We met in fourth grade. I’ll never forget several things that year. My teacher; a classroom tough guy; and being the only person in my grade to get a perfect score on a test. (Never mind that the test was on musical notes). Oh, and the guy who had one wrong . . . my new best friend, Carl Zimmerman. Forget the fact that he would beat me unmercifully in every other test for the rest of our lives. I was 1 – 0, after the first one!
We both attended Clinton Valley Elementary School, a kid from the country and a kid from the city. From different sides of the tracks, but somehow able to share a common love for music. The very next year, we would both become members of the school band; Carl playing trombone, and I playing cornet. Our musical journey was about to begin in earnest. Sometime during high school, we worked together at the Mt. Clemens YMCA, as locker room attendants. With hours and hours to kill, it was the perfect place to learn new instruments. An older member of the YMCA also played in his own band, and eventually recruited us to play as his horn section. The band was called Superman, and the leader was Gary Lynn Miller. When other band members failed to show for practice, we gained more playing time, but eventually learned that playing horns could never really compete with guitar amps turned up to ten. It was either join in or quit. So . . . we joined. Carl on keyboards, and I playing bass guitar.
Most of our time until the end of high school at Chippewa Valley was spent in the school band, under the direction of Mr. John Schubert. He was the most influential teacher that we would ever have. Instilling a life-long love of all types of music and song. To him we owe more than we could ever hope to express. I know that I didn’t have much in my life
to be proud of; since I wasn’t good at anything; I could however be proud of music. I could express my self. I could reach people. And, I could let it take me places I never imagined existed. All from my chair in the symphonic band. We played a few jobs as Superman, but mostly we practiced and practiced.
So as we graduated high school, it was time to move to the next phase of our lives: adulthood. Right. Carl went to study engineering at Michigan State, and I began pursuing my dream of becoming a rock star.
I met some kindred spirits in college with the very same dream, and began playing in their band. Emotion Ride. We started playing in 1975, with the very first gig being played at Gabriel’s Lounge in lovely Roseville Michigan. The band consisted of Jim Lee on drums. Vince Punturiere on bass, Steve Punturiere on guitar and Gary Burlach on keyboards. Vince was retiring, and I was anointed to take his place.
We would play together for the next four years, with Carl coming home on the weekends to pitch in on the keys. It was a wild time, and got even wilder when we added Jim’s cousin on guitar, Adam Prebylski. In those days we felt that we needed a much darker name,
so we called ourselves, Sanctuary. Sanctuary played mainly in the Algonac, New Baltimore area. Musically, our direction was rich, symphonic rock, dance, pop
and southern-rock, jammin’ late into the night. Having two guitars
led to some unbelievable guitar duels that are part of Michigan rock legends now.
Eventually, Adam moved on to form his own band, (ADAM), and Gary retired. At the same time, Carl graduated from Michigan State and landed in Dearborn as an Ford electrical engineer. This, however, allowed him to re-join the band just as it evolved into . . . The Boys.
The Boys band:
Steve, Jim, Bob and Carl played anywhere and everywhere, from then on. The eighties were a great time for bands, as the musical scene was thriving. Disco was dead and the new wave was breaking on every shore. We played, parties, bars, weddings, clubs, confirmations, parks and fairs. any place people needed entertaining, we were there. (and several places that DIDN’T need entertaining). For more than ten years, we performed in just about every place possible, for people of all walks of life. We gave our all at every gig, leaving everyone thoroughly entertained.
The Boys prided themselves on tight, four-part harmony. Classic rock, Beatles, Beach Boys and even symphonic rock were our forte. Classic rock epics, like “Carry on My Wayward Son” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” were part of our repertories. There was no music that they could not bring to life. Even disco for several years. But, what most people will remember was the harmonies and infectious beat that made them popular. We entertained thousands over those years; at one time playing a few concert shows with more than 23,000 people in the audience!
Also in the early eighties, The owner of the local bar that we happened to be playing at, (The Sanwood Lounge), asked us, since it was St. Patrick’s day that Saturday, if we knew any Irish music to entertain the patrons with. “Of course we do!” was our answer. And of course, we DIDN’T was the reality. But, let it be said that we have always enjoyed a good challenge. So Carl and I learned ten classic Irish songs for that first St. Paddy’s day. We played about two a set, and loved every moment of it.
Our Introduction into Irish music that first year, opened a door that we have never turned back from since those early years in the eighties. From our modest ten-song set that first year, to now knowing and performing more than two hundred Irish songs, ballads and ditties. We would add to our list every year, and get together a week or so before the big day, to gather with some friends and try them out without fear of our audience booing or walking out. And, most of the time, it didn’t happen.
There was a time, most likely for about ten years, when Carl would throw an epic party at his house to kick off the season. Everyone would gather, and be forced to listen to us, practice the new songs, and butcher most of the old ones. It was always a great time, and those memories will live on in infamy.
At one point, we recorded an Irish compact disk of our most popular fan favorites. The CD was called “Irish Hearts”, and told the musical tale of our immersion into the Irish music and culture. For us to learn a lot of the music, we had to dig deep into the Irish psych. I also believe that we learned as much about recording as we did about the Irish culture during this same time. It was a great experience for us, and we are still very proud of that music to this day. (I’m sure that we still have several copies available for sale as well).
Around that same time, (the incredible eighties), Carl and I got involved in another project that would have deep influences to last for years to come. While working at J.C.Penney’s, I met the legendary, Brad Savage. I mild-mannered salesman by day, but a high-energy guitar virtouso-composer by night. Savage, and his long-time front man, Eric Swan recruited me and several of my “Boys” band-mates to help bring their new album to fruition. So, after spending the better part of a long summer in the studio, the world would now get its first taste of . . . Brad Savage & His Amazing Cockroaches!
This quirky, eclectic collection of songs and stories would become legendary, even before its own time. With Lance DeVouex on drums, Carl Rollin’ on the keys; Robert Dantzer on Bass guitar; Steve Summers on Lead; Brad Savage on guitar and vocals; and the incomparable Eric Swan up front; this outstanding lineup would take the local music scene by storm.
Their stable of hits included: “Swimming in the secretarial pool“. “Bar-Car“. “My Friend, Dave“. “Three Stooges Rock & Roll”. and the legendary . . . “Cockroach Party!” Word quickly spread through video releases, press coverage and record sales. Although interest in all things Cockroach was high, the group would not tour; as they were then, and still to this day, primarily a studio super-group. That is not to say that they have not turned up through the years for several impromptu concerts, benefits and fund-raisers. In their later years, they have only been noted to don their “feelers” for a worthy cause.
Around this same time, however, I would be remiss if I did not cover the incredible story of “The Archie Movie”.
While working together on the “Cockroach party!”, it was rumored that Eric Swan was also writing a screenplay for a movie project that was on the horizon. His premise was to chronicle the lives and times of a group of friends who attended a certain Riverside High School. The story revolved around a kid named Archie and the fact that he just couldn’t make up his mind about which girl he liked better; Betty or Veronica.
In no time at all, Brad and Robert Dantzer co-wrote and recorded several songs that told the story of what was high school life in the sixties. Going to the movies, hanging out on the corner. Getting a new-old car. Meeting your friends at the Chocolate shoppe. chasing girls. Timeless pursuits that any kid could relate to. Or so it would seem.
The story was fun. The music was unforgettable and the time was seemingly right to approach the major studios with the screenplay. So, eventually Eric went to Hollywood to meet with representatives of Disney studios. After the meeting and days of waiting, it word reached Mr. Swan that Disney had “passed” on the project. “after all, . . ” they quipped; “no one would be interested in an “HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL.”
Interesting factoid: About two years later, Disney studios produced not one, but an entire franchise based around “A High School Musical”.
While Carl and I were undeterred after pouring so much time and effort into the musical, we realized that we simply needed to focus on playing shows and events. And so we did. Through the years, no matter what band or project we happened to be involved with; we made a conscious attempt to play as a duo. Entertaining in smaller clubs, as a way to keep a more intimate connection with our fans. Most of the time, we played on Friday nights, right after dinner, eight until midnight. Having this opportunity to entertain in these smaller clubs gave us the ability to play lots of different types of music. We didn’t need to focus simply on dance tunes or complicated classic rock staples; we could play a plethora of eclectic songs.
We began our Friday night entertaining in the early 80′s at a small club in Clinton twp, called Vinnie’s. The owner was a stodgy old ex-musician who would sit at the bar and drink all night. And, since he had played professionally, he thought that he would share his expertise with us right before he would pay us. Lucky for us, because we learned a lot about bar owners from him. His wife, Theresa, on the other hand was wonderful, and treated us like her own. We played for about four years, every Friday night until they moved.
From there, we began playing a restaurant that was a little bigger, and also had a woman who was the owner: The Ryan Roadhouse, located at 14 mile and Ryan road. Neilu ran the roadhouse with an iron fist. But she did have a soft spot for Carl and I. Actually, Carl was always her favorite. A lot of our friends and co-workers got the chance to visit us at the Ryan Roadhouse, as we entertained there for around four years, before it closed.
A few years after we ended our stint at the Roadhouse, a new restaurant opened in Mount Clemens . . . Kokomos. Kokomos was the dream of three J.C.Penny managers who wanted to try their hand in the business of fine-dining. It was certainly years ahead of its time; but a wonderful experience for us. We played each Friday night, to the delight of its many customers. So many wonderful memories still live of its attention to menu, song and customer service. Kokomos lasted four years before closing its doors in the early 2000′s. Carl and I miss Joyce, Linda and Kelly, who treated us so wonderfully as we poured our heart and soul into each and every single performance.
About the time that our steady, Friday night gig ended, we began playing everywhere and anywhere. It was around 2002 that Carl and I focused on city “Concert-In-The-Park” events with greater frequency. We were playing out usual, yearly events, such as, Great Oaks Country Club, and the New Baltimore Steak-Out!. The Bob and Carl Holiday Extravaganza!, Alpena Policeman’s Ball, and various charity shows. But, we also included many, many parks, and private parties as well. we were lucky enough to be able to entertain so many people during this decade. It was in this decade that there were many changes happening in our life, that would have lasting affects, both personal and professional.
During the mid 2000′s as the weekly gig’s started to become less frequent, because of the advent of Karaoke and the weakened economy. Most cities’ recreation departments curtailed most concert series that had previously been a staple of local entertainment.
At the same time, many bars and restaurants that had been friendly to entertainers and musicians, now were no longer able to provide a place for them to feel at home. Only as little as ten years earlier, there were many venues in and around the Metro Detroit area that bubbled with a culture that created and nurtured musical entertainment, and everything that went with it. But as the economy tightened, so did the purse-strings of the owners who were once friendly to Detroit’s musicians. Many groups disbanded and got “real” jobs.
Not us. We persevered. Although we played less, we honed our sound; evolving and perfecting each aspect of our music. We changed equipment, gear and peripherals, but not our goal. To share our music with our fans.
About this time, since we were cutting down on our weekly gigs, we began began to focus more on writing and recording. There was now a huge back-log of music that was crying to be heard, so the time was right to capture it for posterity. This was an incredible time in our career since it provided us with an outlet to capture so many feelings and emotions that were going on inside and around us. Future postings will explore the music that has been created, and display it for everyone to enjoy.
It was fate that steered us to the Three Blind Mice Irish Pub. Only ten days before it was to open its’ doors for a trial run; we happened to drive by, on our way to our long-time friends’ funeral. We wandered in, enticed by the promise of an Irish pub in Mount Clemens; to find the three owners at work at the bar. After a brief introduction, we all agreed that we wanted to play try our music out whenever they were to open.
We played for their “soft” opening in October of 2013, and we were a huge success. We have played each and every Friday night since it has opened; and enjoyed every song.
It is truly enjoyable to have an outlet for expressing ourselves musically each week, and we are looking forward to seeing all of our friends and fans joining us for a drink, a song and a smile!
Robert Balch – Carl Zimmerman