Mike Dugo's 2008 interview of Bob Fritzen for 60sgaragebands.com
60s: How did you first get interested in music?
Bob: Personally, I have been interested in music throughout my life. Even at a young age I was consistently attempting to sing along with records and the radio.My father, when he was younger, played and sang in a band and generally had a guitar sitting around the home. While I didn't learn to play until much later, in my teenage years, I remember picking at open strings at three or four. A breakthrough took place in my senior year of high school, when a group of us spent several weekends singing into a tape recorder. I remember the main song was "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys. I discovered I was able to reach the falsetto sections on any of the Beach Boys' songs. It also was my first opportunity to see how much fun it was to put musical ideas together with a group of guys. I started taking guitar lessons around that time, and my interest only increased.
All of the group's members were in families where music was valued. Neil started playing piano at his grandmother's house. Lyle's father was a jazz musician who played sax, clarinet, and upright bass. Ron's entire family was very musically gifted. His father was also a singer, performing in nightclubs around the Grand Rapids area. Each of the Quests seemed to posess a genetic predisposition which helped us toward success. Our fathers should have pooled their talents and formed a group. Actually, I guess they did.
60s: Was The Quests your first band? If not, which band was? How long was it together?
Bob: The Quests was my first band. Several of the other members had played in groups prior to our final formation. In particular, Lyle Hotchkiss, the lead guitarist, played in The Royaltones and The Stingrays while attending Belding High School. When Ron Sieracki, our keyboardist, joined the group, he had played previously in several bands in the Grand Rapids area, one being The Screaming Babies. Our original four members, however, never played in any other band prior to The Quests.
60s: Where was The Quests formed, what year and by whom?
Bob: To the best of my memory, The Quests were formed in the fall of 1964 by myself and Joe Suchocki. It began primarily by both of us buying guitars and just beginning to practice together. Jim Nixon on the organ and Bob Dengate on bass then followed. The group was finally finished, at this initial level, with Jerry Szyszko on drums. We had all been students and graduates of West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan before moving on to Grand Rapids Junior College. Many of the original planning sessions associated with the band were completed in the commons area of GRJC. It was with this group that we played our first performance in downtown Grand Rapids, at a teen club called The Pit. It held several hundred people, and was so packed at the time that it was almost impossible to walk from one end of the room to the other. With screaming fans no more than three feet in front of us, it certainly was an exciting place to begin. After successfully playing there several times we began to branch out to other venues.
60s: Please list the names of each member of The Quests, as well as the instruments they played.
Bob: Relatively early in the band's history, changes began to take place associated with its membership. Our initial drummer, Jerry Szysco, was replaced by Neil Turmell. Just prior to recording "Scream Loud" and "Psychic" Lyle Hotchkiss was brought in to play lead guitar. Shortly after we released those first two songs, Jim Nixon left the group, followed soon by Joe Suchocki who entered the armed forces during the Vietnam War. For a while the band consisted of only four members until we were fortunate to add Ron Sieracki on keyboard. Near the end of our playing days Neil Turmell also entered the Service, being replaced by Steve Mazurek, who played drums on our last two, unreleased recordings. We have recently had the opportunity to record using a very talented drummer, Derrick Pearson. This newest Quest had played many years in bands with both Hotchkiss and Sieracki. During this entire time I was lead singer and rhythm guitarist, while Bob Dengate performed in his own indomitable style on bass.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
Bob: It is somewhat difficult to put our band sound into a category. I believe we had a relatively eclectic '60s sound. It was interesting to see that on some of the recent garage forums, we have been listed as a "teen combo." My assumption is that we were primarily seen as a group that could perform a wide variety of the recent sounds of that time, both instrumentally and vocally. I always felt confident that there were few songs beyond our ability to master.
I believe we were strongly influenced by the early Beatles. We played more cover songs by them than any other group. When I listen to the sound now, there also is some indication of influence from the Beach Boys, though we did not play any of their songs.
60s: Where did the band typically play (schools, parties, etc.)?
Bob: We played virtually any place that wanted us to come and could pay our fee. In that this was primarily limited to Friday and Saturday nights, we played on most every college campus from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo. We played at countless high schools and teen dance clubs throughout lower West Michigan. We played mainly within a 60 mile radius from Grand Rapids. There were so many places to perform that we seldom had an open date during our several years together.
The largest audiences were often found at the universities, 44th Street Armory, and The Place in Grand Rapids. The Grand Haven Roller Rink also had very large shows, which included major headliners of that era. We played numerous times at each, to audiences as large as six thousand.
60s: Did The Quests participate in any battle of the bands? If so, what other bands do you recall playing against? How well did the band typically fare?
Bob: To the best of my knowledge, we entered only two significant Battle of The Bands, one being the Western Michigan Battle of The Bands, which we won at the 44th Street Armory. I believe The Jades won the second Battle of The Bands we were in, which was held in the Civic Auditorium. We finished in second place. The Ju Jus were one of the competing bands, but I don't recall the others. For some reason, I remember being disappointed that we were unable to make the vocals of the song "Windy," by the Association, work as they had in practice.
I always thought that the most interesting of our Battle of The Bands took place on the local radio stations. They would play the songs of a national group against ours, and then see who would receive the greatest number of phone call votes. I know that we were able to win the two that we participated in against The Beatles and The Beach Boys. As crazy as that sounds, it is the truth. Certainly, that was a very fun time for us.
60s: What other local bands of the era did you especially recall? Did you perform with any of the other Fenton bands?
Bob: Except for the previously mentioned battles, we always performed solo. In that we were playing most of the time, I personally did not have the opportunity to see many other groups. On one occasion, however, Dick Wagner and The Bossmen played at a location the night before we were to play. I was able to see them and was particularly impressed with their musical capability and showmanship. They truly were an outstanding group.
I saw very few of the Fenton groups play live. The Soulbenders and Sheffields both had great sound, though I only heard small segments of their playing. I will say this, however, there is no doubt that the Western Michigan area was a hotbed of musicians at the time. It seems that the timing was just right, relative to talent and the opportunity to play and record. I truly do not believe that this type of environment is generally available to most musicians at the present. Virtually any of the Fenton recording artists could book gigs and have the potential for sugnificant success. While some were certainly superior to others, it truly was an interesting time to play, in what has become know as "garage music." While there may have been some significant competition between groups, I know that we were primarily happy to have our own success. We were much more interested in performing than rooting against others. With the release of "Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story" all of the Fenton bands were able to share in the history of that era. We were certainly proud that our first single, "Scream Loud," was used as the CD title. One of our other singles, "I'm Tempted," was the lead song for the CD. What a great time for bands and young people that was!
60s: Did The Quests have a manager? And if so, how did they hook up with him? How active was he in promoting the band?
Bob: There really was never a need for a manager, in that we were consistently booked during the times available to play. Obviously, these were somewhat limited in that we were all in college at the time, and the weekends were our primary playing dates. Various band members through the years took charge of the booking process. There were multiple times when booking agents and record companies approached us to sign contracts, but we chose not to. A mere business card and word-of-mouth was enough to fill our booking dates.
60s: How popular did The Quests become?
Bob: At the time of our active playing we were very popular within the West Michigan area. Obviously, I would measure that by the number of people we played for, and the success of our recordings. Each time we put out a single it immediately went up the charts. Our first, "Scream Loud," finished at number two on the charts of local radio stations. Interestingly, the flip side "Psychic" also made the top 40. Being popular in an area can also be measured by the drawing power and mood of the individuals when you play. Based on those measures, we were extremely popular.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the Fenton 45s?
Bob: Our recording was a natural progression of playing music. I seemed to have some ability to write music, though I did not spend a great deal of time perfecting it. Initially, we recorded a song called "Secret Love," which was certainly less than stellar. I then wrote and recorded initial versions of "Scream Loud" and an unreleased ballad, "Look Up To Me." While they were of much better quality than our first song, we went back to the drawing board to improve upon both the vocals and the instrumental tracks. That was when a major improvement in the band took place, as Lyle Hotchkiss joined the group as lead guitarist. In less than a week we went to the Great Lakes Recording studio for the first time. Working with Dave Kalmbach we recorded "Scream Loud" and the instrumental flipside that Lyle had written, "Psychic." The local radio stations' disc jockies immediately loved "Scream Loud," catapulting it to an instant hit with the public.
Our second major effort was another song I'd written with Lyle's assist creating the arrangement, "Shadows In The Night." The flip side, "I'm Tempted," was written by Lyle with my assist. "Shadows" was an immediate hit on the charts, and we were very sure it was going to number one. As more records were sold, however, some parents were very perturbed with some of the lyrics from "I'm Tempted." The radio stations contacted us with news that they were receiving numerous calls relative to the alleged sexual content within the lyrics. Within approximately a month "Shadows In The Night" was off the air. This was very disappointing, in that through the years it has become the most popular song that we recorded. In fact, "I'm Tempted" has also become very well received in the annals of garage music. I guess it's safe to say that we were somewhat ahead of our time. This event may have had more effect upon our long term potential than any other.
We made a third effort when I wrote the ballad "What Can I Do." Lyle once again created very important musical arrangements within the song, and we were all confident it would be a hit. As with our other songs, it immediately rose up the chart upon its release. Since "Shadows In The Night" had been pulled before it could reach its full potential, we decided to put it on the flip side. There was some hope that it may then redevelop movement on the charts.
Sometimes I wonder if there was a curse on "Shadows," for "What Can I Do" also had an unexpected, early demise. As soon as "What Can I Do" was released it took off running, and in just a few weeks climbed to #24. Sales of that song had gone so well that we quickly ran out of records to place in the stores. Right when we were considering how many 45s to reorder, we received a call from Dick McKay, WLAV DJ and station manager, who told us that a Detroit record producer passing through GR, heard the song on the radio and called the station to get information on the song and The Quests. He told McKay to tell us that he'd be interested in promoting the song on a large scale, but only if we immediately pulled it from the GR airways. So, we decided not to order more records, the song quickly dropped off the charts, and, sadly, we never heard from the record producer again. Although the story did not have a happy ending, "What Can I Do" was very successful during its brief run, and it remains one of my favorite Quests' songs.
Between these recordings we were contacted by many studios, some national, relative to potential contractual agreements. We did eventually sign with a firm from the Chicago area, but contract disputes quickly ended that process. If we would have approached our playing as a potential career, who knows what may have happened.
60s: Where did The Quests record? What do you remember about the recording sessions?
Bob: All of our original recordings and two unreleased efforts, "Look Up To Me" and a remake of "She's Not There," were done at Great Lakes Recording by Dave Kalmbach. This home of the Fenton Records label was housed in the old Sparta Theater. We also recorded some unreleased songs, namely "Love Can Do These Things" and "That's My Dream," at Midwestern Sound Studios in Grand Rapids. An interesting note is that this was owned by Phil Roberts, a member of The Kingtones. It just so happened that one of their members, Bruce Snoap, lived several houses down from my family while I was growing up. Hearing of their success was a motivator for my own entrance into music.
As you know The Quests have come back together in 2007 to once again record. The writing has been a combined effort of Lyle and myself. We recorded these latest songs at River City Studios in Grand Rapids. They provided us with a very positive atmosphere for our rebirth efforts. I think the songs will bear that out.
60s: Did The Quests write many original songs? You were the band's primary songwriter, correct?
Bob: We wrote and recorded 14 original songs. There are a multitude of other songs that were written but not recorded. Originally, I was the primary songwriter for the group. Thankfully, Lyle added his own flavor to our compositions, especially in the area of arrangement. I have always been the primary lyricist of our songs. Now working as a team, I believe we have reached the best combination of the two styles and skills. It has been great fun, working together again in our collaborative efforts. We often talk of the possibilities of what may have been if we had taken a different course of vocational choice. In that we both have accomplished doctoral degrees in different professions, obviously, we must have made some good decisions relative to those early choices.
60s: Do any (other) '60s Quests recordings exist? Are there any vintage live recordings, or unreleased tracks?
Bob: As I stated above, there are seven recordings of original tracks from the '60s that were unreleased. Some of these tracks will be included in our new CD, which will soon be released. This new effort has been named, "RE-QUESTED: BACK TO THE GARAGE," and will include all of our original released recordings, four non-released from the '60s, and five new original tracks that we recorded this year. We had a great time putting the new songs together while retaining our old style. In my humble opinion, they sound great.
An interesting note to the unreleased originals is that I found usable tapes of all four songs just as we were about to give up hope of their existence. We had them professionally restored and were able to achieve a very positive sound quality. It is amazing what you can find in a box down in the basement.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances? Does any home movie filmed footage exists of the band?
Bob: Yes, we did appear on several live TV and radio programs, the most notable being a TV bandstand-style show conducted by local radio disc jockey Dick McKay on WOOD TV in Grand Rapids. Sadly, there is no footage that still exists of these broadcasts.
60s: What year and why did the band breakup?
Bob: The band broke up early in the year 1968. The primary reason was our inevitable graduation from GRJC and moving on to the different locations were either our continued schooling or careers took us.
60s: Did you join or form any bands after the Quests?
Bob: Two years after our breakup I linked up with our keyboardist, Ron Sieracki, in his group The Sound Investment. We primarily played private clubs. During that time I was in my doctoral program working to become a clinical psychologist, and the Friday and Saturday playing was pivotal to my ability to make enough money for that long stretch of schooling. I will always be grateful to Ron for giving me that opportunity.
Other members also found their way into various groups. Bob Dengate and Steve Mazurek played together in groups around the Grand Rapids area. Bob has now joined with Neil Turmell as part of The Dave Gilde Band. They have a great sound and as Bob states, "I'll never let the music end." He is especially proud of his emergence as a vocalist and now rightly guards his microphone with the ferocity of a pit bull. I may even take a shot at sitting in with them in the near future, if I can pass their strict audition standards.
After the Quests Lyle Hotchkiss played in an Ann Arbor band named Labyrinth while in dental school, but he stopped playing after graduation in 1973. In 1989 he was asked to join Vocal Point, an acoustic vocal trio. A couple of years later he and the trio's female lead joined with former Quests Sieracki, Dengate and Mazurek to play for a friend's wedding under the name, The Quests ( even though I can't imagine how they could have thought it would ever be possible without me, LOL). Hotchkiss and Sieracki then formed BackTrak, which changed its name to Wyze Gyze shortly before adding present Quests drummer, Derrick Pearson in the early '90s. When Hotchkiss moved to Florida in 1996, Sieracki and Pearson kept the band together, but renamed it Azz Izz. Derrick and Ron still performs regularly in the GR area. So, a lot took place after we broke up, but In 2007 the individual parts finally became whole once again. After 40 years of differing experiences, The Quests were back!
60s: Please tell me about your career today. How often, and where, do you perform(if at all)? If not what keeps you busy?
Bob: As for my musical career, it is reincarnated with the development of our new songs and CD. For the past 35 years I continued to play guitar, and other instruments, only for my own amusement. Now, my interest in writing and recording has been renewed. I would love to have the opportunity to have us once again perform live on stage. I am excited to see where we can take it if our phoenix rises. Only time will tell.
My personal life was influenced dramatically by playing in The Quests, in that it taught me to have confidence and trust in my abilities, to feel comfortable as a leader and to meet some of the most influential people in my life. It especially gave me the opportunity to meet Rita, my wife of 40 years, while The Quests were playing at a ski resort. That, obviously, was the greatest gift music ever gave me.
As I previously stated, I have my doctoral degree in psychology and have practiced as a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist in Grand Blanc, Michigan for the past 30 years. The other band members have also had varied and successful personal and vocational lives. It is interesting to note that most of us ended up in careers that are oriented toward the helping professions. Bob and Ron are both retired teachers, Lyle continues to practice as a dentist in Florida, Neil was a financial analyst in commercial lending until he retired, Joey is president of a medical consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. All of us are happily married, with children spread out across the country doing well in a variety of careers, now with families of their own. I know it is a great joy for each of us to share this little piece of our youth with our children and grandchildren.
I have no hesitation in saying that The Quests were and still are a great group of people to be associated with. Each one of them seems more like my brother than just a friend.
60s: How would you best summarize your experiences with The Quests?
Bob: To a man, those years are remembered as among the most interesting and exciting of all our lives. In addition to having an opportunity to be involved with something extremely unique, we all remember the tremendous friendships that were developed and have been maintained as brothers in the band. It has also been a great feeling to work both creatively and musically with each of them. The fact that we are now having a second chance to experience these feelings again is only all the more gratifying.
I'm sure that each member of the band also wishes to reach out and thank all those who have supported us and enjoyed our music through the years. Check our current and past music on our newly opened website, www.questsrock.com. We invite you to give our new efforts, past hits, and previously unreleased recordings a listen.
The Quests would like to thank you, Mike, for the opportunity to share our experiences on your great website. I know we would both agree, the '60s were certainly a wondrous time.