Pete Woodman recalls the early days growing up in Freeland off old U.S. 10. He remembers when he hung out with his friends from The Music Box days and high school dances. Now they are in their sixties and seventies and those times have sharpened into a prism of fondly embraced memories.
It was an era in which Butch White became a tentative rock & roller with The Playboys and perfected his craft just months before Dick Wagner rode into town with Lanny Roenicke and Woodman to become a rock and roll hero. He renamed the band The Bossmen and they became our Beatles.
But the real story started several years before when 12 year old Pete worked his craft, learning drum beats from an Estonian band teacher that loved Pete’s spunk. Around that time Pete and his brothers Rock and Michael caught the bug. They formed a band called The King Toppers and they won a prize for best band at the Chesaning Showboat. Pete never looked back. It was in his blood. To this day Pete claims he is the most famous drummer in Freeland only because “I’m the only drummer from Freeland!”
Pete met Lanny Roenicke in high school, trading off gigs with Saginaw High and Arthur Hill bands. At this point Butch White was playing guitar and was the putative leader. Pete has a vivid memory of Butch performing Gravy Train and nailing it. At the time a piano player was making the rounds, he was loud and he was ripped but he could play like Jerry Lee Lewis and could singer better than most. It was Warren Keith!
Pete got to know him when he would sit-in occasionally in Adrian just north of Pontiac. Warren was in a band called The Eldorados and he told Pete about this guitar player who could play behind his back and could sing great. It just so happened that Butch White was gonna quit the band so Lanny and Pete drove to Drayton Plains and hired Dick Wagner on the spot! When Gary Lewis and The Playboys hit it big with This Diamond Ring, Warren Keith renamed the band, it was a cool name…the Bossmen!
From 1964-1966 The Bossmen were mid-Michigan’s Beatles. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time of the music business when we could cut our own records and distribute them at teen dances and at local radio stations. Every one of the Bossmen 45’s were local hits. Pete says his favorite Bossmen Songs were You & I and Bad Girl and he felt the harmonies were perfect.
The Bossmen performed all over the state and had a headlining show at the Grande Ballroom shortly after the Grande opened for business. A local event for the new Montgomery Wards Record Department featured The Bossmen. They sang all the Bossmen songs - all the A & B sides. Mark Farner was a full member of the group and performed a few R&B covers at that particular show. Pete encouraged Mark to write songs and his first composition was Heartbreaker, later covered by Mark when he became a member of Grand Funk Railroad.
Pete annd Mark became close friends and Pete got to know his brothers and sisters. To this day Pete was thrilled with the acclaim of being a local celebrity. Pete says, “It was worth a million dollars, other bands would play our songs and they’d ask Pete, “did I play it right.” And I would always say, ‘Of course you played the right drum part.’ It was kind of special!”
After the Bossmen, Dick and Pete tried to put something together only it didn’t work out; but when he hooked up with Bobby Rigg & the Chevelles that was pure magic. Pete agreed, “That was the best move for Dick because the Chevelles were a great band and everyone could sing!” Pete went on to talk about Wagner, “Dick was an established songwriter and he helped his new band to improve their craft and write better songs. When the Beatles came along with all those great songs, Dick wanted to be a Beatle. The Bossmen were the vehicle for Dick to write these songs. They are still great tunes with good arrangements.”
After that Pete put together a band called The Bean Machine and it included his future wife New Zealand born Susie Kane. At the time she was learning chords and scales on the keyboard and in no time she was proficient enough to tour and record with the band. The first song she performed onstage was Midnight Hour and it was a total groove. It wasn’t too long after that Rudy Martinez (Question Mark) asked Pete to play drums for his band. Pete agreed. The band was still red hot with their big hit 96 Tears (along with I Need Somebody).
Pete rehearsed and learned essentially all the songs recorded for the first album. Pete learned a lot on the tour, touring the midwest and the southern states. Susie Kane became the tour manager and made sure there was gas money as well as the profit. Susie would count all the money, all singles. Often she would count out three or four thousand dollars. At that time merchandising was an afterthought, not a revenue source. While in New York Pete recorded Cherry July (on the Cameo Parkway Label) for one of the last great songs recorded by Question Mark & the Mysterians.
“After our time with the Mysterians, Susie and Pete moved back to Freeland and we had lots of money,” Pete remembers. “So we decided to pack up our 1966 Chevrolet and it was a big load. We had my drums in the back and Susie’s organ on the top. I still wonder how we did it!”
The move to California proved to be an epiphany. “We met Boyce and Hart, Michael Nesmith, David Crosby, Joey Bishop, Steve McQueen, and Tiny Tim doing some cool vaudeville. Then we met a Detroit Band called the Southbound Freeway. They recorded an album at Gold Star Studios but their drummer left so Pete got the gig, though it was short lived it was a good band.
They had a minor hit with Psychedelic Used Car Lot. But Goldstar was a haven for musicians and singers. Pete recalled that Buffalo Springfield, Sonny & Cher and The Byrds all hung out there.
Pete met Meatloaf shortly after he arrived in Los Angeles. Meatloaf was a big man, over 300 pounds. He had dirty blonde hair, he didn’t look very clean and he didn’t wear shoes. “He was walking with a few other guys and one of them saw my drumsticks and he said, “You wanna play with us on these songs we have?”
Pete agreed and so he went into the studio and there was Rick Bozzio and Meatloaf. They laid down several rough tracks and Susie played keyboards. The band was christened Meatloaf Soul. The band was quite successful in Michigan. Pete recalled getting gigs through Punch Andrews (Bob Seger’s manager) and played the Hideout Clubs, The Blue Light in Midland and Bay City and Daniels Den. Pete recalls that at that point in the seventies, original live music was at its height of popularity. To this day Pete recalls teaching Meatloaf how to count in 1,2,3 during a song! They even played the Grande Ballroom with The Fugs!
“When I look back, says Pete, I want to be able to say I did the best I could do. I had lots of fun and everything I did was positive. It was good for my direction in life. I wanted to feel good about myself. Every day is the best day ever is a phrase I used when I worked at Orchard St. Marys, an all-boys Prep School for kids from 9th grade to 12th grade. I worked at the Field House on the Ice Arena. I would say to the kids “You’re going to be great today! The best day ever!! And the kids would yell back – “Best Day Ever!!”
Pete and his band HIPS with Susie and Sarah Woodman will be performing @ Freeland’s Tittabawasee Park in Freeland On August 17th. Dick Fabian’s wife Gail will make a few remarks about her late husband Dick Fabian. The concert starts @ 7pm. Come and witness a local legend and dig the music!