Thursday, February 16, 2012

DVD review: Musical reunion of The MOB, April 2011 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Here we review the DVD that resulted from the induction of the Chicago-originated horn band, The MOB, into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame, in a concert filmed April 16, 2011. The Music Association, now just its fourth year, has managed to honor and reinvigorate many great bands of the midwest in a very short time.

For The MOB, these musicians faced a daunting challenge and price to pay to gather together and accept this very special honor. Doubts abounded, silently if not aloud. Would ‘the magic’ still be there after three decades had elapsed? Could they all still play like they had back in the day? Would they all still remember how the once perfectly memorized tunes were arranged to be played? And could they rehearse in 3 days’ time and make it sound just like it had before?

More questions than answers accompanied that unforgettable night in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association wisely videotaped the entire night’s performances, of which The MOB’s was just one. But because their music undergirded the country’s (then) burgeoning interest in a show band, a horn band, and a fun band from 1966–1980, this single DVD is the only subject of this review.

As Doug Lund, the MC and a director of the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association board, announced the final performers for the evening: he shared some facts: The MOB was formed in Chicago in the mid-60s, the first band to boast a full horn section. They toured the country in a series of endless one-nighters, honing their craft. Original members included ‘Little’ Artie Herrera, Jimmy ‘Ford’ Franz, Mike ‘Paris’ Sistak, ‘Big Al’ Herrera, Gary ‘Stevens’ Beisbier, Jimmy ‘Soul’ Holvay, Tony ‘Roman’ Nedza, and Bobby ‘The Cheese’ Ruffino.

This perfect combination was the resultant amalgam of Jimmy Ford and the Executives (Bands #1 and 2), who’d been part of the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars tours, with musicians who’d also been part of the band The Chicagoans, and, before that, The Maybees, who then invited Artie and Al Herrera (Little Artie and the Pharaohs), to join them. The new formation would up leaving some players out in the cold, but not to worry; some castoffs wound up being part of recording gold in the band Chicago Transit Authority. But that’s another story.

Got that? The MOB indeed. The name came from the clever mind and deadpan sense of humor of songwriter Jim Holvay, who was tuned to a late-night crime movie on TV in 1966. Hailing from Chicago, well, you know where the carnations and pin stripe suits ideas sprang up. But it worked. For 14 years they worked, as The MOB, week after week, night after night, mostly on the road all over the United States and Canada.

Although much of fame and fortune eluded them, in comparison to Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, The Buckinghams, Chase, etc. in the Chicago pop rock horn sound identity, no question that The MOB was the very first ‘show band’ to put their full efforts into pleasing a live adult (vs. teenage) audience in clubs and upscale bars.

The other groups were more directed at teenagers listening to transistor radios in the 60s. So, it’s comparing apples and oranges to put The MOB into a category other than Chicago showband who made their mark in the Midwest, New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and parts of Canada, and of course, the Mocamba Club in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, three to four times a year.

What took place in South Dakota was only 1/8th devoted to The MOB (the full evening was preserved and pressed onto four separate CDs), but they were the group who closed the evening’s program.

After the introduction of the band and a brief history, the Sioux Falls induction DVD opens onto the faces of the principles, as lit up with megawatt excitement after being gone from the public eye some 30 years. One can only imagine what was going through their heads as Jimmy “Soul” Holvay counted off. Mike Sistak “Paris” joined him in guitar, as “Little Albert” Maligmat on bass and Bobby “The Cheese” Ruffino began the vamp that led into the horn intro to one of the favorites, Darrell Banks’ “Open the Door to Your Heart.”

John Mogen on Hammond B-3 (a member of the South Dakota R&R Music Association board) was clearly delighted to share the stage. Mogen did Tony “Roman” Nedza proud, as the horn section waited for their cue and Jimmy “Ford” Franz’s trumpet and Larry “Lone Bone” McCabe’s trombone found home base, as the evening’s final act started swinging and didn’t stop for over an hour.

As Big Al sang his first notes, 2,000 people knew that ‘this man still had it.’ Herrera took each line, ‘Walk right on in, stretch out your arms, let your love light shine on my soul baby,’ delivered in a 24-karat style, and held the audience in the palm of his hand. And he didn’t let go for a full hour.

Next, Herrera called on Holvay to join him in one of their former favorite duets, ‘Who’s Makin Love (to your old lady)’, as Bobby Ruffino precisely delivered the magic backbeat, fresh from Las Vegas special delivery to Sioux Falls. The camaraderie between the two men was evident, as was the fun they were having interacting with the audience.

A highlight of the even was the introduction of ‘Little Artie’ Herrera, who’d joined the MOB during its formative first year 1966-1967, but who’d been called by Uncle Sam into military service. Artie never got to sing with the band after that. So, after a 44-year absence from performing with them, Holvay gave Artie his signature song, ‘Turn on Your Love Light,’ and Artie Herrera breathed such passion into that tune as he danced onstage like a Broadway pro, that you would have sworn that he’d been singing it every day of his life, all of his life.

Jimmy Ford (falling right back into his familiar emcee role), introduced the Sioux Falls natives who’d joined The MOB on stage. Ford explained that there were 14 people on the stage ‘because they wanted the best show for the audience’ (including Rich Hastings, Ryan Staley, James Dittman, Gavin Wiig, and, Ken Hoyng, who’d rehearsed the group). Ford next introduced trombonist Larry McCabe (who’d toured with Ruffino and Holvay as well as the Maynard Ferguson Band), and then he introduced his longtime friend Mike Sistak.

Sistak, clearly a crowd sentimental favorite, offered a gentle tenor on ‘The Worst That Could Happen,’ made famous by Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge. Sistak sang under the watchful regard and affection of Al and Artie Herrera and Albert Maligmat, who were pleased to sing background for him.

As Al Herrera took the mike again, The MOB blew the roof off the place in a rousing rendition of ‘Disappear’ by Holvay and Beisbier (Mercury Records). The powerful and moving anthem was perfect as Herrera’s voice and Ruffino’s drums called and answered echoed, a crowd-favorite, a kiss-off song following a broken love (I think you’d better get up and go, hit the road, baby”). When Al sang softly into his swelling ‘ohhhhhhh’ echoed by his brother and Maligmat, it was time for goosebumps.

Albert Maligmat, who flew in from Hawaii (where he’s a fulltime entertainer as well as respected Christian gospel artist) owned ‘Savin’ My Love for You,’ with Jimmy Ford pounding the conga drums like there was no tomorrow, and Bobby Ruffino in the pocket. As the horns punctuated the chorus, Maligmat ran a bass clinic during the song and surprised the audience with a batch of scat singing that had Artie Herrera glowing with pride. While Sistak and Holvay nodded and grooved with the horn section, Ford’s congas owned the middle of the song. The horns and drums came back up loud and proud and Maligmat found a new octave that he probably didn’t even have in the 80s.

As Big Al took the audience back into his focus, he held forth ‘I Dig Everything About You,’ it was poignant to watch Maligmat smile as the mutual pride was clear between the two singers. You had to wonder what it was like for Holvay to step up to the mike and sing backup on a song he’d written 45 years earlier that had found its way into the memories of DJs across the country. Even syndicated oldies DJ, Scott Shannon, has said that ‘I Dig Everything About You’ was one of his favorite songs ever, but the reality is that it remains a well-kept secret in terms of commercial success.

As the crowd sang their part ‘answers’ to “I dig everything about ya” back to Big Al, the horn section hit it perfectly. Ruffino clapped the drumsticks together as the band put down their instruments and made their way off the stage.

Poignantly some of the band members watched the audience for a reaction, and the horn section began chanting “gotta get back, back on the raod, back on the road again,” as The MOB came back to the stage for their encore.

And what an encore it was. One of Herrera’s signature songs on stage has always been, and will always be, his dramatic encore number. Before he began singing, he shared thanks to God, and remembered one of two missing MOBsters, Tony Roman (Nedza), who passed away but whose absence was marked by a full-color poster on an easel onstage. Beisbier (Gary Stevens) was not named during the show (nor was his picture displayed), but some of his best work was performed that night.

Herrera continued his prayer with, ‘life is short, you never know.’ Taking on a slightly more serious tone, Big Al encouraged the audience to ‘love their neighbors, be kind, ask what you can do for one another.’ It was a perfect entrĂ©e to the song (au. H. Woods, J. Campbell, and R. Connelly) recorded by so many artists. For one night in South Dakota, Big Al added his imprimatur. The Holvay-Beisbier arrangement of the oft-recorded song took on its own, best, life that night in Sioux Falls, even better than the superb Joe DeFrancesco production of The MOB on Twinight Records ‘back in the day,’ as they say.

In perfect sync with Ruffino’s drums, by the time Al was down to his tuxedo vest, repeating ‘try a little tenderness,’ the horns filled the air with unforgettable notes. The crowd responded by yelling ‘Big Alllll, Big Alllll’ and called for one more song.

Not one to disappoint, the band delivered their encore to the audience with ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’ Each MOB member took a turn at the verse, as the band came together on the chorus...’Hey everybody, tell everybody The MOB is back in town.’ Yeah, that’s clear.

Odds are better than even that the folks of Sioux Falls will invite this band back. For all of the band members, they’ve moved on with their lives, beautifully, since dissolving their musical entity. As South Dakota music historian Alan Schrank said (and the slogan permanently on the T-shirts prepared for the evening, ‘The Party’s not quite over.’ The best way to truly appreciate the power of this band is to order the DVD for your own collection.

The only aspect of excellence lacking from this performance is that Gary Beisbier was not in attendance for the honors ceremony and performance. Beisbier was, and remains, a talented songwriter, arranger and sax player, even if press coverage is sometimes lacking and his name is misspelled (even on the record labels). But when you move on to careers that don’t involve music, life and schedules are not always that flexible, and choices are made. There is no question that Beisbier’s songwriting skills and his understated but dynamic saxophone talent remain as much a part of the reunion weekend in both song and love of the craft. Many people have remarked how they ‘missed seeing Gary.’

Dennis Holvay remembers that Beisbier ‘could play two saxophones at one time while Jimmy Ford was triple-tonguing the trumpet.’ With Herrera’s voice and the wicked dance steps of all the guys, added to Holvay’s gymnastic splits of the late 60s and 70s, it’s really the stuff of legend until you see it for yourself.

But, you have to be patient and work hard to find it. It’s out there, thanks to Joseph Pytel, Chicago music historian and Joe Accardi (Beloit Pop House fame). These two men are the core talent to assure that fans will not forget the best music of The MOB back in the day. Pytel has created over 33 videos on YouTube directly featuring The MOB and its members, including the Herrera Brothers (Little Artie and the Pharaohs, Kane and Abel), Holvay, Beisbier, et al. For 30 years, Accardi’s book, “Beloit’s Club Pop House” had the only photo of The MOB in print. But it was that photo that connected Ana Lord to Accardi’s web site, where Joe Pytel also posted, as had Dennis Holvay (Jim’s brother), looking for video footage from days gone by.

Because The MOB has been essentially inactive as a performing band, one has only Internet resources to refer to if you’re looking to know more about who was really influential in creating the band. Beisbier, and Holvay for that matter, are known for their work with The MOB but they are better known as the songwriting duo behind ‘Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song,’ ‘Susan,’ and ‘Don’t You Care,’ the first two songs also credited with Jim Guercio as co-writer.

Holvay, of course, wrote ‘Kind of a Drag.’ Carl Giammarese and Nick Fortuna credit and identify Holvay’s and Beisbier’s songwriting talents in concerts as they introduce their songs to audiences around the country. Poignantly, few people know the songwriting duo for The MOB but they certainly do for the music of The Buckinghams.Funny how life turns out.

The MOB’s songs, written by Holvay and Beisbier, were so strong in their arrangements that they literally demanded to be ‘seen’ in addition to being ‘heard,’ much the way of the big bands traveling college campuses in the 40s, and show bands traveling in the 50s and early 60s. Commercial radio in the 60s may have not been ready to appreciate the true shining light that was, and is, The MOB, to the extent of having someone run to the record store to get their latest release.

Instead, The MOB really was a performing phenomenon that people ran to the box office to get tickets before shows sold out. Thanks to the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association, wait no longer. Two thousand people jammed into the Ramkota Exhibit Hall on April 16th 2011, and multiple video cameras captured the memories that those men had waited some 30 years to ever dream of, and realize coming true.

In addition to The MOB, other The SDRR Music Association inducted 7 other outstanding bands with rich heritages, strong fan bases, and local popularity. These bands include: The Torres, The X-Men, The Pilgrims, Don Robar & the Monarchs, Chateaux/Shattoes, DD & the Fayrohs, Steve Ellis & the Starfires as well. A full four-disk set of DVDs of the full induction evening can be ordered together, or individually at their online store:

Programs, t-shirts, and other memorabilia are also available. You’ll be surprised, and pleased, by how reasonable the prices are and how fast the orders are filled when these volunteers act! All proceeds sustain the operations of the association in recognizing and keeping great music alive for future generations to know and understand how important these artists were to South Dakota.

The Board of Directors of the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association includes Chair, Don Fritz, Treasurer, Terry Tausz, Doug Lund, Myron Lee, John Mogen, Mark Aspaas, and Rick Knobe. Hats off to the board, for their recognition of one of Chicago’s best and brightest groups, men who have matured today into even greater musicians today than they were back in the day.

In life, with experience comes wisdom, and an implied understanding of how life on the road can be costly, yet precious. Simultaneously, those were days they wouldn’t trade for the world. They were truly a band of brothers, and when the call came out from South Dakota’s Rock and Roll Music Association, you can hear them all saying it. You know you can. ‘Hey, we’re getting the band back together!’

Whatever happens in the future, from 1966–1980, a love of music and for one another as brothers kept them together. Faith brought them back together and faith led them into prayers of thanks and prayers for one another during the weekend, which spilled over into worship services the next day where Willie Bertsch had invited Albert Maligmat and Big Al Herrera to sing at his church (about 5 hours after the induction ceremony ended). Hope brings them discussions of ‘what next’ could be around the corner for them to return to South Dakota one day down the road. The Bible chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:13 says, ‘Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.’ South Dakota loves The MOB and clearly, The MOB loves South Dakota.

The 4th class of the Sioux Falls Hall of Fame has been announced. The induction ceremony will again be at the Ramkota Exhibit Hall, April 21, 2012. The bands to be inducted include: The Bleach Boys (Sioux Falls); Jay-Bee and the Kats (Mitchell-Huron), Gordon Bird and the Sting Rays/Original Stingrays (Madison); Gemini 6 (Flandreau); Kenny Miller (Deadwood); Chevelles (Aberdeen); Scotty Lee and the Stingrays (Volga); DJ and the Cats (Presho-Brookings); John McCormick and Something New (Salem); DJ and the Ruanways (Spirit Lake); and, the Gestures (Mankato).

Thanks to the SDRRHF Board of Directors, many of whom shared their time and background for the interviews in this series, their first-rate organizational skills (Terry Tausz) and the heartfelt passion for the best music of the 1960s (Don Fritz), as well as their musical talents on stage (John Mogen) when asked to step up and stand in place of a beloved keyboardist and MOBster.

Call (605) 362-1223 or visit to order last year’s DVD or for more information tickets to this year’s induction ceremony. The journey that began because Ana M. Lord was on a mission to revive the music that resonated within her heart from childhood may have taken four years to come to fruition, but along the way, she met and made many wonderful new friends who will last a lifetime: Alan Schrank, Joe Accardi, Joseph Pytel, and of course, Mike Sistak. As Alan Schrank so poignantly summed up the entire experience: ‘The party’s not quite over.’ Truer words were never spoken.