FLASHBACK TO the year 1971.
In a basement in Dundalk, eight kids who loved music got together to form a garage band. They decided to call their band Gazze. Gazze didn't know anything about the music business. They just wanted to play. Live. And loud. And to make people dance.
Sometimes they played for money. A lot of times they played for free. The band's first paid job was a teen dance at Patapsco Senior High School. Gazze had to rent a trailer to move all the equipment. On the way home, they almost lost everything when the trailer came unhitched, and every Gazzer had to chase after the truck as it rolled across a bridge on Eastern Avenue.
That was 20 years ago. Where are those kids now?
The boys of Gazze are now the men of Gazze. Most are married, many have children and all have "real jobs." The Gazzers are now in their 30s and 40s (no jokes about geezers, please).
"I'm surprised we've maintained things so long," said Don Bogert, who at 45, is the oldest member of the band and who plays keyboards.
Of the original eight members, three still remain: Bogert, Dwight Weems (lead vocal) and Bob Matarozza (lead guitar). Joining the three original band members are Marlin Deacon (saxophone, with the band 18 years); J.J. Gunning (trombone), Leo Szymanski (trumpet), Bill Mitchell (drums) and Al Keitz (bass guitar).
Their original song list included tunes from Chicago, ELO, the Bee Gees, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. The band still plays almost every weekend, and not old songs by the Bee Gees, either. There are now more than 2,000 songs in the Gazze repertoire, and after 20 years of experience, Gazze doesn't have to play for free anymore. Most of their jobs pay $1,200 to $4,000 a performance.
The money is nice, but that's not the only reason Gazze still performs. They also have their fans.
"Over the past 20 years of performing you start to see the same groups of people," Weems says. "Sometimes we play for someone's prom, and then at their wedding, and then maybe a dance at their kid's school."
They take generation-hopping in stride, and seem to manage with one foot in real life and the other on the weekend stage.
Lead guitarist Matarozza, 38, works as a programmer with a large computer firm in the Washington area. He says he puts his career first, and he has a wife and two children, after all. Most of his co-workers don't even know he's in a band, he says.
Bogert works for the federal government. His boss once was in a band and so never thought it was strange that Bogert played in a rock band, the keyboard player says. He is also married and has five children. His youngest son, who is 3, will often join Bogert in the basement and play with the synthesizers.
Lead vocalist Weems, a trim and fit 38, works in the production office at WBFF-TV, Fox 45, and says he manages to do both jobs with a lot of "careful planning."
"We do plan weeks where we don't perform, so we can have some time for ourselves," Weems says. "We don't play every single weekend."
With a lot of planning and commitment, the same love of music that brought Gazze together keeps them together.
"It's really the best of both worlds," Weems says. "I get to do something that I enjoy. There's a party to go to every weekend. You see, music is one of the few worlds that involves the word 'play.' You play baseball -- you play music . . . You don't work music. It's not a job to play music."
Bogert adds, "Music is something that gets in to your blood. It will always be with you."
On a recent Friday night, Gazze played at Le Fontaine Bleu on Erdman Avenue.
In the middle of Billy Joel's "I Go to Extremes," standing at the main entrance was Weems, high prince of the dance floor. He wore shiny, baggy black slacks, a white spandex sleeveless shirt and a bright blue jacket with black geometric designs.
He danced with customers and a waitress who was pushing a cart full of dishes; the rest of the band played on a stage at the far end of the room.
Bopping along, his head rocking to the music, Weems worked the crowd, visiting every table, trying to get them to dance and grabbing patrons at the door. On the dance floor, two brave partyers led the way.
By the time Gazze kicked in with "She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals, four or five songs later, almost everyone was dancing: men and women dressed in everything from spandex and leather to cotton and polyester. The dancers included the 12-year-old children of a banquet hall employee, a woman in a wheelchair, married couples, twentysomething daters and grandmothers.
It seemed like a strange high school dance where some students have been trapped in a time warp and have never left the gym.
And, although Weems described this particular crowd as "fairly mild," there were moments of electricity.
"I love it when people let loose," Weems says. "It seems that people don't know how to have fun anymore. Just because you grow up doesn't mean you have to stop having fun."
While Gazze members may still be having fun -- out playing clubs and partying with their fans -- what do their wives and families do? Just ask them. They're usually at the table closest to the stage.
"Most of the wives come," says Melody Deacon, wife to saxophone player Marlin. "What we'll do is call each other and try to get together as many people as we can.
"We've been together so long, we're like a big family."
Debbie Matarozza adds, "I go to about half of the shows. I don't mind Bob being in the band. I like to go to the shows. Often, the only times I get to see him are on show nights, since I work night shifts."
Bob is thankful that his wife understands, but it still doesn't make the rough work schedules any easier. "I'd be lying if I said that there are times when I'd rather be doing something else. But this is well worth it," he said.
And so the band plays on. According to Bogert, Gazze hopes to put out a record in late July or August containing a few original songs, written by Weems, Bogert and Gunning, and a few cover versions of other songs. The album would be produced locally and would most likely be sold only at their performances.
As for hitting the big time, it doesn't have to happen for the band.
"It would be good to forge ahead and have some spot in the limelight," says Bogert. "But there are a lot of extremely talented musicians in the Baltimore area, who have been struggling for a long time and have gone nowhere. We're comfortable with the way things are now."
They'll keep on playing until "it's not fun anymore."
At the end of the night, at the Le Fontaine Bleu, Gazze closed the show with Buster Poindexter's Latin-sounding "Hot, Hot, Hot." The dancers formed two long lines and were doing the conga. Weems jumped off the stage and shimmied down the aisle between the two lines. The guitarists also joined the excitement on the dance floor and the horns swayed in unison.
It's still fun. Gazze might last another 20 years.
Local garage bands of every stripe
SOME DEFINE a garage band as a group that gets together on Wednesday, practices on Thursday, has its first gig on Friday and then disbands on Saturday. Of the bands that manage to stay together, few will last from the members' teen years into adulthood.
Most backyard, garage and basement bands of the late '60s and early '70s broke up, some after only a few weeks together. But don't despair: In the Baltimore area, there are dozens of small local bands for hire, playing every type of dance music from Top 40 to rhythm and blues to zydeco. This is only a partial list. Due to the nature of their business, some of these bands may be out of existence by the time you reach for the phone.
Gazze -- Call 682-4099 or write to the Gazzette, P.O Box 24775, Baltimore 21220.
Burst of Silence -- Progressive. $1,000 and up. 628-1136.
Lost Cause -- Classic rock and original work. $300-$400. (301) 249-9397 or 257-0546
Change of Pace -- Folk-comedy music. $750 and up. (301) 933-7894.
Chuck Hasley -- Classic rock, rhythm and blues. $375-$500. (301) 674-8740.
Cry Monday -- Top 40 music. $1,000 and up. 828-9400.
Lucifer -- Classic rock, $1,200 and up. 922-1431.
Persuaders -- Rhythm and blues. $600 and up. 484-2671.
The Polecats -- Tex-Mex folk music, zydeco. $100-$1,000. 358-8743.
Rigadoo -- Irish music. Price negotiable. 426-1197.
Stan Rouse Jazz Group -- Jazz, Top 40. $150-$200. 653-3412.
The Sway -- Progressive and dance music. Price negotiable. 744-4880.
Willie Johnson -- Rhythm and blues. $400 and up. 665-6090.