From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Listen To Your Gut

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

Ligon: Did you ever see a stranger from a distance and immediately get the feeling that either you know that person or that you’re supposed to know them? Whenever that feeling happens, I think you should follow it. I believe that all of the best things that have happened in my life—meeting my best friend from high school, marrying my wife Sharon, playing music with Terry Adams of NRBQ(!)—happened because I followed my instincts about those people.

I knew I would be friends with Willie Fosher the first time I saw him in freshman English. I can’t explain why; I just knew it. Something molecular? It turns out that Willie is one of the most interesting and influential people in my life. A total original. He’s a professional gambler. Lives in Europe now and has made an incredible life for himself. Horse racing is his passion, which he discovered as a junior in high school. He even dropped out halfway through his senior year because high school was interfering with his gambling! He turned out to be a genius at it and now he works four or five months out of the year and travels the world the rest of the time. We’ve traveled together many times over the years. When we first met, we had long conversations about how one day we’d do just that.

I met my wife Sharon 15 years ago—about three days after my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. A friend dragged me out to a bar because he knew how upset I was, and I saw Sharon sitting at the bar the moment I walked in. She got up and sat in with the band that night—and while she was performing, I had this strange feeling … she reminded me of myself. A very weird realization, but it was very accurate. It turns out she had seen me perform before and had had a very similar experience. Only thing is, she was 19 at the time and still living at home—and I was 31. It didn’t matter. We’ve been together 15 years now, and she is my closest and dearest friend. She is essential to me.

I first saw NRBQ in 1988 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, Miss. Something very strange happened to me that night. Aside from the band becoming my obsession for the next 20 years, I also had the strangest feeling about the piano player and master of ceremonies from outer space, Terry Adams. I felt like I knew him. In fact, he seemed like he could’ve been a member of my family.

I immediately became a rabid fan of Terry and NRBQ and devoured their music like it was Raisin Bran. I needed it every day. I went to 25 NRBQ shows over the next 10 years, but it was always a little strange for me because I had this nagging feeling that I was somehow meant to be involved in this. I eventually let go of that notion. I had to. It was crazy. I had my own life and career to worry about. So I moved on.

Then in 2006, I saw that Terry Adams was doing a solo tour and would be performing at my favorite nightclub just a few miles outside of Chicago—Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Ill., (where Sharon and I got married by the way) and I had the feeling that I needed to be there that night. So I arranged for the Flat Five (a brand new group at the time) to play the opening set—and we did.

2017 will mark the 10-year anniversary of my partnership with Terry Adams. I repeat: Listen to your gut.