LITTLE VALLEY - It was only a couple of years ago, when Little Valley resident Jeff Horth dreamed up what he referred to as his "project." If you know Jeff at all, you'd guess (correctly) it's music-related.
In trying to explain the project's origins, Jeff settled on the age-old ploy of blaming his parents, Richard and Diane Horth, of Cattaraugus. "When I was just a little kid," he said, "they started me on guitar lessons."
It turned out that Horth liked the idea of playing guitar, but he hated practicing.
"I quit before I learned much," he admitted, "and the guitar went to the back of my closet."
Still, whether because of the lessons, or in spite of them, he realized by the time he was 10, that music would be a big part of his life.
Then along came baseball.
"After I discovered baseball, it sort of ruled my life," Horth said. "I loved everything about the game - still do, in fact."
He played ball in the Babe Ruth league, and also on Cattaraugus Central School's JV and varsity teams. And that was only the start. He spent the next 27 summers playing ball for one or another of the local community or organization-sponsored softball teams that entertained local crowds each summer.
But Western New York winters leave a lot of downtime between baseball seasons - plenty of time for music to work its way back into Horth's life. "While I was still in my teens, I dug my old guitar out of the closet," Horth said, "and my good friend, Ron Lemon, and I played a whole lot of music together - quite a bit of it in a church basement in Olean."
Finally, he was glad for those early childhood guitar lessons - and wishing he'd practiced more.
Life moved on for Horth, sometimes with more than the usual ups and downs. Increasingly, he found his focus shifting to his family, his Christian faith - and his music. His first guitar was joined by a second, a third, a fourth - a fifth - plus a keyboard. He was becoming as passionate about music as he was about baseball. At any given time, on any given day, unfamiliar lyrics, unattached to any songs he knew, would play themselves out in his mind.
"Finally," he said, "I had so many songs floating around in my head that I had to start writing them down, just to get them out." He continued writing songs, even as his ball-playing days gradually morphed into coaching his own and other kids' softball teams.
Because Horth had a family life, as well. He and his wife, Virginia (Virgie) were bringing up four children: Horth's sons, Vince and Dylan (now 22 and 17, respectively), whose mother had died tragically when they were very young; and Beth and Emily (now 14 and 11), his and Virgie's daughters. And of course, there was his "bread and butter job," working in maintenance at Allegany State Park.
Still, the music dominated his thinking. "Eventually, I had these stacks of songs lying around," he laughed, "and I really needed to do something with them."
That's when it occurred to him that actually hearing some of his music performed would be a very satisfying 'something' to do.
"So, I decided to round up a few friends who'd be willing to play and sing the songs with me," he continued. And that was it. That plan became his "Project."
The first order of business? Finding the people to flesh out his dream. "I especially was looking for a vocalist or two," said Horth, "since I didn't much like the sound of my own voice." Over his years of strumming, he'd made the acquaintance of many people who shared his bond with music. Out of that melting pot, stepped five volunteers. "They're all behind the project," Horth said. "They all believe in it."
Ron Wasmund agreed to take on drums; Dan Waasdorp, bass guitar; Sean Andrew (or Seanshine, as the others like to call him), lead guitar and vocals; Annette Andrew, vocals; Leslie Pascoe, acoustic guitar and vocals; and of course, Horth himself, rhythm guitar, keyboard and reluctant vocalist. Most of their performances were done in the comfortable environment of a church basement. "We played free for benefits and things like that," said Horth, "and it was fun."
But the project grew, as projects often do. Although playing and performing were certainly satisfying, the six friends decided that they wanted to take the next step and record a selection of their favorites. Horth suggested their band should have a name, to which the others replied that the band already had a name. It was "Jeff Horth's Project."
"I told them that was silly," said Horth. "I tried to talk them out of it. I said, 'the project' was just my plan to get a band together. But they all said 'No, that's what it's been, and that's what it is - The Jeff Horth Project.'" He couldn't argue too hard; they might have gone on strike, and then, where would he be? Without a project?
So The Jeff Horth Project released their first album, titled "Let Him In" in the spring of 2012, and they all felt good about it. But for Horth, that CD release "really opened the floodgates."
"It was like divine intervention or something," he tried to explain. "The words came so fast, I felt like I needed to write with both hands." As soon as he scribbled each new song, the group started playing it, and in short order they had enough material to record a second CD, this one named "It'll Be Alright."
Last summer, "Project" members spent hours recording the new CD at Diamond Lake Studio, not far from Cattaraugus. "Those people are so professional," said Horth, referring to Bob White and Wendy Krzemien, who run their studio. "Theyre the ultimate professionals. They want the CD perfect, and they're endlessly patient. They stick with it until it satisfies us all. I thought our first CD was pretty good, but this one just blows me away."
With their second CD completed, the band's ready to celebrate. They're planning a "CD release party" for 7 p.m., Sunday, at the Little Valley United Methodist Church. The event will include a free concert by (who else?) The Jeff Horth Project, and will feature guest performer, Will Lowry, who has offered to join them for the evening. "Will's guitar work is so awesome," said Horth. "We're honored to have him sit in with us."
The band hopes to have three or four other guest performers as well. Both of the Project's CDs will be on sale at this event.