Pencilstorm Remembers Mike Parks

Fans and friends of Mike Parks will be gathering to see Willie Phoenix at the A&R Bar Friday, February 2nd. It's a post CBJ show. Details here.

League Bowlers guitarist Mike Parks succumbed to cancer on Sunday, January 7th. I really don't know how old he was and I guess it doesn't matter anyway. Mike was a gentleman and an artist and it was truly an honor to stand next to him onstage and get to listen to all that amazing guitar playing up close. Not that you needed to be close once Mike cranked up those two VOX twins, but you get the point. I'm going to turn it over to Ricki C. and Jim Johnson from here as they knew Mike longer and better than I did. - Colin G.

Click here to read: Mike Parks - Guitar Slinger.....written by Ricki C. in 2014, updated 2017

Jim Johnson -  I guess it's time to post my thoughts. I lost one of my best friends yesterday. Mike Parks passed away peacefully yesterday, with his wife, Danya Linehan, and his cats by his side. Mike had a lot of cats. More than one household really needed, but Mike loved his cats. He had this thing, a sort of telepathy with cats. If you know anything about cats, you know cats don't trust anyone. Cats trusted Mike. They knew he was one of them, and they loved him as much as he loved his cats. It really was amazing to see.

I first met Mike, back in the "Sugar Shack" days. I think he was playing in Flasher, and I was playing in Lizzy Borden. I used to watch Mike play, and he would do this thing, with a violin bow and an echoplex. It was amazing. Every bit as good as Jimmy Page, but I didn't have to go to Madison Square Garden to see it. I could stand 5 feet away, at the Shack, and then walk home. Those were amazing days. I thought to myself, "I hope I get to play in a band with this guy someday." My wish came true. Mike and I played in three bands together. The Retreads, Willie Phoenix and the True Soul Rockers, and the League Bowlers. All cool bands, and it was a pleasure to share the stage with Mike. The Retreads used to play at Bernies, and we had a gig the day Mike's first child was born. We weren't sure if he would make it to the gig. After all, his kid was being born. Mike showed up 5 minutes before we were supposed to go on, dressed in full Operating Room scrubs, including surgeon's mask, and played the gig. I wish there were pictures. That's the Mike I remember. There are some tapes of the True Soul Rockers playing the High-Beck, floating around in cyberspace. The band was really at it's best in those days, and if you ever get to hear the tape, you'll hear Mike and Willie Phoenix, tearing it up. Those two together, man, it was magic. That's the Mike I remember.

After the TSR's broke up, Mike quit playing for a while. I used to call him, and he'd say, "Man, I'm retired. I'll do my sculpting. I got other stuff I can do." I said "we'll see." I went on to join the League Bowlers, and when we needed a guitar player, I suggested Mike. I said "Come down & jam, and if you hate it, you can go back to your sculpting." Long story short, Mike had a new rock & roll home. Colin Gawel had some cool songs, and we recorded them with Rick Kinsinger. Some Balls was born. Rick reminded me of a story about Mike not long ago. Mike was having a little trouble coming up with a lead for a song, so I told him, "Play it like Chuck Berry would, if he was in a surf band." Needless to say, Mike NAILED it. He had an amazing amount of Rock & Roll Knowledge. After all, he lived with the MC5 for a while. That's the Mike I remember. Some Balls Deluxe is finished, and Mike left some great guitar playing for us to remember him by. Colin said not long ago, "There are a lot of guitar players that are artists. Mike is an artist that plays guitar." There's a difference. The world lost a gifted human being yesterday. I'm lucky to have known him, to have him in my life, and I have some great memories. That's the Mike I remember.  - Jim Johnson

Jim mentioned Bowlers producer and sometime stand-in Rick Kinsinger above, I thought his comments were worth sharing as well:

There are losses that make me sad, not just for the ones who knew and loved the departed, but also for the people who never knew them, because now they never will. Mike Parks is one of those. Whether you knew him or not, your world just got a little less cool, less colorful, less weird, and less kind. Rest In Peace, Mike. - Rick Kinsinger

Along those lines, as Mike was fighting his illness while trying to finish Some Balls Deluxe, Rick would literally take a small recording rig to Mike's bedside so he could record his parts. With the circumstances being what they were, Rick recorded EVERYTHING Mike laid down. The final song on Some Balls is one of those moments of Mike just messing around and having some fun. We thought it was the perfect way to wrap up the record and I think we will wrap this post the same way. 

Click here to play 11th Frame by Mike Parks  .  


Remembering Pat DiNizio - by Colin Gawel

Remembering Pat DiNizio - by Colin Gawel

I remember the night I first met Pat DiNizio. In 1995 Watershed played the Cubby Bear in Chicago and our A&R man for Epic records, Frankie LaRocka, was flying into see the show. This was odd for two reasons, we never played the Cubby Bear before or after that night and there was really no reason for Frankie to fly from New York to see this gig. Our album Twister had been out for a couple of months and there really wasn't much going on. His job was more or less done. But Frankie was a rock and roller's rock and roller and so he looked after us long after other corporate executive types would have quit caring.

“Hey, Biggie, tell these guys not to suck tonight. I’m bringing somebody to see them. It might lead to something, it might not, so don’t make a big deal out of it. But don’t suck either”.

During the show, despite the cold temperatures outside on Addison St, I remember sweating profusely on stage. I was consciously thinking, “Is it just me or is it really hot up here?”

Turns out it wasn’t just me, early in the gig Biggie accidently spilled a beer into the Cubby Bear light board he was manning. The good news is that it didn’t short out. The less good news is that every light locked on into full brightness for the entire show. However, other than that, nothing about the show was noteworthy. I suppose we must have played OK because after the show Frankie invited us over to a booth in the back of the bar and said, “Fellas, I want you to meet my friend Pat DiNizio from the Smithereens.”

Pat said hello and asked, “How would you feel about going out on tour to open for the Smithereens?” I can only assume our jaws dropped open as we nodded in the affirmative. “Great. Biggie, go get some more drinks for my new paisans.”

We sat and bullshitted into the late hours and I remember at one point our good pal Lou Brutus, who was working in radio in Chicago at the time, pulling me aside and saying “I cannot believe I am sitting in a booth drinking with fucking Pat Dinizio and Frankie Larocka.” I was surprised by how excited Lou was. Being a major DJ, he had met practically everybody in rock n roll. Hell, it’s wasn’t unusual for him to field a call from Gene Simmons while having breakfast on a Tuesday morning.

But for Lou, spending an entire night boozing with Pat and Frankie was just one rung below partying with Springsteen. Lou was born and raised in New Jersey. These two are rock royalty in his world.

Anyway, when we told everybody at Epic and our agents at Pinnacle the good news, they were decidedly lukewarm. “Why would you go out with those guys? They are washed up. You should hold out for something better.”

Hold out for something better? Ever since we had signed with a major booking agency, our dates had dwindled to nothing. It was the classic major label tale: “No reason to go out until something is going on. Be patient.”

We came at it from the opposite view. We had always been DIY from the beginning. So our attitude was, "We need to get out and make something happen.”

We fired our agent and took the Smithereens tour. It was the best decision we ever made.

This wasn’t like 5 shows. It was a bunch. Off the top of my head-- DC / Baltimore / Raleigh / Greenville / Wilmington / Charleston / Louisville / Detroit / Indy / Chicago / Memphis / Vinton / Little Rock/ Houston / Dallas/ Amarillo / San Antonio / El Paso / Phoenix / LA / San Diego / Vegas.

I’ve never had so much fun. Really. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Every show was a blast. I enjoyed the Smithereens every single night. It never got old. And the 'Reens guys and crew, Ira and Chopper, were all like big brothers to us. I don’t know how other tours work but we would hang out together, stay in the same hotels and they would even invite Watershed guys to ride on their bus between some shows. It was a nice break from the van to sit up front in the bus watching Chinatown with Pat and the fellas. I’m pretty sure most headliners don’t do that for the opening act. By the end of the tour we had a bit during "Blood and Roses" where Jim walked into the crowd, and I would grab the guitar and take over the lead part as a “random fan,” (ala Bill Black from the Scotty, Bill and Elvis years) The crowd loved it. Like I said, it was fun every night.

Needless to say we got to know them pretty well. If they were a group of family siblings Pat was the brilliant, entitled first born. He was the ringleader, which has its pros and cons for any family. Next was Jim. The Dave Davies-esque hellraising younger brother to Pat. Dennis was the studious one. You could always count on him. Steady as his tempo. And Mike was the firery and athletic baby bro. Sick of taking shit from his older “brothers,” there was an aura of danger around him. But he brought fire to the stage every night.  I liked all of them very much.

Sometime after the tour, Pat was doing a solo thing and asked if Watershed would back him up at a show at Ludlow’s in Columbus. Hells yeah we would. So Herb, Joe and myself along with our pal Andy Harrison boned up on the material and the show was a smash. What an honor to stand next to Pat onstage playing all those great tunes. It was also the night I met my lifelong friend Brian Phillips for the first time.

We would stay in sporadic contact with Pat through the years and it was always a pleasure when we would reconnect. And he never lost his ability to write a catchy song and sing it in his distinctive style. Go play any Smithereens record today and you will find that it would sound great in any decade. Nothing sounds dated. It sounds fresh and classic and the same time. How rare is that?

And don’t sleep on their last studio release, the amazing 2011. Produced by Don Dixon and recorded by Mitch Easter. (WOW!)  It sounds as cool as any in their amazing catalog.

We lost some big names in 2017, but nobody touched me like Pat Dinizio. I am forever in his debt for writing those amazing tunes but more importantly, inviting a little band like Watershed into the world of the Smithereens. It was an honor.  - Colin Gawel (click here for Colin page)

Below are a couple of Smithereens tunes for your pleasure. 

The first Smithereens song I heard or more likely saw on MTV. Always crushing.

From Smithereens 2011. 24 years after their debut.

A Date with The Smithereens is my favorite Reen's record. It didn't hurt that this is the tour we did but I still think it's their most consistent top to bottom. Dig this little gem.

This clip shows off the diversity of Pat's songwriting and the Smithereens. And it's always fun to see Belinda Carlisle of The Go Go's.

This full show from MTV catches the band in all their young garage band glory. Early hits with a dose of Surf , Kinks and The Who. Wow.

The awesome Blood and Roses. It was breathtaking every time they played it. This clip was filmed around the time we were touring with them. This is how I remember The Smithereens. RIP Pat DiNizio. 


Colin Gawel founded Pencilstorm, plays in the band Watershed and fronts The League Bowlers.


Keep On Rollin' - RIP Gary Richrath - by Matt Walters


"We're very lucky in the band in that we have two visionaries, David and Nigel, they're like poets, like Shelley and Byron. They're two distinct types of visionaries, it's like fire and ice, basically." - Derek Smalls, "This Is Spinal Tap"

It's no secret that most of my favorite bands feature multiple songwriters, each with distinct personalities. I usually blame Donna Knappie for this. 

Donna was my 16-year-old babysitter in 1977, solely responsible for brainwashing 3-year-old Matt by placing a brand new copy of KISS' Alive II in his hands. Upon opening the gatefold LP, the sight of the larger than life pyrotechnics of the Love Gun version of this band firing on all cylinders completely mesmerized me. I had never seen anything like this, and it completely terrified me. Naturally, I immediately led my parents to the nearest Sam Goody in order to demand that they purchase a copy of the LP Destroyer before I could bring myself to go to sleep that night. 

I have obsessively followed KISS for the subsequent 38 years of my life. 

Thanks, Donna. 

Truthfully, blaming Donna is just a cop-out. You see, I had also convinced my parents to buy me another album earlier in that same year, Queen's News of the World. This album also featured a larger than life iconography, in the form of a large robot killing the members of Queen. The inner gatefold was an illustration of the same robot descending on the rest of the people in what would be Queen's audience, through a torn-out hole in the pavilion. I was utterly horrified, and I couldn't possibly look away, or stop listening. 

It turns out that toddler Matt was highly suggestible to bizarre imagery in music. 

More important to my formative musical philosophy, beyond the visual cues, was that each of these two bands featured multiple songwriters/vocalists, each contributing their own brand of songwriting and style to the mix. In Queen, Mercury's whimsical folly complemented the hard-edged crunch of May's power. Deacon's plaintive delivery and calculated structure mirrored the visceral spontaneity and emotional guts of Taylor's rage. In KISS, Stanley's Raspberries conjurings matched Simmons' summoned Beatles, and Frehley's distilled Hendrix counterbalanced Criss's Faces-by-way-of-Krupa. You get the idea. I became hooked on this formula of music, and I've responded to it in many other bands I've followed. 

I digress.

I'm writing this article because we lost someone big in the rock and roll community last week, but you didn't hear about it. 

We lost Gary Richrath. 

Gary Richrath was the lead guitarist and one of the primary songwriting forces in REO Speedwagon during the first 20 years of their professional career. He was a blistering player that had a knack for songwriting and often played by instinct, probably a much more important trait than anything anyone ever got with a formal education in music. In the formative years of the band, he was the glue that held it all together, often while the band barely made ends meet on their live reputation, largely built on Richrath's prowess. He wrote their biggest early hit, "Ridin' the Storm Out," while the group itself rode the storm out of three lead vocalists in three consecutive albums.   

Eventually, the band settled on Kevin Cronin in front, and never looked back after that lineup finally clicked. Ironically, the band had already hired Cronin for their sophomore slump of an effort dubiously titled R.E.O./T.W.O., and immediately fired him after realizing what they needed in a lead vocalist resembled an extra in the film Dazed and Confused, rather than the Least Photogenic Guy In Rock History. It turned out they were wrong, and Richrath had the balls to admit this. He asked Cronin back after three more tepid albums (Side note: the studio version of "Ridin' the Storm Out" features Dazed and Confused on lead vocals, while the later, more popular live version features Cronin).  

I digress, again. 

You see, the above quote by our friend Derek Smalls has a rather large grain of truth to it, like most other things in the brilliant mockumentary by Rob Reiner. Tufnel and St. Hubbins complement each other in a way that creates undeniable chemistry, just as Simmons, Stanley, Criss and Frehley did, just as May, Mercury, Taylor and Deacon did. 

....and if Cronin, the talented pianist/guitarist/vocalist, was one of those visionaries of REO, the relatively unheralded, less remembered Gary Richrath was, in equal part, the other. Richrath was the fire, with the steely bite of his Les Paul cutting through any song, combining all the swagger of every '70s band put together in his effortless mastery of the fretboard and mercurial songwriting. Cronin, on the other hand, was the ice, the calculated pop songwriter who delivered melody in measure, carefully crafting arrangements and finding just the right blend of soft rock with pop sensibility to skyrocket the band into rock and roll's stratosphere. 

It was the combination of these two men together that guaranteed unparalleled success for REO. Although Cronin wrote many of the biggest pop hits of the day, including "Keep on Loving You," and "Don't Let Him Go," it was Richrath who matched him step for step with "Take It On The Run," and "In Your Letter." All four of these songs struck top 40 gold on Billboard's charts in 1981 as singles from the band's smash hit Hi Infidelity, an LP that went on to sell over 10 million copies and became the single best selling album of 1981. Not bad for a bunch of kids from Champaign and Peoria. 

Perhaps the most fitting and infamous tale of their partnership is in the details of the most famous song of these four, "Keep On Loving You." Hi Infidelity's recording marked a departure point for the band, one in which a definitively more pop approach would be incorporated in the songwriting over the band's previous pure hard rock leanings. Richrath was particularly resistant to this change, especially when Cronin brought in a last-minute piano ballad to add to the record. As Cronin played the track for the rest of the band, Richrath became increasingly agitated, especially as he stewed over the lack of room for his trademark tobacco-burst Les Paul. When it came time for him to track, he was riled up enough to turn the distortion all the way up on his amplifier, in order to emphasize his distaste, but also to make a point about the lack of room for his style within this new approach. 

Richrath plugged in. The tapes began to roll. He reached for the volume knob on his guitar....

....and as soon as the rest of the band heard the dirge-like guitar over the rest of the track, they knew they were hearing magic. This contrast of tone, this juxtaposition of gentle, delicate piano and a yearning lyric set to a maelstrom of distortion created a desperate longing.

The band immediately knew they had their hit single. 

REO had a few more hits after Hi Infidelity, but never quite reached those stratospheric heights again in album form. Cronin continued to push them into a pop direction, and a disillusioned Richrath eventually retired from the band in 1989. He made a few more appearances sporadically, taking solace in solo work where he could, but the last 25 years of his life were largely spent out of the limelight. REO became Cronin's band, and eventually they rested on the laurels of their previous legacy like so many other Classic Rock juggernauts. 

However, those magical years of fire & ice shouldn't be forgotten, and Gary shouldn't be forgotten either, and that's why I'm writing this. Gary was great; Gary was legendary. From the moment he plugged in, he was ferocious. Every time I hear the lead guitar work in "Roll With The Changes," a shiver goes down my spine, no matter how many times I've heard it before. Come to think of it, I think I'll dial it up again. 

Keep on Rollin', Gary. Rest in peace.