The University of Virginia has a very talented group of faculty; many can even be considered “rock stars” of academia. For a few, that moniker can be taken literally.
On the days when they’re not teaching or tending to patients, members of the faculty band Second Opinion can be found jamming to classic rock and funk.
“It all started 20 years ago,” the band’s unofficial leader, Sam Green, said. “I saw a sign in the Medical School hallway that said ‘Band looking for bass player,’ and I called the number.”
At the time, Green was working as an associate professor of cell biology in the School of Medicine. He now teaches mindfulness and stress reduction classes as an associate professor in the School of Nursing.
Lead singer Ken Leone, a clinical neurologist in the School of Medicine, later answered Green’s phone call and the two began the fledgling band with a few medical students and residents in the Health System.
The band’s lineup has changed over time as people have moved in and out of Charlottesville, but as their name suggests, it’s always been made up primarily of medical personnel. Today, the members are brought together by a shared love of 1970s-era music.
“We’re almost a Steely Dan feature band. We do more Steely Dan than anything else,” said keyboardist Susan Kirk, the School of Medicine’s associate dean for graduate medical education. “I would say that most of what we do would be considered ‘oldies’ now.”
Whatever songs they’re covering, Second Opinion prefers to have the decibel level up and keep the tempo moving. Some of their favorite places to play are UVA’s Alumni Hall ballroom or large outdoor tailgate parties where there is plenty of room for listeners to enjoy their music.
“We’re not a band where people can just be standing around listening and talking. They’ve got to get up and start dancing,” Kirk said.
She sings backup for Leone on dance favorites like “Rosalita” by Bruce Springsteen and “Bodhisattva” by Steely Dan. Many of the band’s best tunes gain an extra dose of dance floor magic from the fast-paced solos of their saxophone player, Victor Lee.
Lee might have spent years putting people to sleep for a living, but the now retired anesthesiologist knows how to liven up the crowd when he takes the stage. His riffs during classics like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” electrify the song and show his wide range of talent.
“When I first started playing with Sam, we were both in this jazz swing dance band and I was playing clarinet,” Lee said. “I was aware that Sam had this funk rock band going on and I said, ‘Look, if you ever need anybody to sub or sit in on sax, my heart’s kind of there, too.’”
Lee wasn’t the only Second Opinion fan to eventually join the band. Drummer Billy Ballard had been following them for a while before he starting playing with them.
“You might say I was stalking this band, and when their old drummer moved away, I swooped in,” he said.
Ballard is the only member who’s not a current or former member of the UVA faculty. By day he works for Allied Concrete as a brick resource manager, but he’s become something of a local celebrity by moonlighting as “Ringo” in Charlottesville’s Beatles cover band, Abbey Road.
In addition to its four musical doctors and borrowed Beatle, the band also includes one electric guitar-playing electrical engineer. Guitarist Lloyd Harriott is the Virginia Microelectronics Consortium Professor and associate chair of undergraduate programs in UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.
He has a claim to UVA fame as the first musician to play a unique Rotunda-shaped guitar that was designed and handcrafted by students in the school’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He performed a rock rendition of the “Good Ol’ Song” with it at the Engineering School’s 175th anniversary celebration in 2011.
That wasn’t the only time Harriott has performed for his colleagues. In recent years, the Engineering School has become one of Second Opinion’s biggest fan groups. The school regularly books them for alumni tailgates, and the band’s next gig will take place at the school’s holiday party on Dec. 12.
“We play a few faculty and alumni parties like that every year,” Kirk said. “After this one, we’re scheduled to play a number of clubhouse gigs. That’s our main fan base.”