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Born and raised in Fort Wayne, Richard Reprogle knew from an early age that he wanted a career in music. In fact, it was the only thing he ever wanted.
“I was always pulled toward music. I was in the third grade the first time I sang in front of people, and since then I was fixated. I was kind of a clown in school, but I always got A’s in music classes. It was the one time I would impress the teachers and open their eyes.”
In the years since then, Reprogle has accomplished what he set out to do, and he has become an instrumental figure in the Fort Wayne area through not only performance but as a sound engineer at Columbia Street West for the last 25 years. He’s happily been involved “in all aspects of music” over the years, but it was his work on behalf of local musicians through the Midwest Original Music Showcase (MOMS) which helped him earn his Whammy Award, now named the Stan Liddell Award.
The idea for MOMS came through his own experiences playing with bands in the 1980s. He began to see a need to promote more original music for the growing legions of area bands and performers.
“I was in all-cover bands in the 80s, and there really wasn’t an avenue for original music at that time. There may have been some underground places, but there was no interest in most of the clubs at that time. The Chronics were one of the few bands who were performing originals, and then a few others started to do it. By the 90s it just felt like there were other people who had the same passion for it that I did, and it just seemed the right time to do something with it.”
Using the Columbia Street stage and taking advantage of the midweek openings, Reprogle began hosting Tuesday night MOMS performances. He was also hosting a radio show at the time, a Sunday evening forum for local music. That weekend show helped promote the upcoming weekday performance, and soon he was running sound for a lot of area bands who were on their way up like The Why Store. He also realized that some of the local talent was on par with bands from all over the country.
“There was such diverse talent at that time – the Chronics, Skavossas, Strut Train, the Blue Moon Boys. There were a lot of bands trying to become pros at that point, and I would see them perform and realize that they play above some of the national acts that came into Columbia Street. I was really proud of the bands we had playing there.”
Reprogle credits the quality of local music programs – particularly at Homestead and North Side – with providing the city with a rich pool of talent, and he was happy to give them an outlet to show their skills. He realized as he prepared for MOMS in 1996 that there wasn’t really anything like it around the country.
“I was starting the radio show, and I was planning MOMS and looked around for something like it that might already be happening, something we could copy here. But there wasn’t anything like it anywhere.
“Things just started to all converge around the same time. That was when whatzup started up, and there were all these bands from all genres of music here in Fort Wayne. It wasn’t like there was just one style to offer – there was ska, jazz, hard rock, hip hop, punk, country. I wasn’t trying to put my fingerprint on it and limit it to just the kinds of music I liked. And the audiences were really into it. No one was yelling ‘Freebird’ at these shows. We gave the stage to these bands on Tuesday through Thursday, and I really protected that.”
Reprogle has had his share of success working with artists of national renown, too, having worked with many of the great blues musicians and having impressed the likes of Rob Thomas when Matchbox 20 played here, as they first hit big almost 20 years ago. He also still enjoys playing music and is currently performing with friend David Pelz in a duo which performs mostly covers of some classic tunes.
“We only have a few originals, so we mostly do covers of early Beatles stuff, 60s pop, the Everly Brothers, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Johnny Cash, some hillbilly stuff.”
He’s also busy helping local organizations with their musical needs, helping the Saint Francis soup kitchen to book musical performances and working as technical director for Fort Wayne Cultural Affairs.
“This kind of stuff doesn’t translate into a really great lifestyle,” Reprogle admits. “But I get to do what I enjoy doing, and I like to help out.”
Money has never been his motivation, and he still looks ahead to ways to help build interest in local bands. He has worked as sound engineer for all 10 whatzup Battle of the Band competitions, and he keeps looking for groups to bring to Columbia Street West, including a September 2013 show which he hopes will help bring bank one of his favorite efforts.
“Elephants in Mud are performing, and I think that might be a good way to reintroduce MOMS again. It lasted for about 13 years before it kind of fizzled out, but I really think it might be time to start doing it again.”
Winning his special Whammy was important to him, and he admits that now it might mean even more to him than it did at the time.
“Sharon Rossi just passed away not that long ago, and she was a dear friend. She was the one who presented the award to me, and I think that makes it even more special to me now. I was receiving a lot of accolades at the time, but I really want it to translate into more interest in original music. I think we can do it again.”