More Of The Story.....
"THE QUESTS: BACK TO THE GARAGE"
BLITZ MAGAZINE'S MICHAEL MCDOWELL INTERVIEWS QUESTS' GUITARIST,
In the fall of 1964, five former West Catholic High School classmates met in the Grand Rapids Junior College commons to plan the formation of a rock and roll band. Their prime motivation was to make a record that would be played on the radio. Since they were starting out with nothing more than a common dream, the group agreed that the Quests would be a perfect name.
The first members were Bob Fritzen (lead vocal, guitar), Joe Suchocki (guitar), Bob Dengate (Bass), Jim Nixon (Farfisa) and Jerry Szyszko (drums). After acquiring instruments, mikes and amplifiers, the group began meeting regularly in Dengate’s basement to see what they could accomplish. Shortly after their first weeks of experimentation, Szyszko gave up on his attempt at drumming. He sold his drum set to classmate Neil Turmell, who then joined the band. Because the Quests learned to be musicians together, a sound grew that was theirs alone.
Fifteen months later, the Quests made a trial tape recording, which consisted of three original songs written by Fritzen: Secret Love, Look Up To Me and Scream Loud. They were happy with the overall sound, but realized they could use more strength on guitar. The Quests did some searching and were able to complete their sound by bringing in Lyle Hotchkiss, former lead guitarist of a surf band from Belding, the Stingrays.
Only one week after adding Hotchkiss, the Quests traveled to Great Lakes Recording Studio in Sparta, Michigan, where Dave Kalmbach produced their first Fenton 45, which contained Fritzen’s Scream Loud and also Psychic, a Stingrays instrumental composed by Hotchkiss. As soon as records had been manufactured, the band took them around to all the local radio stations for DJs and station managers to hear.
Their first recording was well received by both radio stations and area teens. In a few weeks, Side A and Side B were each in the local Top 40, with Scream Loud climbing to #2. Scream Loud was then followed by two other Top 40 records: Shadows In The Night (written by Fritzen) and What Can I Do, the first Fritzen/Hotchkiss collaborative effort.
The Quests were an immediate success. Their sound steadily improved as they played every weekend at dances and concerts. In the summer of 1966, the Quests achieved the honor of taking first place in the annual West Michigan Battle of The Bands, which was held at the Grand Valley Armory that year.
Garage bands were having their heyday in 1966. Michigan was home to an unusually large number of young rockers who contributed their original music to the Garage Punk legacy. This exciting, raw sound became popular, despite having to compete against the professionally produced recordings of artists such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the new Motown groups. The era was an eclectic mix of styles, with something for everyone.
One of the local radio stations ran a weekly Battle Of The Bands feature. Recording artists were pitted against each other, with the winner determined by popular call-in vote. Astounding as well as humbling to the Quests was the fact that every time they were put in one of these challenges, even when up against big names like the Beach Boys and the Beatles, the Quests were victorious.
The Quests’ favorite venue to perform at was The Place in Grand Rapids (originally McKay's Place, before WLAV manager Dick McKay's name was removed). The auditorium held a few thousand kids, had a big stage and was the place for a teen to be on a Saturday night. At one of the Quests’ performances, there were many still waiting in line when the fire marshal showed up and stopped letting people in because the building's capacity had been exceeded.
The most exciting concert that the Quests performed was at the Grand Haven Beach Bash. The Beach Bash showcased both local and national bands. The Byrds performed at the Beach Bash the week before the Quests’ appearance there and the Quests drew a larger crowd.
The Quests usually performed solo concerts. But one time, they were hired to open for Freddy Cannon and then continue as Cannon’s backing band for Cannon's performance at The Place. The Quests did so well performing with Cannon that they were subsequently asked to be the opening band for concerts by the Supremes and Neil Diamond.
Things were looking bright for the band in early 1967. Record companies were beginning to express interest. One of the area’s best keyboardists, Ron Sieracki (of the Screaming Babies) joined the band to open up new possibilities. It looked like their dream - their quest - had become a reality. That is, until two disrupting forces broke up the band that fall: enrollment at separate universities and the Vietnam War.
Almost exactly forty years later, Fritzen (who is a practicing clinical psychologist in Goodrich, Michigan) on a whim initiated an internet search of the words, Scream Loud. Surprisingly, he found listings of various albums that contained songs that the Quests had recorded in the mid ’60s, including one recent garage band compilation out of the Netherlands with Scream Loud!!! The Fenton Story as its title.
Fritzen wondered, “Are all the guys still alive? What they’re doing? Do they know that our songs are still being played after all these years?” A few telephone calls and e-mails quickly revealed that all of the 1967 Quests were, in fact, alive and well. One was a practicing dentist, two were retired teachers and one a retiree from GMAC.
The Quests then reunited at a Grand Rapids restaurant, where they had a great time rehashing their ’60s experiences and sharing forty years of life since then. It was obvious to everyone that they had each remained like minded when it came to music. Time had not aged their ambitions. There were unreleased ’60s Quests recordings that begged to be heard and there were new Quests songs waiting to be born. The Quests were back!
The members were in remiss that they disbanded in 1967 before realizing their full potential. They were specifically frustrated that their two follow up records to Scream Loud had both met premature deaths. One month after its release, even though it was in the top twenty and climbing fast, Shadows In The Night was banned by the radio stations because many parents had called in to complain about Hotchkiss’ sexually suggestive lyrics in I’m Tempted on the B-side.
Their third record, What Can I Do also met an early demise, but for a much different reason. Shortly after What Can I Do was released, the Quests stopped supplying stores with records at the suggestion of Dick McKay, DJ and radio station manager at WLAV in Grand Rapids. McKay said he had been contacted by a Detroit music executive who might be interested in promoting the song regionally, but only if sales and promotion would immediately be put on hold. Unfortunately, the band did not connect with the Detroit producer and the band’s interest in recording new material with Sieracki playing keyboard replaced their desire to revive What Can I Do.
Historic events can be emulated, but not repeated. The 1960s are gone and via the evolution of sound and style over the decades, those wonderful ’60s songs are now relegated to "oldies" flashbacks. After forty years of being apart, all that seemed important was that the Quests were together again. However, the band members wondered if their classic sound might still be revitalized. They decided it would be fun to try. Since there seemed to be a growing, international interest in historic Garage Punk, the band began a new goal: the remastering of all the Quests' original recordings and the production of a compilation CD.
Because a few more songs would be needed to round out the album, the band would go “back to the garage” to create new, sixties-flavored material. Resulting from this endeavor was the creation of five new Redux originals, representative of the five music styles the band used to play: Rock, Pop, Surf, Ballads and Bubblegum. Once again, Fritzen and Hotchkiss wrote new songs for the band to record. Their anthology, Re-Quested: Back To The Garage was completed and published in 2008.
The band next made a video of the album's title song, BTG for You Tube. In 2009, they played live for the first time since 1967 at a two-hour concert for West Catholic’s Class of 1964 reunion.
Logistics presently make it difficult for the band to perform regularly again. But their music still continues. Sieracki and alternate Quests drummer, Derrick Pearson play in Azz Izz. Dengate and Turmell are in the Dave Gilde Band. Fritzen and Hotchkiss are actively composing and arranging material for an upcoming CD of all new Quests originals.
Yes, the 1960s was a great era for music. No matter what one’s taste, the airways had something to offer. It was especially a great time for young, amateur musicians who lacked professional skills, yet were loaded with creativity. Back then, AM radio was a driving force. A garage band could take a newly-pressed 45 to a local radio station manager. If he liked it, the song would be given a shot.
Sound was everything. When music had no rules, creativity flowed and flowed. When music was born naturally, it was inspired, not designed.
Those days are gone. A few record companies now determine what is heard and they do not like taking risks on unproven talent. Today, recordings must fit a proven mold and visual presentation is as important as sound.
Despite this, the Quests are back. Still a garage band at heart, hoping to revive that ’60s feel. They know they can never be the same uninhibited musicians that they once were. But they are enjoying a rerun of their youthful spirit and the good feelings that have resulted from once again being on a musical quest.
The above Quests biography is actually a first person account that was written in the third person by Lyle Hotchkiss, the band’s lead guitarist and one of its principal songwriters. It is included here to underscore an ongoing dichotomy between perception and reality that persists not only in terms of the Quests’ formidable and ongoing legacy, but in terms how a number of still active musical pioneers are perceived by hardcore devotees and casual observers alike.
“It has been interesting how each member relates a different interpretation of those times”, said Hotchkiss.
“Of course, that is always the case when people reminisce, since no two people see the world through the same pair of eyes. The history that I wrote was intentionally generic, so that my biases would not show through. But I understand that by my doing so, there was an accounting without much interest.”
Therein lies the mixed blessing that is revisionist history. While it is indeed encouraging that those who were initially not afforded due acclaim for their endeavors are at last being recognized accordingly, with this recognition has come a lowest common denominator perception of the movement as a whole. This perspective persists via defaulting to a handful of rock and roll’s most successful artists at the expense of the countless others whose contributions are equally as worthy of consideration, if not more so.
Indeed, such consideration is, by definition, subjective to a degree. Even so, those who were not first hand observers of those developments have nonetheless been immeasurably blessed in that those who contributed to the cause accordingly (such as the Quests) continue to share the benefit of their expertise.
“My self-observation is that I am being historically correct, yet not wanting to interject personal interpretation that, in actuality, might be just that: an interpretation, rather than fact”, said Hotchkiss.
“I would (rather) not have to phrase my own opinions and interpretations to make them compatible with everyone's recollection of the times. I'm sure my perspective was different than that of the other band members. In my eyes, each member made a unique contribution which was not necessarily related to musicianship. Sometimes it was by leadership. Personality was as important to the band's chemistry as musicianship.”
Unlike many other still active first generation garage rock pioneers, the Quests continue to underscore their resolve by producing first rate in house material that is inspired by their original mission statement. While many such bands curiously downplay their own formidable legacies in favor of peppering their live sets with cover material that pays tribute to the aforementioned elite cauldron of rock and roll’s most successful artists, the Quests continue to exercise their God-given capabilities in due fashion.
To wit, of the fourteen tracks that grace their 2008 Back To The Garage CD, a faithful interpretation (recorded in 1966) of the Zombies’ often covered 1964 hit, She’s Not There (Parrot 45PAR9695) is the lone outside contribution. While the Quests continue to glean inspiration from the sort of material that graced the repertoires of the Zombies and numerous other artists of similar intent, they are astute enough to realize that their aesthetic fulfillment (and that of their audience) is best derived from drawing upon the gifts with which they have been blessed to enhance their own legacy.
Most encouragingly, the Quests are in agreement with a long standing tenet of Blitz Magazine’s own mission statement. As artists, they are inspired by their respective muses and create accordingly. Reason and logic should dictate that great art is timeless and not the byproduct of such periphery as geography and chronology.
As such, Blitz Magazine has long advocated the elimination from both industry jargon and general use of what is not so charitably referred to as “The ‘O’ Word”; a rather inaccurate, misleading and ignorant generalization often used to describe a rather large and diverse body of rock and roll. Hotchkiss heartily concurs with that assessment and herein utilizes the term only for the sake of illustration.
“I was intending ‘oldies’ to be a demeaning term, for I also think negatively of that word and its connotation”, said Hotchkiss.
“When I think of the "O" word, I'm thinking of a radio format that is limited to the top one hundred songs of the ’50s and ’60s. In other words, a very restricted number of successful songs, played over and over again. Good songs beaten to death."
“Now that I have access to satellite radio, I have ’60s on all day long at work. I hear songs that never made it into the top ten. I wish I could hear more album songs or songs that never got out of the top twenty - top forty range.
“There are so many great songs that most stations ignore. They'll play (Otis Redding’s) (Sittin' On The) Dock Of The Bay over and over again, and never play a song like (the Night Crawlers/Music Explosion hit) Little Black Egg.
“A song doesn't have to be a number one hit to stir emotions. I'd much rather think, ‘There's one I had forgotten’, rather than, ‘Oh, well, there it is again’.
“But you are absolutely right. The era of a song and how many times it has been played over the years does not diminish the song or the performance. I still can be moved by a Good Lovin' or Hanky Panky that I associate with past good times and feelings.”
To that effect, the Quests have not only continued to champion their legacy, they likewise actively build upon it with like minded and deftly executed original material. The ensuing dialogue with Lyle Hotchkiss underscores not only the depth of his own convictions, but the overall resolve of the band to ensure that theirs will be a heritage that represents the best that first generation garage rock had to offer.
BLITZ: Amongst first generation garage bands, the Quests demonstrated a remarkable level of musicianship from the onset. To what extent did the various members bring into the collective process an academic perspective? To that effect, were the various members involved in marching and/or symphony band, choir, private lessons or any other formal training?
HOTCHKISS: The original band members had almost no direct musical involvement prior to their decision to form a rock band. Fritzen had a few dobro lessons when he was eight. Dengate took two months of basic bass lessons when the Quests first formed. That was it.
I had four years of piano lessons as an adolescent and a half dozen guitar lessons when I first began playing as a sophomore in high school. I took choir for two years during high school and was also in choir at Grand Rapids Junior College when I auditioned with the Quests. I was definitely only a novice.
Fritzen, Sieracki and I did have musician parents. We likely developed our musical ears and souls as a result of their influence. But as far as the instruments we played in the Quests, we were all pretty much self-taught. In fact, our drummer, Neil had never played drums until his first practice session with the Quests.
However, each one of us was enthusiastic about making the band as good as it could be, especially our live performances. So once we had the basics down, we worked very hard on our individual musicianship.
BLITZ: There seems to be an undercurrent in the band's earliest outings of endeavoring to bring together the best elements of a variety of genres. To wit, your demonstrated mastery of the verse, chorus and bridge template is obvious. Yet it is frequently augmented by occasional fills and solos that suggest an interest in, if not solidarity with the hard bop contingent within the jazz idiom.
HOTCHKISS: My father was an accomplished jazz musician who played sax, clarinet, flute and upright bass. Prior to World War II, he played in big bands in the Detroit area and then did duty as a member of the U.S. Navy band during the war. Thereafter, he played in various jazz dance bands for the remainder of his life.
My mom played her Lowrey Organ almost every evening. She had a large collection of jazz records that frequently filled our house with sound. ’40s-style jazz was a passion in my home and I was raised in that atmosphere. It took rock and roll to flame my own passion for music, but my roots were certainly founded on jazz.
To be honest, I was never that great a guitarist. I believe my most significant contribution to the Quests was my ear and sense of musicality, which I believe added color to Fritzen’s songs. I felt every song should exude uniqueness.
So when Fritzen would come up with a basic song idea, I would tweak the chord progression, change the bridge, add strategic stops and starts, etcetera. You could say that Fritz brewed the coffee and I added the cream and sugar.
BLITZ: Was there any one individual within the band who presented the most impacting showcase for inspiration and/or the incorporation of outside material into your live set? That is, was there someone within the group who perhaps had a diverse record collection from which they drew for potential additions to your repertoire?
HOTCHKISS: I began collecting 45s when I was in third g rade and started collecting albums as soon as my allowance was big enough to afford the additional cost. Our little town had a great record store, where I would go at least weekly to see what new music came in.
The surf craze inspired me and my best friend, John Gais to buy guitars and begin the Royaltones in 1962. Together, John and I purchased every cool song that came out, especially the guitar instrumental hits. Examples: Underwater by the Frogmen, Wild Weekend by the Rockin’ Rebels and Out Of Limits by the Marketts. I eventually had every Ventures album, every popular surf album, including all the Beach Boys and tons of British Invasion stuff, including each Beatles release.
However, most of the songs covered by the Quests were learned without having the recordings in hand. That ended up being a good thing, because by learning songs from memory, rather than by listening to a 45 over and over, the result was a version of the original, rather than a copy. Instead of spending a lot of time duplicating harmonies and instrumentals, we did the songs our own way. Our versions were whatever was comfortable and within our abilities.
We were all rock and roll groupies, for sure, glued to the radio and playing the new songs we liked. To suggest a song to play, one of us would simply say, “How about doing this one?” The rest would inevitably say, “Yeah, let’s do it!”
Of course Fritzen had to feel comfortable singing the song. So he had the ultimate say. But he was game for almost anything. Therefore, we played a little bit of everything. We were so enthusiastic about playing that we rarely disagreed.
BLITZ: At the time that the Quests were formed, the state of Michigan, in seeming contrast to its infamous propensity for jingoism, played host to a curious provincialism that in many ways was not all encompassing. To wit, many of the Western Michigan and/or so-called "Michiana" bands built their legacies upon original material supplemented with sympathetic originals that emphasized an exuberant and upbeat demeanor. This is apparent in the works of such area bands as the Rivieras, the Five Emprees and Me and Dem Guys.
This perspective is also borne out to a degree in some of the Quests' works, in which the inspiration of surf rock (evidenced in part by your earlier tenure in the Stingrays) and the classic doo-wop and vocal groups is readily apparent. Was this indicative of a professed singularity of purpose with other area bands?
HOTCHKISS: Any singularity of purpose would have been the result of our common Michiana culture, rather than by design. The west side of Michigan was a world apart from the east side.
In West Michigan, we were raised with cherry pies and Lake Michigan beaches, rather than chili dogs and cement edifices. Living amid a much smaller population made everything less complicated and less stressful. We related more to the freewheeling California sound than to Motown and soul.
It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that a West Michigan late teen/young adult thought much beyond which Friday night dance to attend and where would be a good spot to make out afterwards. The West Michigan perception was somewhat rose colored. We fed on music that was compatible with our laid back perception of the life experience. The local radio stations determined what we heard. They were strongly influenced by the religious, family-oriented atmosphere prevalent in our area.
We listened to the New Christy Minstrels rather than Bob Dylan. We weren't into drugs or politics. Therefore, the music that we and our peers created more often reflected an upbeat attitude, rather than rebellion or teen angst.
A singularity of purpose? I don’t know if any of us created music with a common plan or purpose beyond having the common goal of being recognized and liked. In order to be liked, we endorsed the popular sound. The Quests’ songs were constructed to relate to our West Michigan audience, to reveal a little about who we were and to speak what was on our minds. Nothing too complex, just music that felt natural.
BLITZ: To that effect, the provincialism extant in Michigan music at the time in some respects bordered upon exclusivity. To wit, bands based in Ann Arbor such as the Rationals, Band-X and the Scarlett Letter enjoyed extensive airplay on WPAG there, with literally no interest in them demonstrated by radio a mere thirty to forty miles eastward in the Windsor/Detroit area, with the exception of two of the Rationals' singles.
Likewise, many bands from Western Michigan such as the Quests and others who recorded for the Fenton label might have been featured by WLAV in Grand Rapids, while receiving no airplay whatsoever in the Windsor/Detroit area. The pattern repeated in the Saginaw, Bay City and Flint area, where the likes of the Bossmen were a regular top ten fixture, although they were unable to break through in other areas within their own state.
Meanwhile, in the Windsor/Detroit area, there was extensive support for such area favorites as the Tidal Waves, Unrelated Segments, Tim Tam and the Turn-Ons, the Human Beings, the Shy Guys, the Wanted and the Capreez, as well as the R&B releases of such labels as Ric-Tic, Golden World, Drew and Sport via radio and through the support of Robin Seymour's Swingin' Time program in Windsor, Ontario.
It seemed as though the only artists capable of breaking through to WKNR and WXYZ in both the Detroit area and the state at large were Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Question Mark and the Mysterians and Terry Knight and the Pack. In your estimation, what prompted such extreme regionalism? What steps (if any) did the Quests take to overcome this obstacle?
HOTCHKISS: As I touched upon earlier, most Michiganders who were outside of Detroit’s influence experienced a relatively laid back existence in the ’60s. Most of us who played rock and roll did so solely for the fun of playing, without high aspirations. Our goals were modest and therefore achievable without an unusual amount of forethought.
Most garage bands didn’t have managers to find jobs and promote them outside their home area. Therefore, our popularity was limited to the broadcast radius of the local radio station or to the distance reached by word of mouth. That resulting regionalism is why most of us had a brief tenure and only limited, local exposure.
The positive effect of this regionalism: To attain local recognition, we didn’t have to make the same effort to be recognized as was necessary with the Detroit area bands. The downside: We did not develop our potential. We were less successful reaching a larger market because of our limited exposure, by our lack of challenge and from having a lower expectation.
In the Detroit area, a band had to work hard to attain recognition. But once that occurred, there was no ceiling for what could be accomplished. This promoted higher aspirations and greater accomplishments, I believe.
We Quests did almost nothing to promote ourselves and break free from the confines of our local broadcast area. Our focus was narrow. We failed to treat seriously some very significant opportunities that could have separated us from the regionalism of which we were a part.
BLITZ: In some respects, it also seems as though your original repertoire tried to address that very issue. To wit, your self-penned instrumental, Psychic reflects the adventurous spirit of the best surf rock.
This format carries over to a degree into Shadows Of The Night. Likewise, despite appearances, Scream Loud captures the joy and abandon of such vocal harmony front runners as the Newbeats and the Sunrays.
Conversely, other tracks seem to lend themselves to the more aggressive and/or intense approach common to a number of your Detroit area counterparts, as well as to the genre in general. To that effect, What Can I Do features a guarded optimism tempered with reality, not unlike that found in the Blues Magoos' Queen Of My Nights.
In turn, I'm Tempted leapfrogs from a reverb-laden intro to an urgent, minor key delivery indigenous to some of the best first generation garage rock, such as the Music Machine's The People In Me, albeit sans the emphasis on the rhythm section found in that particular work. To what degree did the band consciously develop its original material from that perspective?
HOTCHKISS: Every artist’s accomplishments are the net effect of many factors. Sometimes the influences are obvious. But because a mind is stimulated by so many things, it is difficult to determine the exact source of one’s inspiration.
A 2011 analysis of things that took place in the ’60s has the advantage of a broad range of historical facts on which to build a perception of the era. This view from afar, however, encourages reading in or presuming complexities that may not have actually existed.
I wish I could say that a great deal of forethought took place in the planning of the Quests’ songs, but it just didn’t happen that way. We saw things close up, rather than from afar. We wrote spontaneously and our songs reflected whatever emotion and mindset we happened to be in at the time.
The music industry grew hugely after the ’60s, resulting in big industry earnings and also the potential for big losses. Nowadays, every production is looked at through a microscope by corporate professionals prior to a recording being approved for release. Not only does a new song have to be produced exceptionally well, it also has to fit the current market or it won’t be given a chance.
Our rock industry was small in the ’60s. Music was less of an assembly line and it was certainly more varied than today, as were the tastes of consumers. It's amazing to recall that in the same 1964 Top 40 were the Beatles, Dean Martin, Jan and Dean, the Kingsmen and Louis Armstrong. What a mix!
The Quests' songs reflected that diversity of styles. However, our very last recording, That’s My Dream was intentionally written to fit the psychedelic trend that began developing in 1967, with the likes of Strawberry Alarm Clock, Jefferson Airplane and the Electric Prunes.
Here’s some inside background on the ’60s Quests recordings:
Fritzen said his inspiration for Scream Loud came from an early Quests performance in a crowded teen club, The Pit, where the kids were right on top of the band all night, screaming their approval. When deciding to write a song for the band to record, Fritzen imagined himself performing on stage, trying to connect with a gal in the audience.
Once he began to put this image into words, the lyrics came very quickly and the arrangement “just seemed to be there.” The Beach Boys sound inspired the falsetto in the chorus. As I had been brought into the band only a few days before Scream Loud was recorded, my sole contribution was a quickly prepared guitar lead.
Having had good success with Scream Loud, Fritzen continued the falsetto voice in Shadows In The Night. This song was the first to combine Bob’s melody and lyrics with my instrumental arrangement.
When Fritzen wrote Shadows In The Night, he started with the chord structure, which had a semi-moody, minor key sound combined with desperate speed. He said that he envisioned a frantic search for a lover; one that carried from day throughout the night. There was no option. She had to be found, no matter what the price. Being a lover of up front guitars and drums, I made sure the instrumental was as intense as the vocal, with Kinks-style, two-string chords and lots of distortion.
I’m Tempted was all mine, good or bad. Written on a rainy summer day, just me and my longing for female companionship. I was a quiet and somewhat introverted person then, definitely not a front man. I didn't envision the song being played publicly.
I’m Tempted revealed a side of me that otherwise would have remained hidden. I assembled my courage and presented it to the band when we were looking for a song to add to the proposed Shadows In The Night record. It was well received.
We added it to the recording session, even though we knew the song was pushing the censorship limits of the time. We felt if the Kingsmen could get away with suggestive lyrics, so could we.
Fritz took over the lead vocal. I added a harmony part for me to sing to make it a duet. It was not originally written to be put on a record, only 1:38 minutes long. But its energy ended up compensating for its brevity.
An interesting thing happened when setting up our equipment for the I'm Tempted session. Dengate was goofing around, as usual. He plugged his bass into my Fuzztone effects pedal. Once we stopped laughing at the “flatulence” sounds that he was able to produce, we decided the effect was too cool to pass up. So we added the fuzz to Dengate’s bass during my guitar lead.
Fritzen called me over to his house one afternoon to help him work on What Can I Do, which he had already roughed out. It was our first joint effort at composing. Similarly to Shadows In The Night, it described the search for love, without allowing failure to be an option. It was about doing whatever it takes to gain a cute girl's affection.
Fritzen started with that concept and worked out an approximate musical arrangement. At his house, he sang along while I worked to refine the instrumental. I suggested a bridge that transitioned to ¾ time to add interest. Fritz correspondingly adapted his words to make the song complete.
When we recorded What Can I Do, we were only a four man band, without keyboardist. We only planned to use six string and twelve string guitars. But there was an old Hammond in the Fenton studio, which I hopped on and improvised the keyboard fill heard in the recording. It added a cool touch, although my keyboard rustiness was obvious. WLAV’s Dick McKay said it sounded like a bird chirping. Funny how things can unfold without fore planning.
A recent e-mail to me from Bob Fritzen regarding his songwriting:
“I think all of the songs I wrote back then were based on my drive toward success no matter what the odds. Now that I look back upon it, I realize the songs were an extension of my personality patterns. Didn't know that then, but I do now after 45 years of self-exploration. I have known that about the songs for a long time now. It has amazed me that the drive to make 'the big time' in the band didn't hit either you or me at the time. We were both the same, inspirationally and motivationally. It should have come from one of us, and it didn't (????????????).”
BLITZ: Your live appearances showcased a variety of superb material that refreshingly emphasized variety, as opposed to the often trod Chess label R&B and British Invasion covers that dominated the set lists of countless other bands. You acknowledged your colleagues with your interpretations of material by the Easybeats, the Electric Prunes, the Monkees, the Guess Who, the New Colony Six, the Box Tops, Herman's Hermits, the Five Americans, the Rivieras, the Turtles and the Shadows Of Knight, while concurrently espousing diversity with your renditions of material from the catalogues of the Ventures, Bobby Darin, the Surfaris, Tommy Roe, Buddy Holly, Rick Nelson, Chubby Checker and Chris Montez.
While championing such a cross section of artists was not necessarily uncommon within garage rock circles, it nonetheless seems to reflect an intention on the part of the band to take a stand for aesthetic integrity, especially given the rapid and (in many ways) less than favorable developments that had begun to manifest in rock in general by 1967 and 1968. Was that intentional?
HOTCHKISS: Yes. We were artists. But first and foremost, we were entertainers. Because there were such a wide variety of genres at the time, we tried to provide something for everyone. So we touched on bits of everything. We played more for our listeners than for ourselves. We tried to dominate our sets with upbeat songs. The House of The Rising Sun was probably our only downer.
Also, we really enjoyed experimentation and loved a challenge. We never thought we were restricted to a specific type of song. We wanted to show that we were versatile. Again, our drive was to be well received, not to make a statement.
Later, when we each went separate ways, that would change. But in 1966 and 1967, seriousness wasn’t in the band’s mindset. When we played live, we never spotlighted our own material. Our songs would be incidental to our set lists. When in concert, we always played songs that were currently hot.
BLITZ: You have indicated that academic commitments and the American military involvement in Vietnam both factored into the band's decision to embark upon a protracted sabbatical in 1968. To what degree did the latter development enter into the band's mission statement prior to that time?
HOTCHKISS: Let me answer that by describing the band's transitions leading to our breakup in 1967. From the onset, our mission was to make records and to be popular. Recording was number one. Friendship among members and enjoying what we were doing was also important.
But our desire to attain a good sound did lead to the dismissal of one member, our first keyboardist, Jim Nixon. Although he was personable and a natural on tambourine, he had difficulty progressing instrumentally with the rest of us.
We knew he no longer fit in when we backed up Freddy Cannon at The Place in Grand Rapids and Nixon couldn’t play the keyboard riff in Palisades Park. After many frustrating attempts at getting it right when rehearsing with Cannon before the concert, we ended up having Fritzen play the organ riff on his guitar. Cannon was not happy.
Eliminating Nixon resulted in the elimination of our first big opportunity. When Nixon left, he took with him the master tapes for Scream Loud and Psychic. His ouster and our inability to provide the masters negated a contract that Nixon and Fritzen had signed with a distributor. It would have put ten thousand records in the stores of three states, giving us regional exposure.
Losing Nixon took the band from six members to five. Then losing rhythm guitarist Joey Suchocki to the Vietnam draft took us to four. With Fritzen playing rhythm guitar as well, we felt Joey did not have to be replaced, although his gracious personality had been a real asset to the group.
Our sound didn’t suffer, since the remaining members kept improving both vocally and instrumentally. When we had the opportunity to coax Ron Sieracki from the Screaming Babies, he filled any void that we may have had through the loss of Nixon and Suchocki. Plus his keyboard proficiency brought the Quests a whole new dimension of sound and set list possibilities.
The draft next took Neil from us. But it also gave us the opportunity to grow a little more through the addition of Steve Mazurek, an excellent drummer who played on our last two, unreleased recordings, That's My Dream and Love Can Do These Things. It's unfortunate that these songs were the only ones on which Sieracki and Mazurek had an opportunity to play, for the songs were never published. We disbanded soon after their completion.
The Vietnam War was always in the back of our minds. It certainly was impetus for those of us with high draft lottery numbers to keep our college deferments and to resist the temptation to take any sabbaticals that would have further developed the band.
After Suchocki was drafted, we had an offer to sign with Columbia Records. But we turned it down, because they required that we drop out of school and go on tour. We felt if we did that, we would be drafted. So the contract was rejected. The band kept playing, despite losses caused directly and indirectly by the war. But that conflict definitely affected our priorities.
BLITZ: You are no doubt aware that a musical movement arose in the mid to late 1970s that was subsequently termed the new wave movement and/or punk rock, in which its protagonists professed solidarity with first generation garage bands such as the Quests in response to their growing disenfranchisement with developments in rock and roll in the immediate post-Woodstock era. Did these developments give rise amongst the various Quests alumni to re-emerge from their sabbatical at that time? Or were all concerned involved in extracurricular pursuits that prevented any such collaborations?
HOTCHKISS: It was logistically impossible for the band to stay together once we all moved to different parts of the state. Everyone kept playing for a while, but not as the Quests.
Sieracki and Fritzen did a few club dates together after we broke up. Dengate and I met again for a one night bar gig in Gobles, Michigan, when my Ann Arbor band, Labyrinth needed a stand-in. Labyrinth was a ’70s hard rock/blues rock band; in no way similar to the Quests. We were playing here and there throughout the state. When our bass player couldn't make the Gobles date, Dengate willingly filled in.
That was the extent of any band members playing together until 1990, when four of us, Sieracki, Dengate, Mazurek and I made an attempt to restart the Quests with a female vocalist, Barb Jordan singing lead. The experiment failed, probably because we didn’t have Fritzen. But what did result was Sieracki and I coming together again and next forming a decent, ’60s-style band that we called BackTrak.
After about a year of Ron and I being together and experimenting with different members and sound, we morphed into Wyze Gyze, a real solid, classic rock band. After I moved to Florida, Wyze Gyze continued with Ron and lead singer/drummer Derrick Pearson. That band eventually became Azz Izz, a Rock/R&B band that still performs regularly in Grand Rapids.
To more directly answer your question, I once thoroughly embraced the Woodstock era, including having long hair and a serious guitar attitude. But I had to leave that scene in 1973 when I graduated from dental school and had to turn mainstream. Marriage and babies ended my playing for a few years.
By the time I took up the guitar again in 1990, the popular music being played wasn’t mine any more. Sixties rock had become “the oldies". That's right, the "O" word.
Punk rock, although slightly entering my garage band comfort zone, was culturally foreign to me. What resulted from all these music and personal transitions was the eventual desire to once again play the songs that first moved me. When coincidence provided the opportunity for a band reunion, I enthusiastically got on board.
BLITZ: The early 2007 Scream Loud!!! CD anthology of Fenton label releases was of course inspired by your own hit single and featured the work of both the Quests and your labelmates. To what degree (if any) was the band consulted on this project?
HOTCHKISS: None of us were consulted. As far as I know, the same holds true for the other Fenton label bands featured on the release. I talked to the guy who put the collection together. He said he would have contacted us for permission to use our recordings, but he didn’t know how to find us.
With the compilation produced in the Netherlands, there wasn’t much we could do. No U.S. copyright protection, no royalties paid. But even though the publication was done on the sly, we are glad for the attention that it has brought and for it being responsible for us getting back together again.
BLITZ: To the Quests' considerable credit, in the wake of your permanent reformation in 2007, you have emphasized strong original material, rather than perpetuating a perceived yet most assuredly misdirected and unwarranted standard of subservience via conciliatory references to certain factions of the British Invasion, as a number of other veteran bands have done. Your new material at once reflects a healthy diversity and a refreshingly uncompromising stance.
This is particularly evidenced in BTG, which celebrates the band's legacy in a manner not unlike that espoused by Paul Revere and the Raiders in their Legend Of Paul Revere. Likewise, The Way We Are brings the basic Quests template into the dreamscape format with resounding success in much the same way as did like minded recent original material by the Electric Prunes.
In turn, Little Unknown is sublime, mid-tempo first generation-flavored garage rock, while Cabana Boy seems to celebrate the surf rock ethic with the benefit of hindsight. Was the band's decision to continue to champion creative autonomy in this manner a primary concern in your songwriting process?
HOTCHKISS: You bet. We wanted a representation of the diversity we once had, yet we didn’t want it to be “the same old same old.”
We call it Redux Rock and would like to encourage others to join in. The genre of Redux rock can encompass Surf, Bubblegum, Soul or Wall of Sound; anything as long as the songs are original and in a classic style.
I think that there is a ready market for new music created in the style of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I'm talking about creative melodies and relatable lyrics that bring good feelings. The oldies have simply been played too many times. We should have an alternative to ditching our interest in music or having to embrace sounds that do not stir us and lyrics that depress us.
Our five new songs were an experiment, not an end. We are now working seriously to create music that represents both the old and the new Quests.
BLITZ: The Quests currently feature two drummers in original member Neil Turmell and relative newcomer Derrick Pearson. Presumably the two do not appear concurrently in the band's live performances. Was the decision to retain both as a result of limited availability on the part of each?
HOTCHKISS: Frankly, Neil had been away from the drums far too long. I think drumming is the most difficult thing to resume after a long time of not playing. Neil didn’t even have drums to practice on until a month before we were scheduled to record. We found he had desire, but could not supply a consistent tempo.
Fortunately we had another option. Ron, Derrick and I had played for years together in Wyze Gyze. Derrick was a natural fit for both the recordings and the video. Thus, Derrick became the Quests’ most recent drummer.
However, Neil has since been practicing and playing occasionally in a band with Dengate. So our original drummer might be back. In fact, the Quests played a two-set high school reunion not long ago, with Neil on the drums. I think he did a great job.
The band’s members still live long distances apart. So we had to do individual practice for the new songs. Fritz and I wrote and arranged the songs via MP3 e-mails back and forth. We were only able to meet for two practices prior to recording.
Along with the recording session, we scheduled a videotaping so that we could submit a live version of BTG for the America’s Greatest Band reality show. An unedited live performance was definitely not within Neil’s capability at the time. We couldn’t turn to Neil’s 1967 replacement, Mazurek because he had passed away.
BLITZ: You have indicated that both lead vocalist Bob Fritzen and yourself are composing material for a forthcoming new Quests project. Please elaborate with regards to specific tracks.
HOTCHKISS: We have accomplished our goal of restoring the original master tapes to provide a high quality digital record of all of our ’60s recordings. We augmented the project with new material to round out the CD. Now Bob and I are working on a phase two.
Our present goal is to complete a full CD of all new Quests songs. It is a labor of love and it is taking considerable time, since all but the final recording sessions has to be done without Fritzen and I being able to sit down together.
First, Bob e-mails a vocal MP3 roughed out on his Garage Band software. Then I put the draft into a ProTools track and begin structuring the instrumental and harmonies until I have something to send back for Bob's input.
At other times, a song will begin with my creation of a completed instrumental. I'll send it to Bob, who then plays with it to pick out a melody and create lyrics, which he then returns to me for my input. It is a long, tedious process. But it is a fabulous pastime. Good things are certainly in the works.
Fritzen and I are now working together as composers, more than as musicians. We believe it is probably time to pass the baton to younger, more handsome performers who can represent the ’60s spirit for us.
But passing the musician baton does not mean we are no longer in the race. I recently completed a Country version of Just The Way We Are; one of the new songs on the recent Quests CD. It was put together in my home studio, with my son-in-law singing lead over my layers of piano, guitars and vocal harmony. Live drums were added by studio engineer Roy Wallace, when the final mix was done at River City Studios in Grand Rapids.
Changing the song's style gave it an entirely different impact. To give you an idea of how enthusiastic we are when sending songs back and forth, the last e-mail I received from Bob was, “This is it, the big one, I’m sure!”
As far as other specific tracks being worked on, so far Fritzen and I have a love ballad, a moving piece about heroes, a rocking blues called Stick It, a Beatles-style, Save Your Love and the most recent one, a Shadows In The Night-style song, tentatively called No, No. When we’re finished, I'll fly back to Michigan and the band will return to the studio.
It may be too late to progress beyond historic, Michiana "also-rans". But that doesn't mean we have lost our inspiration or the ability to dream. The Quests have a garage band desire once again and it is an indescribable force. Our ’60s success may have been the result of nothing more than good timing and luck. But it is was what it was and is what it is: many special moments.