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By Joe Stumpe

By Joe Stumpe

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) Jose Martinez would play for free. That's probably not going to be necessary as his band, 90 Proof Project, has plenty of paying gigs lined up. But it is an indication of how much music means to him.

"It's just something you have to do -- at least I have to do," said Martinez, one of two guitar players in the band. "If I'm not playing in a band, I will find a way to get a musical outlet. We're going to play for free or we're going to play for money. Either way we're going to be playing."

The band, which mainly covers rock and roll songs, performs Saturday at Little Busters in Derby.

Martinez put the band -- made up of people like himself who work for Wichita public schools -- together two years ago. The first gig was during a day of in-session training at the Cotillion.

"We had so much fun, and one of the things everybody kept saying was, 'Way back in the day, we did this and that,' " said Martinez, who works in the district's supply warehouse. "Since I've been here, everybody just gets off work and goes home."

Martinez said he was used to a little more camaraderie in the U.S. Air Force, where he spent 20 years and also played in a band. That band played around the country and even overseas as members were transferred to different bases, then reunited to play shows.

The lineup of 90 Proof has changed since that first gig. Michael Smith, a guitarist who works in the school district's media department, is still on board, but the other members have been replaced by Steve Levan on drums, Eric Matthews on bass and Valerie Miller on vocals.

Martinez describes the band's repertoire as "eclectic and a little bit of everything" from Maroon 5 to Stevie Ray Vaughn, Selena Gomez, Parliament and Justin Timberlake. Plus, they play classics such as "Play That Funky Music."

"We don't leave anything on the table. If somebody wants to hear it, we'll play it," he added.

The band tries to engage its audiences as well with an air guitar contest and twerking competition. Winners of the former get to perform on stage with the band -- on air guitar, that is -- or, occasionally, a real guitar. As for the twerking tournament, Martinez said, "You have to see it. If you can't laugh at that, you can't laugh at anything."

In addition to Saturday's show, 90 Proof Project has gigs scheduled at Jerry's Bar and Grill, the Stadium Sports Bar and Spirits Pub in Valley Center.

Smith, who was a music major in college and has played in bands in the past, said returning to the music scene "is more fun than I've probably had in a long time."

"It's been a big hiatus for me personally. It was just nice to know the chops are still there, being able to play with people who are so competent."

Smith said he does much of his playing through a guitar synthesizer, emulating keyboards and horns, while Martinez "does the heavy lifting on the guitar."

Lavon is a veteran of Annie Up and other local bands, while the band found Matthews through Craigslist. "He just fits in perfect," Martinez said.

When it came to a vocalist, Martinez said he could have picked someone with previous band experience but instead went with Miller, who had worked as a karaoke host for three years.

Miller is glad he did.

"I mean, I had my own DJ name and all that ridiculous stuff," Miller said. Karaoke "is not something for your own passion, whereas being in a band is pursuing your passion and bringing entertainment to people through your skills."

She likes singing "any of the empowering songs, anything you get the chills from when you hear it."

Martinez promises that crowds won't come away from 90 Proof's shows bored, whether they're impressed by the twerking or broad selection of tunes.

"We just love everything, so we don't get burned out on one style of music. Hopefully everybody else likes the same things we like."

This story is part of an occasional series where we put the spotlight on local bands. If you're interested in having your band considered, e-mail aharris@wichitaeagle.com.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle