When Mike Walker of nearby Carpentersville picked up the guitar for the first time at about 12 years old, he wasn’t strumming to the notes in a lesson book or under the direction of a music teacher.
“I was just always doing my own thing,” he said. “I learned everything by ear.”
For most of his life, Walker, 34, has played a variety of music including punk rock, blues and rock. In 2005, the Hanover Park native auditioned for the Funky Monks, the popular Chicago-based Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band.
“I was always writing music — more original stuff,” Walker said. “But about five years ago I decided it would be nice to go out and play some songs people already know and have some fun doing it.”
After seeing the Funky Monks’ ad on Craigslist for a guitar player, Walker auditioned and landed a spot in the band. The Funky Monks began in 2003, and play at venues all over the country.
This weekend, the band is headed to Las Vegas to play for a private birthday party.
“We get a lot of these private events where people are specifically looking for a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band,” Walker said. “And when they google that, our name is usually the first that pops up. Then they look at our website and our videos on youtube and contact us, wanting us to play.”
Other members of the band include: Paul Guziec, drums, of Hawthorn Woods; Ryan Machnica, vocals, of Kildeer and Jeff Genualdi, bass, of Arlington Heights.
The band has found that much of their popularity is due to word-of-mouth.
“We’ve worked with agents here and there who have actively gone out to find gigs but we actually have better luck with people contacting us,” Walker said.
The Funky Monks are looking forward to this weekend’s trip.
“We’ve been wanting to go to Vegas for a long time,” Walker said. “We don’t know quite what to expect. With these private events you don’t really meet the people until you go out there. But we know it’s going to be fun.”
A construction worker by day, Walker enjoys being on stage.
“I love playing in front of people and feeling the crowd’s energy and watching them have a good time,” he said. “It’s so awesome when you’re playing and everyone is singing and dancing and having a good time.”
For Walker, music is a family affair.
His younger brother, Jon, was a former bassist for Panic at the Disco and also lead guitarist and occasional lead vocalist for The Young Veins. He is now pursuing a solo music career.
Mike Walker’s father and grandfather are also musicians.
“We grew up having instruments around the house, picking them up and playing along,” he said. “And we all just grew up learning by ear.”
While the Funky Monks have a large following, the wives of the band members are likely their No. 1 fans.
“It's fun to have a musical hubby,” said Mike Walker’s wife, Jen, 33. “I think he's so talented and he has a lot of fun being in bands. I always attend local shows to be supportive. It's also a great opportunity to get our friends together for a night out.”
She supports her husband musical passion 100 percent.
“I’m his biggest fan,” she said.