Willy and the Four Boys

Each member of Willy and the Four Boys brings a different attribute to further complement the others through their personal stories of how music made its way into their life. Each member brings a unique aspect to the aesthetic of the band


Grant Blackburn, government and economics teacher, not only has a passion for teaching but also for music, as it consumes a major aspect of his life. Growing up, music filled his home; and his love for it at a young age drove his desire to play an instrument of his own. After trying to figure out what instrument would be his best fit, he was influenced by a high school peer who taught him how to play the electric guitar. He immediately fell in love with his instrument. Once Blackburn became a teacher, however, he lost much of his free time and began to only play for himself. “It’s easy for me [to balance], because I have been doing it now for 18 years as a teacher and playing the guitar for 35 years,” he said. “I think it was more difficult in the beginning of my career than it is now. When I am at work, I just focus on getting my work done, so that way when I go home I can pick up the guitar and rock out.” Blackburn has maintained this mentality and will continue to as he finds happiness in both teaching and music. He and the rest of the band dedicate an immense amount of effort to making their performances stand out. Though their busy schedules only allow them to practice once a week, they do not let it jeopardize the band and the music that they perform.
Blackburn enjoys the experience of performing for others; even though they have only had two performances they have both been very sentimental. “Our first real gig, not as teachers at Palo Alto High School, was at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park,” Blackburn said. “That was the first time people showed up just for us, [and] by the end of the show people were jumping up and down and screaming their heads off and singing and it was really cool. I’ve never felt that great in my life.”

Aside from his journalistic abilities, Brian Wilson loses himself through persistent rhythms created by the tapping of his drums, coinciding with the instruments of his bandmates. Music has had a large influence on his life since middle school Wilson began his personal journey with the drums at age 14, which further translated into his high school life. During those four years, he was in a few bands, saying, “I played in a series of really terrible heavy metal bands when I was in high school, like horrifically bad, but it was super fun.” For Wilson, it was more of a fun pastime than a serious activity, and more effort was put into picking the band name than the set list itself. It wasn’t as put together as his current band, as the names casually ranged from Silent Demise to Death Perception to Toys of Revolution, which Wilson still thinks is “pretty sweet.”
On his journey from Michigan to California, Wilson was faced with limited living space, resulting in him being unable to play the drums, ultimately losing touch with his drumming and moving farther and farther away from being able to pursue music. Teaching actually drew him back to music, as he performed at talent shows. After moving to Palo Alto, Wilson met others who, like him, enjoyed living the double life of being both musicians and teachers, later becoming his bandmates.
“I got here and started connecting [with] Mr. Blackburn and Mr. Sabbag here and started playing talent shows in different configurations,” he said. “I didn’t have that close group, and when we started doing this it was like, this is my group. It’s that solid bond with other people.” This connection, Wilson believes, is one of the many powers of music. It brings people together and lets them release stress, something that there is no shortage of in Palo Alto.

Steve Sabbag is relatively new to performing, but music has been in his life for a long time. “[Music] is major,” he says. “It always has been ever since I was a kid. I’d ride up in the hills at night with my headphones in.”
His 50th birthday party was held at a local bar where he routinely participated in karaoke, and that night Blackburn heard him sing for the first time. Following the party, Blackburn asked him if he wanted to perform together. “We decided to do a song for the fundraiser for the Rise Together choir concert,” he said. “Then their band reconfigured and they put me in the band and we got Mr. Rodriguez in the band and then we became Willy and the Four Boys.”
At their first gig together at Cafe Zoe, Sabbag recalls the overwhelming energy of the crowd. This was one of his first real performances, as he was fairly new to singing, and it helped him realize his strong passion for it, becoming a major part of his life. “I was just giddy, uncontrollably giddy,” Sabbag said. “I was so happy it was almost too hard to sing.”

If Richard Rodriguez was faced with the predicament between music and teaching, he wouldn’t hesitate to drop the textbooks and essays for the irreplaceable feeling of music. Though as a teacher he currently works in an entirely different environment than that of a recording studio, he still recognizes the significance of music. Its influence has been largely emphasized due to his family also being musicians. “Most of my life I played one instrument or the other. I settled on guitar,” Rodriguez said. He has continued to play ever since.
With his exposure to singing and playing the guitar, Rodriguez is able to bring a lot to the dynamic to the band. He adds a laid-back, easy going energy to the group.

It was when he met Blackburn that he played with someone else for the first time. It initially began as a fun hobby, but soon changed once he was heard by the others during his performance at a Paly concert.
“That was the first show and it just kept going from there. Next thing I knew, I was in a band with these guys and the band had a name,” Rodriguez said.

His interest in the band will continue to grow as long as they do not lose touch with their original purpose, which is to be able to all come together and play music and have an enjoyable experience.

Rodney Satterthwaite has also always had a love for music; as a child he collected albums and tapes, and listening to music has always made him feel alive.
Satterthwaite finds balancing his musical career and teaching very difficult, as he has an obligation to his family in addition to his work and band obligations. Satterthwaite works hard to try and balance all of his responsibilities, saying, “The best way to balance it is my calendar on my phone. We try to schedule rehearsals at least a week in advance and then I have to go home and try to figure out family schedules and try to work it around that. Whenever I have some free time, I try to make a point to try and get together with the band, but that’s definitely the hardest part about what we do.”

The band has not performed publicly very many times, only twice thus far, but they are hoping to continue to play for others in the near future. Satterthwaite reminisces on their first performance for a live audience that did not take place on the school premise. Satterthwaite described playing at Cafe Zoe as transforming, and at the end of their 20 song setlist, the crowd began to chant “One more song, one more song, one more song.’ And we were like ‘crap we don’t have one more song’,” Satterwaite said. “A student or somebody in the audience yelled out play ‘Smells like Teen Spirit,’ so we started playing it and people in the audience were just bouncing up and down, people were screaming the lyrics, the band was jumping up and down. It was like one of those moments that kind of gives you goosebumps.”