Waking life is a dream controlled - George Santayana
Pete Woodman is an iconic figure in the early days of rock & roll in Michigan. He was a founding member of The Playboys and The Bossmen, among the greatest rock bands in Saginaw history. Pete's generosity of spirit is legendary. He is able to give a knowing perspective about the Playboys, the first significant rock band in Saginaw. He was able to acknowledge singer/guitarist Butch White as a great singer and player and gave him sincere praise as the unsung hero of the nascent Saginaw rock scene.
Woodman helped bring Dick Wagner to Saginaw and stood in awe of his friend's musical achievements with Lou Reed and Alice Cooper without complaint or comparison to his own musical achievements. He has rubbed shoulders with David Crosby, convinced Mark Farner to compose original songs and helped jump-start the career of Meatloaf.
Woodman is a man of peace and when he says, “I love you, man,” he really means it. He was born with missing digits and a cleft palate but he never viewed it as a disability or somehow limiting. Instead, his birth defects were just part of the story. Pete embraces life as a gift to be treasured each and every day…the best day ever.
Pete & the His Band The HIPS will be performing an outdoor show @ White's Bar with the Dick Wagner Band on July 14th @ 5pm. $20 tickets are available at White's Bar, Records & Tapes Galore and the Red Eye Cafe. Rustbucket will perform the Afterglow.
When did you first get interested in music? My mom and dad were very musical; they liked the big band era. Benny Goodman, George Shearing, Erroll Garner.I grew up listening to a lot of swing music, so that's how I came to appreciate music. My dad always wanted me to play like Judd Hurley, the famous clarinet player. So that's what I grew up listening to, and my dad played the piano. And that was back when I was very young - elementary school. The top 40 consisted of songs like Come On To My House and C'est Si Bon by Eartha Kitt.
How did you get interested in rock & roll music? Well, that came from just being a kid and growing up in '56. I was in eighth or ninth grade. I remember hearing Elvis Presley in '56 when he came out with Hound Dog, and all those great tunes, so I was kind of into rock and roll. I remember telling my dad when I went over to a friend's house in Freeland - our little town where we bought groceries and gas and everything. It was cool. Anyway I'd come home and I say, “Dad, you will not believe the music I just heard.” It was so bad, and I come to find out it was Hank Williams singing Your Cheating Heart and those tunes. I said, “You won't believe that music because it was so completely different from the swing stuff that I was listening to. I went, “Man, that music is horrible.”
When did you start playing drums? My parents had a group that they hung with, and they'd all go to each other's houses, and they used to tag me along. When they started telling adult stories at this one house in Midland, the Bennett's house, they had a set of drums in the basement, so they'd send me to the basement so I wouldn't hear these stories and I'd set down on the drums and I would bang away and I learned enough to hit the bass drum pedal and the high hat with the drum sticks. I went over there a lot when I was in the first and second grade. So by the third grade the elementary school started teaching band. The band teacher was from Estonia, Carl Midwaltz, and he was a war prisoner in Freeland. During the war we had prison camps, and those barracks that they housed the prisoners in became our elementary school rooms.
Freeland was pretty poor back then. Midwaltz played trumpet. After the war he came back to Freeland and started working as a band teacher, and he used to call me Pater. He wanted me to play trumpet. I said, “No, man. I want to play drums,” which I did. The bass drum was bigger than me. I was so bad I'd play on every beat 'til I'd get it right because, you know - I finally got it right. We put my little band together called the Team Toppers that was '55, somewhere in there. We played the Chesaning Showboat and won it in 1956. Anyway, I have the picture of us on the front page of the Midland Daily News.
Well let's go back to the first great rock and roll band in Saginaw - the Playboys which included you, Lanny Roenicke, Warren Keith, and Butch White. Everybody I talk to said it was a great band. Can you tell me about the Playboys?
Lanny and I had been playing together since we were juniors in high school. He went to Saginaw High and then I went to Saginaw Arthur Hill, so we used to switch. Saginaw High would come over to Arthur Hill and put on a concert and vice-versa. That's where I met him. So we kind of stayed together and we had little wedding bands. He played trumpet, and I had a bass player and all that. Then we started playing out in clubs - we had Butch White, Lanny and I, and Beau was the saxophone player. We started playing at the Horseshoe Bar on a fairly regular basis. We had some bookings at the Drayton Place in Pontiac. We'd play there I think four nights a week, and we stayed there. This piano player would come in at like 12:30 am or 1:00 am, and we didn't get done playing until 1:30, so he'd sit in with us, and that's how we met Warren Keith. So when we started playing in Saginaw we asked Warren to join our band. We'd play the Brown Derby in Midland and we played the Horseshoe in Saginaw - that was a hot bar. That's when the Four Seasons came in and sat in there once, and that was spectacular to see them. They sang great.
Can you tell me a bit more about Butch White? You mentioned that at one time that you felt Butch was the unsung hero of the Saginaw rock scene. Yeah, Butch White was great. He had a band with Gary Moskal who was a really good guitar player from Saginaw, and they were called the Red Dots. They played out there on Bay Road at the Ace of Clubs. So before our little era, they were the top band at the Ace of Clubs. You know, they were really good…and nobody sang Roy Orbison like Butch White.
What was your first impression of Dick Wagner? We liked him. He was easy to get along with, he had a lot of confidence, you know. He was cool. Dick Wagner was a great singer. He sang I'm Down in the same key Paul McCartney sang in. So he was a great singer…and Warren was a great singer, too. Warren played all the Floyd Cramer tunes. I think, you know when we had the Playboys; we played in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I remember Warren played Last Date and we did all the Jerry Lee Lewis tunes. He would use lighter fluid and put it on the keys and light it and play. That was great man. Warren was a crazy guy. Even after he had left the band to go play with Hank Jr. he would call in the middle of the night and “Guess who I'm with?” He would be with some famous player. He was with the guy that wrote…I remember one night he called, and it was the guy that wrote King of the Road, Roger Miller.
When did the Bossmen really take off? When we started playing in Saginaw - Daniels Den, you know, we played the Village Pump. So we played there, and we were doing so good we were packing the place. There were lines outside to get in. So that was great. That had to have been '64, somewhere in there. We started packing the place and then the Beatles came out, so we did Beatle tunes and Dick just started writing. He'd even write before that - so that's when we went to Detroit and did Take A Look (My Friend). Back then they didn't have any click track. We just rehearsed it at my house in Freeland and then we drove to Detroit to record. It was the same studio that the Lone Ranger was produced. At the time we were working real close with WKNX, Bob Dyer and Dick Fabian. They made our record number one, every record we had, and so we became like…and then Lansing, Grand Rapids, Bay City, up north, everywhere but Detroit. Detroit was a hard to get into market for the Bossmen even though we played there a couple of times.
There's a famous story about Dick Fabian and Bob Dyer. Bob Dyer told me that he took you guys down to New York to get a chance, to break through, and they said that you sounded too much like the Beatles. Right, so that was true…but not all the songs, but when you listen to them, now, boy I'll tell you. Dick was so talented, you know. He was such a great guitar player. He always had a good attitude about be the best, play the best, and sing the best. The Bossmen had rules, like you can't drink on the gig. I don't think anybody knew about marijuana back then. You can't take your girlfriend on the road. Of course Lanny and Warren and I broke every one of them.
You had a marijuana bust at one time. Right. That's a sad thing that someone would set someone up like that, but you know. I learned a lesson that pot and marijuana, you know, they were definitely the same thing. I was set up. A piano player from another band quit, and he got busted, you know he got in deep trouble, and they wanted to know if anybody else was using and he called me up and wanted me to get him some pot. “Sure, I can get you some pot,” and I didn't know it was the same thing as marijuana. I was pretty green. I was from Freeland, and what did we know? We were just a little hick town. I remember for a long time they would call you and try to get more, and I said, “No.” The Bossmen were really big then, so it was like, it was a sad thing that happened, but you know, it happened. I moved on, I got back, and Dick replaced me for about four or five months and then I got back in the band.
Can you tell me about some of your earlier bands like Popcorn Blizzard and how you got involved with Meatloaf? After The Bossmen I got my wife, Susie Woodman, to start playing keyboard. I put together a little band with a bass player and a guitar player, and we needed a keyboard player so she kind of fell into that, and she started playing. Now she's one of the top players in Detroit. When we played, we were pretty good. We had played some gigs, and we were playing soul music and stuff, and Dick was putting together his band, The Frost. He took over Bobby Riggs and the Chevelles.
In 1966 Question Mark and the Mysterians hit it big with 96 Tears. The drummer got in a car wreck, and so they called me and asked me to play drums with them. I was with Question Mark probably almost a year. We played all over the United States, and it was the best time ever. Sue was our road manager, so she and I were together. We made enough money in that band to pack up a trailer and my car and drive to LA.
Can you tell that story that you told me before about how Question Mark and the Mysterians sent all the money in a duffle bag back to Lilly Gonzales, and you had them vote on whether to give Lilly her 20 percent and keep the rest?
Yeah, well Question Mark, when we were on the road we got paid in ones, and we had three, four, five thousand dollars in ones, and we had to count it all out. So Question Mark and the guys made more money with me when I was with the band than they ever made. I remember they sent that money back, and I think they did pay her because they were pretty honest kids. They had character, and they were pretty green. I mean, come on, Frankie was 14 years old. You know before that, though, they would send the whole take to Lilly and she would only give them a couple hundred bucks after a tour …they didn't make any money. When they were with me, I helped them put it to a vote and they agreed to send Lilly her 20% and split the rest. Even to this day, Bobby Baldarama comes up to me and he says, “Pete, we made more money when you were in the band than they ever made.”
Didn't you play the Grande Ballroom? Yeah, all these clubs, you know. We played all the high-note clubs, Silver Bell, all the festivals. We played a lot of festivals. We played the Grande Ballroom. I saw the Who when they played there. We played a lot of times with Dick Wagner and the Frost. Meatloaf and that band played there, and we were real tight. See back then we rehearsed every day. I mean you just rehearsed every day, that's the way it was.
I heard it from other people your band Popcorn Blizzard was a great band. What do you think kept you from achieving bigger success? Well, I think the big thing is we weren't a Detroit band. We were from Freeland. We were just a little band playing. Some people wanted to record us, but we just never did. We were getting standing ovations at the end. The guitar player left, so we had about 10 other guitarists. We tried to get guitar but we could never find anybody that would fit into our band. You know we had it together but the guitar players would come and try to learn the tunes. They would play so bad; Meatloaf would just walk behind and unplug their amps. At the end of the night I had to fire 'em. I must have fired 100 guitar players, so we ended up with no guitar player just Sue, Ricky, and I were the band, and Meatloaf singing.
I remember I wore a clown suit back then, and then we changed the band to the Floating Circus. One time the Detroit News took a picture of us and they put us on the front page. It depicted Sue putting makeup on me. I was the clown; Sue was the angel; Richie was the Indian and Meatloaf wore a tuxedo.
Sue and Meatloaf always harmonized really well together. We put a record out and nothing happened. Then things started to dry up a little bit and that's when we disbanded. I think that's when Meatloaf went to do Hair and went on to become real famous. I suppose if I'd kept the band together, there would be no Meatloaf, you know?
Things happen for a reason. That's all I can tell people. David Crosby wanted to fly me to LA to play with the band I was with when I was in Detroit in the '70s. He was going to fly me to record with him. You never know what would have happened. David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, they were going to fly me there, you know? I didn't do it. I stayed with Ted Lucas and the Horny Toads. We had a band called The Horny Toads in the 70s when I lived in Detroit.
You have a great attitude. Can you tell me about your band, the Hips band? You're going to be playing soon with Dick Wagner at White's Bar, but what's going on with Hips?
The Hips are a great band. I can't tell everybody how important it is to play with people that you get along with, that you like. I wanted to put together my own band, so I found a horn player, Billy Furman, who plays all the horns, flute, harmonica, and he sings lead, so he was worth a million dollars. Then I wanted my daughter Sarah to sing with me so I had her on a CD. She came in and sang it. She even sang the harmony part the same day. From that day on, she stayed in the band, so today's lineup is a great. There's Sarah singing - she's my star. Billy Furman is my other singer. We'd do a Sonny and Cher routine where Billy would sing a verse, Sarah would sing a verse. When they go into the chorus, two voices are so strong, you know. My guitar player sings the third note, and so I always had three-part harmony and great arrangements, a lot of dynamics. Oh yeah. Susie Woodman, you know my ex, she plays keyboards with us. When she plays and Sarah's up there, and so does my son, Peter. He's been a great rapper since he's been 18, 19. When he gets up there, it's over because Pete covers all the rap, Sarah covers all the other stuff so it's quite a family band, you know. How lucky am I to have the people that I love up on stage with me? It's a gift, you know. It's the best ever, that's all I can say. That's probably going to be the name of my book because every day is the best day ever for me.
9th February, 2024