One of many '60's garage bands to use "The Morticians" moniker, Dennis Girrbach's band - from River Rogue, Michigan - released the fantastic slice of pure garage band genuis, It's Gonna Take A While.
An Interview With Dennis Girrbach
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Dennis Girrbach (DG): There was always music in our house. My mother played the piano. My father had a penchant for wearing out the grooves on LPs of the soundtracks of broadway show tunes. I can still recall most of the lyics to My Fair Lady! But it was the first wave of the British Invasion that really caught my attention. I was only 12 or 13 years old at the time.
60s: Was The Morticians your first band?
DG: The Morticians was the first and only band that I belonged to.
60s: Where was The Morticians formed, what year, and by whom?
DG: In River Rouge, Michigan. I think it was 1964. My brother Ed, his friend Dennis and me. We played at a few house parties in the neighborhood. Ed and I played guitar, Dennis was the drummer. We all did some vocals.
60s: Were there any personnel changes throughout the years?
DG: We had a few people join and leave the band over the years. I won't list them all. The orignal members were: Ed Girrbach - lead guitar, vocals, harmonica; Dennis Girrbach - rhythm guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, vocals; Dennis Chester - drums, vocals; Gary Poisson, organ, joined the group about a year after it started. He was with the group when we recorded It's Gonna Take a While. Gary left the group before we recorded If There Is Tomorrow (unreleased). Bill Hodges joined the group a little before Gary left. Bill was in the studio for If There Is Tomorrow.
60s: What was the flip to It's Gonna Take A While?
DG: The flip side was With Another Guy. The recording was done at United Sound Studios in Detroit near Wayne State University. The only thing I remember was the engineer's comment when we listened to the final mix. We thought it sounded pretty good. He referred to the high quality playback equipment and told us, "this stuff would make Mrs. Miller sound good!" I'm not sure he liked our songs.
60s: You wrote It's Gonna Take A While. Were you the band's primary songwriter?
DG: I was the only writer in the group. My brother was a good improviser. He contributed as we fine tuned the songs. I wrote three songs while the band was together. I've written a bunch of other songs and partial songs over the years; mostly just to entertain myself.
60s: It's Gonna Take A While is really a great slice of what is today called "garage band" music. Did you have any particular influence for that song?
DG: I really have no idea where that song came from. I'm sure it was influenced by a lot of things I'd heard, but I can't name them. That's what I like about writing. This stuff just comes out of nowhere.
60s: You've alluded to If There Is Tomorrow, an unreleased song. Are there any other unreleased songs in the vaults?
DG: That's the end of the trail in terms of an auditory history.
60s: Apparently, your father actually was a mortician. Whose idea was it to name the band?
DG: Yes, my father was a mortician. I don't remember whose idea it was. I don't even remember why we thought the name was cool. A lot of kids that we knew were a little freaked out by the funeral parlor. They thought it was odd to like above it like we did. We didn't think anything of it.
60s: Where did the band typically play - the usual schools, parties, teen clubs, etc?
DG: We started out playing in basements, house parties. When we thougth we were good enough we started playing at school dances. We quickly learned that it's harder to fill a gym with sound than a basement. We upgraded our equipment. I learned to play the bass (believe it or not, at the time I didn't even know what the bass was!). Then we stated playing in teen night clubs, frat parties and such. We played at one wedding. It was a disaster. The bride and groom were happy, but all the older people were pretty unhappy with our song selection. During one of our breaks, we figured we needed something to molify the oldsters. We quickly figured out the first verse (but not the chorus) to Let Me Call You Sweetheart. We went out and played the first verse four times. The oldsters got to dance once.
60s: What were some of the local Michigan teen clubs that you played?
DG: We played at The Club in Monroe and the Crazy Horse in Kalamazoo. We were frequent flyers at a place in Caseville, Michigan. I can't remember the name.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
DG: In the early days it was rock 'n' roll - simple stuff like Louie Louie, What'd I Say, You Really Got Me. A little later we added some Beatles, Stones, etc. Then we turned to more psychedelic stuff, (like) Hendrix. We covered a lot of bands that I can't remember now. There were a lot of one hit wonders back then.
60s: Did The Morticians have a manager?
DG: Dennis Chester's father, Don "Smokey" Chester, was our manager for most of the time. Toward the end we hired Ann Marsden, a former Miss Michigan.
60s: Why did you hire Marsden as your manager? What expertise did she have at the time, or what did she "bring to the table" that made the band think she'd be a good manager?
DG: I don't remember how that happened. I know that Ann was managing some other bands (I don't remember who). Unfortunately, I don't remember much about the gigs she booked for us or how long she was our manager. As a matter of fact, maybe I don't even have her name right...
60s: How popular locally did The Morticians become?
DG: That's hard to say. I think we were pretty popular in River Rouge, a Detroit suburb, and the cities nearby.
60s: Were there any other bands in River Rouge at that time?
DG: There were a few bands in River Rouge at the time. The only one I can recall now was called The Orange. There was a pretty good band in Allen Park (where I now live) called The Kleigs. And The Bossmen out of Flint were quite good. Of course there was Mitch Ryder, MC5, Bob Seger, The Rationals, The Scott Richard Case - all from Michigan. We opened for Seger at a nightclub in Ann Arbor, Michigan one time. As I recall he had just released Heavy Music. It was a bit of a humbling experience. His band was very professional.
60s: Did The Morticians participate in any Battle Of The Bands?
DG: I remember just one. It was in Wyandotte, Michigan. The other band was the local favorite. No band but them ever won the contest. In fact, some in the crowd wanted to beat us up afterwards. I think that was part of the local tradition. I don't remember what we played. I do remember that we did get paid...... that was important to us!
60s: How far was the band's "touring" territory?
DG: Detroit, Kalamazoo, Caseville, Monroe, Ypsilanti (all in Michigan), and Kingston, Ontario.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
DG: We appeared three times on Swingin' Time with Robin Seymour. It was broadcast out of Windsor, Ontario.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
DG: The older guys graduated from High School. Some went off to college. It's Gonna Take A While had found no commercial success. I think that was a big de-motivater. We were also pretty tired of lugging all that equipment around!
60s: What year would this have been in?
DG: 1968 or '69.
60s: Why didn't you pursue joining a band after The Mortician called it quits?
DG: That's an interesting question. I guess I was burned out. We had spent most weekends performing for a couple of years and of course many practice sessions. I wasn't anxious to get back into that.
60s: What keeps you busy today?
DG: Today I own and operate Girrbach Professional Services, Inc., an IT consulting company. Other than just playing for myself and family, I haven't been performing at all. A few years ago, I was involved with a coffee house/open mike venue on Grosse Ile, Michigan. For a couple of years I performed monthly (either) solo or with my brother.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Morticians?
DG: It's one of the fondest memories that I have. It was a great deal of fun. I can tell you that there's nothing you can do that compares to the thrill of being on stage!
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