Thursday, March 8, 2012

The rock-n-roll side of Rich Podolsky: Sportswriter pens Don Kirshner biography

So, what was it that made Philadelphia-native sportswriter Rich Podolsky want to tell the story of Don Kirshner, also known as “The Man with the Golden Ear” just released by music publisher Hal Leonard Books? Before Podolsky ever thought about writing about the beloved record producer of Brill Building fame, he was waxing some kind of wonderful about the Boston Celtics.

In fact, for over 30 years of his professional career, Podolsky’s journalistic talents have taken him around the sports world—college basketball, college football, golf, and horse racing. His ability to pick winning college football teams found him, as of 2009, with his selections published by ESPN, AOL among others, and his talents didn’t just center on football.

For many years, Podolsky’s sports acumen was an integral part of CBS Sports (working with Jimmy the Greek and Beano Cook),, ESPN Insider, and AOL. Now you know one side to the Podolsky, the journalist.

But, it’s often said that a good writer can write about anything, particularly any subject for which there is passion. His book that was in the making for seven years, “Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear,” really originated in the mind and heart of a young teenager from Philadelphia. So, what is it that made Podolsky jump over to write about rock and roll? One reason: music empresario Don Kirshner was Podolsky’s hero.

Here was a Baby Boomer teenager like any other, listening to his beloved Philco radio in his bedroom, getting ready for school, and when he’d matured to driving age, he’d be found motoring around Philly streets, blasting out the sounds of WIBG (Wibbage) Radio, with DJs Hy Lit and Joe Niagara, New York’s WABC go-to, Cousin Brucie (Bruce Morrow), as well as Jerry Blavat (WHAT). Today, WIBBAGE FM, 94.3 plays a popular 60s and 70s format with DJs like Philly Bill Culp, Jerry Beebe, syndicated favorites including John Records Landecker on Saturday night and Dave the Rave’s Relics and Rarities. Takes you back to ...back in the day, where every song you heard in high school and college had a meaning, had a part of your heart wrapped around it, and therein was the genesis for Richard Podolsky finding a backbeat to his youth.

As he shares, teenage Podolsky was fortunate that his father was a record buyer for Sun Rae, a Philadelphia record store chain. Enthusiastic discussions between father and son led to an early opportunity for Rich to start picking hits (long before he developed a knack for picking winning football teams). In his book’s foreword, he writes that his father had brought home a “pile of 45s that were untried and untested. He didn’t know if any of them were good, and assumed he might not recognize if they were since they weren’t his style.”

Rich’s first freelance discovery was “If I Had a Hammer” by a (then) unknown Peter, Paul, and Mary. Podolsky’s dad listened, and bought copies for the racks of all his stores. Within six weeks, it was a certified Top 10 hit because others discovered it, same as Podolsky. And thus began a lifetime of immersion in the music for young Rich Podolsky. Not long after, in the Spring of 1962, Rich’s dad invited him to attend a dinner sponsored by Cameo Parkway Records where they were introducing Dee Dee Sharp (“Mashed Potato Time”). He was thrilled to meet Chubby Checker that night, never dreaming that some 45 years later, he’d be on a radio program with him, discussing the greatest days of the music. Life’s funny that way.

Podolsky continues, of that night, “And then I saw him—Don Kirshner. There he was, walking toward us, looking larger than life. Kirshner was only twenty-seven then, but his song publishing firm, Aldon Music, was the talk of the business. He had that something that made people want to be around him.”

This biography was not the result of a longtime personal friendship between Podolsky and Kirshner. In fact it would take 40 years before Podolsky would consider writing the book in the first place, and it wasn’t until a long way into researching and interviewing hitmaking, ultratalented songwriters that he could even connect with Kirshner to learn if he would be willing to cooperate in telling his story. Based on reading the book, it’s easy to see that Podolsky’s respect and regard for the “man with the golden ear” is such that he would have written it with or without Kirshner’s help.

And yet, one day, skipping past months of attempts, e-mails, phone calls and messages via friends, and friends of friends, Podolsky’s phone rang, and the voice on the other end was indeed Kirshner’s. After an initial conversation, Kirshner agreed to share his memories with Podolsky. He writes, “Every Sunday morning for six months we’d chat over coffee and bagels, 1,300 miles apart.”

In Hal Leonard Books, Podolsky found a natural publishing partner to tell the story of a beloved man of music who is held in regard, respect, and just plain loved by the luminaries of the soundtrack of your life, if you’re any kind of Baby Boomer at all. Hal Leonard is as well known for music publishing as Campbell’s is for soup.

The list of those whose careers collided and excelled is long and strong. Don Kirshner made such an impact on the music of the 60s, by giving young songwriters their first breaks, their first chances, and fair profits and a nurturing environment in which to be creative. Kirshner partnered in business with a savvy businessman and gentleman, Al Nevins, and together they built an empire of publishing that was fueled and propelled to success by teenage songwriters.

The songwriters’ list is legendary: Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Jack Keller, Howard Greenfield, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Carole Bayer Sager, on and on. The recording artists who were most impacted by Kirshner’s talents include some of Podolsky’s favorites: Connie Francis, The Monkees, The Archies, and Tony Orlando.

Orlando is more than a fan of Kirshner’s; he considers he owes his career to the “man with the golden ear,” a moniker given Kirshner by Time Magazine. Orlando’s foreword for the book notes Kirshner as a gentleman who “opened the door to independent record producers, allowing young record producers to be able to create and sell their works to major record companies.” Of course, fans of Orlando know him as a young demo singer who found a tremendous career that continues today when he was paired with studio singers Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins, better known as Dawn.

Speaking of better known, Podolsky’s book is a compendium of all the songs, songwriters, producers and music that the young man was memorizing alongside college courses, attaining the virtual equivalent of a PhD in rock and roll along the way. In a lovely section of the book, information is shared that perhaps any true 60s fan and proud owner of virtually every song that Podolsky describes, doesn’t realize is there.

The timing of the book’s release, by sheer happenstance, is made more poignant in last week’s unexpected passing of singer Davy Jones of The Monkees. Kirshner was instrumental in selecting the body of songs that The Monkees would record and perform on their Screen Gems TV Show.

One of the most influential producers Kirshner brought in was the great Jeff Barry, who had a string of hits already to his producer credit (The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes), today a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, but even moreso, Kirshner had access, via Barry, to his friends and colleagues among the best New York studio musicians.

It was just a matter of time before Monkee magic turned into Monkeemania, given the on-camera chemistry and underlying musical talent of Davy, Mickey, Peter, and Mike, which at the onset had not even yet been tapped. Kirshner and his team of creatives provided a springboard from which this group propelled to superstardom, and they’re not alone.

But, as Podolsky describes, Kirshner was not always beloved by the performers, which is entirely understandable, as there is always a chance for newfound stardom to convince a talented person that they could have reached those heights, no matter what. The relationship between Kirshner and The Monkees was not always a lovefest, and emotions run high even this week in the blogworld as to exactly how individual and collective Monkees felt (at different times) about Kirshner as producer. Podolsky shared with me, that when Jones was appearing as the Artful Dodger in “Oliver” on Broadway in 1964, “Don Kirshner had signed Jones” and later “was very influential in choosing Jones during the national casting call for The Monkees.”

Even before there was a Monkee madness, there was much more to Don Kirshner, and his ability to pick out talent by watching performers early on in their careers, foster that talent and put them together with the best writers, producers and arrangers to create vinyl magic for the artists, while Aldon Music published all of them, hitmakers indeed.

Among all the stories Kirshner and his friends share with Podolsky, the most heartwarming surely has to be how Kirshner sat in Kurtzman’s Candy Store in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Kirshner’s friend, Natalie, described a friend of hers she was bringing over to meet him, as “the most talented human being she’d ever met.” At first meeting, that friend was a frightning sight of a frail, emotionless young man, who seemed ever older than his years.

He was introduced to “Kirsh,” the new name that the young man would give him, quickly, as Walden Robert Cassotto. After a brief discussion, the three went to Natalie’s house, wherein the man they would come to call Bobby Darin would blow Kirshner off the sofa and into full alert as he watched him play “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” and “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey.”

As he performed, Kirshner saw “that something special” the young man possessed. The two became enjoined in creating music history, and engendered a lifetime of goodwill and best results for other talents in the music industry, e.g., Connie Francis as a new singer and a girl who’d fall madly in love with Darin, and Artie Wayne as a young songwriter, whom Darin sent to see Kirshner about a job, the first real break of his career. Ron Dante and Toni Wine are two more talents whose voices were part of American life, but not their names, yet who remain steadfast in their acknowledgment of Kirshner as mentor and friend.

It’s all about getting those breaks, those chances, those meetings that turns potential into reality. Listening, hearing, seeing, believing. Never more clear is it, than through this compelling volume is the music industry revealed to be a family with the circle growing smaller and tighter as the intermingling of people, places, faces and spaces intersects time and again to create magic. And there was Don Kirshner in the middle.

Sadly, Kirshner died before the book was published, and he also will miss this year’s planned induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 14th. Life comes full circle and great music always comes back around again. The music his father listened to because son Rich suggested it as a winner has won once again, in the biography of Don Kirshner.

Joyfully, today Rich has 14-year-old twins, whose musical tastes keep him at the top of today’ pop charts. His current favorites? Says Podolsky, “Adele, Taylor Swift and Cee-lo,” but he also confesses to having seen Little Anthony and the Imperials in a perfect show (“they can still hit all the notes”) and he’s delighted Steve Lawrence cut a new album (“I’d go just about anywhere to see him because he still sings lights out”). Talk about things coming back around again, just last night, Podolsky was a guest on Jerry Blavat’s radio program, an anniversary show with Chubby Checker, something that 16-year-old Podolsky would have never imagined happening back in the day.

Good music is timeless. Classic (rock) music is forever. And forever inscribed in the history books of rock and roll will be the name of Don Kirshner, a young man with a dream who lived to make others’ dreams happen alongside his own. Surely, it was the ride of a lifetime for many. And Rich Podolsky lived out his own dream, in writing Kirshner’s story.

Just makes you feel good to think about it. Now, someone turn up that radio, and let’s have a party, up on the roof, one fine day, because we have a groovy kind of love, and love will keep us together. Thank you, Don Kirshner.

Photo: Rich Podolsky is the author of Don Kirshner, The Man with the Golden Ear, Hal Leonard Books, published March, 2012. Review originally published on and registered

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Almost $10,000 raised in 24 hours for Lester Chambers, says nonprofit exec

For classic rock musician Lester Chambers, it only took 24 hours and one picture posted on Facebook to raise almost $10,000 to help a beloved, but almost overlooked, musician with greatly needed funds for living expenses thanks to a nonprofit organization that exists to help musicians across the country.

After just 24 hours of the post going viral across Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, in an exclusive interview today, Rob Max, Executive Director of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, shared that Lester’s fund received close to $10,000 in just one day, which will go directly to help Chambers with his living and medical expenses.

Max noted that the donations came in from “around the world, including Australia, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.” Several key figures well known in the music world made Lester Chambers’ cause their own, and made early and repeated recent donations to his fund as well. Max said, “We received an e-mail from Yoko Ono’s office this morning, and they were glad to see that the word was getting out and hoped that Lester’s cause would get more attention now” that the message was spreading via Facebook and social media.

The picture (seen left) that struck a chord with so many has a poignant sign, hand-printed in pencil, taped to a RIAA gold record, being held up by a man whose face is unseen. The sign reads:

“I am the former lead singer of a 60’s Band. I performed before thousands at Atlanta Pop 2, Miami Pop, Newport Pop, Atlantic Pop. I did not squander my money on drugs or a fancy home. I went from 1967-1994 before I saw my first royalty check. The music giants I recorded with only paid me for 7 of my albums. I have never seen a penny in royalties from my other 10 albums I recorded. Our hit song was licensed to over 100 films, TV & commercials without our permission. One major TV network used our song for a national commercial and my payment was $625 dollars. I am now 72, trying to live on $1200 a month. Sweet Relief, a music charity is taking donations for me. Only the 1% of artists can afford to sue. I AM THE 99%.”

The photograph has the following Facebook message underneath (sic) by Lester Chambers:

“If you feel moved by this outrage please share this with the world! Its TIME to tell the truth!!! HELP Me make this VIRAL so everyone pays attention to the Artist who bring joy to life...I’m about to be 72.....IT’S TIME!!!”

Underneath the post on my Facebook screen it shows “Artie Wayne and 11,978 others like this.” Additional Facebook details note that the picture has been shared 9,479 times, and there are presently 2,358 comments of encouragement written to and about Lester.

Chambers’ wife Lola (who lives separately from Lester) was the one who’d initially contacted the organization on his behalf to share Lester’s situation with them for consideration. They were indeed receptive.

“When I first got in touch with him two years ago, he was living in a house that someone gave him to stay in, but it was under construction and it had no roof, so there he was, 70 years old, sleeping on an air mattress in a house up north of San Francisco,” laments Max.

He continues, “My original goal is that I wanted to build a fund that would support Lester’s living expenses for 5-10 years. But I want to make it clear that our organization pays bills directly for the artist. We pay rent, we pay hospital bills and for medicines, we pay for surgery; we are a good steward with the monies that come in.”

During the 60s, Chambers had made many friends in the music business, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono, as well as Shep Gordon, who Chambers personally introduced to singer Alice Cooper in the 70s. Gordon has been Cooper’s manager ever since. Max noted that Yoko Ono “was the one who originally gave us $20,000 to help get Lester’s fund started” two years ago.

Gordon and Cooper also “made a contribution two years ago, and we rented a nice house for Lester, used the funds for his medical treatment and we got him on his feet again,” said Max.

Things were going well for a while, and because Chambers didn’t feel comfortable relying on charity support, he tried to get back into the music game himself, when some folks came along and wanted to bring Lester back out into the music world. As Max explains, after five months their abilities didn’t match their intentions, and “there wasn’t enough money left at the end of a few gigs to help Lester pay medical bills much less living expenses.” Then Sweet Relief Musicians Fund stepped back into the picture to help.

Fortunately, today, Lester can still sing, and although he performs in select engagements and benefits when possible, it’s still hard for him to get to shows. As Max explains, when they first met almost two years ago, Lester “had cancer three different times, he was on the verge of losing his eyesight; he had cataracts and desperately needed treatment that was beyond what Medicare was offering, and he’d actually become homeless.”

Today, Lester’s son Dylan lives with him and is his primary caregiver, an indication of the love behind people who want to help the one they love. Max expresses great admiration for Lester Chambers: “Here’s a man whose music career has been now going on for 60 years; he started singing gospel when he was 9 years old, and there’s not many people alive with a music career like Lester Chambers.”

In the past 24 hours following Chambers’ post, many others active in the music industry are sharing Lester’s story with all of their Facebook friends, responding to Chambers' requests to “help me go viral.”

Musician Julian Lennon also made the cause his own on his Facebook page, posting today, “some things never change” along with Chambers' picture.

Music industry former executive Artie Wayne, whose own public battle for royalties is well known across social media, knows well what it means to “go viral.” Wayne took personal interest in Chambers’ cause and devoted his blog post to it yesterday, titled, “Hang On Lester Chambers...Help is On the Way.” Surely we are, like the song by songwriters Alan O’Day, Artie Wayne and Sally Stevens says, livin’ in a Facebook world.

Max noted that in the beginning of their nonprofit, the record labels were most generous among the donors to care for musicians. The mission of the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund “provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need. We all have received so much out of music. It’s time to give a little back!”

One important distinction should be made, lest people who see the Facebook picture think that Sweet Relief Musicians Fund is an organization waving a flag and carrying a sword against the music labels. That is absolutely not the case. “We are not involved in any way with what Lester is trying to do with his royalties, but we wish him all the success, always.” says Max.

The music for which Lester Chambers has become known and ‘almost famous’ in the past 40 years especially began with a song recorded by the Chambers Brothers in 1966, which reached new heights in 1968, “Time Has Come Today.” Credited on the label as co-written by Chambers’ brothers Joe and Willie, the second verse is the one that proved prophetically autobiographical:

“The rules have changed today; I have no place to stay, I’m thinking about the subway; My love has flown away; My tears have come and gone; Oh my Lord I have to roam.”

Thanks to Bill Bennett, Rob Max and the team at Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, plus the generous donations of celebrity friends and strangers, Lester Chambers roams no more; today he has a safe, warm place to live.

The journey for funds, though, is not over. At age 72, Lester can still anticipate needing funds for medical bills and costly prescriptions that his social security simply cannot cover. If you’ve ever loved the music of the 60s; if you’ve ever hit a cowbell and sung along with Lester, on “Time Has Come Today” on your radio; if you’ve ever known what it’s like to have more bills than income, any donation in any amount will be welcomed. The direct link to Lester’s fund is .

A fitting soundtrack is in the accompanying video from The Chambers Brothers’ 1965 appearance on the old “Shindig” TV show doing Curtis Mayfield’s song, “People Get Ready.” Thanks to Facebook, thanks to Lester Chambers’ courage in sharing his situation, thanks to the generosity of Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon, Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper and the thousands of people who gave from the heart, the train continues rolling down the track, for Lester’s sake.

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 entrée 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.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Artie Wayne vs. the music industry: Can a nice guy finish first?

Reading the Artie Wayne biography, ‘I Did it for a Song,’ readers are moved, nay compelled, to ask themselves two basic questions.

Question 1: Can nice guys finish first in business? Answer: Which business? Response: The Music business.

Question 2: Which nice guy? Answer: Artie Wayne. Response: The answer is up to you, the reader to decide.

Do you know Artie Wayne? If you love rock and roll music, chances are good you’ve heard his name at some point in the last 50 years. And it could be for a number of reasons. Among other things, Wayne is a singer, songwriter, demo guy, promoter, producer, record label executive, nurturer of creativity, messenger of great ideas, and more. He’s more than a Renaissance guy. He’s a futurist, in the best sense of the word.

Most importantly, Wayne’s best skill is having been, and still being ‘the man in the middle’ of some of the best music ever to go from ‘how about this?’ to ‘vinyl is final’ stages. And as Wayne says, ‘he did it for a song.’

Poignantly, that is the exact title of his recently released autobiography, unquestionably one of the best and fastest fun reads of 2011. Have you read ‘I Did it for a Song’ yet? Perhaps you have, if you belong to an elite group of music lovers, who lives and breathes music so much that you haunt vintage record stores and multiple garage sales for that one missing 45 or 33 to define your collection.

Or, you have read it if you’re one of those types to check in often on blogs such as ‘The Pop Culture Addict,’ ‘Forgotten Hits,’ or even ‘Artie Wayne on the Web.’ If so, then you probably scout out treasures on eBay, you have alerts set to find a copy of a song or album that means the world to you. We know you.

You’re also the music lover who reads liner notes and knows the name of the recording studio, the recording engineer, arranger, composer, publisher and who played bass on those Billboard chart hits across the country for the past 50 years, a period in which the genre of rock and roll rose, soared, and crested into the genre we now enjoy as “classic rock music.”

In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, the music industry is an assortment of vibrant personalities, creative talents, unique business and music skills and opportunities to bring all these factors together. When combined, bright people of like minds and commensurate talents find each other, join forces and create great musical works.

Creating a music product that is known and appreciated from Middletown, CT to San Jacinto, CA is usually done for the sheer joy of creation. That’s in a perfect world. But inevitably external variables creep into the equation, introducing imperfections and exceptions, advance sales, chart positions, units moved, power rotations, remainders, returns, pre-orders, gold and platinum certification, the Grammy Awards and who will be nominated for the controversial, dubious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So, who is Artie Wayne? He’s a man who lives in that perfect world, believes in the basic goodness of others, and has trusted more than a few people to do the right thing by him, particularly when they said that they would in the first place. During his career, within the upper echelon of the music business, he’s found some of the faith and trust he’s placed in others to be well worth his time.

Others have disappointed him in large measure, but he doesn’t absorb the negative energy of their misdeeds. Instead, he figures it’s just a matter of time before they do right by him. A do-right man, as the song goes.

Artie actually entered this world as Wayne Kent, a great name on two levels. One, it’s strong, to the point, and sounds like a guy who’d grow up to be an executive, doesn’t it? Two, it’s gently amusing that both names comprise portions of the alter egos of two cartoon heroes whom people are always counting on to rescue them and in fact, save the world.

Batman, as you know, was Gotham City millionaire Bruce Wayne by day; and Superman, of course, was mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, he of the Daily Planet. Put them together and you have Wayne Kent. I doubt he ever once thought about that, yet the longer you visit with Artie Wayne, and the more you learn of his amazing abilities to make others’ dreams come true, as he introduces the world to yet undiscovered talents, the more likely you are to search him for a cape and a mask.

Just Call Him Artie

The name switch came from his being bright enough to use his real name, Wayne Kent, for songs he’d written for ASCAP publishing. His pseudonym for BMI songs was Art Wayne. It was not all that unusual back in the day to have a show biz stage name if you didn’t like the name your parents gave you. But he was savvy enough, early on, to know that he could be in both publishing organizations with a little panache and an extra non de plume. His friend and colleague, Ed Silvers, began calling him ‘Artie,’ and hence, ‘Artie Wayne’ became the bon vivant of the music business. He has not let go of the spotlight yet. He owns it. It belongs to him. That, and a few other things are due him.

How and where he’d get into the music business was never a worry. Artie seemed to have a sixth sense and proclivity for being in the right place at the right time. As a young songwriter working on future hits with a great friend, Ben Raleigh, Artie’s natural confidence and magnetic personality took them far up the ranks in short measure, all because of a positive attitude he still has to this very day. It started with Bo Diddley and Bobby Darin.

Going into Bo Diddley’s backstage dressing room before his appearance on Alan Freed’s TV show, ‘The Big Beat,’ Artie was just hoping for an autograph. Instead, Bo showed him how to get his famous ‘Hey, Bo Diddley’ riff, even tuning Artie’s guitar to an open E-chord for him. The lesson ended when (get this) Jimmy Clanton, Jackie Wilson, and Bobby Darin come through the door, interrupting the lesson to play Diddley a test pressing of Bobby’s song, ‘Dream Lover.’

Incredible Breaks, Breaking Records

Wayne and Darin became good friends, with much in common as two Bronx boys who loved music. Darin encouraged Artie in his songwriting and is responsible for not only starting Artie’s career as a songwriter, he kept it from ending. Artie shared with Darin his excitement, as he was about to sign a management contract with Alan Freed. Darin knew something that Artie (and most of the rest of America) didn’t, that Freed’s house of cards was soon about to come down with the revelation of the payola scam. Darin suggested to Artie that he go see a publishing friend of his who was officing at 1650 Broadway.

What an incredible break that was. Turned out the company was Aldon Music, and the friend was Don Kirshner. And thus began Wayne’s career. His book of 70 chapters is chock full of star-studded stories like this but the funny thing is, Artie doesn’t think of himself as a star and perhaps he’s not. He’s actually a starmaker. He perceives himself to be a regular guy, born under a lucky star, and never does seem to be affected by all the glitz and glamour that were once a part of his daily life.

Without giving the whole story away, Artie’s career went from songwriter/singer, to demo man, to producer, to (with partner Kelli Ross) running Quincy Jones’ New York publishing companies. And he didn’t stop there. At the pinnacle of his career with Warner Brothers Music, his title was General Professional Manager, and Director of Creative Services.

He ran the ‘New York, Nashville and L.A. offices out of Hollywood,’ and represented the ‘songs of Badfinger, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, the Faces, 5th Dimension, the Kinks, George Clinton, Gordon Lightfoot, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Graham Nash, Randy Newman, J.D.Souther, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Sly and the Family Stone, Carly Simon, Jimmy Webb, Allan Toussaint, Donny Hathaway, Neil Young, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Dick and Don Addrisi.’ He was the chief ringleader of a group of brash boys of bravado, ‘The Warner Raiders’, seven stalwart songpluggers whose mission was to know every single song in their catalog and find artists and producers to record them. Their successes were legendary.

Wayne was also known as performer Shadow Mann, and he is a songwriter who co-wrote ‘Midnight Mary’ with friend and songwriter, Ben Raleigh and wrote ‘3000 Miles’ recorded by Brian Hyland, just to name a few. Wayne recorded on 'Tomorrow Records and worked on Morris Levy’s Roulette Records, the home of music of Tommy James and the Shondells. Now, you know who Artie Wayne is. Right?

You Don’t Know Artie Wayne at All

Artie Wayne is not some paragraph on a long-ago resume of one whose life was lived on the backs, shoulders, or coattails of a bunch of rockers. Not by a long shot. Artie is one of those guys who made magic happen.

By being in the right place at the right time, he was able to draw upon a huge catalog of songs he managed, controlled, or knew a guy who did, and make certain that the right producer, the right singer, the right instrumentalist, and the right industry bigwig heard it all and, more importantly, bought it and signed on the dotted line for it. Future security for virtually everyone but Artie himself.

It’s not much of a stretch to think that he truly believed, in his heart of hearts, that if he took care of the business, the business would take care of him. So far, it hasn’t always worked out that way. But here’s Artie Wayne, ever the optimist, certain that he can get those in charge to see the light and make things right. That remains to be seen, but after talking for an hour with Wayne, you are convinced that he’s right.

Sharing Wayne’s story is best left to him to tell. The untold story is here, and in it is the question: ‘Does the Music Industry really take care of its own?’ Artie was so busy doing deals for other people that he failed to write himself into contracts where he could have. Innocently or naively, you be the judge, he was counting on people to remember him ‘later,’ yet only a handful of people did.

Among those who he considers great friends today are songwriter Alan O’Day (‘Angie Baby,’ ‘Train of Thought,’ ‘Undercover Angel’) and Allan Rinde (of Cash Box and later Columbia Records), who have remained his lifelong friends and trusted associates. There are others but sadly, some have already passed away.

The Royalty Statement Said ‘What’?

The biggest, most important ‘do right’ question came to light this week when Wayne opened up his royalty statement and was shocked to see that: ‘This last quarter is the first time in my career that I didn’t receive one penny in royalties as a songwriter or publisher. What is even more devastating is the big Michael Jackson payoff I was expecting from having two of my songs in four different posthumous releases fizzled out. Supposedly, only a few thousand units were sold…but I don’t believe it…do you?’

The two songs Wayne co-wrote are ‘Touch the One You Love’ and ‘Little Christmas Tree’ and they’ve been re-released since 2009. You can imagine the skyrocketing numbers of posthumous sales of any recording by Michael Jackson in the past year.

So, as Wayne states, he ‘called to ask for a $5,000 advance,’ and the corporation could expect to recoup that based on Jackson’s longstanding popularity. They didn’t give him the $5,000 but they did give him $2,500. The next period, Wayne said the corporate statement, stemming ultimately from the conglomerate music entity, had not recouped the advance. Hmm. Interesting. So he waited a while and asked for another $2,500 advance. They gave him $1,500. Even more shocking as Wayne read the statement over the phone, he’d been credited with earning $40 in that quarter, and the company wasn’t going to pay out until the sum reached $50.

Let’s do the math. As cowriter Wayne would earn $.02 on each sale/download whatever. Earning $40 means that only 2,000 units were sold that quarter. The $4,000 advanced by the company to Wayne was not charity. It was an expectation of something Wayne contends is the reality, of the elevated status of any new, unreleased, rereleased items in the Michael Jackson catalog. Does that 2,000 units look right, in a quarter that hung in the precipice between the announcement of Jackson’s death and this month’s national news updates of the ongoing criminal trial for Jackson’s death being considered wrongful vs. accidental?

We’ve Already Been Down This Road Once Before

Just like Steve Popovich, the late industry promo genius of Columbia Records, had to do, it seems like Wayne is destined to don his cape and mask one more time and see if he can’t win it for the little guy, the good guy, and the guy by himself. Popovich created a web site that hundreds spent more than a few hours reading a few short years ago. The web URL, inactive today, was, ironically, The industry lost Steve Popovich earlier this year and not only did grateful musicians write their own Internet tributes upon his passing, so, too, did Artie Wayne remember Steve in his ultra popular blog, ‘Artie Wayne on the Web’.

Popovich is another of those names that more insiders than record consumers know. He was the guy, to read what Clive Davis said in his biography years ago, who lived on Tab soda (remember that?) and bags of chips, slept on his couch at Black Rock headquarters in New York, and was on the phone working records 24/7 across the country. He’d be the button puncher with his car radio dial preset every where he went, listening to hear where and when his songs were played.

Good-natured Steve worked records into a frenzy and created buzz, wrote the buzz, kept the buzz going and was a licensed hitmaker. The man turned good little songs into solid gold pieces of history. And he’s gone now. He won his fight with Sony, and now he’s gone. It’s a crying shame but he’s almost forgotten, except by those who remembered where they came from and the names of all the ‘little people’ who he made their path of gold for, all without ever singing a note or playing a piano.

Is Artie Wayne destined to become another Steve Popovich? They have a lot in common: indefatigable, wide-eyed lovers of life, who live, breathe, love, consume any air filled with music. Plus, they were raised by their families to do the right thing. When Popovich won, in the settlement over ‘bookkeeping’ for his sales at his own Cleveland International Records (rereleasing Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell on CD was the centerpiece of the issue), it took all his energy to fight that fight. No one knew publicly what he made off the settlement, and the records were apparently sealed.

For Artie Wayne, it’s déjà vu, all over again. And who knows, his big label conglomerate might surprise everyone, and decide to do the right thing...eventually. Artie Wayne, at age 69, isn’t getting any younger. He still thinks and talks like he’s 25 years old, but you know how long things like this can drag on. And, let’s face it. It’s just not right.

You Decide Whether or Not a Nice Guy Can Finish First

So how can every reader decide whether nice guy Artie Wayne can finish first? The answer is right on your computer. Buy his book. For $9.95 you can get his e-book in any format you want: iPad, Kindle, e-Book, Word doc, it’s there. More than just buying his book, you’re sending him an affirmation that you support his efforts to go back to the mountain one more time to see if corporate conglomerates can rediscover their lost bookkeeping.

If you are a singer, songwriter, entertainer, producer, DJ, blogger, or music lover, even if you haven’t met Artie Wayne, send him your message that he’s not alone. It’s a pretty isolating business when you’re no longer in powerful positions. A lot of the friends who you think will remember you...may not. If you go up against a behemoth, you find out who your real friends are, another hard lesson to accept while you’re fighting a bigger one. The e-book is the best, fastest reading you’d ever hope to enjoy. In his you-are-there style of writing, you really are under the strobe lights, the spot lights, and the stage lights of the best days in the music business ever. They’re gone now. Sadly. Today's big music labels overflow with executives, lawyers, and folks who have gone to Wharton who tell you how many units you need to sell before they’ll sign you. It's taken all the fun out of making music for some.

We don’t any longer have those independent hustlers who moved records out of the backs of their cars. We don’t have the guy who will give you $20 cash because he knows you haven’t had a hot meal in a week while you try to get your band a gig somewhere. You have YouTube videos to showcase your work instead of being able to go live to prove yourself and develop a following. It's convoluted, confusing, and there's plenty of room for change available to bright minds willing to get in there and be a part of the solution and the future of music creation and delivery.

Classic rock lives. Artie Wayne has faith in humanity. Show him that you appreciate his spending 50 years in a business trying to help musicians achieve their dreams. At least post on his blog ( and let him know he’s not the only one who cares about this. He asked for nothing for himself so many times that he helped others. For the love of music and love of people, he did it for a song. Rock on, Artie. Rock on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The MOB--Reunion weekend in South Dakota

First in a new 3-part series that chronicles the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association’s 2011 Induction Ceremony in Sioux Falls

Previously, readers learned how The MOB reunited, after 30 years, to be honored in the South Dakota Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” as the direct efforts of four strangers who came together to reunite the band in April 2011 for the induction ceremony.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? How hard could it be to alert seven men, who had been part of a legendary national show band, that they were being sought by, two, later four, then five, aficionados of their music who wanted to see them get an honor that was long overdue? The caveat was that most of those band members hadn’t even seen one another, nor had they all been together, in 30 years.

Until October, 2010, eight men who were surviving members of The MOB were blissfully oblivious to the world of music, simply going about their daily business lives without missing a beat. They had all “moved on,” as it were, with their lives. Three had entered the corporate and nonprofit sectors as businessmen. Two more had entered city services administration for major cities; one was working in an entertainment-related industry and only one was a fulltime performer, though you could safely assume others have had post-MOB music opportunities.

When the board of directors of the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association considered The MOB for induction into their Hall of Fame three years ago, no one knew where they were. They did not have an internet presence. Board member Terry Tausz says their name had been discussed from the outset as a group of interest, but “no one knew how to get hold of them.”

After Ana Lord and Alan Schrank had found them, Schrank next communicated with the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association by leaving a message on their web site ( message board. In the days that followed, board members were sufficiently impressed and reviewed the nomination package submitted by Schrank and Lord.

Quickly, the board had verified what they already knew, the impact of the music of The MOB and what it had meant to South Dakota natives all these years. It would be learned as well that memories of The MOB had a wonderful, lasting impression on many who had never even lived in South Dakota, but traveled from their homes 30, 50, and 80 miles away, often, to hear them perform there. Even though The MOB members were natives of Chicago, after 10+ years of 3-week stints performing at the famed Mocamba Club, The MOB might as well have been considered as, at least, South Dakota regulars.

But simply receiving and distributing a letter announcing the distinct honor was only part of how they all managed to wind up on stage at the Ramkota Exhibit Hall to a capacity crowd of 2,000+ fans that night. It was far from a done deal, because there were many factors to consider that might have brought about the induction of the band but NOT the full reunion and performance together, their first in 30 years. One South Dakotan whose dedication as a volunteer made a substantial impact on the reunion’s success is William Bertsch.

A musician himself, Willie Bertsch was well acquainted with The MOB, having been a vocalist booked, as part of local favorite band, The Apostles, as the opening group for The MOB many times at the Mocamba Club. Bertsch, a Sioux Falls resident, found himself in a vital role in making the reunion weekend a reality. But to hear him tell it, he was just one of many coming together to support a great cause. There’s more to that story.

Reunion Not a ‘Done Deal’ at First

The MOB’s reunion was not a fait accompli from the beginning—not by a long shot. First, most of the band members had closed the door on their musical pasts, with the exception of “Little Albert,” Albert Maligmat, who still performs in Hawaii as his primary career. Imagine the challenge for music pros, many of whom had not rehearsed or played, other than recreationally, to regain their professional chops again after such a long time away from the stage. It didn’t take long, though. Independently, these music pros went right back to their rudiments and woodshedded for over 4 months to get back on their games, once the decision was made. Because of the geographical distances that prevented in-person meetings, thanks to Jimmy Ford and James Holvay, the band members started reconnecting by phone and e-mail. That had to have been some set of conversations. Songwriting talent and premier saxophone/keyboardist Gary Beisbier was the only one of the surviving members who couldn’t make the date. MOBster Tony Nedza had passed away.

The Mocamba Club had been home to The MOB for years as it had been to The Apostles, something they had in common. Says Bertsch, “In the late 60s, early 70s, at the Mocamba Club, my band, the Apostles, would come on and play a couple of numbers. And, The MOB was the headlining act; that would come on about 10 pm or 11 pm. So, we opened for them on a couple of occasions, but I personally had not actually seen them in 40 years. I was also sure they would not remember me from Adam.”

The Mocamba, a beloved icon of great show bands, was the only place Bertsch ever saw them. “Back in those days, we were playing every weekend also.” Bertsch estimates that he had a chance to see The MOB 12–15 times there during their heyday. Those memories would prove sufficient fuel for Bertsch to get involved as a volunteer to do everything he could to make the reunion week/weekend spring to life and be joyful for the band.

“That was what was so neat about this thing. I knew from the first time that I’d talked to Al (Schrank) that The Mob hadn’t actually been together on stage in 35 years. And I know how tough that is. My band was inducted last year in the SD R&R H of Fame (The Apostles),” Bertsch explains.

It Don’t Come Easy; You Know It Don’t Come Easy

As the song goes, “You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues, and you know it don’t come easy.” For this R&B/soul/rock/horn band, to reunite the group was akin to launching a strategic operation.

For many reasons, The MOB had not reunited in 30 years. So, when the call came and they were made aware: “you’re going to be inducted, we’d like to have you come perform in April, 2011” and have it happen? Despite the honor, despite the advance time of six months to prepare, it still was not a fait accompli. Bertsch continued, “Several of the band members had ‘day jobs’ and responsibilities.” They were geographically separated from Hawaii to California to Chicago and parts in between, which didn’t make rehearsing easy.

And, let’s be frank, The MOB in days of old had a lifetime full of celebrations, partying and activities that go along with musical fame and legions of female fans. Several of the members had likely stayed away from the music also because their lifestyles had changed so drastically over the years. When some of them shut the door, they latched it and bolted it tight.

Bertsch explains one example of reluctance. Dynamic vocalist “Big Al” Herrera shared with Bertsch by phone an initial reluctance to jump back into the fray all over again for the reunion. Religion is a personal thing for most people, but when people of faith connect with others who have had similar experiences, eventually the conversation at some point turns to religion. It just does. And so it did with Bertsch and Herrera. When Big Al explained to Willie that one of his reservations, aside from being gone from his job as a city services manager in Elgin, Illinois to be in the music business again for a few days, was that he was not happy with several of his choices back in the day. His life had changed, drastically, for the better, and he was unsure he wanted he wanted to reopen the door.

Bertsch immediately understood, and shared his own faith, how the past decade had brought Bertsch a renewed interest in participating in church activities, especially in a praise band at First Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. The Sioux Falls church also features an original Aeolian Skinner Organ, that has recently been updated, so that provides a clue about the rich history of tradition and structure inherent in their specific synod within the Lutheran faith.

Bertsch’s bandmate in The Apostles, Sam Hasegawa, had also had a lengthy break from performing when a chance to reunite their band for the 2010 South Dakota Music Association’s Hall of Fame Induction evening the previous year, so Bertsch, himself a lead vocalist, kept talking and Herrera soon found many reasons to consider the reunion weekend a positive opportunity once again. That night of the reunion on stage, Al would give thanks to “my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, for the opportunity,” that he was in the middle of experiencing. It’s appropriate to say that Bertsch’s words were potentially helpful in Herrera’ decision-making process.

The next thing that Bertsch did was offer his and his wife Audrey’s home to some of the band members who had a large number of family members coming to the area for this night-of-nights. As South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association board president Don Fritz would be able to attest, the evening concert sold out of VIP tables as well as general admission as fast as anything they’d ever seen. And so, too, did the hotel rooms. So, with many of the band members having relatives “coming in from everywhere,” the Bertschs said, “Please come and stay with us,”and some of the MOB family and the Bertsch family became more ‘like family’ in an instant.

Bertsch credits his lovely wife, Audrey, with splendid hospitality and much tolerance for whatever Willie is volunteering her for. He is always sure of her agreement in his endeavors. Bertsch explains, “I was out running errands, picking up some folks around town, helping get people to rehearsal and here at our front door would be people that Audrey would greet who haven’t even met her yet.” Bertsch says it took about 5 minutes for everyone to start hugging and visiting in delight and anticipation of what was going to happen on Saturday night, April 16th.

Band members had planned to arrive on Wednesday, prior to the Saturday night performance. Willie Bertsch was the unofficial behind-the-scenes coordinator who helped facilitate a lot of things. He’d already been at work long before that. Bertsch talked with a good friend, Jay Hardy, who plays drums in the same church praise band where Bertsch plays.

“I said, ‘Jay I need a place for these guys to rehearse. The hotel doesn’t have any place large or quiet enough with privacy to accommodate them.’” Hardy knew who The MOB was and he said, “by all means.” Hardy’s generosity was exceptional. Bertsch explains, “he wouldn’t charge us a nickel; the band could use it anytime they wanted to, which made the show possible, it really did.”

Terry Tausz agrees, “Jay Hardy’s donation of time in his studio really helped” give privacy and recreated the band’s days of professional recording together. You have to remember also that these men, a band of brothers themselves, who hadn’t seen each other in 30 years, needed time to themselves to reconnect just all by themselves. Jimmy Ford shared with Bertsch that the first night, the band would meet alone and visit. Bertsch, as a musician, understood that need.

On Thursday, The MOB held their first run-through of the song set list, sitting around a conference table. Alan Schrank was on hand to take selected photos of the subsequent rehearsal with instruments and vocals in the recording studio. Bertsch and Tausz were there and also spent time (at a respectful distance) watching the magic come alive again during the first rehearsal.

Says Bertsch, “Those guys were so far above the fray 40 years ago with their showmanship, so far above the crowd. They were leaps ahead of us. They had not been together in so many years.”

“It’s a special deal you have to experience, to all be onstage together once again, I knew this was huge for these guys.” So, getting the chance to use Hardy’s recording studio was big, really big.

“It was just as much fun in the practice sessions in the recording studio as it was that night at the concert performance,” Willie explains. The camaraderie was what impressed him most.

It had to have been flashbacks during various notes or a particular song. Photos taken by Schrank capture their spirit and their joy. Bertsch agrees, “You can see so much of the joy—it was such a renewal. When you were around these guys, it was like you had not seen your best friend in 40 years,” he explains. “Just the vibes that were coming out were just incredible, really strong.”

Jimmy Ford explained the night of the induction ceremony that the audience “wasn’t seeing double, that there were 14 people on stage where they might have been expecting 7.” The reason for that, Ford said, was that the band wanted to bring the best possible horn sound the audience would be expecting. How did that happen?

Yes, it was Bertsch who reached out to musician Ken “Boneman” Hoyne, as the two had been longtime friends. Hoyne’s band had backed up Bertsch’s band, The Apostles, when they had been inducted into the Hall of Fame last year. Hoyne, a premier player, was noted for putting horn sections together for shows around South Dakota, so that was a fortuitous happenstance, and he was happy to do that for the evening.

As seen on the DVD of the evening’s performance, it is no small compliment that Jimmy Ford plays to the horn section when he noted the players individually and complimented them on their talents. You have to wonder if these next-generation horn players knew ‘who’ it was paying them a high compliment indeed. Egos were checked at the door, so it’s doubtful that the once-legendary status of Ford, McCabe, and Herrera on horns was even really discussed.

One More Thing – Sharing the Faith

Bertsch has shared that part of his becoming more involved in church again was a reprioritization of his personal and family faith life. He speaks so enthusiastically about the family of faith at First Lutheran Church, led by Pastor Dr. John Christopherson. So, after Bertsch and Herrera had spoken of their faith by phone, the discussion naturally progressed into faith at the open house/barbecue dinner that Willie and Audrey held on Thursday evening at their home. Their home address and phone number probably deserved the rank of “Most Shared” that week, as the phone rang as much as the doorbell, and the party was at The Bertsches! All week.

Audrey shared name tags with all their new guests. After about an hour’s time, those name tags were unnecessary because the vibe in the home was one of family. Bertsch explains there was a special spirit present throughout the home, a reverent spirit, one surely filled with joy. Willie shared that it was one of those nights he’d never forget. Several of the band members had multiple family members present for the special ceremony and that Thursday night, everyone it seems was at the Bertsch home.

We Are Family

By the time the band had their first day’s rehearsal behind them, it was the start to a great reunion week. Plans were set for all inductees to attend a special dinner for all the bands on Friday night before Saturday’s big activities. So, Thursday, it was BBQ with the Bertsches. As Alan Schrank photographed the activities of the days leading up to the reunion night, it’s easy to spot all of new friends becoming extended family, joy in sharing simple times, great memories, and good people knowing that other good people thought the world of what they’d done 30 years earlier.

And because the event was a complete sellout, it’s a good thing community members like the Bertsches offered their homes to some band members’ extended families, because many of the MOB’s band members come from very large families and there are only so many hotel rooms in Sioux Falls—a large community but this deal was bigger than anyone had ever anticipated. The day following the induction ceremony is one of sharing faith.

Sharing the Faith<

The more you know Willie Bertsch, the better you understand that faith is an important part of his life. It was actually one of Albert Maligmat’s sisters, who was in town for the event, who had earlier shared with Bertsch a YouTube link of Albert singing, “I Believe I Can Fly.” The video captured from by Albert’s nephew, Jason, captured a powerful voice, dynamic range, and perfect acoustic guitar accompaniment that silenced a chatty crowd in Hawaii with its elegance. A second example is Albert singing “Amazing Grace” with Eddie Ramirez on trumpet.

Albert’s vocal range on these songs of faith blew Bertsch away, and so he took a chance. Even though Bertsch didn’t know Maligmat well, he made the ask. “I belong to a big church in Sioux Falls, and play in our praise band and the day after the event is Palm Sunday. Could you possibly come to our church and sing those songs for us?” Bertsch asked.

Maligmat didn’t hesitate before accepting. “Absolutely,” he said. I’ll come any time the Lord asks me to sing. I will be there.” And the 5,000+ member congregation has an extensive and talented music ministry team. Everyone was on board with inviting the guests. Also answering the call to sing was Al Herrera, who was equally glad to praise God in song that Sunday morning.

Bertsch especially appreciated Pastor Christopherson’s and the entire music team’s trust in bringing in ‘famous R&B/soul entertainers to sing on Palm Sunday,’ because traditionally Lutheran churches, especially 100-year-old ones, have structure in liturgy and worship music for Palm Sunday set months in advance. Little Albert and Big Al had a glorious impact on the congregation, who is traditionally not given to public displays of approval. “After Albert Maligmat sang ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ the entire congregation rose to their feet and clapped,” Bertsch revealed. He continued, “I have never, ever seen that before in my lifetime in that church,” he explains.

“He was up in the stratosphere with his vocals,” Bertsch continued. He was equally as effusive about Herrera’s powerful vocals that morning. Just another example of the character of these special visitors that they would be reveling in the recognition of a lifetime, one they’d waited 30 years for but never expected to see. And as their Saturday night celebrations stretched into visiting and sharing until 3 or 4 am on Sunday morning, it didn’t matter. Maligmat and Herrera were happy to be singing in the 11 am Contemporary Praise service on Palm Sunday at Willie’s home church. It speaks volumes.

The MOB—History of Their Reunion in Sioux Falls

To read more of the plans and details leading up to Sioux Falls’s once-in-a-lifetime coup of having The MOB converge and take the stage once again, there’s a link to the site that about how four strangers, fans of the music of The MOB, connected to find the band members, follow this link to the six-part series,”The MOB—From Chicago, IL to Sioux Falls, SD in 30 years or less.” At the end of the first story, readers will find links to the other 5 sequential parts in the series. If you’d like to connect with other fans who like the band as much as you do, visit the Facebook fan page Alan Schrank created two years ago at The Mob’s official fan site.

This Reunion Weekend Story Continues

Next up, in The MOB—Reunion Weekend in South Dakota, Part 2, a visit with John Mogen, Board of Directors Member of the South Dakota Rock & Roll Music Association, who was the invited guest keyboardist with The MOB at their first reunion in 30 years on a night when music history was made in South Dakota.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Karan Chavis Brings Good Times to Good Time Charley’s

Guest blogger: Rhonda Brinkmann

The Karan Chavis Band rocked Good Time Charley's last Friday. Photo: West Communications.

Anyone watching the Karan Chavis Band set up at Good Time Charley’s last Friday night would have doubted they could get all their equipment, not to mention the band members themselves, into the small corner of the packed restaurant. But after 25 minutes of unpacking, repacking, and rearranging, the six-person band was tucked away -- cozy, but ready to entertain.

And entertain they did. With classics including Get Your Kicks On Route 66, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You, Brown-Eyed Girl, Amarillo By Morning, Rose-Colored Glasses, and Georgia On My Mind, they kept the crowd swaying and cheering. The eatery in the historic downtown section of Bryan, Texas, was packed from the start of the performance. Fortunately, the restaurant has a side room and the staff found places to seat more people coming in throughout the evening.

Chavis explained that she’d been battling a cold all week, but it didn’t harm her soulful style. Her voice was as smooth as the Smooth Operator she sang about. Maybe there were a few more instrumental breaks than usual. Maybe the band members stepped up to the mic to take the vocals a little more often than they sometimes do. But with so much talent on display from band members Monte Mann, Larry Seyer, Kevin Hall, David Webb, and Craig Nietfeld, the audience relished each song. When Karan did belt out a number, her voice was as strong and smooth and sultry as ever.

Good Time Charley’s is named for the historic Charles Hotel Building, where the restaurant has occupied the ground floor for less than a year. During its operation from 1939 to the 1980s, the Charles Hotel must certainly have seen its share of good times, and if Good Time Charley’s continues to bring in talented bands like the Karan Chavis Band, good food and good music will continue to thrive in historic Downtown Bryan.

[Note: Story originally published on on Sept. 17, 2011.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Karan Chavis: Song Styles Fit the Occasion, Two Chances to Hear Her in September 2011

[Karan Chavis and her band perform for V-Twins Rock: Motorcycle Enthusiasts & Musicians Join Forces To Fight Cancer, the 2010 Breast Cancer Awareness special event, University Towne Center, Oct. 2, 2010, College Station, Texas. Band: Monte Mann on guitar, Mark R. Harris, bass guitar, Art Kidd, drums, Ryan Murphy, Keyboards.]

When Karan Chavis sings a favorite classic rock song, she owns it. Her version of “Proud Mary” is such that Tina Turner would nod her head in approval. Chavis was singing “At Last” in shows long before the Etta James version came to the forefront. The blues are the blues when Karan belts them out as few others can. Gospel takes on a new level when just her acapella offerings are moving and powerful.

The works of Ella Fitzgerald were part of Karan’s repertoire last summer in Austin in a tribute concert performed at the One World Theatre. And yet, she doesn’t have to sing ‘just like’ someone to be given kudos. The versatile Chavis also composes her own music as well in an upbeat, powerful style that is truly her own. She's been working on a new CD project when time permits.

It’s seemingly all too rare that she perfoms in the Bryan-College Station area, because other cities keep booking her first. That’s good for Chavis, but it’s better for Aggieland that she’s in concert this weekend. And since it’s a football weekend with TAMU hosting Idaho on Saturday evening, visitors will be looking for great music, so locals need to arrive early Friday night.

On Friday, September 16, Karan and her band will be performing at Goodtime Charlie's. Music begins at 7:00 pm and will go through 11:00 pm. The downtown Bryan club is located at 201 S. Main (the old Papa Perez location). Word to the wise: nearby parking is plentiful, but get there early.

Chavis is delighted to have her band with her for this performance. Many who’ve seen her before enjoy seeing Larry Seyer and Monte Mann on guitar, Kevin Hall on drums, and David Webb on keys. They’ll all be here.

Later this month, on Wednesday, September 28th, there’s also a chance to see Karan in Austin as she’ll lend her vocals to an evening of Blues & Swing with The Fenno-Hilboldt Project. The backdrop of another colorful Austin sunset in the hills, an outdoor special event at Central Market Westgate. Perfect for a late September evening.

The Fenno-Hilboldt group consists of leader Jimmy Fenno (drums/vocals), Jamie Hilboldt (keys/vocals), Sean Hopper (bass), and Karan Chavis will sing. The evening begins at 6:30 and goes til 9:30 pm. For directions to Central Market Westgate, click here. Hilboldt and Chavis are a familiar team, having played in musical events together years ago in Austin, all the way back to even days occasionally singing on dates where Rotel & The Hot Tomatoes were holding forth with their power-rock 50s/60s/70s tributes.

Hilboldt also travels the country as keyboardist and musical director for classic rock star Gary Puckett (“Young Girl”, “Lady Willpower”, etc.), and everything he plays is perfectly styled and suited for Karan’s soulful voice that embodies the blues. Fenno’s strengths and specialties include the standards by Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Louis Jordan, and Louis Armstrong. Chances are good, then, for Karan to sing her signature “Satchmo Blues,” where she voices both Louis Armstrong and Miss Ella Fitzgerald in echoes and answers to the lines. Two must-see, must-hear events.

For more on Karan's latest activities, check out her web site