November 15, 2016

From the Vaults: Dwight Chicago

    Okay.  His name was really Dwight Kater, but every time I listen to the band Chicago, I think back to Dwight, therefore, Dwight Chicago is how I remember him.   When Dwight and his family first came to Marquette, they lived in the faculty housing units on Center St. two blocks from my house and halfway to my buddy Nick Gorski’s home on Garfield Ave.  By the time I met Dwight, Nick and I had been friends and band mates (as in ‘JH and HS band’ not ‘rock band’) for a couple of years.  We weren’t even in the same musical sections (I was a drummer, Nick played baritone, and Dwight was a flautist), but we chummed around for a few months early in high school until the Katers moved to another part of town.

       I haven’t even seen Dwight in over forty five years, so why is he embedded deep enough in my memory banks that I forever link him with Chicago?  It is because Dwight was the person that introduced me to the band, Chicago.  It wasn’t a huge, “Man, you have to hear this band,” moment.  We stopped by Dwight’s apartment one day and he just happened to pull out the first Chicago double album for us to listen to while we visited.  Chicago Transit Authority was both the name of the band and the album (Chicago later shortened their name when the real CTA threatened legal action) and from the first track, I was hooked.  

    There were other bands dabbling in the genre referred to as ‘horn rock’ (like Blood Sweat and Tears, Chase,  and the Ides of March), and I always liked the music they made, but somehow Chicago put a different twist on the concept.  As the first three tracks played (Introduction, Does anybody really know what time it is? and Beginnings), I totally lost track of time and space.  My next trip to The Sound Center (my favorite music store on Third Street, now occupied by a bagel outlet) was for the expressed purpose of buying this double album.  This little episode got me thinking about how many occasions I could remember when I heard certain bands and songs the first time with similar impact.  It didn’t really surprise me that many of these instances came from my friends and neighbors.

    I can attribute my love of The Doors to Jeff Lewis.  Like Dwight, Jeff had a family member who worked at NMU and we met in confirmation class in eighth grade.  Jeff was a piano player and when I found out he had a small electric organ, we started making plans to play together.  The first time he lugged the organ over to my house, we tried in vain to wire it up to my stereo extension speakers but neither of us had the electronic IQ at this point to make it work.  We played Summer in the City by the Lovin Spoonful over and over because it had a nice organ and drum part.  Jeff’s organ wasn’t very loud so we just sang without microphones.  We ended up doing the rest of our playing together at Jeff’s house in Shiras Hills  (one of the tonier new neighborhoods in south Marquette).  The Lewis home had a baby grand piano in the family room so I would end up leaving my drums there for a couple of weeks at a time.  It was a long bike ride from my house to Jeff’s but I spent a lot of time there.   Jeff and I pooled our money and shared custody of The Doors first eponymous album, at least until he scratched the daylights out of the first two minutes of The End which made it real hard for me to play along to.

    The music at Jeff’s became more of an afterthought.   Jeff was somewhat of a lady’s man, so our music sessions became shorter and shorter as his female admirers began showing up and dragging us here and there.  I can even thank Jeff for my first blind date as he talked me into a bowling trip at the Four Seasons Lanes and Lounge without mentioning we were meeting one of his girl friends there who insisted that he bring a date for her friend.  Music at Jeff’s house came to a screeching halt when I showed up one day unannounced to pick up my drums and found him jamming with a couple of guys he was going to be in a band with.  Not only was there a stranger banging on my drums, he was left handed and had messed up my carefully aligned mounted tom bracket to make it easier for him to play.  Even though it took me twenty five years to finally replace the album with the ruined track, I still think of Jeff when I play The Doors.  

    Not all of my musical introductions came from guys I played music with.  Nick and I developed what I can only call and eclectic taste in music.  Listening sessions at his house included such varied fare as Captain Beefheart, Cream, The Who, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, as well as my first exposure to the Sgt.Pepper era Beatles.  Another good friend Mitch (we hung out together so much that we called each other’s parents Ma and Pa II) put me on to Three Dog Night (Live at the Forum), CCR (he had the first four CCR albums before I ever saw them in the stores), The Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers was a favorite) and Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon).  Jim Soderberg put me in touch with a Texas band via San Francisco called Fever Tree that I still like a lot.  When my neighbor Louie Lundquist was working at learning the guitar and collecting Big Daddy Roth hot rod models, he also amassed quite a collection of Beach Boys 45s that he let me borrow from time to time.  My next door neighbor Harold used to loan me his sister’s Dave Clark Five records and would always remind me that Dave Clark was a singing drummer.  Naturally, I decided that I too, would become a singing drummer.

    One of my most memorable ‘first encounters’ with a new album came during the summer I was the fill in rehearsal drummer with the guys who eventually became The Self-Winding Grapefruit.  Near the end of one of our practice sessions, Mike McKelvey (who would be a founding member of the fabled Marquette / Ann Arbor band Walrus) stopped by with a new album he had recently picked up in California.  He said, “You gotta hear this band!” and dropped the phonograph needle on Purple Haze, the opening track of the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album Are You Experienced?  I remember hearing this song in my head for a few weeks until The Sound Center finally got a shipment of this LP.  I was just learning to play the tracks off the album when I attended my first legal high school dance that fall (having snuck into more than a few in JH courtesy of my sister).  I smiled broadly when McKelvey’s pre-Walrus band (whose name escapes me today) launched into Purple Haze.  I took great pride in telling everyone around me everything I knew about the band, song and album because I was one of a handful of people in Marquette who had the album at that time.  

    Music tastes change and there is always something new coming around the bend.  When I first started to learn to play rock and roll drums, I spent time learning songs by playing along with 45s from the Top Forty.  When I progressed in to LPs, the material I was learning became more advanced and the types of music I was listening to grew exponentially.  When I began playing with other musicians, my learning curve took another jump.  Throughout the process of learning to play the drums, I realized that I liked many types of music.  I don’t get to play as much as I would like to these days, but even when I do the occasional fill in gig with Easy Money,  I still learn something new at every gig.  So thank you, Dwight (Chicago) Kater and everyone else who has shared the gift of music over the years.  It has been a fifty year labor of love and as long as there is music to be heard out there, I won’t ever be bored.

Top Piece Video – Speaking of The Dave Clark Five and singing drummers . . .