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Kalamazoo’s First Rock n’ Roll Showband                                  

By: Tim Nycum    

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Never before had the smaller venues in Kalamazoo witnessed the type of pyrotechnics, lighting, special effects and dynamic sound that Bits ‘n Pieces presented, beginning in March of 1978.

We wanted to give our audiences more than just great music! Our vision was to bring a visually entertaining and exciting concert into the smaller clubs. Our loyal and faithful fans will attest that we accomplished just that!

During the summer of 1972, I (Tim Nycum) went to work for Larry Rolfe at Midwest Music in Kalamazoo. It was there that I met Mark Bass, a drum instructor who had recently returned from Boston’s Berkley School of Music. We started an inseparable friendship which created a ‘rhythmic relationship’ that remains to this day!

 

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Let’s go back to the summer of 1972. Our first organized musical group was called Meadows. At that time we were drawn to the acoustical ‘coffee House’ sound of the early 70s. Joining Mark and I were Bill Rix, who later became Bits n’ Pieces sound man extraordinaire and Gary Schwallie, who later passed away in the prime of his life.

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The following year brought much personal and musical growth as Mark, Bill and I were joined by one of the area’s premiere jazz guitarists, Dale Wills. Dale had worked with the likes of guitarist Bryce Roberson of Uncle Dirty/Sound Machine Studios, Charlie Wicks of Proco Sound and with the band called Jasmine Tea, among others.  Rainbow was born from this union. We started playing the local Kalamazoo venues while we spent the next year trying to keep up with Dale. Our musical abilities started to blossom as we added some jazz ‘chops’ to our playing techniques.

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Dale eventually moved on, and around 1974 or 1975 I had an opportunity to join my first working ‘house band,’ playing country rock. We were based north-east of Battle Creek. We called ourselves Rock Candy.  As a member of a band with a regular schedule, this helped me develop my playing and vocal skills. It was during this time that I became friends with Ray Bottomley, who later became co-founder of Bits n’ Pieces. Ray had great stage presence, which I admired very much. He could play guitar as well as keyboard, and he also sang and wrote music. We bonded immediately and our great friendship was born. It was during that time Mark Bass and I were temporarily separated, but that was not to last for long.

Then Ray moved on to play with a band called Larkspur in the Battle Creek area. Meanwhile, Mark and I got back together and formed a band called Sage with Steve Smith on lead guitar and Steve Beuhler on lead vocals, keyboards and drums. Then Mr. Bass and I switched instruments. It was amazing how much we grew musically that year. In addition, these instrumentation changes allowed us to variate the band’s sound. We primarily played the pubs and clubs in Battle Creek during 1976 and 1977. However, at that time Mark and I were growing restless. The other group members seemed content to perform at the level we were at. They didn’t recognize the potential for growth that Mark and I wanted to achieve.

 

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At that time I was still working at Midwest Music with Mark. We began talking about what we wanted to do with our musical careers and whether we wanted to continue with Sage, or if it was time to move on.

What happened next can only be explained as divine intervention.  I got a surprise visit from my old friend Ray Bottomley. His brother Ron was with him. Ron was great lead guitarist and front man. Ray and Ron had also become disenchanted with their current band named Larkspur.  So they came up with the idea of starting a new band which would highlight the talents of Ron’s vocally gifted wife, Jo. The only problem was, they needed a bassist and drummer and wondered if I knew of anyone who was available. So, as they say, the rest is history!

Both Bits n’ Pieces and Larkspur had contracts for playing New Year’s Eve of 1977. In December of 1977 practice began in earnest for the newly formed Bits n’ Pieces. Ray secured a two month long stint at the grandiose old Narrow Lake Ballroom, starting the first weekend of 1978. This turned out to be a wonderful place to ‘get our chops together’ in preparation for us to invade the clubs in Kalamazoo and beyond!

 

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Our launch was in Kalamazoo at The Astro Lounge-Continental Lanes.  We were truly amazed and humbled as we watched our popularity quickly grow.  Mark and I has sensed that we had not exactly ‘lit up’ any stage we had previously performed on.  However, we knew that this was going to become something very special, so we savored every minute as we eventually played at every club in Kalamazoo! It wasn’t long before we transitioned into full time musicians and each of us gave up our regular jobs.Joining us in this effort were our support crew consisting of Bill Rix, (audio),  Rod Jackson (lighting and special effects), Doug Merriman and Lois “Mom” Jackson (special effects and chief cook and bottle washer).

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The Walnut Room at Sunset Lanes became our home base. We were booked for months at a time, but we were ready for more! Ron Bottomley was a natural leader. Under his tutelage, we contacted ACA Booking Agency in Milwaukee and hit the road just after the release of our first single, Lonely Night/Voyage, which we recorded at Sound Machine Studios in Kalamazoo with the assistance of Bryce Roberson, a.k.a. “Uncle Dirty.” Bits 9

By that time we had already gone through several personnel changes. Jo Bottomley had been replaced with a longtime friend of Mark Bass. She was a Western Michigan University theater major cutie named Jill ‘Tinkerbell’ Halperin.  Then Ray Bottomley moved to Arkansas and was replaced by Gerry ‘Brillo’ Marks . Gerry left after a short stint to attend veterinarian school at Michigan State University. Then Tim ‘Banana’ Roberts replaced Gerry as the band began to travel for the first time. Our first stop was Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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Band Bio’s

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Tim Mitchell Nycum, A.K.A. “Thumper”

Bass, Guitar, Vocals

Founding Member: Years in Band:  1978-1982

Tim was born on April 3, 1952 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is the first son of James and Carolyn Nycum, who were both school teachers. Tim was exposed to music from the very start as Dad compiled a large collection of records which he loved to listen to. Mom was a member of both the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek Symphony for many years, as well as teaching piano and violin. In 1960 Tim and nineteen other elementary students from Kalamazoo County were invited to join the prestigious St. Luke’s Boys Choir. He also studied violin, piano and clarinet and played with the normal progression of ‘garage Bands’ in junior and high school. Tim was a member of several school choirs as well as Parchment High School Marching and Concert Bands.

After graduation Tim went to work for Larry Rolfe at Midwest Music, a local music store in Kalamazoo. It was there that Tim and Mark Bass met and formed an inseparable rhythm section. Many musical groups followed, including the three popular bands named Meadows, Rainbow, and Sage. Sometime between Rainbow and Sage, Tim was introduced to Ray Bottomley and they performed together with Rock Candy. Ray and Ron Bottomley came into Midwest Music looking for bass player and drummer that could hopefully sing. They left with Tim and Mark ‘in tow.’ This was the pinnacle and final musical accomplishment for ‘Thumper,’ at that time. Tim is very proud that of the nearly 800 shows they did, he did not miss one performance!

More recently, Tim returned to music after a 25 year hiatus. He played his last concert, ‘The Final Curtain,’ on August 7, 2010 with the friends he so dearly loves. Tim was also able to finish his solo album entitled Pickin’ up the Pieces with Thumper’s Friends, including his longtime friend, Brent McDonald.

www.youtube.com/bnpthumper      www.facebook.com/bitsnpieces

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Mark Bass, A.K.A. “Animal” 

Drums, Guitar, Keyboards, Bass, Vocals

Founding Member: Years in Band: 1978-1981

Mark was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, into a musical home. He was studying piano by seven, and began drumming at twelve. He played for the band and orchestra at Portage Northern High School, also playing for the musicals presented each spring. He joined his first rock band during his senior year. College experience included the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with Fred Buda. Along the way he began teaching privately, and was associated with Midwest Music Service in Kalamazoo for over eight years. This was where Mark met Tim Nycum, and the two embarked on a series of musical ventures, each building on the last, culminating with Bits ‘n’ Pieces in 1978.

Although he has done many things since, Mark still feels that Bits ‘n’ Pieces provided the ultimate encouragement and freedom to take on any desired challenge.

 

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Ron Bottomley,  A.K.A. “The Duck”

Guitar, Vocals

Founding Member: Years in Band: 1978-1981

I was born in Charlotte MI, but raised and schooled in central Illinois. I got my first guitar on my 13th birthday. Both sides of my family were musically inclined. Dad played a little guitar and harmonica, and mom played the piano and can sing. My aunts, uncles and cousins can all play something. The ones who can’t are great dancers.

I taught myself how to play by listening to the Ventures records; learning the bass, rhythm and lead parts to every song. When I was 16, a friend of my big brother Ray heard me play. He was older and in a group that needed a rhythm guitarist. After a lot of arm twisting my folks finally consented. Little did they know that for the next three years they would have to chaperone me because our group played in bars. We won a Battle of the Bands at the Illinois State Fair in 1964. First prize was two weeks in a recording studio (a subsidiary of Soft Records) in Macon, Georgia. So, we went there in the summer of 1965. We had nothing to record but they liked us and we ended up being their ‘studio band’ that summer. They booked us into Uncle Ned’s Whiskey-A-Go-Go in Macon. We recorded all day and played at the club all night. Uncle Sam decided he needed me in uniform instead of on stage, as I was about to get drafted. That entire October draft was going into the Marines, then to Viet Nam. I tried to enroll in every school I could find to avoid that, but it was the end of August and they were all filled up. So, I joined the Navy for four years to avoid the Marines. I ended up serving two tours in Viet Nam anyway, sometimes with the Marines. I kept my music up every chance I could. Following my discharge, I stayed in San Diego and played in a couple bands there.

In the mid -70s I was residing on Long Island in New York. I played in a couple lounge acts there. Following a divorce, I relocated to Oak Forest, Illinois. Every weekend I would drive to Michigan to play with my brother in a group he was with. My girlfriend from New York went with me and we later married. During the time we dated I did not know she could sing. Man, could she sing! She would come with me to play on the weekends and sometimes they would let her sing a song or two. She was a natural.

Brother Ray and I had tons of discussions about forming a band which featured my wife Jo. I never asked her if this was something she wanted to do. I don’t think I forced it on her, but maybe nudged her into it. She never resisted, so I didn’t give it any thought until now. Ray and I dreamed and schemed what we could do. He wasn’t going to move so we did, and we settled in Kalamazoo.

 

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Ray Bottomley, A.K.A. “Woodstock”

Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals

Founding Member: Years in Band: 1978

Assuming I am the ‘old man’ of the group I would appreciate a little respect. Just kidding! As Ron stated, “our family was musical on both sides.” (We obviously didn’t have a chance.) I was torn continually between sports, music, and college. Somehow I got away with that trio. This busy schedule allowed Ron to jump ahead of me musically. (He’s still the best.) I tried hard to catch up and always wanted to play with Ron. While Ron was in the Navy, I worked my way through college while teaching guitar. I still have ‘Blondie.’ I received a master’s degree and started teaching and coaching on the high school level. I got too old for scholastic sports, although I continued to play ball in city leagues and at age 50 we won the Arkansas State Softball Championship. I still enjoy lifting weights and running, which is a good time to pray and talk to the Lord. Among all this and also having a family, I somehow organized and played in more bands than I can even remember. Of course Bits ‘n’ Pieces was one of my last big adventures. They always put me at the back of the stage where I got to watch the show. Ron reminded me that I was on the road long before Bits ‘n’ Pieces went on the road as I had commuted to all the gigs. After the recession in Michigan in the ’80s, God moved me to Arkansas and saved my life in more ways than one.

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Jo Bottomley Lead Vocals Founding Member: Years in Band: 1978-1979

 

Bill Rix

Sound Director, Announcing

Founding Member: Years in Band: 1978-1981

 

Rod Jackson

Lighting Director, Visual Special FX, Flute

Founding Member: Years in Band:1978-1980

 

Doug Merriman

Followspot, Visual Special FX, Announcing, Comedy

Founding Member: Years in Band:1978-1980

Lois (Dontje) (Rix) (Jackson) Reist

Assistant Lighting

Founding Member: Years in Band:1978-1980

 

Gerry Marks

Keyboards, Drums, Vocals

Years in Band:1979  

 

Jill (Halperin)(Roberts) Weiss

Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Recorder, Hand Percussion, Puppets

Years in Band:1979-1980

 

Tim Roberts

Keyboards, Guitar, Banjo, Recorder, Vocals

Years in Band:1979-1980

 

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Mark Ramsey, A.K.A. “Zoot”

Keyboards, Alto Saxophone, Vocals

Years in Band: 1980-1981

“Mark always knew he would end up in music, as he worked the lonely night shift in the echoing, empty halls of the bean cannery…” Now that will never be the opening line in my great American novel-turned-pamphlet, but my story would go something like this: started music lessons at 6; played county fairs/4H festivals/talent shows with my brother and sisters in the Ramsey Ragtime Band; heavily involved in school and college music activities; went to Interlochen twice and WMU composers camp twice; started gigging out of school; did studio and video soundtrack work; played as a single and in duets and with about a dozen bands, including The ArticiansSo WhatFull HouseSapphireFour GrandTop SecretRock Salad, and of course the best rock ‘n’ roll show band ever, Bits ‘n’ Pieces!

Kathy Thompson-Rix

Followspot 

Years in Band: 1980

 

David Wrate, A.K.A. “Rat”

Lighting Director, Followspot, Repair Specialist

Years in Band: 1980-1981  

 

Tony Trombo

Drums, Vocals

Years in Band: 1981

 

Band Member Timeline

Ron          

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appearance schedule A

appearance scheduleB

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The Agency Merry-Go-Round

1000 mile gig- to- gig trips, broken promises, misrepresentation, ignoring our contract rider and scheduling gaps were just some of the weekly occurrences that added pressure and made being on the road more difficult than any of us had ever imagined. We tried several different agencies but alas, they all seemed to “play the same tune,” just in a different key.

Recordings

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30 Years Later  Reunion and New BeginningBits 21

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Benefit and Charity Concerts

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Documentary Movie

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To Order:    www.showbandthemovie.com

This Documentary is both heartwarming and tragic. In the end you will be rooting for a band called BITS ‘N’ PIECES.

FS ~ 4/7/2014

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Local Spins Artist Spotlights

The seasoned blues, soul and authenticity of West Michigan’s Big Boss Blues: The Local Spins Artist Spotlight

  • by
  • April 2, 2014

With decades of professional musicianship in its ranks, the two-year-old Big Boss Blues has quickly made its mark on the region’s blues scene. (Podcast, video)

Honest, Earthy, Genuine: Big Boss Blues on Local Spins Live (Photo/Anna Sink)

Honest, Earthy, Genuine: Big Boss Blues on Local Spins Live (Photo/Anna Sink)

 

Big Boss Blues boasts a resume unlike any other on West Michigan’s blues scene.

For decades, Charles “River City Slim” Schantz has ignited Grand Rapids-area audiences with his impeccable guitar work, inspired by post-war Chicago blues, time spent in the Windy City and stints with Roberta Bradley, Backbone and others.

Big Boss Blues Trio: From left, Bill LaValley, Joe Ferguson and Charles Schantz. (Photo/Anna Sink)

Big Boss Blues Trio: From left, Bill LaValley, Joe Ferguson and Charles Schantz. (Photo/Anna Sink)

The band’s chief songwriter, bassist Bill LaValley – initially trained as a trumpet player – helped assemble and propel well-known Michigan blues outfits Blue Moon and the highly acclaimed BMF Band, based in Kalamazoo.

Drummer Eric Busch of Kalamazoo has studied classical and jazz percussion, performed at Lincoln Center and Birdland with jazz ensembles, played the International Blues Competition with the BMF Band, and is currently finishing up a bachelor’s degree in music therapy.

Veteran harmonica player and singer Joe Ferguson, of Battle Creek, formerly of the Loaded Dice Band, Unleashed Band and Smokestack Lightnin’, has opened for the likes of the Kinsey Report and Buddy Guy.

TALENT, PROFESSIONALISM AND PLAYING ONLY ‘GOOD SONGS’

“The talent is there, the professionalism,” LaValley says. “These guys are ready for whatever I throw at them. We might play a museum or arts council one minute, then Billy’s Lounge in Grand Rapids with a giant P.A. (system). When I do booking, I’m looking for people who might appreciate blues wherever it is.”

On Wednesday, Schantz, LaValley and Ferguson filled the studios of News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) with that talent, performing an acoustic version of an original song, “Treat Me Like a King,” on Local Spins Live. Listen to a podcast of the entire show here, with a video of their performance below.

LaValley pressed Big Boss Blues into service in 2012, after leaving the BMF Band and getting asked to join Schantz and others for occasional basement jams. He recognized the potential of the seasoned players “and started booking gigs before we had three sets” of material, LaValley says. “That lit the fire under everybody.”

Big Boss Blues at Rockford Brewing (Photo/Local Spins)

Big Boss Blues playing Rockford Brewing Co. (Photo/Local Spins)

Since then, it’s been full steam ahead: Big Boss Blues rapidly established itself as a regional blues force, and now performs seven to nine times per month at venues across West Michigan.

The band produced a five-track demo last year at Broadside Recording in Kalamazoo, with plans for recording a full-length album of original songs written by LaValley.

The band produced a five-track demo last year at Broadside Recording in Kalamazoo, with plans for recording a full-length album of original songs written by LaValley.

Influenced by the classic blues of the legendary Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King and Little Walter, the group boasts a refreshing versatility that allows them delve into R&B tunes and their own material for full-bore, crank-it-up sets, not to mention playing laid-back trio shows.

BLUES ‘WITH A LITTLE SOUL AND R&B’

“It’s a blues band with a little soul and R&B mixed in for good flavor,” says LaValley, whose songs include hints of funk and rock.

Adds Schantz, who also sings: “We only play good songs. We are a blues band, but we don’t pretend to have any sort of authority in defining what’s blues and what’s not. We do mostly blues, but certainly American R&B is influenced by the blues and we do some of that, too. … We still have the sensitivity of swinging old blues with a more modern sound.”

Official Sponsor of the Local Spins Artist Spotlight

Official Sponsor of the Local Spins Artist Spotlight

For Schantz – whose son, Karl, plays drums for Grand Rapids’ Jim Shaneberger Band – Big Boss Blues represents another step in a musical journey that began when he fell in love with the blues as a drum-playing teenager in the late 1960s.

“There’s something so authentic about it,” he insists. “There’s an honesty, an earthiness, a genuineness … that I’d probably never heard in music before.”

Big Boss Blues plays New Holland Brewing in downtown Holland at 10 p.m. Friday, Saugatuck Brewing Co. in Douglas at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Gun Lake Casino in Wayland at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Later this month, the band plays Rockford Brewing Co. in Rockford at 8 p.m. April 11, Malarky’s in Grand Rapids on April 12 and LB’s Lounge in the Louis Benton Steakhouse in downtown Grand Rapids at 8 p.m. April 18.

For more about the band and to sample more of its music, visit its ReverbNation website.

 

Email John Sinkevics at jsinkevics@gmail.com.
Copyright 2014, Spins on Music

FS ~ 4/7/2014

 

2 Responses to HOME

  1. Jerry Brown says:

    Very Cool.

  2. Tim Nycum says:

    On behalf of the members of Bits ‘n’ Pieces, we wish to thank Kim Rush and Doug Taylor for including us on their website. We are honored to be here with our peers and many others who we have admired over the years!

    Thank-you!

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