Evan and Ian Koteles sing their dad's praises, and not just on Father's Day. Sometimes they can't believe how cool their drummer dad really is.
"One time, he played at an open mike night with us, a guy came up to him and said, 'Dude, you're a legend,' '' 19-year-old Evan remembered. "We were like, 'Wow, our dad is awesome.' "
"My friends refer to him as Eric Clapton,'' said Ian, 24. "He's hip for an old guy."
Albi Koteles, a South Tampa bar owner turned Realtor, happily shares his four decades of experience in the music industry. His father was a musician, too, a violinist with his own band in Toronto.
Now with a band of their own, Ian and Evan keep the dream alive.
"Dad knows the rarity of making it,'' said Evan, "but he never tried to dissuade us. He's reliving his passion through us."
• • •
By 16, Albi Koteles was drumming in clubs with a band called Orleans, sometimes sharing the stage with up-and-coming bands the Guess Who, Steppenwolf and Rush.
Out of high school, he joined Conspiracy, a seven-piece show band playing hotel lounges. The band opened a couple of shows for Natalie Cole. Capitol Records released two of its singles.
He quit touring in 1979 to start a band at a 600-seat nightclub in Fort Lauderdale, where he met his future wife, Eileen. She choreographed the band's themed productions.
The newlyweds moved to Tampa, where Albi managed his father-in-law's club, Freid's, on E Hillsborough Avenue. His band, called Hi-5, played classic rock with a touch of country until Garry Freid sold the bar in 1990.
In 1994, he opened Albi's123, playing piano and pouring beer for University of Tampa students at 123 S Hyde Park Ave. He sold the bar, now the Retreat, in 2000.
Through the years, Eileen recalled, she'd bring Evan, Ian and a third son, 22-year-old Ari, to hear Dad play.
• • •
Evan picked up the guitar first, at 12, primarily using the Internet to teach himself to play.
"I took lessons from three people and never lasted more than a few weeks from any of them,'' he said.
His public debut: the eighth-grade talent show at Wilson Middle School. (Coincidentally, Albi's first gig was playing drums at his eighth-grade graduation.)
Ian, then a freshman at the University of Central Florida, drove home for the talent show.
"I was blown away,'' Ian said. Inspired by his little brother, he found a guitar of his own and quickly gained the chops to entertain his fraternity brothers.
The first time the Koteles family heard Ian was in a packed Orlando bar. It was a 30-minute solo. They were impressed.
"We had no idea,'' said Eileen.
In time, the sons created their own thing, the E&I Band. Ian left UCF in the middle of his junior year and moved home to Davis Islands while his brother finished at Plant High.
Albi hadn't picked up a drumstick in years when he joined them at open mike night at Yeoman's Road pub.
"I tried to turn them on to the music of the '60s and '70s," said Albi, now 53, "but they have their own style."
The brothers count Coldplay, U2, Oasis, John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughn as influences, but prefer to pen their own tunes. Between them, they have written more than 130 songs.
Out of musical retirement, Albi was ready to play. During the summer of 2006, he rented a 16-passenger van and took the whole family on a three-week road trip. Among the trio's stops: clubs in Nashville, Pittsburgh and Manhattan.
"We're very close (but were) almost too close that summer,'' joked Ian.
Eileen, theater director for the Mendez Foundation, gave them tips to connect with the audience. Ari, who graduated from the University of Virginia last month, helped with publicity.
• • •
Nashville is the next stop. Ian moved there in October, looking for gigs and contacts. Evan just finished a year at Florida State and will join him soon. He plans to transfer to Belmont University to earn a degree in music business.
Already, opportunity has knocked. Fred Mollin, a former Disney executive who discovered Miley Cyrus, has offered to record their first CD.
They need $30,000 to pay for expenses, such as studio fees. E&I hopes to raise a chunk of that when friends host a benefit for them next weekend.
"I'm proud and anxious,'' Albi said.
The boys have a tribute in mind for their mentor. They're thinking of renaming their band Tenth Concession, Ian said.
"That's the name of the road Dad grew up on in Canada."
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.