Guys That Rock
Chances are the middle-aged guy sitting next to you in the office cube, cleaning your teeth, selling you your eyeglasses, cheering his kid alongside you at the soccer field, playing in the church band or advising you on your investments has an alter ego.
He might check out live music around Kansas City for inspiration or comb eBay and Craig’s List for guitars, drums and amplifiers. He might jam with other music-starved friends in basements of houses in upscale Johnson County subdivisions or dream of designing live performance sets as obsessively as product roll-out schedules. His iPod might be filled with tunes from late-60s rock because he can’t get enough of killer guitar riffs and then juxtaposes those classics with the latest alternative music hits. Issues of Rolling Stone might be interspersed with Fortune and Money on his bedside table.
Then there are the guys that walk their talk and form bands with names like Ryze, Rock of the Aged and Shrinkage and play in venues across the city. There are guys that embark on one-man shows crooning for Sinatra-starved audiences. There are guys with the unlikely name of The Doo-Dads that play for adoring fans between the ages of two and 12. And there are the wives, girlfriends, significant others and children who support the time requirements necessary to practice, practice, practice–and perform.
Guys that rock give a whole new meaning to the term “playdate.”
Welcome to the world of after-hours music, corporate style. Meet some of the Johnson County-based bands comprised of men who gear up for weekend shows, private events and even arena-style appearances after they leave the workday world behind.
CHANNELING THE RAT PACK (pictured from top to bottom)
Tony Antonucci’s name rolls off the tongue like some of the beloved silver-voiced icons he idolized growing up in the New York City borough of Queens and Long Island.
As a youngster, Antonucci, who moved to Overland Park with his family as a high school freshman in 1972, was fed a steady diet of not only his mother’s generations-old Italian cooking but also the elegant vocal stylings of Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.
“I always dreamed of being a professional entertainer,” says the smoky-voiced Antonucci. “I had a love of music and was enthralled with old movies and their scores.”
A trained guitarist, Antonucci joined garage bands as a teen that played casually for neighbors and friends. Eventually the aspiring musician was thirsty for that “big break” synonymous with being in the right place at the right time.
Antonucci knew he had to get serious about supporting a family when he met his wife, Karen, and the couple’s children were born. He gave up his well-worn dream of becoming a professional musician and launched a career in the hospitality industry. It was in 1999 that his brother-in-law Kevin Ryan, owner of a popular Waldo neighborhood bar and grille Governor Stumpy’s, encouraged Antonucci to consider a live lounge-style act.
“I remember my first performance,” laughs Antonucci. “I was sweating bullets, and couldn’t hold the microphone because I was shaking. It had been a long time since I was in front of people, entertaining them.”
Antonucci had carefully prepared 90 minutes of material, choosing well-known songs from the Rat Pack years, but in his estimation that first night lasted an eternity. Ryan started promoting the act, and the reluctant singer was back in front of a rapt audience the following month.
“It started getting easier,” says Antonucci. “I tweaked and fine-tuned my playlist, and the audiences responded favorably to what I was doing.”
Antonucci’s repertoire initially consisted of Sinatra and Tony Bennett hits, and then he started adding Bobby Darin and even Elvis songs in addition to other chart-busting artists from the 1950s and 1960s. His stage persona took on a life of its own, and Antonucci became an entertainer from another era with a confident charisma, engaging members of the audience and adopting the hep-cat, smooth-as-silk presence that was the trademark of his favorite performers from decades ago.
“I want people coming to see me to have a good time and reminisce or discover the swinging music their parents loved,” says Antonucci.
He says audiences are diverse in age and credits contemporary artists like vocalist Michael Bublé and smooth jazz trumpeter Chris Botti for introducing a new generation to the standards.
In addition to playing around town at places such as Jess and Jim’s SteakHouse in Martin City, the Drum Room at 14th and Baltimore and the Sunset Grille in Overland Park, conventions, private parties and weddings, Antonucci sings on the high seas.
“One night someone with Kansas City’s Global Travel office was in the audience,” recalls Antonucci. “She came up to me afterward and asked if I’d ever considered singing on a cruise ship. I said, ‘Yeah, and Vegas.'”
Five days later, the company called Antonucci and booked him as an entertainer.
Today, Antonucci works as a national accounts manager for a major distributor of food service products, sings on weekends and takes vacation time to perform on cruise ships. For the singer, it’s all in a day’s work.
ROCKING THE SUBURBS
The lineage of the rock band Shrinkage started when Dominic DeCicco, an East Coast transplant, and John Georgoulis, who relocated to Kansas City from Texas, met at the Johnson County preschool their children attended. In addition to sharing the carpool lane, the two dads shared a mutual love for the guitar. Then DeCicco met Sprint employee Les Ganninger at Tanner’s 143rd and Metcalf location one night over a beer where
conversation about a shared affinity for music led to a commitment to organize a band.
The trio has played together since 2006 and recently recruited 21-year-old Cody Simon to fill the vacated drummer’s spot. Like many bands, Shrinkage’s first engagement was playing for a neighborhood Memorial Day party followed by a 4th of July bash in DeCicco’s Johnson County subdivision where they rocked out with 20 songs. The party has become an annual affair, but Shrinkage has spread its musical wings far beyond a neighborhood block party.
The band has a confident and cool vibe of three guys–all who sing vocals–that have had music in their blood from an early age. DeCicco, a stay-at-home dad who plays acoustic and electric guitar for Shrinkage, grew up in the Bronx where he played in a band during his high school years.
“I went to college and put down my guitar for 15 years,” says DeCicco. “I picked it back up in 1991. I’ve written original songs and have done some recording with a former producer for Atlantic Records.”
Commercial trucking sales executive Georgoulis, a self-professed gear head and band guitarist, has bought and sold “tons” of musical equipment but has a burning passion for guitars. He owns 10 of the instruments, including acoustic and electric, and totes two Telecasters (including a sea foam green beauty) to performances.
“I’m still affiliated with an instrumental surf band called The Buena Vista in Dallas that I’ve played with over the past 25 years,” says Georgoulis. “I started playing at 13, have played in bands at college frat parties, in clubs and even on the quad at Tulane University.”
Ganninger, related to Jeff Tweedy of the rock group Wilco, plays bass guitar and was a relatively late bloomer to actually picking up an instrument–he was 19 when he had his first love affair with the bass and played in his cousin’s band in St. Louis.
“The only music I was involved with for a long time was singing in church,” says Ganninger, who still plays in a band every Sunday morning at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Overland Park.
Shrinkage practices weekly in Georgoulis’ basement, in a room he outfitted specifically for the band, and plays regularly at one of south Johnson County’s favorite bars, Llewellyn’s Pub, where they electrify the house with Tom Petty, Rolling Stones and Beatles standards. A crowd favorite is “Seven Drunken Nights,” a traditional Irish sing-along bar tune: Patrons go wild when Shrinkage launches into the first few bars. The band has played at the Grand Emporium, opening for artist Nathan Brooks on that coveted stage, and at Tanner’s.
The band also donates their time in playing at various non-profit benefits around town such as TLC for Children and Families and Operation Breakthrough.
Ganninger, who wears a crowd-pleasing kilt when the band plays, says a strength of the band is their diverse repertoire of 60 songs. Georgoulis reincarnates Johnny Cash in a spot-on rousing version of “Ring of Fire,” Ganninger connects with the audience on “Born on the Bayou” and DeCicco, whose 11-year-old son Dante occasionally sits in with the band on guitar and vocals, gets the crowd revved up with tunes like “The Joker” and the rock anthem “Come Together.”
The fairly young band attributes some of its success, in addition to musical acumen, to an agreed-upon credo of not taking themselves too seriously.
“For a hobby band like ours to work, many things have to be in alignment,” observes Georgoulis. “First and foremost there has to be a group of guys with common interests and goals in music. We play music we like and our audience enjoys.”
DeCicco likes being all grown up and playing in a band.
“When you’re a kid you always want something you can’t afford,” he says. “Now we can actually buy the equipment we need.”
THAT FABULOUS 70S SHOW
The five members of Ryze have the collective personality of that life-of-the-party group of guys in high school that were at once Eddie Haskell charming and experienced merry pranksters.
Formerly known as That 70s Band, Ryze plays primarily classic rock’n’roll from that decade and sometimes stretches back into the 60s for the juicy stuff. According to Randy Jordan, who plays keyboards, rhythm guitar and sings vocals and by day is president of C3 in Overland Park, the band plays songs that aren’t regularly heard.
“We dig into Journey, Styx, 38 Special, REO Speedwagon and Head East,” he says. “What’s really different about our band is the vocals–we sing four-part harmony on almost every piece.”
The members practice religiously every other Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and focus on new material in January and February before “gig season” starts in March. Ryze has a rotating play list of 100 songs and makes an effort to add at least eight new ones every year.
“It’s difficult to get five busy guys together for rehearsal, but in order to stay on your game, you have to do it,” stresses Jordan. “You don’t want to slide backwards once you’ve reached a certain plateau.”
Ryze plays approximately 35 concerts during the year, including Sidepockets in Olathe, Paddy O’Quigley’s, Jazzoo, events such as Glory Days in Clinton, Mo. and corporate functions. The group draws enthusiastic crowds that like to dance and have a good time reliving the music of their youth.
Drummer Rich Ferguson started his musical career singing with his sisters and father during church services in the rural northwest Missouri town of Oregon. He got his first drum kit at age 11 and played his way through several bands. He enjoys collaborating on original songs for Ryze with the other band members.
“We’ll pull a raw idea together and develop it. There are six originals we’ve been slamming in public for the past six months,” says Ferguson. “They’ve received great response.”
Don Rumsey, Ryze’s bassist, says he discovered rock’n’roll in 1956 by playing air bass on his Mickey Mouse guitar to Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” After being swept up in the music revolution, he knew in the fall of 1965 that a bass guitar was in his very near future.
Mike Shelton grew up in St. Joseph where his family was involved in music and remembers it being a vital part of his life from an early age. The lead guitarist and vocalist for Ryze credits his dad for encouraging him to play guitar starting at age 8.
“If it wasn’t for music, I don’t think I’d have made it through the tough times in my life,” says Shelton.
Ryze also has its own lighting and sound engineer, Keith Carr, owner of a full-service music retail store. A veteran of running sound for more than 15 years in various venues, Carr acquired his taste for sound reinforcement when he was put behind the board at church and asked, “Do you think you can do this?” Carr, who lists Ted Nugent and ZZ Top among his musical influences, also handles bookings, site inspections and promotion for the group.
“My wife, Sally, assists me with the operation of the lighting system at most performances,” says Carr.
Jordan credits the integrity and willingness of the band to have passionate, honest discussions about everything and still maintain their closeness.
“You have to be tough-skinned to play in a band,” concludes Jordan. “You’ve got to take constructive criticism. That’s what helps us grow.”
KIDS (AND ADULTS) AT PLAY
Founded in 2002, The Doo-Dads is a kid-cool rock’n’roll band that is the brainchild of four well-known veterans of the Kansas City music scene. Mike Niewald, guitar and vocals; Matt Kessler, bass and vocals; Ken Lovern, keyboard and vocals; and Joe Gose, drums and vocals are known as the “dads who do music.” The foursome balance work, play and parenting just like most dads and try not to take themselves too seriously. They’ve developed an infectious brand of kids’ music with the stamp of definite adult appeal.
“We stick close to our kids, affectionately known as The Doo-Drops,” says Niewald. “We look for the humor in everyday life, make really great music and have invented a formula for a rockin’ fun life.”
The Doo-Dads co-write the original songs and have released three CDs (with one in development), a DVD and have national exposure on XM Radio with “Mama Be Right Back,” a toe-tapping, hip-wiggling ditty that Lovern penned with Niewald’s help. The group’s music mixes rockabilly, blues, country and high-energy rock with a unique perspective that adults in the trenches of parenting appreciate.
“We even had one mom thank us for helping her through the rigors of potty training,” grins Niewald.
The four wear black-and-red shirts that hide their admitted bellies, use bubble machines during concerts and incorporate a video backdrop into their concerts that Niewald animated. They have regular gigs at Chicago’s Millenium Park and festivals in Denver, Des Moines, Lincoln and Tulsa. Locally, The Doo-Dads play at kid-friendly venues including Crown Center, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, The Kansas City Zoo and pumpkin patch events.
Lovern likes the honesty that kids have when listening to music.
“As a band, we don’t have the opportunity to have self-absorbed artist moments,” he says. “Kids aren’t worried if it’s going to be cool. They just want to have fun.”
Niewald says The Doo-Dads’ songs don’t necessarily teach lessons but offer pure entertainment in a positive, upbeat format.
“We want the kids to cut loose and dance and move to the music,” he says.
The Doo-Dads unanimously agree that the band is the hippest creative effort they’ve experienced in their collective years as musicians.
“It’s so different from what each of us has previously done,” says Gose. “The audience is always appreciative, including the kids and the adults that dig us. It makes it worthwhile.”
ADULT TIME OUT
Rock of the Aged’s drummer Doug Harris says the 1960s/70s cover band has two mottos: “We’re just grateful we’re not dead” and “Nothing new guaranteed.”
The band, formed more than 12 years ago, consists of Harris, principal of Leawood Elementary School; lawyer Bill Mallory, who plays lead guitar and sings lead vocals; dermatologist Mark McCune, who plays bass guitar; and investment counselor Bill Baum, who plays lead guitar.
“Two of us attended Church of the Resurrection in its infancy when members were meeting at Leawood Elementary,” says Harris, who has been the principal at the school for 21 years. “We met in a circuitous way through a Blues Brothers-style act in a talent show. We all live and work in this area so the pieces of the puzzle fell together rather quickly.”
Rock of the Aged is known for a song list that includes eternally popular songs such as “Magic Carpet Ride” and “Proud Mary” in addition to tunes by Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Beatles.
“It’s stuff that all of us heard in high school and college,” says Harris.
The band practices once or twice a week and plays engagements every four to six weeks around town at places like RC’s Back Door and festivals such as Taste of Leawood and even at The Lake of the Ozarks. A large number of the band’s bookings are for weddings, class reunions and other social events.
Harris says everyone in the band not only enjoys music but also one another’s company.
“I think that’s why our band has lasted so long,” acknowledges Harris.
In addition to their rock band, the four musicians play together at Resurrection.
Harris puts to rest the notion that a certain level of responsibility is inherent with age.
“One time we were playing in a neighborhood and the police came and asked us to stop,” laughs Harris. “Sound carries unbelievable distances. You’d think we would be old and responsible until the police come and shut you down.”