Continuing our look at the great '60's garage bands that hailed from the state of Michigan (after our interviews with members of
Tonto & The Renegades, Bark Of Paper Mulberry, Count & The Colony, The Cherry Slush), 60sgaragebands.com is pleased to present an
interview with Dennis Pinkston of The Coffeehouse Blues. Produced by Bob Baldori - the man behind The Woolies - The Coffeehouse
Blues regularly rocked the Tri-State area from '66 to '68.
An Interview With Dennis Pinkston
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Dennis Pinkston (DP): It was in '63...I was about ten years of age, walking aimlessly through life - and then The Beatles landed! I remember seeing them on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW and hearing all those girls screaming! It was a turning point in my life; from that moment on I knew exactly what I wanted to do! My folks bought me one of those $15 Sears & Roebuck (sunburst) Silvertones. The fretboard action really was so bad that your fingers would bleed! But I had that magnetic center in me that wanted to get as good as I could on the guitar! The folks also gave me the basement to set up and play in - God love 'em: guitars, amplifiers, drum sets - everything, every noise you can imagine comin' up out of that basement! I started gettin' better, and a year later, on my 11th birthday, Dad bought my first electric - a white Supro guitar with a Supro amplifier; it had one of those big ol' square pick-ups on it. It was very loud for the times! Everything was the music in those times: chord structures, riffs, tryin' to get it right...practice, practice, practice...put the arm back on the stereo...gotta get it right...practice...oh yeah, and girls screamin' on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW!
60s: Was The Coffeehouse Blues your first band?
DP: Well, no, but they hardly bear mentioning! Let's see...it started with The Wild Ones and Page Four...my Italian phase! We had Frank Gadeleto on lead vocal and guitar; Emil DiVeitri on drums; and Rick Schall on bass. We had fun. Frank's dad was our manager, and he owned all the juke boxes in town, very cool! He booked us here and there; everything from Battle of the Bands, to burger joints, to Sicillian weddings at the ol' Diamond-Reo Ballroom. I will have to say, I started playin' bars at the age of 12. I remember meeting some real characters at the time...guys with the middle name "the"! I know I was on my best behavior meetin' these people; quite an experience at the time! Let's see...then it was The Chanel 5. I must have been getting better at playin' because everybody started gettin' older around me, all of a sudden people were twice my age, go figure! We were such legends...yuk!
60s: When, then, was The Coffeehouse Blues formed, what year, and by whom?
DP: It was Lansing, Michigan - The home of the Oldsmobile and my hometown. I still miss it! The year was '66 and I was 14. We all went to different schools together! I had replaced a kid by the name of John Gross on guitar. I don't remember how they found me, but it was great workin' with these guys! We had Brad Hersey on vocals and the Hammond organ. This kid was hotter than a pistol, what a showman! On the Fender Jazz bass and vocals we had Mr. Tommy Lane, just a' thumpin' out the bottom line! Roy Cox was our drummer. Roy was a little older than the rest of us. It was at Roy's folk's place that we rehearsed, in the breezeway. I was the guitar player. It was a great time; we were together about two to three years!
60s: Where did the band typically play?
DP: Everywhere. We'd play the opening of an envelope! No, I'm sorry, but we did play everywhere...we were playin' five to eight gigs a week! Two in a day at times! We were playin' the nicest rooms around at the time. With a song on the radio locally it was very easy to book the band. Everything from dance halls, to frat parties, to armories, to concerts, to the local SWING LIVELY TV show on Channel 6! I remember one strange gig we played - it was a benifit at the Coldwater Mental Institution. The only band they had ever seen was on TV; so as we finished our set we were treated to a standing ovation, and they (God, bless 'em!) were screamin' out, "Yeah, The Monkees!" We did some nice gigs back then also...quite a few opening up for bands like Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes when they first started, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Spencer Davis Group (with Stevie Winwood), Heads Over Heals, and others. At the same time we were the headliners all over the state! Because we played a lot of soul, and R&B, black people loved us!. I'll never forget workin' the Hullabaloo in Lansing. We were playin' James Brown's Say It Loud. It was us, and about a dozen of my brothers up on stage doin' the 'camel walk' You can't replace memories like that! We played everywhere. It was great!
60s: Did you play any of the local Michigan teen clubs?
DP: All of 'em!
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
DP: The Tri-State area: Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, into Indiana and into Windsor, Canada. We were still school kids! As it was, I still broke my mother's heart comin' in so late, or not at all!
60s: What do you recall about the band's appearance on SWING LIVELY?
DP: We were excited, it was different for us! Make up artist powderin' your nose for the lights, and all but the weirdest thing was having to pantomine our songs: standing up there fakin' it! You couldn't play it live back then, but we did it, and that was that!
60s: You played a lot of soul and R&B. How would you best describe the band's sound?
DP: We were a dance band - whatever it took to fill the dance floor! Our biggest influences were Motown, R&B, and rock and roll! At that time, it was everything from The Temptations, James Brown, Sam & Dave, The Four Tops, Percy Sledge, Little Anthony and The Imperials, and The Righteous Brothers to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Young Rascals, etc. It was the mid-'60's and that's what people were listening to! As far as our sound; it wasn't bad, we were hot for the times! We had the music down, and we had the vocals together...I can honestly say, lookin' back, we were a good working band. Those guys were great!
60s: Did The Coffeehouse Blues have a manager?
DP: Yes, we did - Al Peterson! All Al ever wanted to do was belong to the band, to be a part of it! He kept us booked solid for the entire time that we were together. There should be a plaque made for Al, and hung up somewhere in Lansing for all the work and effort he put into it...and all the abuse that everyone of us gave him! God, we were rough on 'im! He had the time of his life with us! He is still there in Lansing; and we still owe him thanks for everything he did for us!
60s: How did you hook up with Bob Baldori?
DP: Well, let's see. Bob Baldori had a real nice thing goin' with his band The Woolies. I remember they had won the nation-wide Vox Battle of the Bands! They put out a recording of Who Do You Love, which I think is the best version that I've ever heard of that song. It really was well done. I give credit where credit is due! Bob produced our little 45 for us on his label, Spirit Records. I remember us rehearsing at the old "Woolies" House on Willow St. The Baldori house looked like a haunted mansion out of some gothic horror movie, or something! Itv was real dark, with spires, and everything. I really hated to see that place go! Anyway, we rehearsed there for week or so, and then off we went to Detroit. We booked a four or five hour block of time at an old abandoned Motown studio out on Livernois Ave. It was surrounded by miles and miles of car lots. It was a sea of Cadillacs! When we walked in the studio...who's sitting there but Mitch Ryder. He was workin' on something at the time and wanted our pre-booked recording time, as I remember. Boy, was he pissed when he didn't get it! But anyway, we went in, Bob worked the board, and we recorded Gettin' Over You and Good-Bye Baby, a couple of songs that Brad had written for his girlfriend at the time! I still call Bob up every once in a while. He's done some great things over the years! Did you know The Woolies opened The Grande Ballroom in the beginning? They have been Chuck Berry's band in the Midwest for some 35 years now, and the other day I saw a great picture of Bob and his brother Jeff standing next to Muddy Waters and his band! Anyway, yeah, I've always liked Bob; he was a big help to us at the time!
60s: Did The Coffeehouse Blues write many original songs?
DP: No, we were more into the live gig thing. I really don't know why; we should have! We just recorded the one single; the money was pretty good, and we rode that puppy on out for two or three years! I regret that we didn't. I guess we were havin' too much fun! There's really no excuse!
60s: How popular locally did The Coffeehouse Blues become?
DP: Well, that's a loaded question! We did well throughout the state. We had a 45 on the air in Lansing and around Michigan. We hit #3 on the WILS chart in Lansing for about three weeks. We had write-ups in The State Journal. We'd done the local TV station house. We were booked everywhere. We were making real good money for a bunch of kids! I think the only bands that were bigger in our hometown of Lansing were The Woolies, and Danny Hernandez and The Ones; God, I hope I haven't left anybody out of the picture...but that's pretty accurate!
60s: Well, what other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
DP: This is where it gets to be fun! There were so many. Let's see...first, and foremost, our main competition, and mutual buddies at the time would have had to have been Ronnie Hernandez and The New Paris Bakery. I think of all the bands that crossed our paths on the road the most it was them! We're talkin local Lansing bands here! There was also The Woolies, The Plagues (later known as The Plain Brown Wrapper), Danny Hernandez and The Ones (Ronnie's uncle); they had the song You Haven't Seen My Love out. They were the first white band to record for Motown Records, I believe! All of these people were great people to know! I remember - when I was a little younger - sneakin' downtown to a little teen club called The Incline and watchin' Danny Hernandez play in a band called Peppi and The Problems. He was a huge influence on a lot of pople in that town! I called him about five years ago down in Florida when I'd heard he was having health problems. He passed away shortly after, but I had to tell him what a big influence he was on me when I was young. God, he could play that funky, soul music! Anyway, there were other bands, but I didn't have as much experience with 'em. There was The Beaux Jens, whose drummer I would work with a few years later in a band called The Maxx, Joe Panessidi! Also, out of that band was bass player Gordy Garris, who went on to play with one of Michigan's biggest bands, Dick Wagner and The Frost! You have to realize how early in the scheme of things this was...'64 thru '67; it was really just gettin' started. There weren't many rock clubs up until then, but in Michigan, all of a sudden it all broke loose big time! We had the time of our lives; all of us; all the bands!
60s: Why did the band break up?
DP: It got a little wild as time went on! People were smokin' that stuff in the band's Chevy II Van as it was parked outside at the Everett High parking lot. Roy was getting pull over a couple times a week. It was gettin' so hot we pulled the plug, before one of us went to the can over it! But I ended up goin' on to bigger and better things later! I still regret how it was all handled.
60s: What were some of those "bigger and better" things that you moved onto after The Coffeehouse Blues?
DP: Well, after the group broke up I put together a couple different bands. They were small attempts; good music, but no big push business-wise. One: Bandana - an excellent music., and another Otis - excellent music, but nothing ever came of it! Then n '68, or so, some friends of mine in a band called The Maxx called me! One of the guitar players had to leave and they wanted me in there quickly! That's when my thing in music really started to take off. They had recorded a little single called 200 Years before I'd joined up, and I hit the road with them for the next few years...but that's another story!
60s: What about today. How often, and where do you perform?
DP: Well, I have a little trio I'm putting together at this time called Ghost; it will end up being a high-energy blues-rock band! I've got excellent people with me, and I'm dyin' to get into the studio with these guys! I'm due for a power trio again. Living out here in Los Angeles, it just lends itself to the whole idea! It should be exciting to see that emerge. I've just made contact with my ol' drummer from The Maxx, Joe Panessidi, after 25 years! We want to do some Maxx originals in 2003! But what keeps me the busiest is my five-year old boy, Lloyd, and my wonderful wife, Michele! I'm livin' the sweet life!
60s: Looking back, how do you best summarize your experience with The Coffeehouse Blues?
DP: Gee, we were just kids, but we did have a great time with it! You know, when you are involved in something like that, like we were, you think it's goin' to stay together forever. You don't save anything: old posters, promo shots, even the 45 itself. I'm sure everbody really regrets that - I know I do! All you're left with is the memories...but what great memories! Irreplaceable! There are a few people out there who remember us, I'm sure!
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