A History of the Club
By Frank Davis
Sometime in 1986 a good friend of mine, Vern Schneider, who knew that I played around with the harmonica introduced me to a trio of harmonica players known as The Harmonitones. They had entertained at The Moolah Shrine Temple where we were members. They were Boots Lackey on chord, Fred Hessel on lead and Vince Manno on bass. They happened to be practicing that night at Vince Manno’s home and invited me over to listen and maybe play along. Tas Karides was lead player before Fred, and Bob Davis and Don White also played with them at one time.
That same year, the Kansas City Club was having a Mini Convention at an old Catholic Monastery in KC, Kansas. The Harmonitones invited me to come along. Boots had a mobile home that we drove over. The three of them slept in that and I stayed in one of the “cells” that the Catholic Brothers used at one time when the Monastery was active. There was one Priest and a few Nuns who prepared the food for the attendees. That is where I met Sidney Wolff, George Rassman, Rich Tygerson and several SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) members. SPAH was founded in 1963 by Earl Collins. He was also its first president. If I am not mistaken, most of the SPAH conventions were held in the Detroit, MI, area until around 2000. They then started moving it around to different states where they could find a harmonica club to sponsor. I do believe that some of the wives of the players had something to do with making the suggestion about moving the convention around to other states.
In early September 1987 my wife, Peg, and I attended the SPAH Convention in Detroit where we found out about the World Harmonica Championship Contest to be held on the Island of Jersey. Jersey is an English Channel Island off the coast of France. We made arrangements to attend, not to participate but to watch and listen. We were in the same hotel as the HARMONICA CATS. The Island is like a vacation resort and was starting to close down for the winter. I do believe that Peg and I along with the Harmonica Cats were the only ones in that particular hotel. The building that the contestants played in was a few blocks from the hotel. That is where we met a lot of the professionals, Pete Pederson, Al & Judy, Fata Morgona, The Adler Trio and many more, too many to mention (besides, I can’t remember all of them). I believe James Hughes, an Englishman, is the one who made the arrangements for this competition.
Sometime in 1987, Sid called me and said “let’s start a club” and that is when seven of us got togather and the rest is history. The original seven charter members were Sidney Wolff, Frank and Bill Davis, Boots Lackey, Fred Hessel, Vince Manno and Dan Perez. Sid did all the necessary paperwork through Jefferson City to get us established as The Gateway Harmonica Club Inc.
We ran several ads in local newspapers showing when and where we were scheduled to meet. We started meeting in the Library on Utz Lane, right off of Hwy. 270 and McDonnell Blvd. Joe Fey happened to see one of the ads in the North County Journal and attended one of our first meetings, at which time he became a member. Frank Muriel, Don Dahmer, George Rassman, Rich Tygerson and Dave Schmidt came about the same time. We also met in the Library at 1640 S. Lindbergh. We then rotated meetings with those two Libraries. We could not schedule a library too far in advance so we started looking for some place centrally located where we could meet every week. I don’t recall when we moved to The Rock Church. I do know that Bob Provart is the one responsible for obtaining it for us to meet. At that time, part of the church was a “Quonset Hut type” building and that is where we met until they tore it down. The heating and air conditioning was not the best in the world. Prior to tearing it down, it was used as Oriental peoples worship.
As I recall, the first ladies to join the club were Mary Ann Love, Louise Cook, and Betty Ford. They all joined about the same time as they were neighbors.
On November 18, 1989, to raise a little money to help purchase sound equipment, we held a variety show “SAY IT WITH MUSIC” at the Wentzville High school in Wentzville, MO. This was sponsored by the Wentzville Masonic Temple Association. Solo performers were Bill Mann, Dan Perez, Sid Wolff and Frank Muriel. A comedy duo was Raleigh & Betty Jessup as “LUKE WARMER & MAUDDEENE HAMHOCKER”, “THE HAPPY HARPERS“, Frank Davis, Joe Fey, Henry Gerfin and Dave Schmidt. “DOLLY PARTON” was Sara Newman, The Harmonicords and Harmonitones (previously mentioned) Country Music ensemble with Cliff Patterson and The Dixie Pride Cloggers, “Magic” Lou Gehrs and Mae. The ending song was performed by all the GHC members.
We have held two mini conventions. The first one, “GATEWAY HARMONICA FESTIVAL”, was held on Oct. 12 & 13, 1990, at The Ramada Westport Hotel. Our headliners were:
The “GREAT DANES“ (Ingo and Olav Anderson) from Canada
“THE TOP CATS” from Birmingham, AL
“HARPERS BIZARRE” from Columbus, OH
“MY THREE SONS & ME” (Rich Krueger and his sons from Pittsfield, IL)
“The HAPPY HARPERS” (previously mentioned)
“The St. Louis HARMONICORDS“ Tas Karides, Bob Davis and Boots Lackey
“THE HARMONITONES” Fred Hessel, Vince Manno and Boots Lackey.
The second mini convention, “HARVEST MOON FESTIVAL”, was held November 5 – 7, 1992, at The Sheraton Plaza Hotel at West Port. The headliners were Pete Pederson and Jim Watkins, Al & Judy Smith, Eddie Gordon and Steve Ono, The Vic Bell Trio, Harpers Bizarre and The Great Danes. Pete Pederson was our MC.
On July 6 – 8, 1993, about 19 members played several tunes with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at Queeny Park with Richard Hayman conducting. Richard was also a member of the club. Two other times we entertained the Queeny audiences prior to the symphony playing. This was done at one end of the building overlooking the crowd.
We have put on two shows at the Kirkwood Community Center. One was on October 21, 1995, the “VARIETY REVIEW” . Headliner acts were “The Geriatric Trio”: Stan Musial, (Harmonica) Mel Bay (Guitar) and John Becker (Banjo). Al Hrobosky was our MC. Jack Buck was supposed to have been there but something came up and he didn’t make it. Stan was also a lifetime member of the club. Besides several harmonica acts, we also had “ANDREA “(Belly Dancer), “LATIN SOLUTION ORCHESTRA” (10-piece ensemble), “The LANVIN CASSIDY DANCERS,” (Irish Dancers), “Thiet Nguyen”, a professional magician. The proceeds that we made went to The Make A Wish Foundation. I think we ended up with approximately $5,000.00. I don’t recall the date that we had the other show.
On November 20, 2010, seven members had the honor and privilege of playing at Stan Musial’s 90th birthday party. On March 27, 2012, eighteen members performed at The Sheldon Hall in St. Louis. On April 8, 2013, Cardinals opening day at Busch Stadium, under the direction of Joe Fey, the same seven members played the National Anthem. The following week they handed out over 30,000 Stan Musial “Autographed” Harmonicas as the fans entered the gates. We had harmonica players at every gate entertaining the fans as they entered the stadium. During the 7th Inning stretch, every one attempted to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game“ with the club playing in Batters’ Eye.
I do believe we are the most active Harmonica Club in the United States. We teach classes at several local colleges and schools along with classes every Tuesday night prior to our practice sessions. We performed 55 gigs in 2015 and have averaged well over 40 each year for the past 15 – 20 years. We will have anywhere from 10 – 20 players at each gig. The majority of the monies earned from these gigs and CD sales goes to charity. No one is paid for performing. Each member furnishes his own instruments and transportation. We have donated many thousands of dollars over the years to five charities in the St. Louis area. They are: The Rock Church where we meet every Tuesday night, The Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, The Shriners Children’s Hospital, The Salvation Army and The 100 Neediest. The club has also made donations throughout the years in honor of members who have passed on. We also make quarterly donations to the church where we meet every week.
We have sponsored six SPAH Conventions: 1996, 1999, 2004, 2008, 2013 and 2014.
In July 1987, we had about 30 members. Membership now stands at approximately 100. Several are “Honorary Members” and several live out of state and are “Associates.”
1987 – 1989 Sidney Wolff
1990 – 1991 Frank Muriel
1992 – 1995 Frank Davis
1996 Carroll Markivee
1997 – 1999 Ron Beer
2000 – 2003 Dan Perez
2004 – 2005 Charles Pratte
2006 – 2007 Mary Ann Love
2008 – 2011 Bill Dulin
2012 – 2014 Frank Davis
2015 – 2016 Bill Dulin
2017 – Jay Hotze