The 1980’s were a hotbed for great music in the Tri-Cities and sizzled like a rapid-fire one-liner delivered from Robin Williams’s lips. It seemed as if music was everywhere and radiated from back porch cornpone to a litany of rock clubs like The Red Elephant, The Powerhouse & The Fordney Hotel with enough punk pizzazz to keep everyone happy. Indeed, younger generations have no idea how vibrant the local scene truly was back then. The clubs were always packed to the rafters and every show was a big show.
From 1981 to 1986 My Dog Bob was living proof of this creative apex. They produced a big full sound with great lead vocals and three tiered vocal harmonies. They were the best band with the best players in a scene that already had incredible bands vying for the number one grid spot.
Their shows were always an artistic spectacle. They would open their show with a Paganini concerto that keyboardist Jim Schmidke had programmed on the all new sequencing technology, which was loaded onto a floppy disc; and drummer Rollo Woodring once started a song with beats recorded on a boom box, which he then used to attack his cymbals. They also secured top honors at the very first Review Music Awards Ceremony, winning the honor of Best Rock Band.
The band consisted of:
Doug Sheltraw: guitar, vocals
Mark Miller: bass, vocals
Rollo Woodring: drums
Jim Schmidke: keyboard
Jim Perkins: lead vocals, guitar
This was a fully serviced band with the best gear. Gary Westendorf did sound and lights; Curt List did sound. The band had a huge PA system courtesy of Watermelon Sugar (Schmidke and Al Limberg). Perkins claims that Schmidke got the equipment from Styx in a coup ‘de etat. It was a chance in a lifetime to get the best professional equipment; and if nothing else, this was the era of big bands and big sounds.
All the clubs were packed to the rafters and it was always a big show. Production and sound were paramount in this 4th stage of rock & roll, the packed houses lived and died by a careful reading of what was hip and what would be danceable. The band mixed covers with a few originals and a typical My Dog Bob set list consisted of: Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax / The Beatles - Strawberry Fields / Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb / Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime / Tears For Fears – Shout / New Order – Blue Monday / Sex Pistols – Stepping Stone / Chili Peppers – True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes….along with a few originals like Mark Miller’s punk anthem Surf’s Up and Jim Perkins’ love ball number Candy Cane.
Jim Perkins recalls his time with My Dog Bob with affection. “I loved Sheltraw’s work. He was like a 70’s guitarist, reminiscent of Queen with big solos. The equipment was excellent. It was through Watermelon Sugar. Schmidke and Al were great sound technicians. They would do the sequencing for our backing tracks.”
Perkins is clear about the vibe in the eighties. It was a far cry from today’s ennui - lethargy within an uptight scene that cannot permit what the eighties took for granted. It was vibrant and exploratory.
Jim explains: “The clubs were packed all the time – 5 nights a week. The Fordney was HOT with lines of people out of the door! Old Town came into it’s own; it was hopping 3-5 nights a week. We played the Hamilton Street Pub and rocked it hard and even got asked back for several more gigs. All the bands toured regionally Kalamazoo (Club Soda), Grand Rapids (Intersection, Millies). We had a horn band at Mackinaw Island and our audience came to us!”
Perkins recalls My Dog Bob as a great band, but then corrects himself: “We were a good band…we weren’t the Stones! There were a lot of good bands that were playing new music like Valentine, The Mick Furlo Band, The Flies and The Burdons. In the end what brought us down were our lifestyles - traveling a lot and having musical differences and directions.”
Perkins recalls those halcyon days with some measure of wonder, pride and a subtle melancholy. “Today, it’s no longer a scene or a subculture; it’s a fringe culture. Music is not the focus anymore. People are listening to music on their cell phones, never hearing the full spectrum of sound. But at least now there is a new movement happening at record clubs and conventions and the rebirth of vinyl.“
“I was eleven years old when I first saw Dick Wagner at Larry Wheatley’s house. Wheatley was in Count & the Colony and Wagner was the leader of The Bossmen. Wagner would come over quite a bit for a while. He would play out in the backyard or down in the basement. Wagner would play Spanish or electric guitar and he would sing up real high, and hit those impossible notes. I didn’t realize the talent he had. Wagner was great. He was an icon; it was like seeing John Lennon…or The Bossmen. Ed Sullivan and The Beatles inspired me. And that was where it really all began.”
Ironically, and sadly typical of many great bands that emerged from the region in the 1980s, My Dog Bob broke up in January 1987, right after fans voted them the ‘Best Rock Band’ in the region at the inaugural 1987 Review Music Awards. Following the break-up, Perkins returned to his roots as a solo artist and also forged various collaborations as a duo with other notable area musicians throughout the years, most recently with John VanBenschoten, a partnership that has carried the most longevity in his post-MDB years.
Rollo Woodring moved to Ann Arbor and joined forces with punk-rocker Wendy Case, recording a single with L.A. impresario Kim Fowley, inventor of the legendary all-female punk band The Runaways that kick-started the career of Joan Jett. After the band disbanded he moved to Traverse City where today he performs percussion with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra.
Mark Miller went on to define the sound of another legendary band, The Jitters, joining forces with guitarists & vocalists Jeff Scott and Mick Furlo and subsequently performed with Sharrie Williams & the Wiseguys. He also forged an innovative R&B outfit called The Meltones with vocalist Mel Curry and guitarist Chris Mohn and pursued a brilliant solo recording project of all-original material with Mr. Sunshine, which unfortunately was never released.
Jim Schmidke and Doug Sheltraw sadly both passed away a few years ago. But they will live forever in the immortality of rock ‘n roll greatness.
So nice to finally see an article on My Dog Bob! I have scoured the internet & pick up every Review to see if anything is out there on this awesome band. We saw them play countless times, all over the state (I guess we were basically groupies! We were Angie & Angela, sometimes with a group of friends, sometimes it was just the two of us--I was the blonde one-- & oh, what fun we had! I still have a cassette tape they made (I wish I could get hold of another one). They were probably the most fun times I've ever had and I will never forget them! RIP Doug & Jim! And thanks for the memories, guys. You will always hold a special place in my heart !
25th August, 2015 | 18:07:02 | Angie Wazny