Sunday, July 31, 2011
Paul Wheeler had been experimenting with music from a young age when he and some friends formed The Caterpillars, for which he played drums. The band "mostly did covers", Wheeler recalls, but also dabbled in the occasional original recording. One of those songs, a Wheeler written song called "Girls", debuted at a talent show.
"About the only lyrics from it that I remember were "Girls are made of a lot of mush / And when that mush is heated just right / It turns into a boy's delight!", Wheeler recalls.
Wheeler grew up a fan of The Beatles and worshiped the Fab Four, but he also loved The Doors and Jimi Hendrix and remembers seeing both bands in the same week. But The Stones became an obsession which eventually led him "over to the dark side", as he recalls, into the world of The Stooges and the underground music of the early 1970s. Before long Wheeler was grooving to the sounds of Amon Duul II and Can, and toying with the idea of starting another band.
“I heard The Stooges and just became fascinated with their music and their attitude," says Wheeler. "Eventually Larry and I decided that if The Stooges could make the most exciting music we were hearing with the primitive musical talent they seemed to have then so could we and we formed The Dizeazoes and went at it. At the time it felt like what I should be doing.”
Wheeler met Larry Dardick, who had been hanging around the progressive University City area of St Louis since his teenage years, through mutual friends in 1970. The two shared an interest in music and spent "countless hours discussing music and playing chess", says Dardick. The duo also attended concerts at places like The Rainy Day Club, where they witnessed early performances of bands like The MC5, The Stooges, and Alice Cooper. The two also began to jam in the basement of Wheeler's parents house in St Louis, and it is there that The Dizeazoes began to take form. Dardick would later go on to attend the University of Chicago, but would transfer to the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO after one year and become roommates with Wheeler at a place the bands' "merry band of knuckleheads", according to Wheeler, called the "FUN House" which would become the band's second practice space.
"In some respects it was kind of like The Monkees TV show," says Dardick. "The front room of the house was always set up for playing with amps, speakers, and the like. Most weekend evenings, when nothing else was going on we would play."
The band held weekly practices in the front room of the FUN House "to the displeasure of the people who had rented the basement of the house", Wheeler recalls. They were a cover band, but a cover band unlike any other. The band played songs by The Stooges, The Troggs, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, and other underground bands and would have found a hard time getting a gig anywhere with such a repertoire. Rehearsals were a spontaneous thing with the band going from song to song based on a "Let's do this one next!" sort of movement, though the band made an effort to focus on the first releases of popular bands like The Beatles and The Stones. Dardick had found a Gibson Eb-3 bass guitar for Wheeler in a pawn shop in St Louis and taught him to play "a couple of Stooges songs and a few oldies that normal people might know", says Wheeler.
The band would eventually fill out to include Lance Tyson, who had joined the band with no experience at playing drums ("But he wanted to be our drummer - that was good enough for us," recalls Wheeler), but the sticks were eventually handed over to his brother Garth. Lance would go on to play guitar.
The Dizeazoes would bounce around between rehearsal spots, but they eventually found a semi-permanent home in the basement of Wheeler's parents' house in St Louis.
"My parents were very cool about putting up with Dizeazoes practices in their basement," says Wheeler. "Of course, our practices were audible in the rest of the house. A couple of floors up our noise was more negligible, but on the first floor, where the kitchen was, it was certainly audible, and, of course, if you know anything about how the sound of bands carry, the bass tends to carry through walls and floors the best. I was told at some point that at least some of my family had decided that since it was my house the rest of the band allowed me to play the loudest. I was the one they could hear the most, so I must be playing the loudest."
Dizeazoes practices were far from private affairs. Any interested party was welcome to attend, which aided the band in their search for a vocalist.
"The singing spot was really up for grabs," says Wheeler. "If you were hanging around at a rehearsal and felt like singing a song, we were happy to let you have a go. If you sucked we might not encourage you to sing more, but we felt anyone deserved a shot."
But, of course, the practices were all about having fun and any sense of professionalism was an afterthought at best.
"It was almost always as much of a party as it was a rehearsal," says Wheeler.
And like any good party The Dizeazoes practice-parties were open to anyone with an interest in hanging out and having fun. One of those individuals was Norman Schoenfeld, who would go on to play in The Back Alley Boys and the Cigarette Butts, two early St Louis punk bands.
Paul Wheeler remembers one such instance when Schoenfeld crashed a Dizeazoes practice and attempted to add an impromptu woodwind section to the band.
"Norman called up and asked if he could come over," Wheeler recalls. "Mike Shelton yelled out that he could come over but he couldn't bring his guitar. Norman brought over his clarinet instead. The rest of us were rehearsing, probably playing Stooges songs, and Jeff Rosen ushered Norman into the basement, and set Norman up with a microphone over by the washing machine and dryer. I believe there were some sheets hanging up, drying, which obstructed our view of what was going on over there. Suddenly this high pitched squawking started up while we were playing. We kept playing, but we were all like, 'What the hell was that?'. Norman and Jeff unveiled that he was playing a cornet, or whatever it was. They pointed out to Mike that Norman had not brought over his guitar."
"We had lots laughs hanging around the basement and making noise," says Schoenfeld. "Just like any other basement/ garage band just kicking out the jams and acting out our 'rock star' fantasies."