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."