Brothers with disabilities find an outlet in music

By Rachel Leibrock - Bee Staff Writer

When Rachael Ray, second from right, hosted Jet Fuel Only - from left, David Love, Evan Goodson, Sawyer Goodson and Emma Blankenship - on her television show, "the kids loved her," says father Dan Goodson. Rachael Ray


Dan Goodson just wanted to find a way to stop the teasing.

Goodson's oldest son, Sawyer, has Asperger syndrome, a mild form of autism. His youngest son, Cameron, also is autistic, and his middle son, Evan, is awaiting a possible diagnosis of autism and has a significant speech impediment.

Taunted for his "weird" behavior, Sawyer suffered the worst of it in his elementary school classroom in Chico; Goodson and his wife, Julie, worried about his social survival.

Then, five years ago, someone gave Goodson a magazine article touting the positive effects music can have on autistic children.

Goodson didn't actually read the article, but its impact proved to be profound.

Today, 13-year-old Sawyer and 11-year-old Evan -- aided by pals Emma Blankenship and David Love -- have their own band, Jet Fuel Only. The name is a nod to Dan Goodson's former career as an airline pilot. The repertoire is mostly covers -- White Stripes, Weezer, Puddle of Mud, et. al -- but the hip factor that comes with being in a rock band has immeasurably upped the brothers' cool quotient.

Jet Fuel Only appears today on the "Rachael Ray" television show (3 p.m., Channel 3).

We talked to Dan Goodson on the phone from his Chico office -- about instruments, practicing and the youthful world of rock 'n' roll cool.

Q: How did Jet Fuel Only come about?

A: Someone gave me a magazine article on how music is supposed to be good for the brain when it comes to autism. I wish I could say that I read the article -- I just remember that up until that point there were all these people telling me I had to do incredibly expensive things to treat (my sons). We were feeling incredibly hopeless.

Q: How did that lead to the music?

A: My mother gave us this old guitar that had been laying around her house for years. I didn't know how to play, but we brought it back home. Evan loved the guitar, so we gave it to him.

Sawyer was having a really tough time in school -- he was in the fourth grade and it was terrible. I remember visiting (his classroom) and thinking, 'Oh my God, he's not going to make it, he's so torn up from the teasing.' So I started going to class with him whenever I could, and at recess we would go to these music stores with Evan and try out guitars and basses and mandolins and pianos.

Q: And you bought them guitars? How did Sawyer end up on drums?

A: Evan picked up the guitar and was doing well and I got a guitar and taught myself, and then I bought a DVD to teach them. But as we progressed, the strings were really hurting Sawyer's fingers -- he has sensory issues. Then we found a music store that had a drum room, and went in there. Sawyer knew I was a drummer in the Boy Scouts marching band and he remembered this one beat I'd shown him, and he just walked over to the drums and tried to reproduce that sound. He was so excited that he could do it and that the sticks didn't hurt his hands.

Q: How did the band's first show come about?

A: Well, here's the thing -- Sawyer hates to practice. He won't practice ... unless there's a gig. So their baby sitter, who works with an accelerated reading program at their school, said if they got three songs together she would arrange for them to play at a reading assembly. Sawyer began to practice because he was so excited about performing.

Q: How did you feel about the idea of Jet Fuel Only playing for an audience?

A: Julie and I were both terrified that the other kids would make fun of them. It was a risk, but Evan played his guitar and Sawyer kept his beat perfectly and I bawled my eyes out. It was over-the-top great -- the kids (at school) rushed them, wanting to touch them, wanting autographs.

Q: What songs did they play?

A: They started with something that was supposed to be a cover of Lenny Kravitz's "Lady" but it doesn't really sound anything like that -- but that's the best part. Then they played the Beatles' "Hey Jude." They also did a few riffs from Black Sabbath's "Iron Man," Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla" and Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." They did that as a sort of rock medley.

Q: How did Emma and David become involved?

A: Emma's always been a friend of Sawyer's -- calming him on the playground, sticking up for him. When the band thing came up, she told him, "I play guitar and I want to be in your band." So she came over to the house and they jammed. She decided to play bass. David first heard the band through its Web site and ran up to Sawyer at school and said, "I want to be in your band." And Sawyer said, "OK, yes, please." It just about broke my heart, it was so sweet.

Q: How many gigs have they played?

A: Around 46. Of course, the only way to get Sawyer to practice is if he knows there's a gig, so a lot of "gigs" are them just playing on the playground with no one watching.

Q: Are all their songs covers?

A: We have five originals -- we played an original on "Rachael Ray" called "Hot Sun."

Q: How was it doing the "Rachael Ray" show?

A: The experience was fantastic -- they treated us incredibly well. They let us bring the kids in a day early to settle in and adapt to their surroundings. Rachael Ray is just very cool -- the kids loved her.

Q: What's next? Any plans for Cameron to join the band?

A: That's our dream. We have a lot of instruments lying around the house (and) he likes to grab the ukulele. I also got him a dulcimer, and that seems to be popular with him lately. The band was invited to play an autism convention in Chicago in May.

As the kids are growing and they get more confident, I'd love to see Cameron, Evan and Sawyer speaking out about autism. We had to find something positive (with their autism) -- my children are who they are and they're growing and we still just have to figure out what's next.

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