Bill Reints: “In My Own Words”
Editor’s note: The article below was created from a series of telephone conversations with Bill from January to June 2016.
I grew up in Clarksville Iowa and did not move to Oelwein until around 1960 when I joined the Andy Doll Band. I started out playing soprano sax in 6th grade mainly because my mother had one around the house. During my first year of band the band leader complained that the soprano did not really fit in the clarinet section or the saxophone section so I switched to trumpet.
My neighbor (Freddy Aldrich) lived down the road from me and played accordion with a band called Jim and His Jolly Joes. At that time I was practicing popular music in my bedroom and Freddy heard me from the street. He invited me to go jam around with him at his house. The next thing he knew I became a member of Jim and His Jolly Joes. This was between my Junior and Senior year at high school. They were a typical band at that time, accordion, 2 trumpets and drums. My first job ever was playing a street dance in Shellrock IA. with them and that was the first time I met Lefty Schragge. He was playing steel with the band.
I joined Andy Doll in 1960 when I was about 21 and a junior at Wartburg College in Waverly. I got an invitation to sit in with the band at a Fireman’s dance and then was asked if I wanted to join them. This was in the spring and being a college student, I thought that it would be a great summertime job. I had played in several variety bands before that. I started out with Andy playing primarily horns (trumpet player, soprano, alto, and tenor sax.) Although later in on I started playing bass a little bit when they went to a 5 piece.
The way it turned out, I played through the summer and continued for about 15 months. At that time, Bobby Hankins was the singer. I then decided to go back to college. I was engaged to a gal who was going to college to be a teacher. So I went back to college partly to be with her and partly to finish my degree.
During my first year of college my advisor and I agreed that I should just take the typical freshman courses in English and other intro courses. When I was getting ready to schedule my second year of classes I happened to mention to my advisor that I was considering being a music major. He said, “Oh gosh, you should have taken piano and theory lessons your first year. So that put me a year behind all the other music majors because I got poor advice for my first year of classes. I eventually graduated from Wartburg with a Social Studies major. I then got a job teaching but during that time my girlfriend and I broke up so I had a hard time concentrating on teaching, so I eventually quit. I always thought that someday I might go back to teaching, but it never happened. The reason I quit the Andy Doll Band was partly because of the gal I was engaged to, but eventually we broke up. So now I had no band, no girlfriend and no teaching job.
The guy that replaced me in the Andy Doll Band, Larry Smith, quit a year or so later. So I went back with Andy Doll. I thought, “Might as well do it while you were young”. Bobby Hankins was still in the band for a little bit but then he left and started his own band. I then spent about another 4 years with the band. Read the complete story of the Andy Doll Band by visiting The Andy Doll Band website.
After the Andy Doll Band ended, PeeWee Cherrier, Gary Hinderberger and I started the 3-piece trio The Blue Flames.
The Blue Flames were based out of Oelwein and played throughout northeast Iowa for 30 years. We played the Hotel Winneshiek Tap (Decorah) every Tuesday night and the Melody Lounge in West Union Iowa every Wednesday for many years. This along with supper clubs, shows, weddings, anniversaries and fireman dances allowed us to average 16 to 20 nights a month for many years.
The band played 50’s and 60’s rock, old and new country, with a half dozen or so off the charts at all times. Over the years we worked up over 1000 songs. We always featured three way harmony from day one until the end.
The founding members of the Blue Flames (PeeWee Cherrier, Bill Reints and Gary Hinderberger) came from the Andy Doll Band directly into the Blue Flames.
The combination of Bill Reints (bass), Don Stohr (guitar), and Steve Westpfahl (drums) worked together for the final 25 years of the bands 30 year life.
Read the story of the Blue Flames by going to The Blue Flames website.
Venues in Oelwein
There were many places to play in the Oelwein area when I was an active musician. I played them all at one time or another, but many more of my jobs were out of town.
Some of those places were Berger’s, Eagles, Moose, Paddock, VFW, Mealey, Coliseum, the golf courses, KCs, Sportsman, Luigi’s, Wildwood, Armory, Eagles Second Floor (In the middle of the block across from KOEL.) They used to use the room for archery but also had live bands there occasionally years ago.
Oelwein Bands and Musician
Many Oelwein bands were working steady and doing similar music during the time I played with The Andy Doll Band and The Blue Flames. There were also many out of town bands that used to play in Oelwein.
Bobby Hankins – Played with him for years and always liked his voice and his bands.
Al Richio played steel and Spanish guitar and his band played country and old rock. Al was the front man and he picked up several drummers and bass players through the years to play along with him. So even though Al was a great steel player, he often preferred to stand up to sing and play guitar. But what was cool with Al is that he would do part of a song on guitar and then switch to steel for the middle solo and then go back to guitar for the finish.
Johnny Clendenon and the Impalas used to play Bergers while we used to play at the Paddock. We used to go down on breaks to see his band and Johnny’s band did the same with us.
Another local band was Duane Lamphier. As a matter of fact when we I was approached by someone who wanted to book us and we were already working, they would ask if I knew any other bands that were playing country, and I would give them Duane’s number. His band was always on time and sober and I had no problems in recommending them.
Also Don Lamphier played in the band that was led by singer Ray Alto.
Milt Campbell and the Country Buddies: They were a family band and they wore matching outfits and they had a nice little group. I ended up playing with drummers Jimmy and Terry Campbell in the Blue Flames.
Blue Countrymen: Craig Davidson played guitar & steel and later on Donnie and Steve joined me with the Blue Flames.
Keith Thompson Trio: Keith previously played piano with Bobby Hankins
The Plainsmen: I heard them play one Sunday over at Prarie Du Chien. But I don’t think they were together that long. I knew Steve Bachman and bought an amp from him. Steve’s dad used to change the oil on my car. His dad had a shop that repaired boat motors and did small repairs on cars.
Gage Country: Butch was an entertaining singer and he did a great live version of the “Auctioneer Song”
Out of town bands that played the area:
- Howdy Roberts, the Midwest Caravan, Johnny Kettleson, Dave Dighton, and Kenny Hofer.
- Floyd Warren out of Waterloo used to play the area. He also had a Sunday morning TV show. He had three trumpets, accordion, drums and his wife played string bass.
- Also Leo Greco was born in Oelwein but later moved to Cedar Rapids. He hosted a radio program called The Polka Party that was on WMT and heard in Oelwein. He played accordion and had two trumpets, a sax player and drums / bass / guitar.
The Oelwein Scene
Why do you think Oelwein produced so many bands and musicians during this time?
Well, I don’t really have an explanation for that. The Coliseum was here and people were exposed to good music and good bands. And there were a lot of places to play around town. There might be 5 bands playing on the weekends in Oelwein.
Who were your favorite local bands?
I really liked The Four of Us with Jack Passick on sax. They played old standards and did a real good job. I also liked Bobby Hankins’s new band. I also heard the Pages several times when they played at the Coliseum. So even though I was a little older and kind of stuck in the 50’s, the Pages with their horn section were really good and did a really nice job.
Recording in Oelwein
Milt Campbell had a studio in Oelwein where PeeWee, Norm Peterson and I recorded an album of about ten tunes that was recorded in an afternoon. Milt had just gotten a new reverb unit that was somewhat groundbreaking at the time. So this album was recorded with A LOT OF REVERB! But Milt’s studio could not compare to Des Moines or Sac City, I don’t think he really pushed it that hard. He bought an empty house next door and fixed up the living room and dining room as a studio. Since he had a family band, he had a lot of instruments, mics and whatever that he incorporated into the setup. You can listen to that album on The Blue Flames Website.
The Current Scene
Why do you think the live music scene has diminished?
Well music sales are hurting all over the world. The times have changed. People prefer to stay at home and watch TV and do not go out like they used to. Even on New Year’s Eve, I ask people what they are going to do and they say something like they are going over to a friend’s house to play cards. You don’t hear as many people saying they are going out to have a few drinks and cheer in the New Year.
Back in the day, there were multiple clubs in Northeast Iowa that featured live music 4-5 times a week. But people stopped going out as much and the clubs could not make it pay. And now days, the police have stepped up their drunk driving arrests and that scares people from going out and having a couple of cocktails.
I worked for the city for 31 years while I played with the Blue Flames. I read every water meter in the entire town of Oelwein every month. I walked the town every day and all the meters were in the basement. So there were about 3000 meters and all of them had a flight of stairs involved. That would kind of wear you out physically especially when you were out all night playing music. Needless to say, I was on my feet a lot and sometimes my feet would start to hurt.
What I did was to work my own hours. I sub-contracted the meters for so much a month with the city saying that had to be done at a certain date like maybe the 23rd of the month. So that would give the people a few days to send the card in for the ones I missed because that were not home. So as long as I got them done on time, I could work my own hours. And of course you needed to read them about the same time every month with 30 day intervals. I usually never started before 8, but if we had gigs were we got home real late, I could go start a little later if I wanted to. A lot of city employees would start at 7 but I did not want to be knocking on people’s doors that early.
What Are You Doing Now?
I still ride my bike all over town, even in the winter if the roads are dry. For example in the winter I could walk to McDonalds in the cold, but by riding my bike, I can get there in half the time it would take to walk. I started using the bike a lot when I was reading meters. I would ride the bike to the neighborhood and park it. Then walk the houses. When done with that area, I would bike to the next part of town and do the same. When I retired from the city, they gave me a little trophy that had a bicycle on the top. I bought my meter reading bike (a Schwinn 3 speed) in 1973 and that is the one I still ride. Maybe all that bike riding and walking through the town has kept me healthy. A lot of people my age have bad knees but mine are fine.
I don’t really do anything with music anymore. In fact I took my bass and put it in the spare bedroom closet and probably have not had it out for nearly 20 years.
As far as listening to music, I am stuck in time…I still like the old stuff. Even the new country that is quite popular, I can’t really get with that. And of course the new rock, pop, hip hop, or rap, I can’t get anything out of that. I kinda reverted back to jazz, dixeland and stuff that I used to play years ago. But I do have an extensive collection of music here at home. I have hundreds of CDs, albums and tapes.
I have one daughter who lives in Denver CO. Her name is Terri Fratzke and she was born in 1969. She works for the STARZ television network. She used to travel for them all across the country. She even went to Hawaii for her job.
Also my ex-wife Mary Ann and I still get along. For example, when I go visit my brother for Thanksgiving she will ride along.
Growing up I only had one brother, Tom, and he now lives in Webster City.