(Liner notes from BDR’s reissue of Frustrated Conversation)
“Well, Larry and I were playing together as a rhythm section, and we were trying to start a band similar to the Dixie Dregs or Jeff Beck…and then I started hearing some Punk Rock and I started liking it,” says George Schneller of Dear John. That pretty much sums up how Punk Rock came to St. Louis in the ’70s. There weren’t many people who knew about this new music, there weren’t many bands and there were almost no places to play. It was just a few folks scattered here and there trying to make their own new thing.
George found the Victims, a Punk band in need of a bass player, through a classified ad in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He set about getting his buddy Larry Wilke involved, too. “You threatened me with physical violence,” says Larry. “You said, ‘You need to join this band NOW!’”
Larry worked at the Peaches Records location on Hampton, and one of his co-workers was Bob Kuhlmann. Recently returned from college in Columbia, MO, Bob was a bona fide Punk Rocker. He had been part of the first wave of Punk fans in town that had coalesced around Dave Thomas’ radio show on KWUR, hanging out with members of raymilland and The Welders (BDR Records #2 and #3). Larry, a fusion guy at heart, turned to Bob for opinions and advice, and the two spent many hours talking music while hiding behind the Peaches tape counter.
Eventually, Larry invited Bob over to assess the Victims. “It’s a Sunday afternoon,” says Bob, “And I go walking into this place and they put me in a chair in the corner, and I’m trying to keep track of what I like about different songs…” What Bob liked was the rhythm section, and it wasn’t long before Bob started showing George and Larry his songs. The Victims were soon gone, and Dear John was born.
By early 1981, the band was ready to play out. Armed with a batch of originals along with Punk and Oldies covers, they made their debut at Kelley’s Stage Door. Conveniently located right across the street from Peaches, Bob had started DJ-ing there on off nights. “I had done an Oldies show on the radio in Columbia,” says Bob “and so they said ‘Come on in some Monday night, after Monday Night Football’, and so I did that for a while and when the band was ready to start playing, that was our first gig…April of ’81.” George adds, “You’d play any bar that’d have you. Nobody wanted Punk Rock or New Wave or Power Pop or anything. You’d play holes in the wall, anywhere.” More shows followed at St. Louis venues like the legendary Billy Goat Hill and the not-so-legendary Dr. Munchies.
In June of 1981, Dear John recorded six songs at the newly opened Sugar Creek Studios in nearby Fenton, MO. From the session, they chose “Frustrated Conversation” and “I Don’t Want Her To Know” as the “most Power Pop”, and therefore the best choices for a 45 release. Even before the record was back from the pressing plant, Bob took off to Ft. Wayne, IN for a job in radio. With the band in limbo, George and Larry continued to play together, occasionally bringing in other musicians…a few practices with Chuck DeClue of The Retros (BDR Records #4) sadly went nowhere. Bob got the record into local stores, got a bit of regional press and even managed to sneak it onto Classic Rock powerhouse KSHE once via an overnight DJ friend. Though, without an active band to promote the single, it didn’t have much of a chance to make a big impact.
When Bob just as abruptly returned to St. Louis in the Spring of 1982, Dear John regrouped as a 4-piece with the addition of guitarist Randy Erickson. After just a handful of gigs, they sputtered out, and the remaining copies of their 45 went into storage for the next few decades. George and Bob regrouped as Page 3 and eventually moved out to Los Angeles, even playing for a time with Power Pop wunderkind Robbie Rist (yes, Cousin Oliver!). Larry stayed in town and joined a Heavy Metal band that almost burned down a high school…but he’ll have to tell that story himself! These days Bob’s still musically active in California, while George is a bassist-in-demand down in Florida. Larry’s given up playing in public but has recently started re-building his kit, so who knows what’s to come?