The Blue Flames

BlueFlames

One of the earliest pictures of The Blue Flames: left to right – PeeWee Cherrier, Gary Hinderberger, Bill Reints

Member of the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Class of 2016

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Quick Biography of The Blue Flames

The Blue Flames were a musical legend based out of Oelwein and played throughout the Northeast Iowa area for 30 years. The Blue Flames originally started with the name of the Blue Chips Combo. They were organized in 1966 by former Andy Doll members Bill Reints (bass) Pee Wee Cherrier (guitar) and Gary Hinderberger (drums). The trio then began playing in the Oelwein area.  They soon changed their name to The Blue Flames.

Members throughout the years included PeeWee Cherrier, Bill Reints, Gary Hinderberger, Don Stohr, Steve Westpfahl, Norm Peterson, Jimmy and Terry Campbell, Warren Doll, Saki Magonical and Don Verba.  In the early days of the band, there were many drummers who were band members at one time or another, but only two guitar men (PeeWee and Don Stohr) and one bass man (Bill Reints). Although Randy Albers (guitar) would sub in an emergency.

The group was originally booked by Clayton Moon, owner of the Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, The band played the Hotel Winneshiek Tap every Tuesday night and the Melody Lounge in West Union Iowa every Wednesday. This along with supper clubs, shows, weddings, anniversaries and fireman dances allowed them to average 16 to 20 nights a month for many years.

The band performed throughout the northeast Iowa area playing 50’s and 60’s rock, old and new country, with a half dozen or so off the charts at all times.  Songs ranged from old standards to Top 40, to old rock and roll. Their songlist included Pretty Woman, Cab Driver, Old Time Rock and Roll, Blue Skirt Waltz, Rock Around the Clock, Smoking in the Boys Room and many others.  Over the years the band worked up over 1000 songs. They always featured three part vocal harmony from day one until the end.

The combination of Bill Reints (bass), Don Stohr (guitar), and Steve Westpfahl (drums) worked together for the final 20 years of the bands 30 year life.


The Connection to the Andy Doll Band

Andy Doll Band in action at The Coliseum Ballroom in Oelwein, Iowa (their home town). Left to Right are “Daddio” Chet Bradley, Billy Reints, Gary Hinderberger, Andy Doll and “PeeWee” Cherrier.

The Andy Doll Band was probably the most widely known and successful band to come out of Oelwein. The three original members of the Blue Flames (Bill Reints (bass) Pee Wee Cherrier (guitar) and Gary Hinderberger (drums) came from the Andy Doll Band.


Editor’s note: The article below was created from a series of telephone conversations with Bill Reints which took place from January to July 2016. Therefore the article is in “Bill’s Own Words”. However, the sections on Donnie Stohr and Steve Westpfahl were contributed by Donnie and Steve.


Introducing: The Blue Chips

Blue Flames 4e

PeeWee Cherrier, Gary Hinderberger, Bill Reints

The original band name of the band was The Blue Chips. Around 1965, my uncle would come out and listen to the Andy Doll Band and became friends with PeeWee and lead singer Carlos Freymiller. He once said at a family gathering that he always wanted to play drums his entire life. I told him there are little tavern bands starting up and if you had some drums, maybe you could catch on with somebody. So he bought a set of drums and one day he showed up at my house and said “Show me how to play them”. So I showed him some basic beats and that was about it. I told him to go home and play along to your stereo system and when you go out a see a drummer, watch what he does. See when he hits a cymbal, does a roll or when he does other things.

So eventually he says that he was getting pretty good but he couldn’t catch on with anybody. But he said he had a friend who runs a tavern, and if he could get a band together, he would book them.

So since he was friends with PeeWee, Carlos and I, one weekend the Andy Doll band had an open night and just for fun we went up there to play with him on a Friday night in Alpha (or some little town). We had a discussion on what to call ourselves and my uncle claims that he was the one who thought up Blue Chips. So we played with him and the place was packed and the guy booked us back, and we also booked a couple gigs in my home town of Clarksville. So before Gary Hinderberger was part of the Blue Chips, we had this going on our nights off in 1965.

blue chipsAfter the couple of jobs out of town with my uncle, PeeWee, Gary and I continued to play some trio gigs in the Oelwein area on Andy’s off nights including the Paddock. We all had blue shirts that we bought and we called ourselves The Blue Chips.

Then one night we played Charles City and I had some friends come up to hear the band. During our break they said that another band called Blue Chips were playing down the street. It turns out that it was my uncle! So there were two Blue Chips bands playing a couple blocks apart.

Mu uncle would not switch the name of his band because he said that he was the one who thought that up. I couldn’t remember who did, but he swears it was him. So to keep peace in the family, we switched our name to the Blue Flames.


The PeeWee Era-1965-1974

Why did you, PeeWee and Gary stay together after The Andy Doll Band?
Since PeeWee and I were already making a little money with our trio when Andy had off nights, we just decided to keep in the music business and move forward with the Blue Flames after the Andy’s band ended. Since we had been making money in a band for so long, we just switched bands to continue to make a little income. Also, Gary wanted to continue playing.

Even though we came directly from the Andy Doll Band, we did not really bring any of his songs with us, but we did do some Buck Owens stuff and some other stuff that Andy did. We were guitar, bass and drums while Andy had the horns, but there were bound to be some songs that kind of lapped over.

PeeWee’s guitar style

He really loved the chord movements. He used to study from books on how to play all the different chords in different positions. He had a unique style of playing guitar that was all his own. His parts were always very full sounding and very clean. It is kind of sad in a way, because I appreciate his guitar playing more now than what I did when I was playing with him in full time bands.

Also, PeeWee was great to work with. For example, I would tell him we would be leaving for a job at 7 and I would swing by and pick him up. He was not only ready, but he would be standing on the curb with his clothes bag over his shoulder and guitar in hand waiting! He was always right on the ball. He was a bonafide “Band-Guy”. He was a true professional that all musicians would strive to emulate.

Regarding his knowledge of music: After PeeWee retired (see that story later), Steve, Donnie and I were working up the Christmas song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. During our practice we could not come up with the proper chord at one spot in the verse. Donnie had just joined the band and was not as good at figuring out chords like he was later, especially for a tricky song like this. I am sure he eventually would have found it but at that time, we tried several chords and none were quite right. So I called up PeeWee and sang the part of the song where we needed to know that one chord we were missing. He said, “Well in the key of C that would be the “so and so” chord.” No problem, he knew it. So, right off the cuff and out of nowhere, he knew exactly what that chord was.

I used to sing most of the songs but PeeWee did a few. Mostly the older things. We used to take a LOT of requests. We were almost the “Stump Us Boys” years ago. We would say to the crowd, “Anyone got a request?” And somebody would say, “Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister?” That was an old song from the depression days. PeeWee just takes right off and sings it! Actually, the crowd would try to stump us. Another one was “I Got Tears in My Ears From Lying on My Back and Crying My Eyes Out Over You” and once again, PeeWee takes right off and plays it. He knew a LOT of songs.

During the Andy Doll days, PeeWee was primarily the guitar player, although he also doubled on banjo, clarinet and sax. But when the Blue Flames started PeeWee essentially only played guitar, but in the early days of the band he used to bring his banjo every once in a while. One song we did was the Beverly Hillbillies Theme. We also did a few bluegrass tunes. I even took my trumpet along during the first year or so and played a couple tunes. But when I played trumpet there was no bass, so I did not really like the sound of that so I kind of quit trying to throw the trumpet in.

Playing by ear

Since I started out playing horns and reading charts, I had to learn how to play bass by ear with the trio. PeeWee gave me about two lessons. He just said, “Hold your hand like this and use your little finger like this”, and then I got a bass and went home to practice. We had our first job as a trio about two weeks later at the Paddock. Since I had a lot to think about in playing a bass for the first time in my life and plus we were doing a lot of new songs, I told PeeWee to front the band so that I could concentrate on trying to play this new instrument and trying to remember words for the new songs.

Left to Right: “Saki” Magonical, Bill Reints, PeeWee Cherrier

So we started the job and we were getting by, but then PeeWee starts taking requests! For example, he would say to the crowd, “Oh, you want to hear Sweet Georgia Brown? O.K. sure, here we go!” Well I had never played Sweet Georgia Brown before in my life! So there we are on stage with PeeWee trying to tell me the chords as we try to get through the song.

And then then someone yells out “Shanty in Old Shanty Town” and PeeWee says, “Sure!” and he takes off on it. It was somewhat of an easy song, but for me playing bass for the first time, I was totally lost.

Actually, during the Andy Doll days, I did pick up the bass a couple times and noodle around. But when the trio started, PeeWee basically said, “You know what a bass sounds like and what it is supposed to do.” So I just did the best I could.

How did you work out vocal harmonies?
The arrangement of the harmonies depended on the drummer. By the way, we had several drummers in The Blue Flames throughout the years, but more about that later.  I always wanted the drummer to do a little singing but not all of them could sing harmony. For example, one of our drummers (Norm Peterson) could sing some lead but had a hard time with harmony. So for some songs, I would sing lead in the verse and then I would jump to harmony for the chorus while he sang the lead in that section. For tunes that needed three part harmonies we had to be creative in having the members sing parts they were comfortable with.

But overall, I was usually the one to take the high harmony. But when we had some drummers like Warren Doll and Steve Westpfahl who could sing those tricky “stinker” harmonies, PeeWee would take the high harmony. So it all depended on what parts the drummer could sing and we would just build the harmonies around him.

The Mealey Hotel Radio Show on KOEL Radio

Having a radio show based out of the Mealey was in the early days while PeeWee still played with us. But that did not last too long. Mealey had a hookup across the street to KOEL and would record other events at the Mealey like Rotary Clubs or similar organizations. So when we were approached, I thought that would be kind of cool to have a radio show on Thursday nights from 9:30-10:00. So I told everyone that came to our gigs about our radio show but not everybody could hear it! At that time KOEL would cut their power at night so if you were outside of the city limits, you could not tune it in. I was telling people in Decorah to check out our weekly show but all they got was static.

PeeWee’s Retirement

PeeWeeThumb4PeeWee had a heart condition for several years and had persistent angina pains. He eventually got to a point where he could do very little physical activity. But he still wanted to play gigs, so we told him, “Don’t carry anything in.” So he would take shirt bags, brief cases and other small things when loading in or loading out. But sometimes he would have to climb stairs to get in and after a while he would have to sit down and pop a nitro. For example, one night at a job we were playing a Buck Owens tunes and PeeWee always took the high harmony. We did one and the crowd was jumping and really getting into it, and I was going to hit them with another one, and I glance over and he had his back to the crowd facing his amp and he was taking a nitro.


One night we were playing the Riviera Ballroom in Janesville. I used to check the mics, PA, and speakers before we came up to stage to begin the night. I noticed that PeeWee was across the floor leaning on a pole. Usually, when he heard me doing this final check, he would come up on stage and get ready to go. But, he was just standing there looking at me. Well, 5 minutes goes by and he is still standing there looking at me. I thought to myself, “What the heck?” So I went over there and I said, “You O.K. PeeWee?” He said, “Nope. I’ve got such a pain in my chest I can’t stand it.” Well my folks were there and they took him to a hospital in Cedar Falls and they checked him out and gave him some oxygen and he kind of came out of it so they brought him back to the ballroom.

When he got back, he stayed seated in the dressing room. So there we were, we had a ballroom full of people and the band consisted of only bass and drums, no guitar. So before we took the stage, we walked around the crowd and asked if there were any guitar players.  We ended up picking a guy out of the crowd that somebody said could play guitar. But we shortly discovered that he was a living room player. He could chord with only 3 chords in about 3 keys. So I would have to sing stuff in the limited keys and chords he knew like “Waltz Across Texas” or “Pick Me On Your Way Down”. But since he didn’t play any leads, I would get done singing the verse or chorus and there would be nothing going on but chords. PeeWee hears this sitting in the dressing room, so he brings the chair out and plays the rest of the job on stage sitting on the chair.

Left to Right: Jimmy Campbell, Bill Reints, PeeWee Cherrier

The he goes home after the job and that night has a VERY bad heart attack….worse than the first one. So I got all kinds of jobs already booked but our guitar player is now not available. Our drummer Steve Westpfahl  tells me about his friend Donnie (Stohr) who plays guitar and that he might be interested in coming on at least for a while.
So I talked to PeeWee and he said that it would be fine to bring in Donnie, but he assured me that he would be back in about 2 weeks. Well Dr. Grandinetti was his doctor and also mine. So I talked to Grandinetti and I said that I know that he was not supposed to share information on a patient. But, I said that PeeWee and I are partners in a band and have all kinds of jobs booked and PeeWee thinks he going to be back in 2 weeks. So the doctor says, “NO, NO! I don’t want him out late at night. I want him to get all kinds of rest.” He actually did not even want him to play at all no more, but he said it is going to be quite a while before PeeWee will be healthy enough to play.

peeweeThumb

PeeWee

So I talked to Donnie and he said that he was interested in playing. I then talked to PeeWee and told him that Donnie was going to come on. I said, “When you’re well enough you can start out to play some of the bigger jobs, wedding dances and whatever and we will play as a four piece. We can book things from then on as a 4 piece.”

So Donnie came on and it turned out to be longer than two weeks. Since we wanted to stay current, we continued to work up new tunes with Donnie. So one day I told PeeWee that we were playing out at the Sportsmen. I said, “Why don’t you come out and you can hear some of our new songs we worked out and we can get together and have a rehearsal and start playing as a 4 piece.” So PeeWee and his wife came out and stayed until about 11 o’clock or so.

PeeWeeThumbnail

PeeWee

I went down to his house the next day to talk about what we should rehearse, but he had gotten everything together to dissolve our partnership. He said, “You guys don’t need me.” He thought we sounded alright without him. But I said that that was not the point. I said with 4 pieces we can so many things. We could have drums, bass and guitar and him and I could play some sax again and work out some tenor sax and guitar harmony things. We could do kind of a Bill Haley sound. But he said no. He had all the books figured out and we split the kitty. I got the band clothes and he got a little more of the kitty and I was fine with that. So, that was it!

But I was really disappointed since I thought 4 piece would be something different after playing 3 piece for so long. I had so many ideas on what to do with an extra man in there. So in summary, after his bad heart attack at the Riviera, he took some time off. But he did ride along with us to a couple gigs, and played with us a little after Donnie joined. But for all practical purposes, PeeWee retired and Donnie then became our guitar for the next 20 years.

PeeWeeThumb5For a while after the Flames, he did not play out at all. But did play a little bit with Duane Lamphiere on the weekends. He also filled in occasionally with the local band “The Four of Us” when their regular bass player could not make it. Those occasional weekend gigs were a lot easier on him than playing 6 nights a week with the Flames. PeeWee and I remained the best of friends until he passed away at the age of 78.  I cherished the times when he would stop in at the house, have a cup of coffee, maybe listen to some music, and talk about playing.

So PeeWee played in the Flames from 1965 to about 1972. So that puts Steve, Donnie and I as the Blue Flames for about 20 years.


Blue Flames Drummers

Do you have the order (timeline) of drummers with how long they played?
Well, not really. It has been so long ago, I can’t remember the exact order. But the first drummer was Gary Hinderberger, next was Norm Peterson and the last was Steve Westpfahl. But the order between Norm and Steve is kinda fuzzy. The funny thing is that even though we went through a lot of drummers, we never had any blowups or people quitting because we could not get along together. All of our drummers just happened to have changes in their lives or jobs and they had to move on.


Gary Hinderberger 

hinderbergerHe was the original drummer for the debut of The Blue Flames. Gary, myself and PeeWee left the Andy Doll Band and started The Blue Flames. He eventually left the band for a full time job in Guttenburg around 1968. Norm Peterson replaced him.


Norm Peterson 

petersonA heck of a drummer and a unique showman. People really liked him. He played with us 2 or 3 different times over the history of the band. One time he quit to sell insurance and then he came back and played for a while. He was on a couple 3 times between drummers.


Jimmy Campbell 

jimmyThumbnail2Both Jimmy and his brother Terry played with us, but Jimmy played the longest and he did a heck of a nice job. The story with Jimmy is that one day PeeWee called me and said, “We have a problem. Jimmy just came and picked up his drums and said he was done.” I said, “What happened? Last night was great.”

PeeWee said that Jimmy was very religious and that Jimmy’s preacher stopped by his house and told him that he was leading people into Dens of Iniquity, full of sinners and drinkers and whatever, and that playing in bars and taverns was not the right thing to do. So Jimmy decided to quit the band because his preacher persuaded him to not be that type of person.


Terry Campbell 

NoPictureAvailableTerry came on and played for a while and he worked at Transco too. He had an opportunity to transfer to Transco in Ohio, so he moved there.


Warren Doll 

NoPictureAvailableHe was a great drummer and he was an excellent harmony singer. He started with us when he was a senior in high school, so he could only play on the weekends – no school nights. After he graduated he started playing full time with us. He could find and sing those “stinker” harmonies. It’s kind of funny when drummers can hear that third harmony since they aren’t use to making a chord like guitar or piano players. Maybe he inherited that knack from his dad (Andy Doll). He ended up moving away to Wisconsin.


Bill ‘Saki’ Magonical 

sakiHe played with us for a couple years. I remember the first job he played with us when he came to my house to load up our band gear. His drum set at that time was a large rock band setup – double bass drums and a couple floor toms. I told him that we don’t have room in the van for his complete set. Also, many of the places we played had a small stage in the corner and his drum set would take up the whole stage. So he reduced the size of his set. Also, since he was used to playing rock music with the Pages, he played kind of loud. He used to have a wooden beater for his kick drum but he soon changed that out for a soft felt one so that he could play at a lower volume. I remember him saying that he didn’t really care for country music, but he liked playing with us because we had little breaks in between sections, nice arrangements and other things that kept him interested. He thought that he had a lot of stuff to do with us that the other country bands were not doing.

During that time, PeeWee had bought a van to haul our stuff and we gave him 10 cents a mile. He got his van from City Laundry. At that time, City Laundry would sell their worn out vans when they bought new ones. They would clean them up and repaint them and sell them for a cheap price. Well, Saki thought that was too much money, so I told him that if he wanted to buy a van, we would pay him 10 cents a mile. So he went a bought a van and drove us for a while. Saki ended up playing with us for maybe a year or two. A while after Saki left the band I happened to see him in Oelwein and he asked, Where are you playing?” I told him and he asked, “Mind if I ride along?” So he rode along one night just for something fun to do! So it was obvious that there were no hard feelings on either side. He was a good kid. As a matter of fact, I found a CD of us playing live in West Union with Saki on the drums and I wanted to give him a copy but I don’t know where he lives and could not find his name in any area phonebooks.


Don Verba

NoPictureAvailableDon worked for Donaldsons in Cresco and played a nice set of drums. So, in between all these drummers coming and going we had all kinds of jobs to play with nobody to play them. We were playing the hotel in Decorah every Tuesday, so he would often play those jobs with us. Sometimes he would also play Wednesdays in West Union too in addition to other jobs like weddings. So even though he was kind of a substitute fill in drummer, he ended up playing more than some of our permanent full time drummers.


Steve Westpfahl 

SteveThumbnailHe played with PeeWee for quite a while. Steve started while he was in high school and then he had to quit when he was going to school in Waterloo for automotive body work. When he got done with that, we needed another drummer so he came back. Steve was a hard worker. He had his day job and would play with us at night. I was actually doing the same thing when I worked or the city. You don’t get much sleep but you make good money.


1974-1994 Members of the Blue Flames

The combination of Bill Reints (bass), Don Stohr (guitar), and Steve Westpfahl (drums) worked together for the final 20 years of the bands 30 year life. 

One of the earliest pictures of the 1974 version of the Blue Flames taken around 1974: Left to right -Bill Reints, Donnie Stohr, Steve Westpfahl

Bill Reints

During the Blue Flames days, I basically did everything. I took care of the clothes, booked the jobs, created and paid for the posters, supplied the transportation, did the driving, and checked and ran the PA system …pretty much all the stuff that needed to be done to run a band. And of course, I played bass and did lead vocals.


Donnie Stohr

Don Stohr – In His Own Words:

The first time I played on stage was a benefit at the Hazelton School for Todd Brewington who had open heart surgery. The song I did was Detroit City by Bobby Bare. The chorus of that song goes “I Wanna Go Home.” Well since this was my first gig and I was only 11 years old, I was scared to death. So when I sang that chorus, I REALLY wanted to go home!

One of my most memorable times on stage was when I sat in for a set with the Bobby Hankins Band at the Coliseum.

The first time I played a full night was with Tom Kammer at Berger’s Tap. Tom was playing with Johnny Clendenen at the time. It was just the two of us and we played for tips. We put a jar on the stage for people to throw coins in. At the end of the night we noticed that there were two $10 bills in there. We thought we made the big time! We later learned that it was our dads that put the two $10 dollar bills in there.

  • My first real band was playing with The Blue Country Men with Steve Westphal and Craig Davidson for about a year around 1971.
  • Then I went with CD Country Sound with Carl Dempster, Denny Nelson, Darrel Lentz and Vanita May, out of Manchester.
  • Next I went with with Jodeen Fitz and the Country Edition. That was Jodeen and Frankie Fitz, her brother John Fitz, and Don Vargason.
  • Actually between all that I was with Danny and the Juniors. This was an all fifties band put together by the high school choir teacher Dan Malloy and featured singers and players who were juniors from high school.
  • Before I started with the Flames I also used to fill in for Gage County featuring Butch Gage. All the music we did live was “off the cuff”. Playing in that band was a lot of fun because we all were just enjoying playing and not worried about making mistakes.

In 1975 PeeWee had his heart attack and that is when I started with the Blue Flames. They had gigs booked and coming up soon so when I joined so we had very little time to prepare. It seems like we spent almost every waking moment to rehearse and get my guitar parts and vocals ready to play out.

The bottom line about playing with the Flames is that we played a lot! We played 5 nights a week all the time and sometimes 6.
• We played Monday night at Postville
• Tuesday night at Decorah
• Wednesday night at West Union
• Thursday night at either at Postville or Elgin
• Friday and Saturday wherever…

One of my favorite places was the County Manor in Garnavillo because you were really appreciated there. You played quieter and there was not a lot of crowd noise. A lot of the places we played at had really noisy crowds and you worked your butt off and it made you wonder if they were even listening. The crowd in Garnavillo seemed to appreciate the hard work you put in on your vocal harmonies and your arrangements. Of all the places we played, I think that was one place that we went over the best. The crowd at the Country Manor seemed to know the difference between “throw-together” bands and well-rehearsed bands.

In my humble opinion, the Blue Flames were special because we concentrated on the details. For example: the vocal harmonies, the intros, and the endings were all worked out until they were smooth. We played our songs in sets of three. For example, three 50’s in a row, three waltzes in a row, three 2-beat dance, two or three slow ones. We played a lot of wedding dances and anniversary dances because we played tunes for everybody young and old.

When people came to hear the Blue Flames we might be playing “In The Mood” or “Alley Cat”. But then we might throw in “Smokin’ In the Boys Room” or “Takin’ Care of Business” and then follow that up with “Chattahoochie”. That is a big stretch!. That is why the Flames went over so well with anniversary or wedding dances. People could bring their whole family and during the night there was something that would appeal to each family member – young or old.

What I learned from playing with the Flames
You have to be well rehearsed. Example: Know the intro, the arrangement, the verse/chorus, the ending, etc. You need to get “in it” and “out of it” clean. I know that there are and will be many bands that “play off the cuff” and are a kind of “Jam Band”. There is a lot to be said for those types of bands. But many times their quality varies from night to night and sometimes “surprises” in the middle of a song comes off as un-professional. All in all, Bill Reints was right. He wanted his bands well-rehearsed and the songs performed as they were practiced. NO SURPRISES!

Another thing that separates amateur musicians from professional musicians is that you have to be dependable. Little things like arriving at the job on time are very important. So when we say that we have to leave for a job by 6, that does not mean 6:15, that means on the road by six! Additionally bands need to act professional and look professional when you are at a job. The Blue Flames always had stage clothes. So we would arrive at a job in our blue jeans and T shirts to set everything up. One we got everything up and tested, we would go get cleaned up and change into our stage clothes. Same thing after the gig. Once we got done, we changed out of our stage clothes and back into our street clothes and then started packing everything up.

Read More about Don Stohr at his home page.


Steve Westpfahl

Steve Westpfahl – In his own words…

First band I played in was with Craig Davidson, Don Stohr & myself and we were called The Blue Countrymen. This was about 1971. We played for about a year.
Then I played with the Country Swingers–Wayne Earl, Don Vargason & myself, then after about 1 year we hired Butch Gage to be are lead singer.
From there I also filled in with different bands such as Duane Lamphier and The Country Squires, Perk Shannon (singer and bass player) and with Rick & Johnny Clendenen.
In about 1973 or 1974 I stated with The Blue Flames–PeeWee, Bill Reints & myself. I stayed with them until I graduated from high school in 1975.
From there I went to college and played some weekends with a blue grass band around Waterloo & Cedar Falls.
After school, I got married to Shyla Pfiester, and started back with The Blue Flames again. That time I stayed with the Flames for the next 23 years. I think I played with PeeWee for about 2 or three years before Donny Stohr came on the band.
I also want to mention, Tom Kammer & I grew up next door to each other. I played drums and so did he, but he was playing in a band with his brother so he helped me with my drumming skills. Tom had more natural talent, so I was always learning from him. Thanks, Tom!
I am now the Body Shop Manager at Birdnow Motor Trade in Oelwein, plus I am a Locksmith, so I keep busy.

Read more about Steve Westpfahl at his home page

Music of Blue Flames

Editor’s note: We are now returning to the series of telephone conversations with Bill Reints which took place from January to July 2016. Therefore the rest of this article is in “Bill’s Own Words”


We took the cue of what Andy had done by being very versatile. We would play a 40th wedding anniversary at the Dreamland in Postville and we would do certain tunes like old time waltzes and the next night we would do a wedding dance where we did mostly 50’s. Wherever we were, we were trying to play the room. However, if I would take a guess, out of the 1000 songs on our song list, probably 875 were country.

For example we played a supper club up in Frankville and the owner’s orders were that he wanted danceable country. He did not want any rock and roll. He wanted people coming in to eat and then maybe dance a little bit. He didn’t want people coming just to drink beer. So, that is what we did. To book a band that solidly, you needed that versatility.

Do you have any song lists?
Well we did have a promo pack that we created for an agent in West Union. His name was Al Enyart and his booking agency was called, “The Agency”. He said, “Why are you messing around with these jobs?” He said that we could be playing at Holiday Inns and he could get us more money. I thought that since we usually have some open dates throughout the year, he might be able to get us some work. So he wanted a list of all our songs. I made the list up of songs we had been doing and gave it to him. But then he wanted us to sign an exclusive contract that would give him a cut of ALL of our 100 or so jobs that I had already booked. So, I said no thank you. I told him I would pay him a commission on the new jobs that booked for us but I was not going to sign over 10% of everything I had booked myself. But he said that he wanted exclusive rights so I said forget it.

Blue Flames Recordings:

Recorded live in 1968 at the Melody Lounge in West Union, Iowa. Featuring PeeWee Cherrier, Bill Reints and Norm Peterson.

The following songs were recorded 1970 at Milt Campbell’s studio in Oelwein Iowa. Featuring PeeWee Cherrier, Bill Reints and Norm Peterson.

The songs below were recorded in Oelwein Iowa. Featuring Donnie Stohr, Bill Reints and Steve Westpfahl.

I have to make a disclaimer: When we recorded these songs below, we never even listened to them back. We just wanted to have a snap shot of what we were playing. We set it up, got a balance and just started playing tunes. And every hour we take a little break, just like we would if we were playing a job. We cut 50 songs in ’78 and 60 songs in ’93. 
We would just get through the song and somebody would say “what do you think?” One of us might say that they had made a little flub, but we didn’t think anyone would notice, so we would just jump to the next tune. Never even played ‘em back! We just went through the PA head (that was our mixer) and went straight to a cassette deck. I had a reel to reel but it was having problems so we used a cassette. And then when we went from the tape to the CD, I used a 10 band equalizer to adjust things a little.

Where did the Flames play?

Back in those days live music was popular and there were many places to play, so Friday and Saturday nights were fairly easy to book.  We booked Decorah on Tuesdays by the year and filled in every Wednesday in West Union. It also helped us to stay busy because we always tried to have a good sound and look professional on stage. I learned early in my career that bands need to be well rehearsed and dress up a little while performing live.  

There were some years where we averaged over 20 nights a month. I have a calendar from 1974 and we played 225 jobs that year and I know that some years we played more than that.
We also had some great fans that would follow us around. I remember one time we played Cresco for a Friday-Saturday job. I noticed the first night that there were three couples sitting up close to the band. So when we came back to play the Saturday gig and we had all of our stuff already setup from the night before and I noticed that those same three couples were sitting there at the same place they were last night. I joked to them, “Did you folks not go home?” They said, “Oh Yeah. We figured that you guys were so good that you would be heading for Nashville anytime and we didn’t want to miss out hearing you again when you are right here in our home town.”

It is kind of hard to believe, but over thirty years, we averaged about one night a week in Decorah. Why Decorah? Well that was where the Hotel Winnesheik was and we played there every Tuesday for at least 9 years or more. After that job ended, we went from there out to the Cliffhouse, a big multi-story motel, supper club, dance club on the southside of Decorah and played Tuesday nights there. (I just saw that the Cliffhouse was torn down and they are putting a Marriott there.) We also picked up dates at Matters Ballroom, did anniversary dances at the KC hall or whatever. This went on for years and years and years. You would think they would be so sick of us, but we spent a lot of time in Decorah.

But even though we were playing 20 nights a month, we still had rehearsals. We might work up 4-5 new tunes a month. I had the new tunes all ready with the words written off from listening to the radio and made bandmember copies with underlines in the parts in the chorus were there were harmonies. So when we got together, we could put it together pretty fast since I had the arrangement in my head already. So over the course of about 30 years, we had about 1000 songs.

We did a lot of Statler Brothers, Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama and other tunes that featured 3 part harmonies. Steve Westpfahl could really hear and sing those difficult harmony parts. Donnie usually sang lead vocals on most of the rock stuff and I did the “crooner” type vocals in most of the country and ballads. Steve sang a little bit of lead but felt much more comfortable doing all those tricky harmonies.

Where were your biggest gigs?
I can’t think of anything that outstanding but we liked to play ballrooms. There were not many trios that played those big rooms but we did.

How often did you play Oelwein?
We played the Sportsman and the Paddock. We played one Friday a month at the VFW for several years. But you’re never as big in your hometown as you are out of town.

Big Gigs for the Flames:

The Blue Flames Trio backed up just a handful of stars. We backed Billy Jo Spears, Charley Walker, and some other country stars with our trio. We almost did a job with Tom T. Hall, but that fell through. When I was with AD it was nothing to have a star on the job, but playing with big name stars kind of quieted down during the Blue Flames era. Of course since we were only three-piece maybe a lot of stars were looking for larger bands to back them up. So we did not have that many chances to back up stars.

How would you compare The Andy Doll Band to The Blue Flames?

Well, in their day, they were both very popular in their area. For example, The Flames would be playing at the Hotel on Tuesday nights and the fire department would have to come in say there were too many people in the room. So there would be a line outside waiting to come in. We were very popular and booked every night.
Back in the AD Band we were packing ballrooms every night across the Midwest. But everything runs its course and both of the bands tended to slow down a little towards the end.

I really missed that big sound that the Andy Doll Band had. But with the Flames, we tried to make it as full sounding as we could with only 3 on stage. So we all three sang, did 3 part harmonies and added all the “oohs and ahhs”. So, that gave us 6 sounds: three instrumental sounds – plus three vocal sounds. You could fill up quite a bit with that. A lot of local bands around this time only had one lead singer with no one else in the band hardly doing any singing. Some of those bands might have one other guy singing alone but for the most part there was only one vocal at a time. With the Blue Flames, you would have one guy singing and the other two guys doing 2 and 3 part harmonies. But I have to admit that it was a lot more work to memorize and rehearse those multiple vocals. You had to make sure you all knew the words, when to come in, and how to blend your harmony part with the other singers.

Also we would always watch the charts to see what new tunes we should learn. On some songs we would have to decide if we could cover it. So I had to think of an arrangement that we could do to give it justice. Some tunes we just had to pass on because we could not reproduce as a 3 piece.

The End of the Flames

Part of the reason the Flames stopped playing was the same symptoms that the ballrooms had. As time went on there were fewer places to play. We lost our Tuesday night spot at the Cliffhouse to a husband and wife act from Decorah. They had a good sound and they used electronic drums. They could do both female and male vocal songs and had nice harmonies. I had three guys to pay with a 100 mile round trip. The husband and wife act had no travel expense and could bring all the money home to one family. Essentially, they undercut us and we lost our Tuesday job. The Cliffhouse still had music 5 nights a week and we would still play there 3-4 times a month, but losing that ongoing Tuesday gig really hurt. 

Also, I was going through some personal things in my life and we lost our rehearsal place so we couldn’t rehearse anymore. So I told the guys, why don’t we go up and play New Years Eve and call it quits. I had a couple dozen gigs booked after that, but I called them early enough so that they would have plenty of time to get someone else.

But in the back of my mind, I was always thinking that perhaps we could get together and play some Saturday nights or something but it never happened. This all happened around 93-94, not exactly sure.

A little later after the Flames, I did have a chance to go on with a band that was forming out of Waverly called Endless Summer who were doing a lot of 50’s and 60’s. But with the travel involved and for other reasons, I decided not to do it.

EDITOR’S NOTE – 2016: The Flames are rehearsing again to get ready for the Coliseum Benefit and the IRRMA Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. Even though we only have to do about a 30 minute set, we want to be sure that we are prepared. Although we haven’t played for 20 years, it is funny how the parts seem to come together when we do those old songs. One thing that we are trying to do is to keep up our tradition of being well rehearsed. So we are working out all the details just like we did in the old days.

11 comments on “The Blue Flames
  1. Doug Koempel says:

    Back in the ’60s I was the keyboardist for the house band (the Rubber Band) at Matter’s Ballroom in Decorah. Back then we played the downstairs lounge (Someplace Else) every Friday and Saturday. Upstairs in the main ballroom, they’d run bands such as Leo Greco, the Swiss Girls and the Blue Flames. One night I remember during the band break, I just happened to wander upstairs to listen to the band – it was the Blue Flames, and they were doing “Mama Tried.” Their sound and three-part vocal harmonies just blew me away. It was one of those moments in life that you never forget!

  2. Norman David Peterson JR. says:

    My Dad was Norm Peterson. He learned to play 11 instruments during his career as a musician. He loved his music. The last 5 years or so he started doing Gospel. I really enjoyed this article and my Dad would have too.

  3. Enjoyed the read. Many good memories. So many talented musicians came out of Oelwein and the surrounding communities…but Pee Wee may have been the most talented musician to ever come out of Oelwein. We loved serving all these guys at our music store over the years…but I know Pee Wee was my father’s favorite. Just a true gentleman. Good luck and congrats to the Flames at their upcoming induction. Very special.

  4. Jolene (Cherrier) Rhea says:

    I am PeeWee’s granddaughter. I remember the Andy Doll Band and the Blue Flames. Grandpa (PeeWee) and Grandma used to come to our house with their instruments and my mom and dad and them would all play (Dad played steel guitar and Mom played bass) This brought back a lot of great memories.

    • indianakelly says:

      Hello Jolene,

      I learned how to play country guitar by sitting with PeeWee in his back yard workshop on the west side. I later lived on 3rd Ave. S.W. about 3 blocks west of Sacred Heart. There was a Cherrier family that lived across the street from me. Were they related to you?

  5. Harley Sunnes says:

    Great musicians. I remember going to see them perform every Wednesday night.

  6. Craig Davidson says:

    The Blue Flames were one heck of a band. It was hard to believe that three guys could get that big of a sound. The harmonies were great and the musicianship excellent. I filled in for PeeWee a few times and for Donny a few times and had to swim fast to keep up. I even got to fill in for Bill a couple times when he got caught up in a fence or something at work.

  7. Don Stohr says:

    Well by the guitars we had and the SIDEBURNS, the last picture was about 1975 or 76.. .
    We played throughout the northeast Iowa area. Songs ranged from old standards to Top 40, to old rock and roll. Our songlist included Pretty Woman, Cab Driver, Old Time Rock and Roll, Blue Skirt Waltz, Rock Around the Clock, and Smoking in the Boys Room.
    The other pictures with the Gretch was 1983.
    The Blue Flames played until about 93 or 94 with Bill Reints, Steve Westpfahl and Don Stohr.
    Before 1975, Pee Wee Cherrier was the guitarist.
    The band originally started when Andy Doll decided to retire his band, and the original members were Pee Wee, Bill Rients and Gary Hinderberger. There were several other drummers along the way, but Bill and Pee Wee were the originals.

    • Jack Nicolay says:

      Don, Looking at the 335 you are holding- did that end up in Pee Wee’s hands? looks like one I bought from him around 79… Whish I still had it. :-/

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