‘Other guys’ in celebrity bands face double-edged sword

They were the forgotten victims of Billy Bob Thornton’s recent tantrum on CBC: his Boxmasters bandmates, standing sheepishly in the background before being forced to perform without their petulant lead singer.

Billy Bob Thornton

Billy Bob Thornton

TORONTO — They were the forgotten victims of Billy Bob Thornton’s recent tantrum on CBC: his Boxmasters bandmates, standing sheepishly in the background before being forced to perform without their petulant lead singer.

For the “other guys” in celebrity-led bands, it can be a double-edged sword having a star in the group.

Rob Mailhouse played drums with Canadian Keanu Reeves in their now defunct alt-rock band Dogstar. Mailhouse had been toiling away as an independent musician for years.

He met Reeves at a California grocery store, when Reeves — a diehard hockey fan — approached him because Mailhouse was wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey.

At that time, Reeves wasn’t particularly famous.

“He wasn’t a huge international film star,” Mailhouse said over the telephone from his Los Angeles home. “He was just Bill & Ted. I had no idea what he would become. I mean, he was super talented, we knew he would get work, but you just don’t know what it’s going to happen to your friends.”

Reeves and Mailhouse, who is also a working actor with roles in Days of Our Lives, Seinfeld and Sports Night under his belt, jammed for years together before officially forming Dogstar.

Reeves’ star began to rise just as the band found its footing, and Mailhouse says that Reeves’ fame invited criticism.

“We didn’t get much of a chance to sort of grow and fail on our own without being scrutinized because of the attention we got from him,” he said. “So it was a double-edged sword, on the one hand it was good, but in the beginning it was kind of rough.”

Thornton put in a memorable appearance on Q earlier this month, when the star was intentionally obtuse and antagonistic during an interview with CBC host Jian Ghomeshi.

Thornton, who came on the show to promote his band, the Boxmasters, took issue with Ghomeshi’s introduction to the interview, which included references to the star’s career as a Hollywood actor, director and screenwriter.

Mailhouse says he was just as puzzled — and entertained — by Thornton’s behaviour.

“Maybe in respect for the other guys in the band, maybe he felt embarrassed that they would bring that up,” he said. “But look, you answer a couple questions and you move on.

“That happened to us many times. And Keanu, I don’t remember how he reacted — but I definitely don’t remember him reacting quite like that.”

Thornton later told late-night host Jimmy Kimmel that he was upset because Ghomeshi had been instructed not to talk about his film career.

Mailhouse said that Dogstar used to make similar requests.

“We’d go: ‘Hey, can you not mention Speed because we really want to focus on the band today?”’ he recalled.

“But then you get there and it’s like: ‘Holy crap, it’s Keanu Reeves, and we’re gonna ask him about The Matrix.”

“It’s like the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”