By Tony Hooker
What do you get when you get six area music veterans?
According to Sadorus resident Mark Millsap, the lead guitarist for Whiskey River, you get a darned good time. I recently caught up with the band, which consists of Millsap, Elmer Snoke, the vocalist, who hales from Metcalf, Villa Grove’s Dan Koester on guitar and vocals, Tom Cullop, from Champaign on drums, Bassist Bill Hudson, from Oakland, and harmonica player Steve Elder, who’s from Charleston, to find out more.
Whiskey River came from Full Throttle?
(MM) We didn’t really come from Full Throttle. Some of our members had played in Full Throttle, but we all came from different bands.
How did Whiskey River come together?
(MM) Me, Dan and Tom were in a band together, and those guys (Elmer and Bill) were in a band together, and we all had mutual friends and we just kind of grew into this. Some guys came in, some guys left and that’s how we did it?
Did it start like this, just you guys jamming? Common interests?
(MM) Me and two other guys had a band together and one of them left and I wanted to keep going so we started a full band. We started from a band called Big Red Spoon, with Matt Haines from Camargo on vocals and drums, I was on guitar and another friend of mine, Matt Bundy was on guitar, and it kind of went from that. We were playing on the Channel 3 morning show, and Matt Haines’ wife called us up and said, “I’ve got a singer for you,” <laughs>
(DK) Matt Bundy decided to leave the band because he was getting married, and that’s when I joined. Then Matt quit and I brought in Tom, and then another bass player quit, and I brought these guys in, a great singer and a great bass player. Then, we were jamming in Brocton, and we met Steve Elder.
(DK) I remember at one of our first gigs together, down in Roxana, by St. Louis, Steve was rifling through my vehicle, looking for Whiskey! <laughing>
(SE) I was promised a beer tent and there wasn’t one! <all laugh>
(MM) Those were fun times, for sure!
How long have you guys been together?
(MM) About five years now.
Is this the first time you’ve played in Villa Grove?
(DK) No, we played up at the VFW on New Year’s Eve, three or four years ago. There are times that we’ll get done practicing here and there will be people in our yard, listening to us.
(MM) Saying “Please stop!” <laughing> That’s how we make most of our money! People pay us to leave! <all laugh>
What would you say is your genre as a band?
(DK) When we started out, we were going to be a classic country band, and then in this band, when Tom joined us, we played a lot of classic rock, and when Bill and Elmer joined us, they played a lot of classic rock also, and they play a lot of 50’s and 60’s rock so we started playing that. It’s really just anything fun that will get people up and dancing is what we want to play. We started mixing the songs, and Elmer’s a good singer, he can sing in just about any key and he picks stuff up quick. The main thing is, we have fun. Bands are hard to keep together.
(MM) We have a really good time, and we like to play.
How do you pick your songs?
(MM) We’ll all bring stuff in and try it and see if we like it.
(DK) Sometimes we’ll get requests, like that one time at the VFW, when we knew they were going to want some waltzes, and I remember sitting here practicing, thinking “What’s a waltz?” <smiles>
(MM) What’s really cool is that we can take whatever songs or set list and cater it to whoever is going to be there, so say that we’re going to be playing a VFW and we know that most of the audience will be older people who know how to dance, we’ll cater it to them. At something like this event up here, we’ll probably play more rock and stuff.
How long do you guys think you’ll keep this going?
(MM) Oh, gosh! Forever, I hope.
(BH) Until they run me off!
(DK) He (Elmer) gave me a great compliment one day…he said basically that this is his last band.
(ES) That’s it. I can’t find a better group of guys to play with, and this is for me. If this band breaks up or they fire me, I’m done. I asked to come in here. I told Mark that if his singer ever quit, to let me know, I want to sing, and he did.
(MM) And we’re so glad. This guy can sing everything. He’s the greatest singer I’ve ever worked with!
(DK) It’s just so much fun. It’s like you said, when Full Throttle stopped, it was a very hard thing.
(MM) It was hard. I started it in 1992, and he (Dan) came in in 2001.
(DK) So, the trick is that you have to find people that want to do it, and through the years, you weed out the people who bring drama to the band, because like Mark’s always said, “This is like bowling night,”. You get with your buddies, and instead of going out and bowling, we’re playing music.
(TC) All of the guys who have left this band have left for personal issues outside the band. One guy left for work. Another guy left because of a family matter. No one has left because of an issue inside the group.
(MM) In the mid “thousands”, that band had quit, and we were trying other stuff, and back then we went through a bunch of bass players, and now we’ve got the guys we want, and we’ve also got some musician friends who will come and sit in with us. We’re all professional musicians who’ve done this before so it’s cool.
(DK) Some of the guys from Appaloosa come and hang out with us, so it’s fun!
(MM) You never know who’s going to show up.
(DK) Sometimes Dyke Corson, who owns Corson Music, will come and sit in with us and play Steel Guitar with us.
How long have you been doing this, individually?
(MM) I started playing guitar when I was five, and I knew Tom when we were in high school band together.
(TC) I started playing drums in church for probably 10 years before that.
Where did you go to high school?
(MM) Central High School.
Did you have Mr. Krejci?
(MM) I was sorry to hear that he passed away last year. He was awesome! I was a TA for him, and he was one of my biggest inspirations. When he came into Central, we had had two or three marching band instructors before that, and he was like a breath of fresh air.
(SE) The first time I played with this band was down in Oakland. They found me in Brocton playing in a jam and asked me “how much would you charge to come and play with us” and I said, “I’ll tell you what I’m making now…naught is a naught is a naught. I played blues and everything.
(DK) I started playing in 2001, basically on a dare. I told my wife “I think I’m going to learn how to play guitar,” and she said “Oh, you’re going to start another hobby?” and I told her I thought I’d stick with this one, and she was like “Sure you will.” 20 years later, and here we are.
(ES) I started out singing in grade school and into high school.
Where did you grow up, Elmer?
In Indianola. I went to Jamaica consolidated high school. I’ve been singing in bands since 1974. I own my own DJ/Karaoke business, but this is what I want to do. Karaoke is ok, but I like doing this better.
Bill, how long have you been doing this?
(BH) I started when I was 19 in Oakland, with the Demons.
(DK) That was an old civil war unit! <all laugh>
(BH) Then I got drafted into Vietnam in ‘65 and the band broke up. Then, in 2012, the class of 62 wanted to get the Demons back together and they called and asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said 47 years between songs is a long time, but we did it and it turned out great. We did it out at Walnut Point, and had a great time, and that kind of got me back into it. I’ve been playing here, there, and everywhere else since then. Really, I’m a rookie yet, but by the time I’m 90 I hope to have it figured out!
Final Question…What can everyone who comes out expect on August 7?
(MM) A danged good time!
(DK) A lot of dance music. People who like to dance should come out.
(MM) Come out with the idea of having fun. That’s what Ag Days is all about.
(DK) We do a lot of songs that people can sing along with.
(MM) We encourage that! We’re going to have a good time, no matter what!