Local duo comes together to realize music dreams

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Different paths, set to cross unknowingly at a point and time have breathed life into the musical dreams of a pair of Central Texas musicians.

Diane Tropea and Don Hubbard both joke that they are strangers, brought together in an unlikely way, but today, they perform together as The Decades, as though they have been together just that long.

Both were dining at Margarita’s Restaurant, Tropea recalling that she had only recently mentioned the need to find someone to play with.

“It wasn’t that much before then I was telling my husband I needed to find someone I could play with again,” she said. “I only play enough guitar to play in my house for myself. I don’t play like Don plays.”

One was coaxed over to the other’s table during dinner, and things fell into place from there.

“We were introduced to each other at a restaurant,” Hubbard said. “The funny story is Amin (Berenji) over at Margarita’s literally drug me over to ther table where she was eating dinner with her husband, and introduced me to her and said, ‘She sang at her wedding and you ought to hear her voice.’

He was skeptical, but Hubbard wanted to hear her sing.

I didn’t know anything about Diane, so I invited her over and as soon as I heard her, I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” he said.

Tropea called it a perfect match when they began playing together, and they even did their first recording that evening.

“Don’s got kind of like a recording room in his house, so I went over there,” she said. “It was really no pressure, see how we like it kind of thing, and I was there a couple of hours.”

The Decades performed at this year’s Liberty Hill Independence Day Spectacular and will be entertaining the crowd at National Night Out in Liberty Hill from 6-8 p.m. Oct. 2 at Liberty Hill Junior High.

They also play monthly at The Vineyard in Florence as well as other occasional opportunities, spread out between their solo performances and day jobs.

Their paths may have brought them together in Central Texas, but both are far from where their love of music began.

Hubbard began playing music in fourth grade, but it didn’t stick so well the first time around.

“When I was a kid, my folks did the typical push you to music, see if you like it, and I did,” he said. “I was one of those kids that didn’t read the sheet music too well and memorized the songs and came back the next day to play them.”

His interest faded as the need to read music intensified and Hubbard put music on the shelf for a while, revisiting it while in the U.S. Navy.

“My music background goes back to the Navy, learning how to play in the mid 60s on a ship when I had no place else to go,” he said. “Like most people I got busy with jobs, careers, family, kids, all that, mortgages, and it got kind of put on the sidelines for about 30 years. I played a few times a year, nothing professional, and in 2015 I had a little voice in my head. I could hear my mom saying, ‘You better play while you still can, because your hands are probably not going to let you do it someday.”

He picked up the guitar and started seriously recording in 2015.

“I always used it as kind of a therapy,” he said. “When I was in a bad mood, or something was going or that was stressful I would play music and that has lasted through my life. I knew I couldn’t make a living at it so I saved that for my last job, which is now.”

He jokes that he’s really the new guy to music in this new duo.

“This is pretty new for me, Diane not so much,” he said with a laugh. “She’s been around for quite a while.”

Tropea began her music career on a makeshift stage at home in California.

“Mine started at the age of five,” she said. “We had a huge fireplace, and if you came into our house that was my stage and you were subject to me.”

Tropea grew up in Los Angeles, but has been in Texas 22 years.

“I played through school, did the songwriters circuit in Hollywood for a few years before I moved to Texas,” she said. “I moved to Texas with a three-year old and 1,500 bucks, and that was 22 years ago, and I didn’t know anybody. I had to get a job. You start working, then music kind of goes to the side.”

Both were looking for someone to play with, but once they had a chance to see what the other could do, the combination of Tropea’s singing talents and Hubbard’s guitar skills was exactly what they were looking for.

“I had lower expectations because, first of all, when someone introduces you to somebody they say can sing, you have no idea whether that’s true or if they just do karaoke,” Hubbard said. “I didn’t know Diane had a background in music all her life. As soon as she opened her mouth, I thought, ‘Oh my God, she won’t be with me too long.’ We’ve been together for over a year and a half now.”

The Decades hope to make some money performing, and each do so with solo work, but the joy of being able to relax and do something they love makes it all worthwhile.

“For me it is a stress relief,” Tropea said. “I work full time, I travel for business at times. As soon as I step on the stage it is easy. I take a deep breath and everything else goes away because music is easy. It is enjoyable and relax for three hours and just sing.”

The musical tastes of the duo is summed up in the name – The Decades – and the variety continues to expand.

“Diane had to cater to what I was already playing, but she’s so versatile that she could do that and I’ve since had to stretch and move a lot of my genre from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s to into the 80s and 90s because Diane is much more current,” Hubbard said. “We’ve tried to mix contemporary music with everything all the way back to the 30s. We pick the best of the recognizable songs because we are a cover band. The truth is we play all the decades, multi-genre and multi-instrument.”

Hubbard plays the guitar, but with a synthesizer, he is able to bring a wide variety of instruments and sounds to the audience.

“Even though there are only two of us, you’ll hear trombone, saxophone, keyboard, guitar and a number of other instruments all coming out of the guitar through a synthesizer,” he said.

She may be the voice, but Tropea says she’s never come up with a musical challenge Hubbard couldn’t meet.

“He’s pretty darn versatile,” she said. “He plays just about anything. If I come up with something he says, ‘Alright’.”

Hubbard’s favorites include “Only the Lonely” by the Motels, “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones and “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak.

For Tropea, “Bobby McGee” is a big crowd pleaser, and is fun because everyone knows it.

“The name really says it all,” she said. “The good thing, is if you don’t like a particular decade, just hang on for a few minutes, we’re going to get to the next one.”

The pair will continue to look to expand their performance schedule, hoping for new opportunities to share their love of music and continue down this additional career path, even as life continues swirling around them.

“It is the juggling,” she said. “It’s just trying to make it all fit.”

“Diane and I both have a life,” Hubbard said. “It isn’t as though we are 20 years old with some notion that we are going to make a living at this right now. I would like for us to get to a point where we can pick the gigs that are the most interesting for us, out of our comfort zone and also that pay the best, and be able to choose.”

Mike@LHIndependent.com

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