Make Some Noise
Being in a band meant playing music, usually cover tunes. But what and which tunes to play? Most of the bands profiled here were very democratic about song selection and had specific guidelines dealing with this facet.
   Anyone could bring a song to work up. Usually this entailed figuring out the chords and lyrics so it could be “taught” to the rest of the band. Most times the record would be brought to practice so everyone could give it a listen to get a feel for the tune. If a particular member needed to work on the song at home they would either buy the record or borrow it from someone. Later, when cassettes were coming into more widespread use, a tape could be made and sent home with band members so they could learn their part more easily.
   Everyone was expected to do their best at working up and performing the song whether they were particularly excited about the song or not. It was a kind of “golden rule” thing: Do your best for them so they’ll do their best for you. In time this was not a big problem. After being together for a few months a band’s direction would start getting more defined. Members who were wise would bring material they liked that suited the band and the direction it seemed to be moving.
   Whoever brought the song had final say on the song. If it wasn’t working out the individual could ask to drop the song. On occasion the other members would ask to have a few more shots at getting the song right if they liked it. Sometimes other members in the band would have to start this process of dropping a song that wasn't working, especially when it was evident to everyone except the one who brought the tune. Again, after awhile this was not a big problem as it got more and more evident what worked and what didn’t. Most often the passage of time got rid of songs that weren’t quite working as newer songs were added to the band’s repertoire. Each band had a different way of dealing with this issue, but generally it worked like this in most groups. The following are a few of the responses to the question of how songs were introduced and handled by different bands.
Russ Musilek: In those days it was all very egalitarian. We all had the idea that it was an equal say–very democratic. Somebody would bring a song in and everybody would go, “Yeah, I like that.” And if somebody said they didn’t like it (they) were asked to give it a crack. Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t. It was like no big deal. So we’d give it a crack and the idea was to play it as close to what it was originally as we could. So we’d steal the guitar parts and stuff like that...The idea was to play it as good as those guys could. We didn’t have the ears to know what that meant yet. We didn’t hear it very well.
Keith Berg: There was a lot of songs that we worked up and learned, play ’em a few times at dances and they just didn’t gel. So they’d be dropped. You can kind of tell when they don’t fit anybody’s voice right and you try switchin’ keys and that doesn’t work...And anyone could bring one. We worked together on them most of the time. We had a practice (and) we’d sit and play it (the record). And go back over and play it again. And go back over and play the record over and over and catch it. Write down words together right there in practice sometimes. So it was a joint effort, everyone picked it up together. We would work on it individually too...We were all peers pretty much.
Joe Boesen: At the time we would have brainstorms on what songs were popular, what songs people were asking for and it seemed to be pretty easy for us to get a set. We knew we needed at least 30 songs to play a 3 hour dance. Even by that time we would have gone through the whole list and start over with set one.
   Luckily the age of cassette came. I can remember listening to records where you’d lift up the needle and play it over and over. Getting words was the hardest. (Sometimes) we’d use sheet music to get the basics, but a lot of our music was learned by ear just listening to the cassette or record over and over and over. Then we would have note pads and everybody would write (down the lyrics). (That way) what somebody might have missed, somebody else would have caught.
   It was...a democratic process. If somebody had an idea they would bring it and ask everybody what they thought of it. Everybody knew the flavor or attitude of material that was accepted by everybody.
Brian Oeffner: Guys would come to practice and say, “Hey, I got a new song.” Basically it was up to you to figure it out, put it in the right key if you were going to sing it, get the words and bring it to practice and then go from there. If the other guys liked it, they’d do it. There were times when guys would play a song and we’d say, “I don’t like that. I don’t think it sounds right” and we wouldn’t do it. Or we’d work on it next practice. Think about it a few days.
   I remember one time when Gary didn’t want to play, I think it was Honky Tonk Women by the Stones. He didn’t want to play bass, because it was a pretty simple bass and he didn’t like that song at all. So he said, “I’m not going to play it!” and he took his bass guitar off, went outside and had a cigarette. So I said, “Joe, I can play bass on that.” I had had some bass lessons from Carl Dorner. So I picked up the bass guitar and started playin’ bass and he came back down and I was playin’ bass. (Gary) said, “Well alright. I changed my mind.” (laughs)
Mark Ohlson: We all decided if you like a tune and you think the band can do it, bring it. We had a record player downstairs and we’d put it on and see if it was feasible. We kind of all turned each other on to music. We became extremely eclectic, if you can call it that. We would do a Monkees tune and then turn around and do the Doors or Hendrix; something really out there. (As far as songs go) Carl was the ultimate arbitrator. He was the big ear. Carl would listen to the sound and go, “You guys can’t do this tune.” Or maybe all of us said, “This doesn’t feel right.” Carl would say, “You’ve got the sound. It’s there. Make it your own.” He was the final decision maker...