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From Pick and Roll to Rock and Roll

From Pick and Roll to Rock and Roll

Bill Tepley (“Tep”) ’78 and Jon Starr (“Jonny”) ’78 first became friends on the basketball court. The two could often be found in the Upper Gym (today’s Bullard Gymnasium) shooting hoops between classes or practicing for the varsity basketball team’s next big matchup—a team, they note, that went 12-3 in their senior year.

Eventually, they discovered other shared interests, including similar tastes in music. The two would often get together to listen to favorite albums on Jonny’s record player or go to yet another midnight showing of the Led Zeppelin concert film, The Song Remains the Same. 

But even though they both played instruments in high school (guitar for Bill and the drums for Jonny), they didn’t play together until college when Bill, a student at the University of Colorado, visited Jonny at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. Jonny belonged to a college band, which was scheduled to play a gig during Bill’s visit. When the band’s regular guitarist was unavailable, Bill stepped up to the microphone.

Their first show wasn’t exactly one for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame highlights reel: “We were young and unpolished. It was rough,” Jonny admits. “But we didn’t care. We were just ripping it.”

They continued to play together when they could, but with growing career and family commitments in their post-college years, plus an international move for Jonny, their playing time dwindled. Although their instruments were consigned to closets and attics, the friendship remained strong—and music stayed at the heart of it. The friends would meet up at music festivals and stayed in touch regularly by sending each other new artists and songs. 

Then, in his forties, Bill suffered a back injury. Unable to move much and desperate for distraction, Bill picked up his guitar. Not long after, Jonny—now living again in Colorado—got a phone call.

"Bill called me and said, ‘You need to get your drums over here,’” Jonny remembers. “Bill pulled me out of mothballs.” Soon, the two were back to ripping it with additional musicians joining them to form a full-fledged band.

As their band progressed, Bill switched to bass guitar, which gave the two friends a deeper musical bond. “Now we’re what's called the Back Line,” Bill explains. “We are the foundation, and it's brought Jonny and I closer. Jonny changes syncopation a little bit, and I look at him, start grinning, and I'll try to catch up to him. And then instead of being done with a song, like everybody figured, no, we're somewhere else. It’s made us much better musical buddies.”

For the last 20 years, their bands have practiced regularly and played gigs in and around the Denver area. When asked how they’ve managed to sustain so many years of playing together, the two friends reflected.

We love each other. We are best friends,” Bill shares. “Even when Jonny was living overseas, and he said he put the drum kit away, we were still best friends.”

Music is the icing on the friendship, not the other way around,” Jonny adds. “It makes it rich—it's a rich, rich thing to share. When you connect and communicate through music, or when a crowd is excited and energetic about what you're playing, we just look at each other and smile. But that experience is better because of our friendship.”

Thinking back on their long history together, Bill notes, “In life, you throw some seeds around and, you know, a lot of them withered. Some of them sprouted. But this friendship is an oak tree, and it came out of Kent Denver.”

Everything came full circle over Kent Denver's 2023 Alumni Homecoming and Reunion Weekend when Bill, Jonny and their band, Bones in the Basement, took the stage as part of the 3s and 8s reunion bash.

More Alumni News

From Pick and Roll to Rock and Roll

Bill Tepley ’78 and Jon Starr ’78 first became friends on the KDS basketball court. They soon discovered a shared interest in music and have been playing in bands together for decades.