Kramer called it a “time challenge”.

“Until recently, I wasn’t working part time, I was working 80% of the time, so part time is relatively new, so it’s going to free up some time,” he said. “But there were weeks where the music was really a waste of time, but I chose, and I was happy to participate.”

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Unexpected UI Recruitment, Daughter Joins “Jam” With Dad

Singer Sasha Alexander is an Executive Assistant in the Dean’s Office at IU Carver College of Medicine. One day in 2018, Stapleton visited the office, looking for Executive Dean Patricia Winokur.

As he waited for her, Stapleton and Alexander began to chat. It turned out that one of the singers had to leave the recliners due to personal conflicts, so Alexander, a long-time singer, offered to help, imagining that she would take part in a few shows.

“I thought it would be a very spontaneous short term thing,” she said.

This was not the case.

Alexander has since become a full-time member of the group, balancing his responsibilities to his family, his continued work at UI and, at one point, as a part-time employee at George’s Buffet.

It’s a commitment, but for someone who sang since childhood in Winterset and came to UI as a music major, it is well worth it.

She started a new family in the form of her band mates and experience working with professional musicians. Alexander believes she has grown up. On the one hand, she is no longer afraid to play like she was the first year.

Body language and stage jokes were new aspects for Alexander, but she found her rhythm. The performances are stronger because she is able to get lost in the music now.

“It’s like the best feeling in the world, to be in front of people, to close your eyes and get lost in a song, then when you open them it’s to applause,” she said. .

Sasha Alexander, one of the Recliners' lead vocalists, performs at Tavern Blue as part of the Coralville Pride Festival on November 7.

Another recruit, though less unexpected, involved Stapleton’s daughter Emma.

She is an occasional member of the Recliners, playing the violin, an instrument she had put down years ago when her professional focus turned elsewhere.

Emma Stapleton holds a doctorate in conservation medicine, an intersection of environmental, human and animal health, she said.

She called the group “generous” to let her play with them as she is not always present during rehearsals. When she joined the group, she performed alongside her father, who always encouraged her to “jam” together as she grew up.

“We’ve always had fun doing this,” she said.

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One thing in common: an early love for music turns into lifelong learning

McCray said he was inspired to play guitar by the British invasion of the mid-1960s.

At age 10, McCray was “obsessed with the guitar” and was always involved in a band.

Hanick, on the other hand, first became linked to 16th-century choral music, stemming from his time in Catholic school.

For the singer and founder of Recliners, music has always been a part of his life. He would sing at the Holy Trinity Choir in Des Moines in elementary school and later sang in the UI’s select ensemble, Camerata.

Hanick started working in real estate in 1983 and is now one of the owners of Urban Acres, an Iowa City real estate agency. Prior to real estate, Hanick taught at UI and later at West High School.

The newest member of the Recliners has also found ways to stay in touch with music over the years.

Jim Rossen, who plays the harmonica, joined the Recliners a few months ago after the disbandment of his longtime band, the Tornadoes.

Rossen is an Interventional and Structural Cardiologist at IU. Her daytime work includes coronary artery work and heart valve procedures.

He started playing the harmonica when he was a teenager and babysit.

In a house, with nothing else to do, Rossen stumbled upon the instrument and started playing it, learning the game from his favorite band, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

His commitment to being part of a group and his work have never been in conflict, instead providing him with a unique outlet.

“The good thing about playing in public is that compared to my main job, when I play music, I can push myself a bit and take risks, and if things don’t work out not good, the consequences are pretty minimal, ”says Rossen.

For the new member, joining the larger group was a welcome change.

“It was an opportunity for me to learn different styles of music, and it stimulated me a lot,” he said.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle, and the arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.



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