Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Musician Marc Balzac surprises The MOB with lost tapes from The Attic

“Good evening and welcome to The Attic. We’re The MOB!” And with those words, the audio recording posted two nights ago by Marc Balzac, a Michigan native and music lover, went live, providing yet the latest in a series of surprises for members of the The MOB, Chicago natives, who’d likely thought they were permanently relegated to backup storage in long-forgotten memories among those who’d heard and seen them.

What Balzac said today, something he didn’t realize initially, was that there’s a group of devoted music lovers, 379 strong on Facebook, who not only keep the music of The MOB alive, they found the video before the band did. It should be noted that the Facebook group and page’s founder, Alan Schrank, had seen the band at least 30 times in the South Dakota area or within a few hours’ driving distance back in the day.[Editor's note, as of Jan. 8, 2017, The MOB Facebook Discussion Group (a public group) page has 740 members today. Visit and join the discussion here].

Schrank and marketing executive Ana Lord began a journey in search of The MOB, having first connected on Joe Accardi’s Club Pop House blog six (long) years ago. Prior stories describe the path to South Dakota, and the induction of The MOB into the South Dakota Music Association’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last April. Marc Balzac was one of those, too, who had been trying to locate Al Herrera, to share the tapes of his dynamic MOB vocals recorded at The Attic with Herrera. Balzac had been searching for Herrera for more than a decade, even checking out the now-famous “Al owns a car dealership in San Diego” myth all over the city, but to no avail. Balzac hadn’t heard of the unofficial detective team of Pytel, Schrank, Lord, and Accardi” just yet.

The Attic was a favorite Milwaukee club for young adults in the late 1960s. It was located at 2nd and Wisconsin, and Balzac had audio gold, tapes of two live shows by this beloved, but almost forgotten, band, presently in the throes of being rediscovered all over again, or so it is hoped by a core group of fans who maintain close contact on Facebook.

The Forgotten Tapes of The MOB, live at The Attic, Milwaukee, 1969 are shared in now four YouTube postings:

The MOB Live #1, opens with “Good evening and welcome to the Attic. We are the MOB,” and just let it play and set your time machine to 1969. It will all come back to you.

The MOB Live #2, begins after a set break, with Bobby Ruffino on the drums and Tony Nedza on the piano, noodling into a sizzling horn and rhythm intro to “We’re Gonna Have a Party” and “Give it to Me.”

The MOB Live #3, begins with “Open the Door to Your Heart,” a signature Al Herrera tune that has the best horn sound, even 43 years later.

The MOB Live #4, begins with Al Herrera singing his soulful, powerful best (“Our Love’s Got to Go Somewhere,” “What Does it Take?” plus “The Worst That Could Happen,” and Jimmy Soul’s own “Turn on Your Love Light” where you should wait for Bobby Ruffino’s drums to start smoking and Jimmy Ford’s triple-tongued trumpet).

Well, 41 minutes later, and some of the best horn-blowing you’ll ever hear, you’ve just had the genuine pleasure of enjoying a MOB set. In your mind, you’ve dance, stomped your feet, swayed, snapped your fingers, clapped and wondered where the time went, 43 years later.

Seems like yesterday, especially to Marc Balzac, whose wisdom at the time to record it and generosity to share it, today, really means something extra special to the band members. Most of those band members still can’t believe that one year ago, they reunited in Sioux Falls, SD, for one special night after being out of regular contact with each other for almost 30 years.

The posters advertising the show notes several facts of historical relevance to 60s music. Aside from the fact that the word “Girls” is printed on the poster six times, just in case the young teenage guys wondered if they’d meet any there, featured in the advertising is that The MOB was arriving “direct from Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas,” then as now a major entertainment showcase for musical talent who’d really “made it” back then. You didn’t play Caesar’s unless you were top drawer, back in the day.

The next noteworthy item included is that the group to follow The MOB was “The Big Thing.” Chicago music lovers know immediately that the band Chicago, of course, went through three name transitions before becoming the multiplatinum hitmakers. During their formative years, playing in clubs around Chicago, the group of guys, many of whom were fellow college students at DePaul University, were called “The Big Thing” and (for a time) managed by Joe DeFrancesco, the same man who would take a turn at managing The MOB and co-producing many of their early single releases.

Then, in walks music producer Jim Guercio, the same ‘kid’ who’d traveled on the same bus tour known as “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars Bus #2,” and takes over management of The Big Thing, renaming them “Chicago Transit Authority.” After some time and some kerfuffle, their name was shortened to simply “Chicago.” That was the “coming next” group after The MOB appeared at The Attic.

Are you hearing the music in your mind yet? The MOB had every positive thing working for them at the time. They were a performance show band to beat all show bands. But the recordings released were studio cuts and albeit “really good work,” they paled in comparison to the energy of the live show that audiences would, like Alan Shrank, go 30 times to see in person.

If that’s not enough to exemplify the caliber of the show band that once was “all that,” the next photo in the slide show notes that The MOB was then appearing, having come from Las Vegas and the famous Los Angeles club, P.J.’s, where The MOB would play three weeks at a time several times a year. Even more parenthetically, at least one of the band members would meet his future spouse at P.J.’s. Ultimately at least two band members would wind up finding inspiration to write a song that would ultimately land on Billboard’s charts. But that’s another story for another time.

By October 14, 1969, The MOB had gained an opening act, “The Mad Lads,” and the next week, appearing at The Attic would be none other than Count Basie. There was some kind of slamming music happening every week at The Attic in the middle of Milwaukee’s high life. The MOB was indeed living large and in charge at the time. Marc Balzac now lives in California, but during early days in Milwaukee, he had a fascinating career. Some of his activities include air traffic controller, and balloon pilot, which caused quite a stir more than a few times!

For those who’ve had the privilege of hearing it, there’s some funny live coverage of Marc’s piloting of a 60,000 cubic foot, hot air balloon, about seven stories high, which was sent by the Menomenee Falls’ TV6 on its “Roving Cameraman” coverage. The televised spot won a national gold medal for TV promotion. Balzac skillfully navigated that “hot air” team to victory. The news team was said to “go to any heights for a story” and mused that most people would “look up” to TV 6 news. Ultimately Balzac became an air traffic controller and spun airplanes instead of drum sticks, tape reels, or records, but one of his hobbies always remained finding the best music around, and taping it on his trusty Sony tape recorder (see photo inset).

Balzac has loved music ever since second grade. Like Alan Schrank, Balzac is a drummer who’s been playing since he was seven years old. Marc said, “my first ‘public’ band gig I played for was at a party in a garage in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which I recorded. I was 14 years old. It is the first and oldest recording I have.” It was also the same year that Balzac had his first night club band engagement.

“Playing in bands gave me a lot of extra cash when I was young, to do the things I wanted to do, and it’s the kind of work that permitted me to more or less choose my own hours,” he said. Some of those bands he played in included Bittersweet, The In Crowd and Civil Collision. Civil Collision was managed by Walter Daisy, who also managed Wayne Cochran and the CC Riders. Daisy offered the nine-piece band led by Luther Kent, a chance to go on the road.

And, not unlike the point at which The MOB band members had to make a decision to carry on with their music, or disband and find “day jobs,” Balzac found himself at that same crossroad. Balzac took to the skies and “got his commercial pilot’s license with instrument rating in 1970 and started the Balloon Flight Center, doing balloon promotions and flight instruction. Balzac said, “Luther Kent stayed on the road, and ultimately went on to sing with Blood, Sweat and Tears” for three years in the mid 1970s.

In 1974, Balzac found his skills a perfect fit for a career job with the FAA as an air traffic controller. He went to work in Green Bay, Wisconsin and then relocated to San Diego, California, in 1982. “I worked the control tower in the high desert next to Edwards AFB at Air Force Plant 42, and ultimately I retired after working at the Palm Springs Airport.”

Aviation fans know exactly what Air Force Plant 42 was all about; for those who don’t, two words: Lockheed Skunkworks.

Fast forward to 2012, two weeks ago. Balzac sent private links of the YouTube videos to “Big Al” Herrera, lead singer of The MOB and waited for his reaction. Balzac said that Herrera was most gracious in his response, noting that “they brought back a lot of memories” and that “he had no idea those tapes existed.” Once again, leave it to the true-blue MOB music fans to be in the know first before the band!

Joseph Pytel, who creates and produces custom MOB YouTube videos with his never-ending supply of Internet “finds” and a good number of Alan Schrank custom pictures, discovered Balzac’s first YouTube the day it was posted, six weeks ago, and shared it with the Facebook discussion group.

The group “regulars” were in heaven once again, with an infusion of new memories of the best music they’d heard in 1969. Ana Lord has been working fervently to find the band an opportunity to play in the Bahamas, and given her persuasive skills and dynamo spirit, they’d best be packing and getting their passports in order, because it’s just a matter of time before they have a new gig for the 21st century.

The music that becomes important today is often the music of youth. Now labeled “classic rock,” the music of The MOB at The Attic brings the joy of a band in 1969 to delight audiences yet again today. Music writer Artie Wayne’s favorite handle is “Everything old is news again.”

And so it goes that a Milwaukee music lover and roving reporter with a portable Sony on the table at the club those two great nights, everyone who loved the music of The MOB has one more chance to go back and hear two shows, shows of a lifetime, in fact. Ladies and gentleman, Marc Balzac presents “The MOB, live from The Attic,” and it’s 1969 all over again. Just press “Play.”

Article originally published on where it received