(as told by Bob Nyswonger)
Sylvania High School
The psychodots odyssey is a long and somewhat convoluted tale with origins in northwestern Ohio, specifically the bedroom community of Sylvania. Sylvania experienced an explosion of growth in the 1960’s that continues to this day, as the subdivisions expand ever westward. It represented a haven for the inbound transferee as well as a goal community for those looking to escape creeping urban blight in Toledo. I was the 13 year old son of a transferee when I entered Sylvania Burnham Junior High right before Christmas in 1968 – halfway through 8th grade.
Having come from a small city in upstate New York (Binghamton), Ohio was a culture shock. Haircuts were shorter, and the focus seemed to be on who made the basketball team - they has us wrestling in gym class, for Pete’s sake - and corporal punishment was a fact of life, as evidenced by heavy perforated wooden paddles in every classroom. I had been given a Harmony Stella acoustic guitar for my 13th birthday, and being a somewhat shy adolescent immersed in a new and hostile environment, I spent a great deal of my spare time playing that guitar.
I was already a fan of rock music - WENE in Binghamton had seen to that. My favorite bands were the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Who, and Jimi Hendrix. There was so much great and interesting music being made at that time that it was very easy to hook up with other folks similarly interested in forming rock bands. There were several bands around at the time I moved to Sylvania, and having come from a place where there were none (at least in my peer group), I found it very exciting to see and hear my school buddies struggling through Proud Mary and House of the Rising Sun at the dances in the school auditorium.
I wanted badly to be a part of that.
I managed to get a combo going with some classmates consisting of a pair of guitarists and a drummer. We called ourselves Dad’s Olde Zipper. I played rhythm guitar (a Univox ES-335 copy) and sang. Doug Perkins had a Fuzztone and knew his scales, so he was the lead guy. Rob Shannon played drums. DOZ was deservedly very low on the radar-after all, we weren’t like the real bands that played at dances and stuff - and as I became immersed in this subculture, I started hearing a lot about this guy referred to as Fetters who was apparently the benchmark guitarist, and as such was the object of much (envious) derision by the more pedestrian players.
After a football game in my freshman year I finally had a chance to go see Fetters’ band Thorshackle for myself. I remember hearing them start before I got into the gym – they were playing Zep’s Good Times, Bad Times - and it sounded amazingly good. After paying my 50 cents and going in, I was dazzled. Rob was playing a 2 pickup solid body Hagstrom through a ridiculously large amp (a Baldwin Exterminator!). He was a bit chunky with an afro-like head of curly hair flying all around – and he had it all going on. He was easily twice as loud as the rhythm section - which featured subsequent longtime pal Glenn Marks on a Kalamazoo bass through a blond Fender Bassman 2x12, struggling valiantly but vainly to be heard behind the Exterminator, and drummer Kevin Jeffries. They played a bunch of tunes I liked (MC5, the Who, Cream, Hendrix), sang harmonies, and just totally rocked. A very vivid memory of mine is of Rob doing Rock Around the Clock and during the solo taking a running knee drop and sliding about 15 feet across the waxy gym floor playing all the way. Between the energy and the quality of guitar playing (this was during a period of time when everyone wanted to play like Hendrix or Clapton, but few had a clue – Rob actually did), I was an immediate fan.
Shortly after seeing Rob play I had a small revelation. I knew was a pretty decent guitarist in my own right, but also knew deep in my gut that I was never going to be a guitarist on that level, so I decided to evolve into a bassist. There weren’t many bass players around, and those that had picked it up were not really in the same league as the fine guitarists around (Lucky Elder & Scott Covrett, who were a few years older, & Rob), so it seemed to me that there was both a need and a vacuum.
I bought myself a used Mosrite bass and started working with guitarist Al Kern and gradually taught myself to be a solid rock bassist with the full intention that I would, at some point, be good enough at it to play with someone as exciting as Rob Fetters. About a year and a half later, it worked out exactly that way.
During the final throes of Dad’s Olde Zipper, Doug Perkins introduced me to a guy he had met in art class – John Arduser. We quickly became good friends through an appreciation of all things artistic and rocking. John lived fairly close to me, and as we began to hang at each other’s homes I came to know John’s older brother Mike and younger brother Chris. The Arduser boys were sensibly spaced out in 3 year intervals, and their home was lovely. Dad was a dentist, and Mom was sweet and supportive.
As previously mentioned, I had started playing cover music du jour on bass with Al Kern and a few different drummers at the end of 9th grade & throughout my sophomore year. John Arduser decided to take up guitar shortly after I met him – he bought a very cool old Gibson ES120T – and his younger brother Chris, in sixth grade at the time, had a Japanese Wolverine drum set. We decided to form a dada-esque band called Legs. We were inspired by Detroit music (particularly a very obscure psychodoowop band called Frut), Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, etc. We had John Arduser & Doug Perkins on guitars, a few different bass players until a good one, John Dwyer, came along; Chris Arduser on drums, and me performing vocal duties. Chris was the youngest guy in the band, and by far the most competent. He not only kept very good time, but also understood dynamics, played with incredible intensity, wasn’t afraid to go out there when appropriate-and he obviously had spent a good deal of time listening to Keith Moon.
So Legs was a band - a fun one that I didn’t feel I had to take that seriously. I’d spray my hair silver, put on pancake makeup, black lipstick, and a seersucker jacket, and just tried to be as weird and disturbing as possible. Legs wrote songs right off the bat (primitive ones, in keeping with our skills), and we did an odd assortment of covers. We went through a few personnel changes and I wound up playing bass eventually - a position where I came to appreciate Chris even more.
Going into my junior year, I went to hear the debut of new Rob Fetters band, called A Buck Two Eighty. I was expecting big things – the rhythm section was the Damon brothers. Craig Damon had a real bass amp – a Sunn 2000S - and his brother Eric was Chris’s age and could play mind-numbing drum solos. There was a lot of anticipation among Sylvania music aficionados.
They got through a tune or two, and then things started going very badly. The brothers D were blowing arrangements left and right, and Eric was overplaying to the point of distraction. Finally, Rob just set his guitar down and went and sat down behind his amp. It was painful – especially since I knew what his capabilities were. At that point, I knew in my gut that this guy I was pretty much in awe of would be way better off with me playing bass. Very soon after that gig, we started learning tunes together.
Rob’s parents were great – his mom was an intellectual artist type with leftist leanings and a great sense of humor. I could relate to her immediately. His dad was initially a hard guy to get to know, but he warmed up to me eventually and his pride in Rob’s ability was something he didn’t bother hiding. Rob turned me onto the Allman Brothers, Derek & the Dominoes, and The Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile, We also discovered we both dug the Nazz (Todd Rundgren’s band) and blues and boogie music in general.
We formed a band called the Red Hot Tots with Doug Perkins on 2nd guitar and Steve Alberti on drums. We rehearsed. We played the school dances. We were pretty good! We lost Steve Alberti to varsity wrestling and went through a succession of marginal drummers. We added three girls on backing vocals – “the Singing Sweats.” As Legs was also underway at the time, I’m not sure why we didn’t tap Chris – maybe it was an age thing. Doug Perkins retired from Legs when the RHT fired up, and I’ll admit that my focus was on the Tots as well. I was actually playing with Rob Fetters! I worked really hard to improve myself as a player, not exactly in a competitive way, but because I wanted to be as good at what I did as he was. It was during my junior year that I ditched my Mosrite starter bass and bought a brand new Jetglo Rickenbacker 4001, my first quality instrument.
So there were really these different spheres I lived in - the Arduser home for exploding teens, with Pink Floyd, the Amboy Dukes, the Who, and Deep Purple providing the soundtrack - and the Rob Fetters / RHT world, the musically (if not personally) disciplined guitar boogie combo with the succession of weak drummers.
Both bands would play school dances, college frat parties, church coffeehouses, political rallies, and even local television - we didn’t turn much down.
It wasn’t until the end of my senior year (’72 –’73) that Rob and Chris and I finally played in the same band at the same time – the final version of Legs. We had Rob (a recent college dropout) and John Arduser on guitars, Chris on drums, Glenn Marks (another college dropout) on vocals, and me on bass. We were a force to be reckoned with, but ultimately exploded. Rob, frustrated with our lackadaisical attitude, quit and went on to join a pro band called Strongheart. I spent the summer before my abortive college career playing with a group called Johnny & the Hurricanes.
Within 9 months, I (having become a college dropout myself) was back playing with Rob again in his new full-time band – The Raisin Band. We shanghaied Chris out of Sylvania High School a year or so later (Rob having the pleasure of explaining to Chris’s dad why it was good idea for him to not finish high school, but rather to go on the road with a rock band) and it was off to the races. We soon started focusing our attention to writing songs…
All material is © 1993-2009 psychodots, unless otherwise noted.