Music to My Ears

The Wildweeds

“I’m listening to WDRC BIG D in Hartford!”

In 1967 WDRC, a Hartford pop station (What’s Doing Round Conn.) 1360 on your AM dial, was running a promotional radio contest. Every hour the DJ would call a random phone number and if you answered “I’m listening to WDRC, BIG D in Hartford!” exactly, no substitutes, exclamation point assumed, and knew how much money was in the jackpot, you won the jackpot. If the caller that hour failed to answer correctly or didn’t know the jackpot, the jackpot increased by $13.60. The worst that could happen is you’d win in the first hour. The effect of course was anyone who participated had to listen to that damn station all day to keep track of the jackpot. And know how to add. $13.60 is a tough number. Pre-calculators dude.

My mom was an amateur sociopath and like most of her persuasion when she got stuck on something it would not come loose. She believed absolutely we were going to win this contest. We were all assigned times we had to listen and keep track of the jackpot. If you were home sick from school the transistor radio was installed next to your bed and your torture was to have to listen to “Winchester Cathedral” by the New Vaudeville Band (look dat POS up, No 1 with a bullet) or the Herman’s Hermits “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am” (second verse, just like the first) played incessantly and keep track of that flippin jackpot.

Yes, you know the end of this one. One night the phone rang. My brother went to answer it, but suddenly Mom was pounding up the stairs from the basement yelling “Stop! Don’t answer that!” Apparently she had forgotten to add the last hours’ jackpot to the tally kept right by the phone (only phone in the house) so the total was wrong. She wrenched the phone from Ed’s hand, causing possible future nerve damage and answered “I’m listening to WDRC, Big D in Hartford!” Pause. Then “Yes! It’s $1210.40!” Everyone in the kitchen froze because we knew what had just happened.

After the general pandemonium subsided it was decided that despite this new found vast wealth we all had to go to school the next day. I remember not sleeping. I felt as though everything had changed. Would the kids at school treat me differently because of our fortune? Would we move to a new home? Was I too young to buy a car? How much do girls cost? Being all of 12 years old I wasn’t sure of the laws about such things, but I did know $1200 was a vast sum to a family that was known to re-wrap Hot Wheels cars for Christmas. The fact that $1200 was all that separated a family between middle class worry and enormous wealth boggled my fevered brain.

My Dad had just started his own business and wanted to use the money to buy equipment and materials and get a jump ahead on cash flow. Mom wanted a pool. Three weeks later when the pool arrived our fame had spread far and wide, at least up and down Ash Drive.

A byproduct of all that listening to WDRC was a new band had emerged and had a hit. The band was the Wildweeds and the song “No Good To Cry”.

 

We all thought this a black Motown band but found out we lived near these guys. I grew up in Windsor Locks, CT, and her sister town next door was Windsor. All the ‘Weeds were Windsor boys, and one would become well known. Big Al Anderson was the guitar player, songwriter for the band and vocalist on this cut and would go on to be the guitarist for NRBQ for 22 years. The others in the Weeds were Andy Lepak on drums, Ray Zeiner keyboards, Bob Dudek bass and Martin “Skip” Yakaitis on percussion. Andy’s dad Alex was a professional musician and teacher who first recognized the talent these guys had and would be their first manager. He helped them get recorded, paid them salaries and instilled in them a professional respect for the business. Our friends from Windsor remember hearing the band practice at the Lepak’s house, and not because Mr. Lepak was managing them. The fact is bands always practice at the drummer’s house for obvious reasons. This is a cautionary tale for anyone out there who has a kid that wants to play drums. You will be subjected to all manner of repeated mayhem.

By the beginning of 1967 the Weeds had tightened into a rocking soul outfit and soon we were hearing them playing in the local halls like the K of C in Windsor Locks and at festivals all over New England. Their focus was soul and R&B and they could rock it. Surely bands like the Beatles and Stones had used blues and R&B to crossover with rock but these guys’ heroes were people like Ray Charles, the Impressions, and Otis Redding. The Wildweeds’ music reflected this and wowed audiences all over New England.

The first releases in 1967 include the next three selections and showcase both Anderson’s song writing ability and their roots in soul. This first, “It Was Fun (While It Lasted)”:

 

And “Someday Morning” 1967:

 

There was, and still is, a hot dog and fried clam shack called Bart’s down by the river just before you cross under the railroad bridge going into Windsor. Guys who grew up there remember Big Al showing up in a new Corvette that Summer of Love. From that summer, “Can’t You See That I’m Lonely”:

 

The band had gotten the attention of Chess records and they were recorded on a subsidiary Cadet Records. But as much of a rabid regional following the band had, the record company didn’t know what to do with these guys so nothing was happening nationally. The band experimented with changes in musical direction and as early as 1968 we heard more of a rock sound. Here’s “I’m Dreaming” with Dudek on vocals. Nice bass player by the way.

 

Eeep. That scared my cat.

By 1970/72 the band was changing people and direction so much they eventually just lost the way. From 1972 “C’mon If You’re Comin'”.

 

In 1970 Skip Yakaitis talked Big Al into seeing this band called NRBQ that was touring from the south. In 1972 NRBQ booked the Wildweeds to play a gig in Clinton Corners, NY in what was essentially an audition for Big Al. NRBQ’s guitar player, Steve Ferguson was leaving the group and they needed some fresh meat. Thus started a 22 year relationship that will be lovingly covered in my next column.

Here’s a vid of a Wildweeds reunion in Windsor Locks. My wife of 45 years and I are from there so..wow.

 

Here’s a taste of what NRBQ were like live. Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm”. Ironically on Carlene Carter’s TV show.

 

Shiver me Timbers.