How long have you been playing?
My mom started me on piano around the time I was in kindergarten – which would be around 1957. I took lessons until about the time I was in high school. I was playing in a band at that time and we needed a sax player. My cousin had a saxophone which I borrowed one day and learned how to play a few notes. I took the sax to the next gig and soon became the sax player for the band. I’ve never had a sax lesson, but I was – and still am – heavily influenced by funk sax players and bands such as Lenny Pickett, Tom Scott, Michael Brecker, Maceo Parker, Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, and of course, James Brown. My keyboard playing was put on the back burner until the 1980’s when I picked it up again to play keys in Finest Hour, an Omaha band.
Why did you first start playing?
My family is very musically oriented, so I started playing piano about the time I went to kindergarten because it was just something you did. My first experience with a rock band came when some guys at my Jr High found out I played piano and asked me to be in their band. I think my parents probably regret giving me permission to do that!
At my Jr. High it seemed like being in a garage band was pretty common. I never did play with the guys that asked me to join their band, but I did find some other guys at my school that were putting something together. One of those guys was named John Ballew. I played my first gig – a Halloween kids party – with John. We were paid one dozen doughnuts. But, my music career did eventually take off, and now I make hundreds of dollars a year.
I’ve know the guys in The Wheezetones – except for Keith – for over 40 years and they are great friends. When they asked me to join, I was very honored.
What bands have you played with?
In Jr High and HS I played with a band called The Tyrants, which eventually became The 6-Pack. John Ballew was also a member. Other funk/rock bands include The Collections, The Chancellors, Doctor Feelgood, Steele Avenue, Skyliner, Timberwolf, Pinky Black and the Excessives, Bossphilly, Third World, Tuna Fish Jones, Finest Hour, One More Time, Mr. Peabody, Version 3, and Soul Dawg. I play in the Creation praise band at St. Mark’s church with Doug. My brother and I at one time had a wedding band we called The Larson Brothers and which became Shirley’s Boys – named for my mom. I also played sax with a jazz group called Orion. When they ended the draft in 1973, I dropped out of college and toured with Doctor Feelgood. We opened for quite a few national acts such as Badfinger, The Ohio Express, The Ides of March, and REO Speedwagon.
As a sax player I’ve had opportunities to work with Brandford Marsalis, The Russ Morgan Orchestra, The Al Pierson Orchestra, Lawrence Welk Orchestra, Red Skelton, Liberace, Jay McShann, Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, Bobby Layne, Lincoln Municipal Band, and The Dennis Wesley Orchestra. I’ve also done some studio work playing on TV and radio commercials.
What is your best gig horror story- remembering of course, that it’s family friendly.
My gigging experiences are probably a combination of the movies The Blues Brothers, and This Is Spinal Tap. I can remember having our power shut off in the 1960s when we tried to play “Louie Louie” because of the “bad language!” There was one experience I won’t forget. My band (The Collections) had played a gig in Rockport, Missouri for the annual fireman’s ball. I don’t think they expected a 8 piece funk band, and we were soon dodging beer bottles. Out of safety concerns, we cut the night short and tried to find a place to stay at a local motel. The owner came out, took a look at us, and said, “we don’t let yo kind stay hear.”
Of course, after playing for several years with John Ballew, I’ve got PLENTY of stories about Ballew – like the time he almost got beat up when we played “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
Sons of Champlin @ Downtowner Motor Inn, 1969. I had bought the Loosen Up Naturally album. Bill Champlin was amazing.
Frank Zappa @ Pershing, 1972. Steeley Dan was the opening act. We didn’t know who Steeley Dan was before the concert. We did afterwards.
Tower of Power @ Omaha Civic Auditorium Music Hall, 1973. Lenny Pickett was a young 22-year-old. Horn section included Steve “Funky Doctor” Kupka, Emilio Castillo, Mic Gillette and Greg Adams, and rhythm section included David Garibaldi (drums) and “Rocco” Prestia (bass).
Earth, Wind, and Fire with Michael McDonald @ Council Bluffs Mid-American Center, 2008. Went to hear Earth, Wind, and Fire and was blown away by McDonald’s sax player, Vince Denham.
What gear are you using?
Saxophones: I am lucky to have three vintage Selmer (Paris) Mark VI saxophones – an alto, a tenor, and a baritone. The alto and tenor are silver-plated. The baritone has a low-A key. I use fibra cell synthetic reeds and use a Samson Airline wireless mic for my horns.
Keyboard: For my keyboard set up, I use a Nord Stage 88 with a Behringer K3000FX amp.