David Tulis and his band The Sagamores have been a driving force in the Sagamore Hills Elementary School community, helping to raise more than $20,000 at various fund-raising concerts with proceeds benefiting the school.
Tulis, who plays the bass and is often called the gadget man or tool man “because I'm the one that usually fixes things and tries to experiment with new equipment,” teamed up with two other Sagamore Hills dads to form The Sagamores in 2010.
Frank Fletcher, the band's guitarist, started to play the blues with Tulis that year when they met up at a school function. Fletcher serves as the band's historian and is so steeped in the history of rock music that he can reel off the 50-plus year history of The Rolling Stones.
Vocalist and rhythm guitarist Dimitrios Hondroulis is another Sagamore Hills dad who grew up in New Orleans and cut his teeth on the music scene there. One time, his band The Socials opened for The Producers. With The Sagamores, Tulis said that people love hearing his “gritty, growly voice.”
When the trio united, they helped inspire creativity in one another and took off like a rocket, moving from doing covers of The Beatles and Velvet Underground songs to writing their own music with influences from ska, blues, jazz and Southern rock.
There was one problem: the band needed a drummer, but they couldn't find one inside the Sagamore Hills school community. So, they expanded their search and found Josh Copland, the only member of the band who does not have kids yet because he's a bit younger.
“He's an honorary Sagamore Hills Elementary parent,” Tulis said.
Copland has experience playing in other Atlanta bands, including Hot Sauce and Honey, and brings energy and creativity to the band. He enjoys collecting drawings. All the band mates bring their own creative aspects to the table for The Sagamores and Tulis draws his energy from his photojournalism.
Tulis has lived in Atlanta since 1980. He has worked for UPI and Reuters, covered the 1985 inauguration of Ronald Reagan and done photography and photo editing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Athens Banner-Herald. These days, he contributes to the AP, Reuters, UPI and more. He's been nominated for Pulitzer Prizes before and was a finalist in 1989.
Plus, he's going back to school at Georgia State University. He went back about a year ago and is on target to graduate in Spring 2013.
Originally, he should have graduated in 1995 with his bachelor's degree, but a bureaucratic problem hindered him. He'd finished his last course but couldn't find the exit paperwork needed to graduate. When he returned to school, the curriculum had changed and now there were all these new courses he needed to take. But he's been doing it steadily—as well as doing his work and business with The Sagamores.
For Tulis, who doesn't have a very extensive music-playing background, the inspiration to pick up an instrument in the first place came from his daughter Lauren. While he was at the AJC, the photo department wanted to start a band and needed a bassist.
At the same time, Lauren wanted to learn guitar, so Tulis made a deal. She'd learn the guitar, he'd learn the bass. He found a secondhand bass and started to learn. The band the photographers formed, named for a kind of black and white film, helped Tulis learn the basics of music and the blues. Then came The Sagamores.
The band played Famous Pub as a fundraiser for the school, which was The Sagamores' first time playing together.
Local songwriter Earle Whittington was recruited by the band to help at several Famous Pub shows and is an accomplished musician on his own. In fact, Whittington wrote James Taylor's hit song "Shower the People".
Like Copland, whatever The Sagamores needed, they found in the community. They even recorded their new seven-song CD at a local studio.
Yes, a seven-song CD. That's the next big gig for the group: a release party on Jan. 12 at Jerry Farber's Side Door in Buckhead near the Landmark Diner. Other bands will open for The Sagamores that night.
The seven-song CD has music that runs the gamut of influences and emotions: laments, upbeat songs, ska, driving beats and even a surf-inspired song inspired by Tulis called “Hey Man,” because that's how he usually greets people.
The Sagamores have actually played two Famous Pub fundraising concerts. They raised $1,000 at the first concert and $4,000 at the second. The school's PTA matched that $4,000, so the school received $8,000.
Last spring, they teamed up with another Sagamore Hills band to play a private show with a $20 cover charge. $6,000 was raised on the cover charge alone and the whole event took in $18,000 total.
Other community musicians, including some musically-oriented Sagamore Hills teachers, have played at the shows as well.
With the money raised from the concerts, the school purchased 25 new Apple computers to stock a computer lab. They also purchased iPads to pair with the new desktops, which are outfitted with large monitors that Tulis likes—and perhaps envies a little bit.
“I would love to have [those] to do my photojournalism with,” he said.
But there was more money left over, so another Sagamore Hills department in need benefited from The Sagamores. The music program at the school needed acoustic and wind instruments like acoustic bass guitars and trumpets that can be very expensive, so $8,000 of the money raised went to that cause. Tulis said music teacher Melia Foley aimed to raise $1,000 for her purchases and was thrilled to get eight times that.
He also said the Sagamores plan to have another fundraiser in the spring.
“The Sagamores lit the fire in the community and we got other people to jump on board,” he said. “They have really enjoyed the fact that we've prospered and we've turned this back around to the community. We really want people to get something out of what we're doing.”