THE SPECTACULARS: THE STORY
Better grab a cup of coffee...
You might have read the quick bio on the home page, but their story really begins in 1961 when a 13 year old kid from Milwaukee named Leon Olson got an electric bass guitar. It was just a "cheap" Danelectro bass, but it lit the fire that continues to blaze today. A short time after that, he was told by a local band "The Triumphs" that if he got a "real bass" he could join their band, replacing future jazz guitar legend Jack Grassel. So, went off to the local music store and ordered up a black Fender Jazz Bass. After a month or so, the Jazz Bass never arrived and sick of waiting, he took the Sherwood Green Fender Precision Bass home that had been hanging, unwanted, in that store for a year or so. It turns out that the color no one wanted was one of the rarest colors Fender ever put on a guitar or bass and that 1962 P-Bass would be worth a fortune today! He went on to become great friends with those Triumphs, especially Bob and Dennis Zenoni of Uncle Bob's Music. Sadly, Bob Jr. passed away a few years ago. But the teenage bond he and Dennis formed as The Triumphs rhythm section is as strong as ever. However poised the boys seemed for making the big time with their appearance on The Ted Mack Show in December 1963, shortly thereafter The Beatles arrived on our soil and suddenly bluesy, soulful American music was no longer in style and was pushed aside for that Mersey Beat. Fast forward a few years, The Triumphs disbanded, Leon quit the business. He switched to a career as a factory man, met his wife, Barbara and started a family. In 1971, Eric came along and not long after that, Michael followed. To make ends meet, he joined the biggest name in Milwaukee country music, Bobby Nelson. Playing 6 nights a week at the renowned Clef Club, where the crowd lined up around the block to get in, he would be able to hone his chops further while sharing the stage with Crystal Gayle, Penny Dehaven, Webb Pierce, Marvin Rainwater, Big Al Downing and more. But even working a day job and playing 6 nights a week wasn't enough, as the factory job came with numerous layoffs. It was during those layoffs from Wisconsin Motors that he would hit the road with a band and send home a paycheck the only way he knew how. In '77, Lisa arrived and the family was now complete. But, the factory closed and he packed the family and moved to Houston, Texas, where he heard the economy was booming. Just two years later, he was laid off from Howard Hughes' own Hughes Tool Company, a company that never had layoffs before! It is here that The Spectaculars' truly get their start.
The Olson family moved up north to an abandoned farmhouse with no electricity or indoor plumbing in Argonne, WI. By the next Easter, electricity and running water installed, the boys received their first guitars as presents from their grandma Olson. After 2 unsuccessful tries at building a guitar, 12 year old Eric finally had something to learn on. The first song he picked on it that first weekend was Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. Eric and Mike were both budding guitar players, until their dad needed rhythm on original songs he was recording on his 4 track Fostex tape machine. Due to the fact that Leon and Eric are both left handed (though they play guitar righty) they struggled with drumming on the right handed kit left at the house by the drummer in his current band. So, by default, right handed Michael was elected drummer and guitar duties were left solely to Eric. With that green bass long gone and a Gibson Thunderbird in his hands, Leon realized that his sons recording his songs could really play! Around this time, his wife's brother, Uncle Jim, came into the fold and the 4 piece was christened, "Lee's Genes"... get it? Well not many others did and after seeing their name mis-spelled as "Lee's Jeans" too many times, they settled on the name "The Spectaculars" in 1986. They were originally a top 40, oldies and country cover band until a day in February 1987 when a trip to Stevens Point to see The Fabulous Thunderbirds changed Eric's life and the band's mission.
Seeing how cool Jimmie Vaughan looked and sounded that night, Eric was focused from that point on to becoming the best Blues guitar player he could be. In 1988, with Eric delving ever deeper into the blues, the family visited cousins in Vernon Hills, IL and drove into Chicago for the open jam at the legendary Kingston Mines. After sneaking his trusty Ibanez Tube Screamer, obviously a Jimmie Vaughan inspired purchase, onto a stage where "No Pedals Are Allowed!", a 17 year old Eric proceeded to turn the heads of the established seasoned veterans of that Chicago Blues Scene with his nervous, adrenaline fueled runs and multi-step bends dripping with incredible feel and a tone that caused many to ask, "How's he get that sound?" He never revealed this secret until this moment, 30 years on. Later that night, Leon and 14 year old Mike got up and showed that they too were forces in their own right. With his pocket perfect bass lines and Mike's killer shuffle, Leon and his 2 sons announced to everyone there that The Spectaculars had arrived! In 1990, the family relocated back to Milwaukee. Uncle Jim stayed up north while they hooked up with Blues Harp Jimmy. The Spectaculars steadily climbed the ranks of the midwest blues scene highlighted by their 1992 and '93 appearances at Summerfest opening for Albert Collins, Junior Wells, Otis Clay, William Clarke and Lucky Peterson. Along the way, they were able to share stages with Hubert Sumlin, BB Odom, Billy Branch, Victor DeLorenzo, Big Head Todd Mohr, and Gus Taylor and Jimi Schutte from Lonnie Brooks' band!
In 1992, at the age of 44, Leon gave everyone a scare when his 30 years of smoking caught up to him, resulting in a heart attack. He quit smoking that day and hasn't had one since, but decided to slow down a bit and the band continued on a reduced schedule till 1995 when they began what would eventually turn into a 20 year hiatus! Sure, every once in a while they'd be lured back to the stage for a private party or other great gig opportunity, but those were few and far between. In the meantime, Mike and his wife Anexis, had become worship leaders for numerous Christian church bands, with Mike getting back to playing guitar again. So, while Mike was still involved in music, Leon and Eric had all but disappeared from the scene.
Fast forward to 2016, when Joe "Eko" Loeffelholz called Eric to see if he interested in putting a band together with some guys he knew. Joe and Eric had been friends for a long time and even played a few gigs together in Joe's band Coupe deVille, when Joe's regular guitar player couldn't make it. Joe said he had some great gigs and could get more and Eric saw this as an opportunity to get dad out of retirement and Mike back on the drum throne! So, he called them up and arranged a rehearsal. They were all so surprised at what came out of the four of them that night that they agreed to give it a go! Joe got a few gigs, Eric got a few gigs and before they knew it the calendar showed signs of life for the first time in years. Before that first comeback gig at St. Martin's Fair on Labor Day Weekend 2016, Joe mentioned that he knew of an amazing Hammond Organ player that had toured the world with the Lonnie Brooks band for over 15 years, played on countless top Blues albums by many well known artists and happened to be living in Wisconsin part time. All it took was one meeting that turned into jam session and Rob Waters was added to the mix. The addition of these two talented musicians rejuvenated the Olson clan and within weeks, The Spectaculars began recording their debut album! It took about 2 years to get the songs written and recorded and by then it was ready for mixing and mastering by the winner of Best Traditional Blues Album at the 2010 Grammy Awards, Blaise Barton. That brings us up to date.
Leon, Eric, Mike, Rob and Joe are set to unleash their album, "Let's Hear Us, Now!" on their own label, Spex-Tone Records on November 9th!
The Spectaculars are back and better than ever! Pick up "Let's Hear Us, Now!" and hear them, now for yourself!