|The Fratiers (Bliss, King, Heerdt, and Puffer) reunited for Homecoming 2002.|
Still Rocking After
All These Years
Editor’s Note: The Fratiers, who first performed together at campus parties in 1964, were reunited over Homecoming weekend, performing for a reunion social for the 25th, 30th, 35th, and 40th reunion classes. For Class of ’67 band members and good friends Thurman Bliss, John Puffer, Rick King, and Roger Heerdt, the event brought back fond memories.
In the interview printed below, John Puffer recalled the band's origins, how members reunited to make a new CD, and what the future might hold for the group that mastered "The Fraternity Sound."
To find out how to order the CD (with proceeds benefitting Illinois Wesleyan's Annual Fund) or to hear a song by the group, go to the bottom of this page.
How did the four of you meet originally?
The four of us came together as a band after each playing in other bands, so-called. Rick, Roger, and I were pledge brothers and eventual Theta Chi's who roomed together. Thurm, although not a brother, spent most of his on-campus time at the Theta Chi house, so we kind of thought of him as a brother (although he was actually a Sigma Chi). With the exception of Roger, we were all pretty new to the 'playing in a band' scene. (Roger was actually a percussion music major.)
We began practicing together and eventually gathered enough songs we could play that fraternity and sorority houses started asking us to play for their functions. Heck, some of them were even willing to pay us!! This led to school functions and private parties and even other functions at schools throughout Illinois. We would basically play anywhere for any event, as long as we got some money in return. We played in big concert rooms on stage, all the way down to barns sharing a stall with the livestock!
I know the Fratiers were a very popular group in the area, but did they ever consider trying to make it "big" nationally by recording a hit single, etc.?
All during this time, of course we had dreams of maybe some day, hitting the big time. We basically only played songs that were hits of the time recorded by other bands. And while we always put our own 'spin' on the song, we never got into coming up with our own material.
Was it a hard decision to "break up" the band after graduation, or did everyone agree that this was just for fun and not a permanent career?
The band has never really ever 'broken up'. Nor have we ever said amongst ourselves that 'this is it'. What really happened as in life, we each graduated, some moved away, started families, careers, and in so doing had different priorities and responsibilities. Since I lived in Massachusetts, I was not 'physically' able to get together very often, so more than anyone, I kind of put an end to the Fratiers staying together as a band.
Having said that, Thurman and Roger continued to play in bands around the Bloomington area, and to this day, still find the excuse to play in a band occasionally. Rick played trumpet in a Dixie style band in the Chicago area for many years after graduation. Back in Massachusetts, I rarely even picked up the guitar for close to 20 years after graduation.
Occasionally, the four of us would be called out of retirement to play for a birthday party or special event. As a group then, since our graduation in 1967, I believe we have gotten back together to play as a group perhaps four or five times, not counting the recording effort in 2001.
Did the four of you stay in touch during the years when the band wasn't performing?
Very much so. From the outset, our friendships went way beyond the band experience, and to this day, our playing together is secondary to the social interaction and love for each other. Music was the common bond that brought us together, but it is the memories and friendships and trust and love for each other that really bring us back each time. Rick and his wife Cheryl are dear friends, came to my wedding, and me theirs. When I traveled on business, I would make it a point to swing through the Chicago area and Bloomington and look up my ol' friends. Rick and his family as well as Thurman have visited me back in New England. We get together at the IWU homecomings, play golf together whenever we can, and still count each other as true friends.
The liner notes of your new CD say the last time you played together was 1987. What was the occasion that brought about that reunion?
1987 was our 20th college reunion. We played at a quasi- school sponsored function as part of Homecoming at the Elks Club on the south side of town off of Main St in Bloomington. My recollection is that it went over ok, although it wasn't that well organized or attended. Their loss!!
How did this most recent recording come about? When was it recorded?
I sort of take the blame for the recording. In December, 2000, I began calling the band members to feel out whether there was any interest in cutting a record. Fortunately, all were excited about the prospect. So I began organizing the potential song list, documenting the lyrics we were supposed to sing with each, the key we played it in, and who did which parts. We lined up a recording studio that was convenient to the members, set the date of recording for July, 2001 and went for it. As the CD liner says, we did it in two, longggg, 16 hour hot, summer days in Bloomington. I then took the mixed version and went to a place back here in New Hampshire to get the recording mastered, the CD liners and panels produced, and everything duplicated and assembled. The final product was available to a select few lucky recipients by Christmas, 2001. By the way, the picture on the front of the CD was taken in 1964 in the basement of the Theta Chi house during one of our house parties. The picture on the back was taken in July 2001, during our recording session.
How did it feel to play together again after all these years?
There aren't words to describe all the emotions and feelings we go through during one of these get-togethers. The simple answer is that we were all a little nervous, since we had no time to practice together and rehearse what we were going to do. Of course, that never stopped us before!! We had a reputation for playing ANYTHING anyone requested, even if we didn't know it. We knew that together, we'd pull it off. And that's exactly what we did at the Caboose.
To a member, the band had a fabulous time. It went by so fast we hardly had a chance to relax. When we play like this, our performance reminds us just how close we are as a group, how really good we can be and the music we can play, and how much fun we can have no matter what the circumstances or venue.
Was your Homecoming performance at the Caboose the first time you had performed together live since graduation? What made you decide to perform at Homecoming? Did you feel the performance went well? (I've heard from everyone here that it was great!)
As before, we've played live maybe four times since graduation. As for this Homecoming, we began greasing the skids for an encore right after we had the CD's in hand. Rick hounded the Alumni office and someone relented. We are particularly pleased that we were able to raise some money for the alumni fund in exchange for our CD. We hope future 'sales' continue. It may even prompt us to think about recording a second CD!! Maybe even a video!! As for the performance, we never really know how we are perceived by the audience, although we generally get some feedback. As a group, we thought we did well in spite of the lack of rehearsal and rather tight quarters. Those that were there certainly looked like they were having a great time!! It was great to see a lot of our classmates, but I know there are a lot more out there that can still 'cut a rug'. Maybe next time!!
Does the group have any future recording/performance plans?
Let me say this......the band would get back together in a heartbeat if someone asked us to perform. Because of logistics and personal commitments, careers, family, etc. however, we tend to pick our 'comebacks' very carefully. We would love to play at another IWU Homecoming if you would have us. Our class 40th reunion will be in 2007, I think. Can you see a bunch of grey-haired 60+ year olds rockin' and rollin' the joint again?? I can....
My last question: What is the funniest stories that you associate with the band?
I don't know if this is funny, but at least we all talk about it. Some of us more than others!!
The band was playing at the Kappa Delta house for one of their sorority functions. The year was maybe 1965-6. It was a Friday night and some of us had had a long week of classes without much rest. We set up our equipment in the usual way. Roger and his drum set in the back against the wall, and in front, Thurman on the right, Rick in the middle, and me on the left. Amplifiers and PA system all behind us pointing toward the dance area. Well the band gets cranking, people start dancing and having fun. Pretty soon, the guitars and amps are pretty much up to full volume, each one of us trying to be heard above the other. We finish a song, I don't remember which, but it was definitely a fast and loud one. Turning around to make eye contact and make sure no one's ears are bleeding, the front row discovers that Roger has left the room and is nowhere to be found. We found out later that midway through the song, he got disgusted with us 'electrified musicians' and simply stopped playing and eventually left. The bad news is, we never even knew he stopped playing cause we couldn't hear him. The good news is, we gave the KD's a partial refund on our fee.
The Fratiers’ CD is still available for a $25 donation to the IWU Annual Fund. Contact Lorrie Gummere at IWU, 1-800-689-9743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.