“Three chords and a cloud of dust. Unadulterated rock and roll,” is how Immortal Winos of Soul songwriter/guitar player Kevin “Chopper” Peshkopia describes his band. Aside from a great name, the Winos were/are a seriously rowdy, kick-shit-up Detroit rock ’n’ roll band steeped in (truthfully) Let It Bleed-era Stones, pre-Diet Pepsi Ray Charles and the sound of Motown.
In 1998, the Winos had a deal with Sue Summers’ Detroit-based Static Records, were a major draw in and outside of the 313, and had their own recording studio on Eight Mile, benevolently dubbed Hitsville North. The Winos rocked hard, partied harder and burned just about every local bridge they could. The town loved ’em and hated ’em; when band members started going their separate ways, the city tried to forget about them.
One hitch, they are the Immortal Winos of Soul. Well, sort of. See, after numerous lineup changes — and because the current bassist is moving to New Jersey — the Winos have been preparing for what is to be their final show/reunion ever.
“It’s going to be a going-away party,” explains band frontman and guitarist, Dave Uricek. “And because I don’t want to teach anybody else the songs, it’s going to be the last official Winos gig.”
When they started in 1994, after placing a local musicians-wanted ad, the band was keen on getting down in a classic Motown style. “The ad [to start the band] said something about James Jamerson, and that’s just what I had in mind … to ape a bunch of soul music,” remembers Uricek.
Uricek, the semi-balding guitar-store geek, who plays more banjo than guitar these days, took on frontman duties, while bassist Verge (aka Kevin Stripling, now of the Gypsy Strings and the Scott Harrison Trio) laid down the sound that defined some of the band’s best moments. The much-storied Verge is the kind of guy who’ll kiss your girlfriend’s hand and comment on how stunning she looks every time he sees her. As annoying as that can be, it’s that playboy personality that somehow gave rise to the classic, rhythmically funky Winos sound. Those rhythmic breakdowns peak on their sophomore release, 1999’s Live at The Stone House.
The disc captures the band’s nuanced brand of basic rock ’n’ roll well. Sky-gorging guitar solos are nowhere in the mix. It’s that agreement on a collective groove — not the emphasis on one standout performer — that makes the Winos great.
They’ve got something that most white-boy soul fakers are simply lacking: the ability to make you lose your inhibitions and simply dance.
From an entertainment and a technical/songwriting perspective, many of the Winos songs are really all about dancing. “It’s a good groove and the girls do their little sway thing,” says guitarist/songwriter Chopper.
In the late ’90s the band had chicks dancing wherever it went. Detroit to Chicago to Toronto and beyond it played to sold-out crowds. During its prime, the band released two CDs (the first being 1998’s Buddhafull) and appeared on the Static Records’ Iggy tribute Pop O.D.: The Songs of Iggy Pop, offering a bang-up rendition of Pop’s “Five Foot One.”
Aside from the studio work, the Winos were a serious working-class band and would often gig seven nights a week. During their run at the top of the Detroit rock ladder they were nominated for several Detroit Music Awards. Yet their only nod was a 1999 award for best band name. In classic Winos fashion, Uricek, who accepted the award from novelist Elmore Leonard, approached the podium three sheets to the wind with a beer in hand. He made some slurred threat about dropping his pants. The audience was, for the most part, less than impressed.
The Winos couldn’t really call themselves Winos if there wasn’t some sort of revelry involved. As expected, they tried hard to live up to their own name and rep. They succeeded. Said party lasted for several years, but in the end it was too much — too much drug use, house-burning and car-wrecking going at Hitsville North for the band to ever really record much of anything. Raucous behavior followed them at gigs too. Beer cooler piss-fests and dressing room smash-ups became standard fare at a number of their shows. Think Behind the Music minus the rock-star circumstances.
Around ’99, the landlord of Hitsville North had had enough. At one point he started tearing down the building in an effort to get the band to vacate. Local venues grew tired of the band’s antics and stopped booking them.
Lack of work and band feuding caused Stripling and drummer Matt Rost to bail. (Rost currently plays with the hard-rocking Muggs and Colic.) Lineup changes came fast and frantic. One notable Winos gig at the Majestic Theatre saw the MC5’s Dennis Thompson take over the drum stool for a night.
The latest Winos lineup includes drummer Ken Krego and prodigious stripclub D.J. Ross Barkay — who insists on being called R.B. Suave — on bass. Chopper and Uricek round out the quartet.
For this last gig though, the whole band — including Rost and Stripling — plans on jamming in remembrance of past glories, blown opportunities and debauched times. And the logical venue is, of course, the Stone House, the low-rent bar and grill that was once the Winos’ main turf. The bar is also, hands down, one of the coolest dive bars in Detroit. Just after Prohibition the place was a bordello. It was once a speakeasy operated by Detroit’s own Purple Gang, and where Sinatra would hang when he was in town, or so it’s said. It is a fave drinking hole of local bikers and State Fair carneys. In other words, all the freaks you could ever hope to mix with can be found at the Stone. It’s a great time, and a Stone House night with the Immortal Winos of Soul is part of doing time in Detroit.
See the Immortal Winos of Soul finale on Thursday, March 25, at the Stone House (19803 Ralston, Detroit). Call 313-892-0125 for info.Adam Stanfel is a freelance writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org