Local Sounds

By Susan Drinkard

Playing rock 'n roll is not just for kids. Ask The Blue Weasels, a dance band born and raised in the Sandpoint area. For the boys in this band, all well into their fourth and fifth decades, rock and roll may be an antidote for aging, but who cares? They just have a great time playing music.

It's hard to believe this band once considered calling itself Home By Ten. What a misnomer that would have been. When the band plays the Sagle Community Hall, there's nary a soul who can stand still on the sidelines. And no one wants to stop dancing at 10 p.m.

"It's just so much fun," said Jerry Porter, who organized the group four years ago with long-time Bonner County residents Grant Hillen, Tim Hanna and Jim Little -- three teachers in the Bonner County School District -- and with drummer Tommy Henderson, who played professionally in the Long Island area before moving west in 1991.

The band is thrilled by the local response, but its efforts are not rewarded solely through crowd-pleasing. For the Weasels, it's music for music's sake.

Attending a rehearsal with this band is also a lot of fun. Each week the band sets up equipment, serious equipment, in Jim Little's living room in Sagle, and they play old favorites such as "Honky Tonk Woman," "Hello, Mary Lou," and the catapulting "Johnny B. Goode," as well as a myriad of newer tunes. The volume is loud. Their repertoire extends to 50-plus tunes.

There is no mic hog; they take turns singing. With eyes closed, Hanna, on keyboard, wiggles his shoulders and quakes with sincerity as he sings Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love."

Hillen is the teacher-rocker in black who looks as though he should be on an album cover. His is the mellow voice in the band. He is the youngest, incidentally, at age 45.

Little is the bass player with the best guitar, or so he says. The Desert Rose Band could substitute Little for Herb Pederson and only Herb's mother would recognize the switch.

It's Henderson who gets the real workout for the night, on the drums. But his arms don't seem to tire. Porter is the one with the deep voice and "good hair" who stands barefoot as he sings "Fool for Your Stocking"; instrumentally his forte is Chuck Berry tunes.

There is banter: "Hey, that was good for me. Was it good for you?" asks the keyboardist to no one in particular after playing rousing "Kathmandu." Laughter follows.

The future for The Blue Weasels is sure to include more gigs at the Sagle Community Hall this summer, where adults are admitted free-of-charge, and children under age 21 are charged $100 each. They occasionally play Schweitzer, and will play for parties locally.

"We're probably not headed for Nashville any time soon," Little said.

"But we will play every Monday night for the rest of our lives," Hanna said.

There's no weaseling out of aging, of course. But the term geezer rockers won't be applicable to these rock and rollers for a long time.

A lot of Cafe Gas

Cafe Gas has been playing acoustic music in Sandpoint for 10 years, but they don't consider themselves a formal band.

"We're a group of guys who get together and play music every Wednesday night," said Ray Pelland, who hosts anywhere from five to 10 string musicians amid tools and accouterments of his personal fishing craft business -- Kingfisher Showroom -- on McGhee Road. Still, these musicians frequently play for contra dance gatherings, benefit concerts -- and last summer opened for Alison Kraus, the country's top female bluegrass performer.

Pelland speaks for all the "members" of Cafe Gas when he says music should be played by everyone, not just listened to. "The fun is doing music," he said. The group has a community-oriented approach to music. Anyone who wants to jam with them is welcome to come out. They aren't snobby about ability level, and there is beer in jugs and lots of potato chips. This band has character.

The core of the group is Pelland, who plays the banjo; Dennis Coats, guitar; Steve Sykes, guitar; Tom D'orazi, mandolin; Ted Bowers, bass; Woody Aunan, fiddle; Lonnie Hawkins, guitar; and Randy Cope, banjo and dobro.

Pelland, who also designs machine software for industrial computers, said most of the members are over 45 and are fairly well-established professionally in Sandpoint. Cope is a physician; Hawkins is an engineer; Aunan teaches chemistry at the high school; D'orazi is in real estate. "So you have people who spend all day in left brain, solving problems. This serves as a time to blow out the cobwebs, to have fun and make noise. We all do this and see it as a great release," Pelland said.

One feels a bit silly at a Cafe Gas "rehearsal" without an instrument. (Perhaps envy would be more honest.) It all looks so effortless. Musicians sit on sawhorses or stand close to the sheets of music and to the chips. They play a lot of Civil War era tunes, as well as older western swing such as tunes by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. "We don't do a lot of strict bluegrass," Pelland said.

Favorite tunes in the band's repertoire of 50 include "Soldier's Joy," "Hot Corn, Cold Corn," "Blue Night," "Arkansas Traveler," and "Play Dixie for Me." Sykes and Cope are both fairly prolific writers. Recently Cope wrote a song about the Militia of Montana.

Woody refuses to sing, said Pelland, because he plays the fiddle up high, and "the rest of us sing too much."

Cafe Gas doesn't get too worked up about singing in public. "Sandpoint already has good musicians who make a living doing that. We don't want to cut into their living. We're the people you call when you can't afford people who are really good." Yeah, right.

Susan Drinkard has been swaying to the music around these parts since 1981.

Back to Contents Page -- 1996 Summer Sandpoint Magazine