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Railway Gamblers Draw Inspiration From Heavy Train Traffic in West Beverly

By Howard Ludwig | September 23, 2015 5:46am
Railway Gamblers
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WEST BEVERLY — Heavy rail traffic is a part of everyday life in West Beverly — a far Southwest Side neighborhood bisected by a pair of busy industrial tracks.

Four guys raised with train horns and passing rail cars in the background have found success incorporating a bit of that rhythmic sound into an acoustic band.

The Railway Gamblers released their debut album, "Heart of the Sun," in April. All of the bandmates live in West Beverly and Morgan Park and will play a hometown gig at 8 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the Beverly Arts Center.

Described as folk rock or alternative country, Railway Gamblers will open for Head for the Hills at the arts center at 2407 W. 111th St. in Morgan Park. This bluegrass headliner combines elements of indie rock, jazz, hip hop, world and folk into its acoustic sound.

 Railway Gamblers is made up of Matt Fricks (from left), Joe Sexton, Brendan Folliard and Sean Wilmsen. The four-man band has roots in West Beverly and Morgan Park.
Railway Gamblers is made up of Matt Fricks (from left), Joe Sexton, Brendan Folliard and Sean Wilmsen. The four-man band has roots in West Beverly and Morgan Park.
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Railway Gamblers will record their second album a month after the show. "Shadow of the Moon" will also be produced at Kingsize Sound Labs in Humboldt Park under the guidance of Mike Hagler. The producer has worked with Wilco and My Morning Jacket.

"It's been such a huge response in such a short amount of time," said Matt Fricks, the lead guitar player. Fricks, 23, is a graduate of St. Cajetan Elementary School in Morgan Park and Brother Rice High School in Mount Greenwood.

Fricks met Sean Wilmsen, 24, in high school, and Wilmsen introduced him to his childhood pal Brendan Folliard, 23, a graduate of Marist High School in Mount Greenwood.

Both Wilmsen and Folliard attended St. John Fisher Elementary School in West Beverly, often walking along the train tracks to hang out each other's homes. Folliard is the singer and songwriter for the band. He also dabbles in piano, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Wilmsen plays drums and pitches in on vocals.

The pair were working at Smith Village in Morgan Park when they met Joe Sexton, 32, another St. John Fisher product who went on to graduate from Mount Carmel High School in Woodlawn. Besides working as a chef at the retirement community, Sexton also plays blues guitar.

He later switched to bass and began jamming with the Railway Gamblers at their first practice in March 2014. From the start, the band shrugged off the urge to play cover songs, a move that would have been more lucrative.

"We are all really focused on this," Wilmsen said Monday night.

The four-man band has played about 35 shows thus far and squirreled away every dollar from their live performances. The "band fund" helps to pay for recording fees, which members also supplement with the earnings from their day jobs.

The sacrifice seems to be paying off. Railway Gamblers were featured on WXRT's Local Anesthetic program in August. Radio host Richard Milne played "Fade Away," one of the singles from the debut album.

There have been plenty of other cool moments, too. Like when Folliard was recognized by a young fan at the 7-11 in West Beverly. Or when the generator when down at the Rossaroo Music Festival in Watseka, Ill. and the Railway Gamblers played an acoustic set among the crowd.

The group also played with the Stanley Cup onstage on Aug. 13 at 115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park.

These events as well as the band's rather quick rise has the bandmates dreaming of even bigger things to come. The next album is expected to debut in January.

"I don't think I'm qualified to do anything else," Folliard said.

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