by BOB HUTTER
Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds will return to their roots — the classical rock era — at a reunion concert and street dance, Saturday, Sept. 7, on River Street in front of Dave’s Town Club in Delano.
For many audience members it will be like stepping into a musical time machine.
The rejuvenation of Butch Automatic will assist in a rejuvenation of another sort as well. A committee of local volunteers is raising funds to renovate the Delano Public Schools theater auditorium with a new sound system, seating, carpeting and lighting. Funds for this project will be raised through donations from residents, local businesses and other interested parties. Proceeds from the Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds street dance will go to this cause.
“We are hoping that folks will enjoy seeing the group still making music after all these years and recognize the importance of the performing arts,” said band member Joe Seliski.
Advance-sale tickets are available at the State Bank of Delano, Crow River Bank, Dave’s Town Club, Three Crows Coffee House, B’s on the River, Linnie’s Ice Cream, Delano American Legion, and Doreen’s Hair Design. Tickets are $10 in advance and $14 at the door. Gates open at 7 p.m. with music from 7:30 p.m. to midnight.
If there was a musical time machine that could transport people back to the most influential music in their lives, many would return to the music of their teenage years. The rock and roll of the 1950s and 60s is still considered by many who grew up in that era to be their favorite.
Area youth who reached those influential teenage years in the 1970s and 80s took that rock and roll time machine back to that classic era by attending Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds dances.
In the early 1970s there was a resurgence in popularity of rock n’ roll music, brought on by the popular movie American Graffiti and bands such as Sha Na Na. Early rock and rollers such as Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis regained popularity with fans both old and new. Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds formed during this rock n’ roll revival when a group of Delano and Watertown teens organized to keep that music alive on the local music scene.
“There were a lot of car-related band names at the time, both locally and nationally,” said Dave Socher, original bass player with the group. “Flash Cadillac, Butch Greaser and the Hoods, the Stingrays — we were thinking along those lines. We ended up settling on Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds.”
“You have to remember,” Socher said, “we didn’t really plan on needing a name for much longer than six months to a year. We never in a million years thought anything would come of this.”
But something did come of it. Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds quickly began filling their performance schedule and ended up traveling every weekend — sometimes Thursday through Sunday — in an expanding radius throughout Minnesota.
“We played the Minnesota ballroom circuit from Carlton near Duluth to Ceylon Ballroom in very southern Minnesota on a regular monthly basis,” Socher said. “These were the large venues. In between we did other events like fairs and colleges,” he added.
The band focused on the most danceable and recognizable early rock n’ roll music, setting their goal at keeping the dance floor full throughout their performances. If a song did not elicit a positive response on the dance floor it was quickly replaced.
“Butch Automatic was a group of regular guys that took an idea and worked very hard together to create a musical experience that appealed to their audience,” said Seliski, who joined the band a few years later to play lead guitar. “The group added energy to the music that was not present with other groups,” he said.
That energy generated a broad fan base, from teenagers hearing the 50s and 60s classics for the first time to a more mature group reliving their youth through the hits from their teen years.
“The root of this band is high energy, in your face rock and roll,” said Brad Bruhn, original keyboardist. “A group of regular guys that, when blended together on stage, created an experience that appealed to the masses,” he said.
The band reduced their performance schedule over the years as other responsibilities took priority, and several times took an extended hiatus. The band experienced several personnel changes and the music evolved into later era rock.
Now Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds is returning to their roots, bringing back all original members and the classic rock n’ roll from the band’s early years for a street dance on River Street in downtown Delano on Saturday, September 7.
Band members reuniting for this blast from the past include Dale Graunke (vocals), Mike Mathisen (vocals), Bob Seliski (rhythm guitar/vocals), Dave Pawelk (drums), Bob Hutter (sax/vocals), Dave Socher (bass guitar/vocals), Brad Bruhn (keys/vocals) and Doreen Shrode (vocals), all of Delano, and Joe Seliski (lead guitar/vocals), Minneapolis.
“Bring back the original members to relive those good old days,” Bruhn said. “Bring back that old fan base in addition to the generations of Butch Automatic fans through the last few decades. My 13-year-old daughters are familiar with and love most of the early Butch Automatic songs. All ages know and enjoy the music we have put together for this reunion,” Bruhn said.
“The current mayor of Delano (Dale Graunke) is an original member. That’s pretty cool!” Bruhn added.