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Say W.H.a.T.?

John Wedemeyer

Guitarist John Wedemeyer works the scene

By Nicky Baxter

For a guy touted as the finest guitarist the South Bay has to offer, John Wedemeyer is disarmingly modest. He's just been asked what his definition of success is, and his response is press-perfect: "To me, success is being able to play music full time, being part of a situation where I can make records that will be distributed outside this area, and to travel." By his own standards then, the 29-year-old musician has made it. Well, sort of.

In the last year or so, the frontman for W.H.a.T. (Wedemeyer, Hayes and Tarczy), one of the area's premier blues-rock outfits, has come to grips with the fact that outside of this locale, W.H.a.T. might just as well be named who. For the better part of five years, Wedemeyer, drummer Randy Hayes and bassist Endre "E.T." Tarczy have been working the local bars and club scene, regularly selling out. Now the trio can't escape.

Even copping opening slots for ax stars like B. B. King, John Haitt or the Dixie Dregs hasn't helped the band's cause. In fact, the very thing that has allowed the group to share the stage with such a wide array of acts, its eclecticism, has also been a hindrance. No one quite seems to know what to do with a band that rocks the seismic crunch of Led Zepplin, the finesse of a pre-bop trio and the knotty avante-rock Zappaddicts pine over -- all in a single performance. Frustrated with their status as perennially phat fish in a shrinking and increasingly parochial pond, the three musicians have struck out on their own. Though officially still a going concern, the group has taken a beat seat to individual efforts.

Wedemeyer explains W.H.a.T.'s down-time: "From late '91 through '93, we gigged heavily; playing, maybe four, five nights a week. And we developed a nice following locally, but after awhile it got frustrating because we didn't seem to be get beyond these borders." Still, the band remained optimistic it's time would come someday. When as a result of walking away with the 1992 KOME Best of the Bay Competition Award, W.H.a.T. was able to record a demo, surely that time had arrived. Released in mid-1994 W.H.a.T. was, in Wedemeyer's words, a "quick, one-take" affair, "flaws" intact. The disc flexed a fair approximation of the band's live show; Brit-flavored guitar heroics along the lines of Jeff Beck-ola's Truth; aggro prog-rock; snatches of (Charlie) Christian-era jazz licks, and a roomful of blues.

Though far from desultory, neither was W.H.a.T. a model of uniformity, thus making difficult to pin down; and as anyone in the business can tell you, record company A&R departments spend an alarming amount of their time and resources playing the label game. The power trio, meanwhile was stuck playing the waiting game, to no avail. The lack of response was a back-breaker.

Looking back, Wedemeyer offers this observation: "We had created a buzz; everybody was telling us we were gonna get signed, at least to an independent [label], but when that didn't happen..." the guitarist's voice trails off. He cites poor management as a significant reason why W.H.a.T. went nowhere in terms of sustaining that buzz. "Nobody went to bat for us," he grouses, "and I don't think our demo was pitched to the right labels." Still, Wedemeyer concedes that the group's refusal to take a musical stand and hold it has probably cost it a few career opportunities. Neatly summing up W.H.a.T.'s dilemma Wedemeyer says "We're too rock for, say, ["blues" label] Blind Pig and too bluesy for a major," or, he might have added, a minor.

Rhythm Safari/Priority recording artist Curtis Salgado suffers from no such identity crisis; he considers himself to be a blues performer, nothing more, nothing less. This suits John Wedemeyer -- Salgado's guitarist for the past year --just fine. With his own band getting nowhere none too fast, the phone call from Salgado was heaven sent. Salgado, a former vocalist with Santana, was looking for a temp worker with a good ax to grind and was turned onto Wedemeyer by another Santana affiliate bassist and studio wiz Myron Dove. "It was out of the blue, man! I knew of him and knew he had a reputation as a great blues singer, but I really didn't know his music. He wanted me to go on a two week tour." Those two weeks turned into a permanent gig. Great news for Wedemeyer, not so great news for W.H.a.T. fans.

Meanwhile, Endre Tarczy and Randy Hayes haven't exactly been sitting at home twiddling their thumbs waiting for Johnny. The former has been working with an alterna-rock outfit and has dropped a self-produced cassette Ourang-Outang , a quirky collection of pop and rock joints that are as far from the songs he scripts for W.H.a.T. as this third stone of ours is from the sun. If you're wondering why Tarczy's nickname is "E.T," scoop up a copy of Ourang. Rhythm ace Hayes has been keeping busy as a drummer for hire.

If any one member walks away from W.H.a.T., its likely to be Wedemeyer simply because he his over-the-top fretwork invariably raises the roof; which is not to suggest that Hayes and Tarczy are hacks, just that there is a huge difference between workmanlike and wonderful; and, no matter how egalitarian W.H.a.T. appears, there is little doubt who the star of this show is. Of course, Wedemeyer, whose clean-cut good looks are matched by equally clean living (he doesn't drink or smoke) disagrees.

"I have so much fun playing with these guys. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be in a band with; and now, actually, the energy level is a lot higher than before because we don't play together as much." Will W.H.a.T. be around this time next year? Wedemeyer is cautious, yet optimistic. For one thing, he'd like to get another shot at recording. "We still haven't really done an album," he maintains. "And I don't think any of us wants the band to stop. Who knows? Maybe after we freelance awhile we'll get tired of that and reconvene; play together full-time. I definitely miss it." So do we, John. So do we.

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