By Ansley Franco
Many in the Birmingham medical community know neurosurgeon Ben Fulmer, MD and anesthesiologist Michael Barlow, MD, as the pair that spends hours together every week in the operating room. However, most of us aren’t aware that Fulmer and Barlow also spend some of their evenings and weekends together performing in their band, The Underhills.
Fulmer started playing guitar when he was 15. “I’ve always loved music, and I was trying to get attention from some people, so I figured I needed to pick up a few hobbies, and guitar seemed like the best way to do that,” he said. “My best friend played guitar first, so we played together, and we were a couple of geeky guys. I started playing the drums later when I beat my cousin out of some drums that were put in the attic because it drove his dad insane.”
After being put on the piano bench by his parents as a kid, Barlow grew fond of music, and he played in a few bands during his school years. “I joined the Underhills to fill in that keyboard spot. I just love music and getting to perform,” he said.
The Underhills started with a group of neighborhood dads who had played in bands in their younger years and wanted to rekindle their musical talent. Nine years ago, Barlow joined the band to play the rhythm guitar and drums. Fulmer entered the following year, playing guitar to round out the sound. “We’re kind of a comedy act masquerading as a band as a bunch of middle-aged dads, but at the same time, when we show up, we want to play well. We try hard to put together something good,” Fulmer said.
The Underhills currently have a bass, drummer, keyboardist, two guitarists and a lead singer who play a wide variety of music. “We like to fight about what we play more than anything,” Fulmer said. “We don’t want to play the old, tired songs that you’ve heard many other bands play, so we like to play fun, eclectic 1980s MTV rock and roll kind of stuff. We want to surprise people and get the wives dancing. We just try to make everybody in their 50’s get loose like in the college band parties.”
“We play a lot of songs that you don’t hear bands play often because they aren’t easy. Springsteen’s Born to Run is a hard one to tackle, but we make them our own,” said Barlow.
Since the two joined the band, they have played at The Fennec, Birmingham Country Club, Avondale Brewing Company and private parties. “We are all so busy, and it’s hard to get us together in practice to get it all right, so we have to pick and choose where we play,” Fulmer said. The Underhills only perform four to five times a year, but you can always find the band on stage around Halloween time.
“Last year we dressed up as Devo and played at The Fennec downtown, and that was a blast,” Fulmer said.
“One of my most favorite performances was one Halloween when we performed at the Saturn, and we all dressed up as Animal House and chose our costumes based on characters, we thought best fit our personalities. I thought up to that moment it was our finest moment, the best that we played,” said Barlow.
Though Fulmer and Barlow do not have much disposable time between work and their families, they both understand having an outlet is important. “Everybody needs something besides work to do to keep your sanity,” Barlow said. “For me, it's not just playing music. It's having friends you have something in common with. I like the relationships in the band and our camaraderie. You get burned out with just working, but if you have this other interest, it gives me something to look forward to.”
“We do these stressful jobs, and this is an incredibly different thing than what we do, day in and day out as surgeons,” Fulmer said. “I want to always be able to have a bit of a hand in it showing people a good time. It’s a crazy fun thing to do which is not like my typical day. It’s a privilege.”