Return of the Watusies
Best-loved and most notorious
by Sue MacPhee-Gray
On Saturday, August 25, one of Ann Arbor's best-loved and most notorious bands will reunite for a show at the Blind Pig.
Dan Mulholland, Ann Arbor's ubiquitous frontman (or, as he will sometimes say, the world's oldest teenager), formed the band in 1983. "It all came together in a single package when I saw Chris's band the Untouchables. I think I got ninety percent of the band right there!" he recalls. Chris Casello (lead guitar) and Surfin' Freddy Klein (keyboards) immediately jumped ship to join the Watusies, followed several months later by drummer Bill Newland (replacing original drummer Jimmy Kimball). Auditions continued until Oni Werth (bass) and Drew Howard (guitar) came onboard to complete the group.
"I came on as a drill sergeant, or tried to," Mulholland admits. "I don't think they completely bought that, but they thought I was asking them to play completely weird music. I was a record collector and I was talking about Nervous Norvus all the time. I was making them cassettes of weird-ass music to do."
"We thought Dan was out of his mind," confirms Casello, who is returning from Nashville for the reunion.
Local press and word of mouth set the stage, and the Watusies debuted to a packed house at Joe's Star Lounge in January 1984. Playing a crazed mélange of 1950s and 1960s rockabilly, garage, and rhythm and blues, they were an instant hit. Loaded with an arsenal of obscure and A-list cover tunes as well as originals like "(Because I'm a) Jaguar" and "Sharkskin Buffalo," they went on to perform at all of the regional hot spots. "We were the toast of the town from eighty-four to eighty-six," says Casello. "There wasn't a big event in town that we didn't play."
Serious musicians all, the Watusies always retained a sense of humor. For each show, Mulholland would add a different (and nonsensical) prefix to the band's name - they could be the "Flaming," "Buck Naked," or even
"Geriatric" Watusies. "People would come up and ask me what we were going to call the band next," says Mulholland. "One week we were the 'Exploding Watusies,' and the next week it was 'Imploding.'"
A live band in every sense of the word, the Watusies didn't leave much behind to remember them by, except maybe some beer-tinged memories of good times with good friends. Voodoo Trailer Park (a cassette) and the compilation album Cruisin' Ann Arbor II are the only tangible remains, and if you happen to own a copy of either, you're lucky. Mulholland hints there may be some memorabilia available at the reunion, and Newland has whipped up a website, at myspace.com/thewatusies.
"The biggest issue we have is, Can we find the clothes we wore twenty-five years ago," Drew Howard muses, "and if we find them, can we fit into them?"
[Review published August 2007]