Raw power

Disabilities haven’t kept local band Jet Fuel Only from living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle

TAKING THE STAGE <br>Jet Fuel Only perform at a recent show at Chico Junior High attended by People magazine. The People article comes out Nov. 30. JFO are from left: drummer Sawyer Goodson, guitarist David Love, guitarist Evan Goodson and Emma Blankenship on bass

Jet Fuel Only perform at a recent show at Chico Junior High attended by People magazine. The People article comes out Nov. 30. JFO are from left: drummer Sawyer Goodson, guitarist David Love, guitarist Evan Goodson and Emma Blankenship on bass

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

I found my way through a rear alleyway entrance, easily guided by the barrage of rock music coming from Humboldt Studios, to the small studio room that is home to Sid Lewis’ Acoustic College. On this particular Friday night, multi-instrumentalist and music teacher Lewis was running one of his hour-long “School of Rawk” sessions with the four talented young local musicians known collectively as the band Jet Fuel Only.

Lewis, acting more like a sports coach than a music teacher, moved exuberantly around the room, occasionally adjusting an amp and shouting out encouragement and nuggets of musical guidance.

“OK, ‘Hot Sun,'” Lewis began, looking at the JFO song list on his computer screen as a prompt. “Somebody tell me how it starts.”

The band—consisting of Sawyer Goodson, 12, on drums, David Love, 12, on guitar, Emma Blankenship, 12, on electric bass, and 11-year-old Evan Goodson on guitar and vocals—launched immediately into the driving rocker, inspiring Lewis to nod his head, smile and say, “Of course!”

Meanwhile, Evan and Sawyer’s mother, Julie Goodson, cuddled their 7-year-old brother Cameron on a chair in the hallway outside the studio door. They listened to the music, along with father Dan Goodson, who also bopped about taking photos of the band in action.

Evan Goodson

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The rise of Jet Fuel Only to soon-to-be national fame is truly an amazing thing, considering the young age of each player and the short time the four have been musicians. Evan Goodson didn’t start playing the guitar until three years ago; Sawyer and Emma only began playing their instruments two years ago.

Even more amazing—and poignantly beautiful, considering their musical success—is the fact that Sawyer and Evan both have struggled with communicative disabilities (as has Cameron). Evan’s speech disability, now hardly noticeable, pales in comparison to Sawyer’s Asperger’s syndrome, a type of autism that significantly affects one’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively, and elicited unbearable teasing from his classmates.

“Sawyer would be so upset from being picked on at recess,” Dan Goodson explained, clearly passionate with love for his children, “that he would calm himself down by spending his whole recess walking the perimeter of the schoolyard fence, rubbing his cheek along it the entire time to try to comfort himself.”

And so it was about three years ago that Goodson—tired of watching his kids suffer because they were different—decided to try to change the situation. He had read in a magazine about music being “good for the mind” and, certain that “recess wasn’t going to do any good,” started picking up Sawyer and Evan every lunchtime and taking them to local music stores to look at and try out instruments, in the hope that they would take to one of them.

Evan embraced the guitar and singing, and Sawyer ended up playing drums. The two of them became Jet Fuel Only, which Emma joined a year later, followed by David, a screaming Joe Satriani-influenced guitarist proficient beyond his years. David had been keeping track of the band online since its inception, then finally approached Sawyer at school one day and asked if he could play with them.

With the help of Lewis and local singer-guitarist Brett Johnson (of Audiotherapy), and more recently the occasional lesson from local voice teacher Holly Taylor, the handsome, dark-haired brothers have quickly become adept at their instruments.

Sawyer Goodson

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

“At first, I wanted to be a guitar player,” offered Sawyer, “but it kinda hurt my fingers.”

Sawyer is the one who can tell you exactly how many gigs his band has played, and what the weather was like and what time of day it was at each one.

“I know that our next gig will be our 40th,” Sawyer announced matter-of-factly. “The ‘Pigeon Tour’ [at now-defunct Jay Partridge Elementary School] was our first gig ever. It’s called the ‘Pigeon Tour’ because a pigeon hung out and almost pooped on Mr. Carlisle.”

Jet Fuel Only’s recent late-October lunchtime gig on the front lawn at Chico Junior High, which Sawyer and David attend, was the band’s most memorable thus far.

Scores of schoolmates (and teachers) danced, waved their hands in the air and sang along to the band’s classic rockers like “Purple Haze” and Van Halen’s version of “You Really Got Me.” T she show was also attended by a reporter from People magazine and his entourage of photographers and a stylist. It will be featured in an upcoming People article on the band and how music can be useful as therapy for autism. Johnny Dodd, the People reporter, is also co-author of the book Mozart and the Whale: An Asperger’s Love Story (on which the 2005 film Mozart and the Whale, starring Josh Hartnett, is based).

Evan and Sawyer are clearly popular at school. “Sawyer!” one boy screamed out from the crowd at the end of JFO’s Black Sabbath “Iron Man” encore at the noontime concert, while Evan was bent over at the front of the stage signing the onslaught of hands and arms thrust up at him, “Rock on!!

“The attention from People magazine? They deserve it,” Lewis said of the Goodson brothers and their band. “Their dad brought them to me as a kind of experiment about two years ago. The first six months were difficult. I had to learn to be really patient. Then we hit a crest and it became easier, and anything I showed them, they got.

“Now they hear something once and they can spit it back like a tape player. It’s different; it’s really cool working with these ‘specially enabled’ children.”