The Bands

John's Musical Autobiography

Aaah...a sigh of pleasure escapes my lips as I run my fingers over her body. Her perfect, round curves leave me wondering, "How did I end up with her? Why me?" But that thought becomes but a whisper, as I bring my fingers to gently caress her neck. Her beautiful, slim neck. Then, without saying a word, I ease my hands down the length of her body, and slowly remove her G string...
              From the book ... 'How to Change Guitar Strings'

I decided it was time to put together a biography/resume of my years of being a musician. This isn't complete yet but it's a good start.

In The Beginning . . .
I always assumed my interest in music came only from my mother's side of the family. I believe this was due to the fact that my mother has a beautiful voice for singing church hymns and Dad... well... I really only ever heard him sing in church. Plus, Dad's interest in music was totally summed up by one album - 'Gunfighter Ballads' by Marty Robbins. This was the only album I ever heard him listen to and that wasn't very often.

Come to find out, on my dad's mother's side, there was a whole family band! They were popular in the earlier part of the 1900's around the Perrysburg, Ohio area. Dad was always bragging and telling complete strangers about me playing in a band - sometimes to my great embarassment. I understand more now. He was proud of the fact that I'm carrying on a family tradition - be it about two generations removed. He always encouraged my music and bought me things I wanted and needed even though he didn't really understand what all of it was.

I am told my first musical interest appeared around the age of 3. The song was 'Puff, The Magic Dragon' by Peter, Paul, and Mary. I would stand by our old big box record player (on chrome legs, no less) and jump up and down yelling 'Puff...Puff!!!' The only music I remember around that era were 45's that we had... Waltzing Matilda, Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, North to Alaska, and Dad's Marty Robbins album. Then transistor radios hit and I remember my teenage sisters listening to WOHO in Toledo and CKLW in Detroit/Windsor. Later on I got into the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Elton John. After we moved to Oak Harbor around 1970, my Catholic school days began. We did LOTS of singing there!. Then the mid 70's hit and what we now call 'Classic Rock' was on top. Somewhere along the line, I decided I was a great singer and could become a star.

I should first make mention of my two great music teachers that I had around the same time as the first band, Starfire. First was Scotty Sears. Scotty was a soft spoken shorter guy with sandy blonde hair and a full beard. He was heavily trained in music theory and was seriously into jazz. Scotty played a blonde Gibson hollow-body guitar - very beautifully, I might add. My favorite quote from Scotty was "Put on a Jean Luc Ponty album with the headphones, a nice glass of wine in hand... it's better than making love to a woman." That should be enough to help you picture Scotty.

After Scotty taught me everything I thought I needed to know, I quit the lessons. He was trying to take me into heavy music theory. At 16, I really didn't care about writing out scales and stacking notes on lined paper in little notebooks. I was on my way to becoming a great bassist!

When I think back, Scotty was very generous. He helped our budding band out on a gig playing for Ron's brother's wedding. This really had to have been lowering his standards to play with a bunch of beginner musicians like us. He also invited me to a jam session held in his back yard and let me set in with some of the top musicians of the area.

My second teacher was Kevin Cullen, bassist of the Together Band from Fremont. Together was THE hot band of the area - playing top 40 rock on the Holiday Inn circuit. There were two of Kevin's brothers and another guy that made up the band. They even cut an album! Kevin was alot of fun. His style of playing was very progressive and funky. I learned quite a bit from him, too.

The first garage band... actually we were a basement band. A fun learning experience. I still remember how to play songs like 'Take Me Home Country Roads', 'King of the Road' and a rousing instrumental version of 'Crazy on You' by Heart. We played 4 or 5 jobs. The very first was a 4-H dance at R.C. Waters school in Oak Harbor where 10 people showed up. Another job was Chet's Place Campground. Got paid $20 a piece!! The croud was very gracious and told us we were good. We also played for several 'Proms' at the Riverview school for the mentally handicapped. Those were a great time! One girl (lady) danced all afternoon, whether we played or not. Everyone treated us like stars! We even signed our first autographs!

We would practice in Ron's basement and take breaks to run to Frank's Corner Dairy Queen to get milkshakes.

Talking about this era would not be complete without a mention of Don Odesky from Toledo. I first met Don at the Grinnell's music store which was located in the Woodville Mall in the Elder Beerman wing (a long time ago, kiddies). The Woodville Mall is now history having been torn down in 2016.

First a little history... Since my singing skills alone were not gonna make me famous, I decided to play guitar. As luck would have it, around that time, my parents and I made a trip to my Uncle Bill and Aunt Alice Roth's house in Willard. My cousin Sue wasn't home that day, but she had a new acoustic guitar with the good old Mel Bay guitar book. I proceeded to spend the entire evening teaching myself to play while the grownups played cards in the kitchen. By the end of the night, I had learned 8 or 9 chords, a couple songs, and had some VERY SORE fingertips! My own first guitar was a Tedesco (read: cheap japanese) electric. I'm not even sure where it came from. Sitting down with my buddy, Wade, I was quickly informed that I didn't 'strum right'. After several of these sessions being told the same thing, it was time to make a change... Bass Guitar! You don't have to strum them! Less strings to mess with, too.

Here's where Don Odesky comes in. He was the salesman that set me up with my first Bass, a Kay Rickenbacker copy shortneck. Came with a strap and it's own cardboard box (and bubble wrap)! No, I didn't have a bass amp but he took Dad and myself aside and told us he could set me up with a very nice PA amp that also could be used as a bass amp. I don't remember what it cost, but we now had a Shure 'Vocal Master' PA amp and homemade speaker cabinets with JBL 15" speakers. When Don came out to deliver the system, we got an impromptu jam session going in the dining room. Boy, could he play guitar! Then he tells us that he's actually a keyboard player! Maybe we we're easily impressed at that age. Anyway, I did see his name on the board at a Toledo Holiday Inn several years later. He had a duet with some gal at that time. So that's the Don Odesky story.

  • Time frame: Mid thru late 1970's
  • Other Personnel:
    Wade Zunk - Guitar, Vocals
    Bill Lenke - Guitar, Vocals
    Ron Helle - Drums
    At times, we would have other blossoming musicians join us. Some stayed a while - some were just one nighters.
    Bruce Hammond
    Beth Johnson
    Tonya Lewis
I'm sure there were more, I just can't think of any at the moment.

One day, I mention to Tom at TR's Music in Fremont that I'm looking for a band. Within weeks, I get a call from Doug Chick. Next thing I know, I'm in a basement in East Toledo rehersing songs.

My first bar band. I learned a whole lotta songs in a very short period of time. I had cheat sheets all over my amp. Some of the songs were older than me and I'd never really heard them before. Luckily they were desperate enough for a bass player to put up with me till I learned the ropes. Got to play with one of the most versatile guitar players in Toledo. Dusty was a great teacher. I was still 17 when I started this gig. We were the house band at the 'Carriage Inn' in Perrysburg which was a 21 club in the days when there were clubs for 18 year olds and up and clubs for 21 and up. They served me anything I wanted which would probably never happen today. I developed a great appreciation of 'Black Russians' - I also decided about this time that if I was gonna be playing every weekend, that getting drunk 'Every Weekend' was probably not a good idea. Unfortunately, through the years, I played with too many musicians that did not make that same decision.

We did the full gambit of music types - Lefty Frizzel to Pointer Sisters. After about 3 months, Dusty left (with no notice) and attempts to replace him were unsuccessful so the band disbanded.
  • Time frame: 1980-1981
  • Other Personnel:
    Darryl 'Dusty Roads' Hooser - Lead Guitar, Vocals
    Joann Lynn - Vocals
    Doug Chick - Drums

After the breakup of Sugar and Spice, I once again mentioned to Tom that I was looking for a band. In a very short time, I received a call from Rick Widman. This was the start of a very long musical relationship with Rick.

For a time we were a 4 piece group according to the pic below at my high school graduation party.

Kentucky Brew was a very successful band with harmonies and a good selection of country/country rock songs. We cut an 8 song demo tape at Brownwood Studio in Gibsonburg in 1981. A great experience. We even did a radio interview on the now gone WOSE FM94.5 radio station in Port Clinton, Ohio with DJ Mike Wise.
  • Time frame: 1981-1983
  • Other Personnel:
    Stewart Mattox - Lead Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
    Mike Reisner - Lead Guitar
    Replaced by Bill Lenke - Guitar, Vocals
    Replaced by Kevin Flagg - Guitar, Vocals
    Valerie Parker - Keyboard, Fiddle, Flute
    Rick Widman - Drums
My graduation party - me, Rick, Val, Stewart - June 1981

John and Kevin - August 1, 1982

A somewhat failed attempt to keep the band going after Val, Rick and Kevin left to start another band. We lasted for over a year if I remember right, so, in band terms, I guess that's not a failure.
  • Time frame: 1983
  • Other Personnel:
    Stewart Mattox - Lead Guitar, Harmonica, Vocals
    Bill Lenke - Guitar, Vocals
    Bunn Hill - Drums

A good band considering we changed drummers and lead players as often as chords in a song. I was getting real tired of playing a bunch of 3 chord walking bass songs. There was also a few differences of opinion between Bill and myself. We were able to acquire Rick Widman as drummer and that spelled the end of Sugar Creek and the start of Crossfire. I did enjoy playing with some of the best lead players in the area, though.
  • Time frame: 1984
  • Other Personnel:
    Bill Lenke - Guitar, Vocals
    Spanky Sharp - Lead Guitar
    Dennis Davis - Lead Guitar
    Larry 'Hair Bear' - Lead Guitar
    Joe Brooks - Lead Guitar, Vocals
    Bernie Wautruba - Steel Guitar
    Chuck Abrahamson - Drums
    Rick Widman - Drums
    Randy Shaffer - Lead Guitar, Vocals. Randy was from Toledo. He wrote 'She's not really cheatin she's just gettin even' that was a hit for Moe Bandy. Randy did a fantastic job. He performed his version of the song which was done more like a ballad and sounded much better than the Moe Bandy version.

A chance to get back with Rick whom I believe was the best drummer around. We played together for many years from this point forward. Crossfire was very mature, top notch band. We learned at least a dozen or two 'Alabama' songs because they were THE hot item of that time. Knowing their songs served us well. We also learned songs that other bands in the area did not, or could not, perform. Many songs with 3 part harmony. Opened shows with Del Reeves and Porter Waggoner with his all Female Band.

  A side note: the very first job for the band was on New Years Eve at a bar in Sandusky. Rick and I were still committed to play with Sugar Creek at the Gibsonburg Fire Department's party. So Bob lined up his step-daughter's young boyfriend, David Coots, to play drums and someone to play bass. David was very inexperienced at the time and I guess it was a rough night for them. Our night, was also not a bed of roses. Spanky proceeded to get hammered and, at one point, actually fell back over his amp. We finished the night without a lead player. But don't forget David, he pops up later in this autobiography and is now one of the best drummers in the area.

This band hit the road with a great many dreams in an old 54 passenger school bus. We had an agent, bookings, transportation and a professionally produced color photo made on a quick trip to Nashville, (amazing what $600 will get you). Our first job was supposed to be in Canada but that fell through. From what we heard later, that was a good thing because border guards can do nasty things to band equipment - and they don't pick up after themselves. The bus was equipped with a table and seats, porta-potty (couldn't get to it on a bet), small counter, cooler, stove, and 6 bunks. Robbie Robinson was hired to go with us and be our sound man. The one free bunk held our mixing board and other odd assorted items. The first job took us to Green Bay, WI where we were received warmly.

Being gone for 8 weeks - home for 3 - then gone again turned out to be more than my family could handle. More to be added to this storyline later.
  • Time frame: 1984-1986
  • Other Personnel:
    Bob Dull - Guitar, Vocals
    Matt Grant - Lead Guitar, Keyboard, Harmonica, Fiddle, Vocals
    Rick Widman - Drums

A fun band of young musicians that didn't have alot of experience. We played some weddings and dances. Did more rehersing than playing out. We were good rehersers. Playing out was a different story.
  • Time frame: 1987
  • Other Personnel:
    Guy LeBlanc - Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards
    Terri Swartz - Vocals
    Rob Avers - Drums, Vocals
    A guy from Toledo that also sang in a barbershop quartet - can't think of his name.

For lack of a better name. We played a few local jobs and a one week road job in Milwaukee, WI at the Country Castle. Not a pleasant experience. Swimming in Lake Michigan was fun but the sunburn was hell.
  • Time frame: 1987
  • Other Personnel:
    Bob Dull - Guitar, Vocals
    Dave Lovell - Lead Guitar, Vocals
    Rick Widman - Drums

This band could best be described as Crossfire Plus! The same personnel as Crossfire with more experience. We booked just about every weekend and sometimes we played 5 nights per week. A band that was going places - but not to Nashville as far as I was concerned. I also saw no reason to go back on the road and starve to death - been there, done that. We cut and released a 10 song tape. 200 copies were sold out in a very short time. We also produced T-shirts, posters, hats, sweatshirts, b&W 8x10 glossy photos. Bob's brother had drawn the artwork for us and made us look very professional. I was set up with the local print/t-shirt shop for producing many of the items we sold. We had the merchandising thing down pat. We were cruising and kickin butt! We had Alabama's stuff down pat and could do a set of that alone if needed.

After a band's been together this long, things come so naturally that you don't even think about things that a new band has to deal with. We even were able to go back to songs that we'd been playing for several years and rework them - change the tempo, add breaks, take breaks out combine it with another song, etc. This is usually not a luxury in a normal band. Plus, Matt had a habit of changing a song while we were playing it live! This was actually fun because we knew each other so well - we knew we could follow each other and get away with it and the audience never knew the difference... well, the serious fans noticed the difference... and loved it!

In late 1990 the other members of Copperhead Road decided they still had their head in the clouds and thought they wanted to become Nashville stars. I was 'holding' them back. This was mainly because I had very specific local goals that I wanted the band to meet - I did not have my head in the clouds any longer. I had spent alot of time promoting the band locally and was trying to make us 'THE Band To See' in Northwest Ohio. They found another bass player that 'did' have stars in his eyes yet and hired him. That bass player happened to be from Buck Naked Band.

That version of the band lasted about a year. Original members kept leaving till there was a Copperhead Road band playing that noone knew. This upset me since I came up with the name and had worked so hard to promote it. The name has now finally been put to rest.
  • Time frame: 1986-1990
  • Other Personnel:
    Bob Dull - Guitar, Vocals
    Matt Grant - Lead Guitar, Harmonica, Fiddle, Vocals
    Rick Widman - Drums
    Mark Jividen - Keyboards (just for a short time)

Visit the Copperhead Road web site that I created.

Within hours of being let go by Copperhead Road, Kevin was on the phone asking me if I wanted a job. He was glad to be rid of the other bass player. So, as it turned out, me and the other bass player switched places. I was glad to be out of the pressure of trying to be a top notch band. Here I could relax and enjoy myself. Also, we played about once per month which left me time to pursue other interests on the weekends - something I have never been able to do for the last 20+ years.

Buck Naked has been around since the 80's and I always enjoyed hearing these guys. In fact, when Rick Widman got married, he hired them to play the wedding.

This band only played weddings, parties and the square dances at Ole' Zims Wagon Shed. No bars or animal clubs (Eagles, Moose, Elks, American Legion, etc.). The money was good and we never practiced. That meant we never, well almost never, learned any new songs. This was not a problem for the type of jobs we were doing. But, after 10 years of being in it strictly for the money. I decided it was time for a change.

  • Time frame: Late 1990 - August 2001
  • Other Personnel:
    Kevin Flagg - Guitar, Banjo, Harmonica, Vocals
    Brian Binder - Lead Guitar
    Brett Binder - Drums
    Brad 'Pork' Binder - Drums (whenever Brett broke his arm, wrist, leg, etc...)
In memory of Brian Binder
1964 - 2002

Killed in an automobile crash that never should have happened. I miss you Brian.

Bob, that I used to play with in Copperhead Road, had been talking to me for about two years to see if there was a possibility of me joining his new band. I kept putting him off - not wanting to leave the relaxed atmosphere of Buck Naked. After hearing them at the local bar several times, I could see some good musicianship. Also, it would be fun to play with Bob again.

It so happened that in mid 2001, their bass player was losing the drive to play. Since Buck Naked had no bookings in the near future, I decided to make the jump.

Several months were spent learing new material that I had missed in the last ten years. I had to cram to learn 45 new songs in a matter of a few weeks!! All four members of this group sang which made for some neat vocal possibilities. It was a kick-butt band doing top 40 country. I created a logo and we started selling t-shirts and sweatshirts like crazy!

After having to replace Jimmy who quit for unknown reasons, the band just wasn't quite the same. By mid-summer 2003, things began falling apart between several members and I was due for a break from playing anyway. The last job for this band was the Sandusky County Fair.

The band is playing again from what I understand. Will have to get out to hear them!

  • Time frame: August 2001 - August 2003
  • Other Personnel:
    Bob 'Hawkeye' Dull - Guitar
    Jimmy Opp - Lead Guitar
    Randy Gibson - Lead Guitar
    (replaced Jimmy in Spring 2003)
    David Coots - Drums

After several months off, Kevin called again. It was time to get back to playing. He needed a bass player and I needed money. We started with 6 square dance dates at 'Ol Zims Wagon Shed. Now it's the occasional wedding or private party. A bunch of good guys to make music with.

Visit the Sawbuck Band web site

  • Time frame: January 2004 - February 2009
  • Other Personnel:
    Kevin Flagg - Guitar, Banjo, Harmonica, Vocals
    Bernie Blechinger - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
    Zack Flagg - Drums
    Jay Hilliard - Drums (original drummer - then filled in when Zack was unavailable)
Sawbuck Band at Ole Zims
Kevin Flagg playing harmonica

In Memory... KEVIN FLAGG
1961 - 2009

Kevin passed away in February of 2009 from cancer.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, Kevin. I figured one day we'd be old grey men still doing the square dances.

SAWBUCK BAND - A.K. (after Kevin)
Kevin's passing kicked me in the gut hard. But we are trying to pick up the pieces as best we can... because Kevin wanted us to keep going. But he left big shoes to fill. Jerry Wittman (Legacy II Band) was able to help us out with the 2009 square dances because Kevin eventually became too weak to sing. Bob Dull also helped us out with one of the square dance jobs. Mark Wilkins also filled in for a job in Toledo that was a total washout... literally! We played 3 songs and it started dumping. We kept the equipment fairly dry under the tent.

From 2009 till 2012, Bill "BJ" Avers from Elmore took over Kevin's spot. Work commitments got in the way and he was forced to drop out.

Jerry Wittman from Oak Harbor is now filling in with us. Jerry has many years experience with the Legacy II band and doing one man shows in the area.

Visit the Sawbuck Band web site

  • Time frame: February 2009 - Present
  • Other Personnel:
    Bernie Blechinger - Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
    Zack Flagg - Drums
    BJ Avers - Guitar, Vocals
    Jerry Wittman - Guitar, Vocals

I play a Galveston 5 string bass through a Hartke 7000 bass head and Yorkville bass cabinets. I can't say enough about these Yorkville cabinets - small, light weight, and great sound! The Hartke head also kicks some serious butt (twin 350 watts per channel baby cakes) - and I'm bi-amping now. Something I've always wanted to do.
I used to play a Rickenbacker Bass. I also own a Carvin W bass bin with 2 -15's (that means speaker cabinets for you non-musicians). | Sawbuck Band Web Site

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