NEWS FROM THE WOODS
By Bob Ketchum
Originally Published October 4, 2012
"WHIZZ Reunion: 2012"
One of the coolest aspects of concert promotion was that I could book my own band as an opening act. We were always guaranteed a large crowd, got plenty of PR, and it helped make a name for the band in the western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma region. "Whizz" got lots of high school gigs, proms, and private parties because someone caught us at a concert. Ironically, the band was also good at getting the word out about my concerts, because two of the guys in the band were ALSO DJ's at competing radio stations in town. Dave Hopkins, one of our guitar players, worked at KISR-FM in Ft. Smith, and Mel Myers (aka. "The Goose") was a popular DJ over at KFSA radio. I would always buy a few radio spots on those stations. It was just good business to cover all your bases, but it also opened up the door for the guys to help me promote the concerts. I'd give them freebie tickets which they would give away on the air ten days before the concert. After all, it was not only good for my Dime-A-Dozen Concert Promotions but it was good for "Whizz" as well.
"Whizz" started innocently enough. Dave, an original member, called me one day to say he had an opportunity to do some recording at BJ and said he and fellow members David Irvin (organ) and Jimmy Watson (bass) needed a drummer for the session. I happily jumped at the chance as I was itching to get into the studio and learn as much as I could. The session went well and they inquired if I wanted to be the permanent drummer for the group. I said I'd be happy to, and mentioned that a friend who was currently living at my house played a good guitar, and they said "Sure, bring him along". I had made friends and jammed a few times with Eric Dennis, who I met when his band won a local battle of the bands contest sponsored by my radio show. We hit it off right away, but his parents were about to move up North and he really didn't want to accompany them. He was only 17. For some reason they trusted me enough to allow him to remain behind in Arkansas for the time being and live in the spare bedroom of my house. I had recently been divorced and had the room, and frankly I could use the company at the time. Eric moved in and maybe three weeks later the "Whizz" offer brought us all together.
As we played our way up the "local band" ladder we began to book more and more gigs at high schools and colleges in Oklahoma, where good bands were few and far between. I had another friend by the name of Dennis Myers who spent a lot of evenings visiting me at the station during my show. He wanted to get into radio and enjoyed learning production and all about music. Sometimes during a baseball game while I monitored the board he would close himself up in the production room and create elaborate and humorous "plays". After a broadcast I'd go in and listen to these productions. They were always hilarious and a little risqué as well. He spent a lot of time hanging out at my house, too, and in time began to play some guitar and bass. He was (and still is) quite talented and I really wanted him to play bass when I joined "Whizz" but as Jimmy was already on the bass I dropped the notion.
Months later at a band rehearsal, Dave Irvin announced that he was quitting the band. We were all very disappointed and a discussion began on who we might get to replace him, as our sound depended on two guitars and organ. Jimmy spoke up and said that he not only could play the organ but he OWNED a Hammond and Leslie as well. A light went on in my brain and I immediately brought up Dennis' name. Eric chimed in because the three of us had jammed together and Eric and I really liked his bass playing. I approached him with the notion and he agreed to a rehearsal. The audition went so well that we immediately began rehearsing with the new line up. In addition our road manager, Bob Swofford, liked the new sound we were putting out. Jimmy turned out to be a decent organ and piano player, and Dennis (now requesting that we call him "Mel" Myers as he was now working at KFSA and wanted a "radio name") not only handled the bass very expertly but could also sing.
One gig that really put us on the map was opening for Styx at the Logan movie theater in Paris, Arkansas. Larry Glass owned the theater and always wanted to do a rock concert there. He booked Styx JUST before their hit "Lady" went to #1 nationally for some ridiculously cheap sum and surprised us all when the band honored their contract and agreed to insert the gig into their now national tour schedule. The tickets sold out in record time and by the night of the concert the entire community had come alive with teenagers. Trust me, Styx in Paris, Arkansas WAS a big deal! It was SRO, and the fire marshal was about two people away from shutting it down. He insisted the theater aisles remain clear through the event. But the real kicker came at the end of the concert when an over-zealous roadie loaded a percussion pyro with the "usual pack", designed for a much larger venue, and when they set it off during "The Serpent Is Rising", the explosion brought a lot of ceiling plaster down on the crowd. As the smoke from the blast made its way out the front door, the fire marshal went into action. It took all of Larry's persuasive powers to talk the man down.
It all came to abrupt end on May 3rd, 1975, when I was in Tulsa where "Whizz" had been contracted to play a college fraternity rush party at the Hilton Inn. While setting up our gear at the Copa Cabana Club in the Hilton, I was accidentally shot by an idiot security guard who had no business carrying a gun (but that's another entirely different story). Those two months recovering at St. Francis Hospital gave me time to reflect on my life up to that point and I decided I would make some changes. Besides, my radio job was gone - I was replaced by the temp DJ hired during my absence…. And the band had understandably broken up as well. I stayed around Ft. Smith for a while, wrapping up my radio career and learning as much as I could about recording and engineering at Ben Jack's Recording Studio. Then in March of 1976 I moved back to my hometown of Mountain Home and began the operation of Cedar Crest Studio.
We all kept in touch. Mel and Dave wound up in Oklahoma… popular DJ's in their own right. Eric got into Television editing and wound up at the time in Dallas at WFAA-TV. We all talked about getting together somehow but it didn't seem possible. We all had our lives and careers to nurture and we were great distances apart. It was twenty years before we finally had a reunion, held here in Arkansas. We had all lost touch with Jimmy, but the camaraderie was strong with the rest of us that we all remained long distance friends. Even Bob Swofford showed up at the 20th in 1995. To say a good time was had by all would be a gross understatement. It was a revitalization for all of us. We jammed and even recorded some of the old "Whizz" originals, took a lot of pictures and video, then said our goodbyes and returned to our lives.
In March of 2005 we held our 30th reunion, again here at Cedar Crest. Mel and Dave were still big time Tulsa DJ's. Eric had moved up north and was working as a video editor for the major TV networks. Bob Swofford was a football coach in Eastern Oklahoma and also had a career as a sports writer. How they all got the time off and synchronized the 30th is beyond me. Eric flew down to Springfield, Missouri, where I picked him up and drove him down to the lake. Mel and Dave rented a van because they couldn't bring all the gear they wanted in a passenger vehicle. We had more jamming, more recording, more video, more food, and more fellowship. It was wonderful. I really got into it and staged four cameras in the studio to capture every moment of the reunion. It was work, work, work (well, sort of) and then they were all gone in a flash and there I sat with a 24-track tape full of music and 8 one-hour MiniDV videotapes of footage to sift through. I edited a 1-hour video "rockumentary" of the event and sent everyone a copy on DVD.
Things kind of picked up from there. We refused to wait another year, and staged a reunion the very next year in June of 2006. Eric had moved to Arlington, Virginia so he had to travel the farthest. Of course, by this time Eric was doing okay so he drove down in his Corvette! The others arrived this time towing a trailer! The "usual ritual" had been toned down this time due to a very serious case of carpal tunnel in my right hand. The boys cut me some slack but in a way it gave us more time for fellowship. I was also suffering from stiffness and numbness in my neck and left shoulder, which turned out to be attributed to the way I had been staring at my elevated computer monitors for the past two years. A month after the reunion I got wise to this and simply had a pair of glasses made with the close up prescription of my regular bifocals set for the entire surface of the lenses. That did the trick, and in a month I was back to normal. In addition, I had carpal tunnel surgery and it was so successful that I had the right hand done right after that. I didn't need the entire right hand go completely numb like the left one did to tell me I needed to take care of it.
In an early 2007 email between Eric and Dave I learned they were planning a get together in Tulsa over the Labor Day weekend. It wasn't actually a "Whizz" reunion, but still, three of them would all be in the same town! As it happened I had to attend a surprise 50th birthday party for Randy Burden, formerly of "Paperkid", a band from Ft. Smith that I used to manage and produced several albums worth of material with, and that party was on a Saturday over the Labor Day weekend!! It was just too fortuitous to pass up, and so I emailed the guys and told them I had heard they were intending to have a party in Tulsa "without me" and I announced my determination to "crash their little party". I DEMANDED use of the couch at Mel's house, and he eagerly agreed to my proposal. I didn't have enough room for my kit, so I threw my electronic kit into the trunk of my car and headed west. Mel's recording set up is very much like mine, as he also uses Sony's ACID Pro as his recording engine. However, as he is not a drummer, he implements the use of MIDI to lay down his drum tracks for projects. I learned a lot about MIDI at that reunion, and I am appreciative of all that Mel taught me. It WAS kind of weird, NOT being the engineer. As a matter of fact, I recall getting positively giddy at one point, watching Mel get frustrated over "computer stuff" and all I had to do was be the drummer. Dave finally told me to shut up when my teen-age antics started getting on Mel's nerves. All that did was serve to make me slap-happy. We had to take a break until I could retain my composure. . . . . . So THAT'S what it's like to only "be a player" !!!!
So we decided that this year we would concentrate on fellowship. Furthermore, the wives would be accompanying the gang, which was great in my estimation. Jane always felt a little left out and I knew she would really hit it off with Dave's wife Julie, whom she had yet to meet. Eric's wife Kim had accompanied him when they all showed up in a surprise visit on the event of my 60th birthday party. Dave said he was bringing a smoker with him and intended to smoke some ribs for the occasion. Eric had also promised some culinary delights over the weekend. We decided this year we would spend the majority of our time relaxing and sharing some fellowship, and if we worked in some jamming it would NOT be on any "Whizz" tunes. I promised not to set up a single camcorder. It was easy to promise because I was hardly able to move around with this hip. I had recently had my kit refurbished and it was all set up and miked. My pal Ron Miller came over and assisted me in setting up all the other mics and getting the PA up and running. I limped around and probably spent too much time and effort cleaning the house and studio for guests. By the time they all arrived on Thursday, September 27th, I was propped up in my recliner nursing a very painful hip.
Why do we do it? Why do we go to such lengths and expense to get together for no other reason but friendship? In an interview I did with the guys on Saturday evening, Dave said something that astonished me. When I asked that question, he replied" I think it's because we weren't finished when you got shot". I've thought long and hard about that. He could be right. That bullet (still in my hip as of today) cut short the life of a vibrant band in the prime of their careers. Yes… it IS because of a special friendship, but how much did that incident impact our personal lives? We talked about the night of the shooting in Tulsa at length on Saturday night. More than probably at any other reunion due to the circumstances. I learned that my memory of the incident was skewed. I thought the whole band was present when it happened, but only Eric was present. The others had gone back to the hotel room to change for the gig we were about to play for the frat party. Only Eric remained behind with me as I began to set up the lights for the gig. He recalled things I simply was not aware of or had forgotten. It was eerie, listening to his recounting of the moments surrounding that fateful and horrible night. It was difficult for me to get to sleep Saturday night.
P.S. I just sent them email telling them to be ready for next time, as I'll have a brand new hip and be ready to rock!
P.P.S. And Ron just called and asked… "Do you still have that damned book?"…….