[Cherry Pie Home Page]
Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, April 7, 2002 - Page G-1

the '80s

Cherry Pie
Tribute band Cherry Pie has
nothin' but a good time

Story by Natasha Kassulke - Photos by Steve Apps

Josh and John on stage Cherry Pie is not only a tribute to 1980s music but 1980s fashion: it's an arena rock experience that includes video screens, pryotechnics, confetti, strobes and more.

Josh Becker is 6-foot-7.

Except at show time. Then he stands 6-foot-11. How does he account for the four-inch difference?

Big hair - teased, sprayed and gelled into some of the biggest big hair this side of the 1980s.

Becker is a keyboardist-guitarist for Cherry Pie, a Madison-Milwaukee band (www.cherrypie.org) that pays tribute to 1980s rock - the music, the hair and the experience.

Cherry Pie takes arena-size rock, with all of its confetti, pyrotechnics, big screens, strobes and fashion, and squeezes it into a nightclub setting. It's the return to the days when songs like Warrant's "Cherry Pie" weren't written to save the world, but to win over "Girls, Girls, Girls."

"I got sick of Pearl Jam and Nirvana in the 1990s," the group's lead guitarist, Dave Zettle, explains before a Cherry Pie show recently at Madison's Badger Bowl. "I wanted to get back to the days when rock music was fun."

Fun maybe, But being an '80s band in 2002 isn't easy.

Jasmyn, Nick and Dave The bigger the better sums up Cherry Pie's attitude about their hair. The group's stylist, Jasmyn, teases drummer Nick Bartolotta's hair to maximum height before the group's recent show at the Badger Bowl.

Memories of lyrics to songs like Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time" start to fade

Finding spandex to fit 30-something-year-old thighs is harder. And there is that problem with hairspray and fire - in any decade, it isn't advisable to mix the two.

Yet to follow Cherry Pie through a night is to experience a Clark Kent-to-Superman transformation. Each member of the band has a day job - ranging from graphic designer to shingle delivery driver and guitar instructor. They have families and responsibilities.

But when they get together as Cherry Pie, all they are responsible for is having a good time. To do that, they assume alter egos with names that make you blush.

Becker is "Luscious Rod" and Zettle answers to "Chet Manhood." They're joined by singer John "Johnny Spandex" Swenson, bassist Shane "Monstro Libido" Loy and drummer Nick "Jack Hammer" Bartolotta.

On any given night, it takes three and a half hours to transform the stage and band into the spectacle that fans have come to know as Cherry Pie.

Scott Scott Bollig, of Beaver Dam, has seen Cherry Pie several times. He says he is a fan of 1980s metal music and has purchased a guitar with hopes of joining a rock band someday.

The band and crew arrive at the Badger Bowl about 6 p.m.

Seven vehicles haul the equipment, and the crew includes a 22-year-old water boy, who is responsible for keeping the band hydrated and loading the pyrotechnics pods. Everyone but Jack Hammer has been burned at least once during a show.

As security arrives to monitor the growing crowd, the stage is draped in Cherry Pie banners, and adorned with a big screen, strobes and smoke machines. Final touches include hanging bras and beads over Hammer's drum kit. The sound check is loud.

It's in the dressing room, about 45 minutes before the 9:30 p.m. show time, that the band transformation takes place. The dressing room is small and Cherry Pie shares it with an empty salad bar and stacked beer barrels. Band members unpack their suitcases - Tightly laced leather pants, shiny shirts and sneakers.

"It looks like a girl's slumber party," Luscious Rod observes.

Chet Manhood is the calmest of the group as he strums an acoustic version of the BoDeans' "Closer to Free."

John, Dave, Nick, OJ, Shane and Josh Cherry Pie members gather for a huddle before their show at the Badger Bowl.

Cherry Pie's sexy stylist, Jasmyn, arrives in a rush and gets to work. She wears a short black miniskirt and sleeveless black T-shirt.

"If only my comb could talk," she teases. "The stories it could tell."

With her fingers flying, Jasmyn primps and pulls. It takes 20 minutes for her to generate maximum height with Jack Hammer's fine blond locks. She uses the "flip and tease" technique popular in the 1980s: Hammer flips his hair over his head and Jasmyn sprays the underside with 18-hour-hold hairspray, then tease it out for a fuller effect.

The other band members follow - except Monstro Libido, who has short hair hidden under an animal-print cowboy hat. Luscious Rod wears a headband that brings back memories of David Lee Roth.

"People think these are wigs, but it's our real hair," Rod brags.

Johnny Spandex brushes his teeth, does jumping jacks and warms up his vocal chords by singing to the salad bar. He pulls dozens of rubber bracelets over his wrists. Rod, Libido and Manhood wear tight leather pants. Only Hammer wears jeans, which are shredded.

"We've got armadillos in our pants," Rod jokes - one of the band's many references to Spinal Tap tonight.

At show time and with a recording of "Cherry Pie" playing in the background, the group emerges dressed to impress - 20 years ago.

The headbanging and explosions begin.

John Singer John "Johnny Spandex" Swenson plays along with some of Cherry Pie's pyrotechnics. Swenson once received second-degree burns during a Cherry Pie show, but finished the show.

Cherry Pie launches into Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." As fans pump their fists in time with the music, Cherry Pie rocks them like a hurricane and plays for the youth gone wild.

The bar is crowded, a testament to the band's popularity. Cherry Pie has been nominated for a Wisconsin Area Music Industry Award in the specialty/nostalgia category, and has opened for groups like Ratt and Kansas. This summer, they will perform with Night Ranger.

Tonight's 90-minute first set includes Great White's "Once Bitten Twice Shy," Poison's "Talk Dirty to Me," and Def Leppard's "Photograph."

Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" is delivered with a "Rocky" video in the background. A cameraman follows the band and provides live concert footage for the big screen. There is smoke and a cannon blast sends confetti into the crowd.

Ballads like Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and Journey's "Faithfully" bring out couple who recall their proms. The dances floor swarms with fans ages 21 to 51, chanting, "Cherry Pie!"

Hard rock fans like Scott Bollig, 31, of Beaver Dam break out their air guitar moves and sing and jam along with the band.

"I grew up on this music," Bollig says, "and they are really talented musicians."

Peter Kessler, 22, of Madison, wears a Cherry Pie T-shirt. Cherry Pie also sells lighters, which are perfect for "power ballads.

Ben and Josh Cherry Pie keyboardist-guitarist Josh Becker gives his son Ben, 6, a boost and smooch before Cherry Pie's sound check. Becker's family supports his big hair band habit and Becker's sons are already learning to play musical instruments.

During a break, Cherry Pie poses for photos with fans and recuperates in the dressing room. Spandex sucks on throat lozenges, which help keep him sounding like Steve Perry of Journey, and loads a streamer gun that will send a red ribbon of party streamer into the crowd during the second set.

The two-hour second set opens with Bon Jovi's "Lay Your Hands on Me" and Journey's "Separate Ways." The band also shows video footage of Spinal Tap and "The Three Stooges."

It all builds up to Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock."

By bar time, Cherry pie has finished rocking, and nowhere is that more obvious than their big hair, gone flat.

Four hours after having his hair teased and sprayed, Luscious Rod's hair is soaked with sweat. He's back to being 6-foot-7. He's Josh Becker, living in 2002, but knowing that the '80s will be back again.

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