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The Almost Famous Band performing on the Eastern Shore - From left to right are Steve Gibson, Norma Skinner, Pasquale
DeVito, Paul Skinner, and Taco Walker. (Photo by Jamal Jordan)

Couple Gets Along (Almost) Famously at Home, Work, and Onstage

By Susan Vertullo

When Norma Matson began working with her fiancé, Paul Skinner, at his family’s business, some of their friends had questions. “What if we broke up in 6 months? Would it be comfortable for me to still be working there?” Norma recalled. “I was a little worried, too!” she admitted with a smile. That was 35 years ago.

It did take a while for Norma Skinner to get used to the fact that Paul and his family could have heated discussions at work but, once a problem was resolved, any harsh words were quickly forgiven and forgotten. Paul Skinner explained matter-of-factly that, “It’s hard to work with family, but we learned early on that if we had to something to say, we’d talk about it, and then get over it. It’s done.” Norma agreed, “We are with each other all the time, and sometimes it’s hard not to take it home if we have a difference of opinion.” Paul was quick to interject, “The reason we are still together is because Norma has a hell of a lot of patience,” prompting a grin from his wife.

Norma and Paul Skinner have been married since 1982, and they have one son, Clayton, age 30. They still operate and own the family business, Skinner’s Fames and Art Gallery, located on Shore Drive in the Chicks Beach section of Virginia Beach. The Skinners do custom mounting and framing of photographs, prints, and original artwork. One wall of the shop features a mini art gallery with original paintings for sale, several of which were painted by Norma Skinner. All framing and mounting is done on the premises.

Not only do the Skinners work and live together, but they also play music together. For over a decade, the couple has shared the stage as the leaders of The Almost Famous Band. The band, featuring Paul on rhythm guitar and vocals and Norma on violin and vocals, plays a wide variety of danceable classic rock, southern rock, country, alternative, and oldies throughout Hampton Roads. Other band members include Pasquale DeVito on drums and vocals, Steve Gibson on bass guitar and vocals, and Ken “Taco” Walker on lead guitar. “We don’t have just one lead singer, we take turns,” Paul Skinner says, although Norma sings lead on many of their songs. “We have plenty of stage to share,” Paul reiterated.

Although primarily a cover band, The Almost Famous Band performs one original song, Sweet Norma Deane, with lyrics and arrangement by Paul Skinner. As the name suggests, Paul wrote the upbeat country tune for his wife.

Contrary to popular belief, the band did not take its name from the movie, Almost Famous. Several years before the movie was released, Paul Skinner saw a button in a store with the slogan, Almost Famous. “That would be a good name for a band,” Skinner thought. He bought the button, which he wore on his guitar strap for years until the fastener broke a few months ago.

“We never set out to be famous.” Paul Skinner explained, “We were just a couple of campfire pickers that wanted to have fun.” Over time, the “campfire pickers” evolved into a 5-member band, playing in local bars and restaurants.

In those early years, Norma Skinner was part of the audience, not the band. Initially, Norma did only vocals, and Paul had to coax her onstage. Norma Skinner explained, “I was intimidated by performing with talented people who had been doing this a lot longer than I had.” After she mastered the violin, Norma added it to her onstage repertoire. “I didn’t start playing the fiddle until I was 34,” she said.

Just as the Skinners believe in leaving family issues at home while working, and vice-versa, they also believe it is important to be professional when playing in a band. Paul and Norma Skinner hold their bandmates in high esteem for their professionalism. “Every one of our band members leaves whatever problems they may be having at the door when they come to play at a gig.” Paul added, “We play off the crowd, the audience is more important than the band,” with Norma nodding in agreement. Paul Skinner firmly believes that, “Professionalism and having fun together onstage are two things that keep a band going.”

The Skinners have been living, working, and playing in the band together for decades. Will they still be doing this in five years? “We’ll do it all for as long as we can,” Paul Skinner said, “as long as we are healthy and still having fun.”

(SKINNER’S FRAME SHOP is located at 4417 Shore Drive. The ALMOST FAMOUS BAND will be performing Saturday, April 26 at Wing King II on Centerville Turnpike in Virginia Beach. Visit the Almost Famous Band at almostfamousband. com or on Facebook.)

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April 2014
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