The Music’s No Joke
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They’re a self-described biker band with a funny name, a name that’s known not just by the local following they’ve built up over the last four years, but across the country and in far-flung corners of the world. They’re Big Dick and the Penetrators, and they’re here to rock.
“We’re just a local group of guys that want to…? play rock n’ roll,” says lead guitarist and co-founder “Smokin'” Joe Snyder. “We’re not looking for a record contarct or any of that stuff.”
Of course with a name like that – a double entendre, as Snyder puts it – they’ve gained more than their share of publicity and notoriety. But the name isn’t what’s earned them a local following or a regular schedule of gigs. Those have been won through a combination of hard work, persistence, musicianship, crowd-pleasing tunes and good old fashioned professionalism.
The band – and its famous moniker – traces its origins to a motorcycle club known as the Fort Wayne Escorts. Snyder and co-founding guitarist “Big Dick” Joe Weber were both members when, in 2000, a fellow member was paralyzed from the neck down in a motorcycle accident. The victim had no insurance, so the club organized a fundraising benefit to defray his expenses. Weber and Snyder formed a one-off band, sans singer, and performed at the benefit as an instrumental band. The following year they were asked back. The organizers were putting together T-shirts for the benefits and, when asked what band name they should put on the shirt, Weber said, jokingly, “Big Dick and the Penetrators.”
The name stuck, and the band keeps on keeping on, in spite of the occasional controversy and some lineup shifts. The controversies have been negligible – they usually come in the form of complaints from seeing the name on billboards advertising an upcoming show, according to Snyder, and they’re more common when they play smaller towns than when they play the Fort.
“We’re not real finicky on the name. If you want to call us BDP or call us Big D and the Penetrators, or whatever, that’s fine,” says Snyder. “But when we play smaller towns, we’ve had people say they didn’t like the billboard and it’s the name. It’s all, I guess, as dirty as they want to make it. But that conflict also generates publicity or a newspaper article and it makes people come out to the bars to see what it’s all about.”
The notoriety doesn’t just come from small Indiana towns. The band earns a good deal of money not just on shows, but on T-shirt sales (it’s how they paid for their P.A. system) and they’ve had sales from as far away as Germany and the Netherlands.
As for the type of music they play, their selection is diverse, but its roots are in classic rock. Any given set can yield songs from acts as diverse as Led Zeppelin, Muddy Waters, Brooks and Dunn and Cheap Trick.
One might assume that, given their name, the band would be hyper-masculine, but they’re one of the few all-male bands around who will tackle material from female-fronted bands like Heart (“Barracuda”) and Fleetwood Mac (“Go Your Own Way.”).
“If you want to get somebody dancing, we pull out ‘Mustang Sally,'” says Snyder. “We close up almost every show with a 12-minute- long version of ‘Free Bird.’ It’s pretty much at the end of the show and when I get into my solo, I walk into the crowd, that kind of thing.”
While Snyder and other band members are known to move out into the crowd, the crowd also gets involved. Besides singing along and dancing, fans have been known to jump up on stage to share the mic for awhile.
“Some of the bikers and people like to express themselves; a lot of times it’s taking their clothes off. We get some of that, and we get some people who get up on stage,” says Snyder. ” It can be a distraction. Sometimes they do get overzealous, and we’ve had people get knocked out from being too close to the monitor, end up with a knot on their head the size of a golf ball and then just continue to dance. We’re paid to be the entertainment, but a lot of times the crowd entertains us.”
The current lineup – together for about two years – is comprised of Snyder and Weber along with bassist/vocalist Brad “B-Rad” Boxell and drummer David Trevino. Their website also lists their soundman, Mikael Mowry whose presence on the bill is a testament to both the BDP’s local following and their beneficence. Mowry was a regular at their shows, nearly always showing up, and the band eventually decided to employ him to run their P.A.
“We figured, he comes to every gig, we might as well put him to work and pay him for it too,” said Snyder, “because even though we have our own PA, we have to have someone to operate it.”
In the end, love it or hate it, the band’s name has a longstanding place in the local music scene. Even when they’ve had lineup shifts, they’ve been able to maintain their consistent schedule of gigs. Their name may raise some eyebrows, but it’s their work ethic, camaraderie and focus on the music that’s kept them going for 14 years.
“We are a serious rock n’ roll band. We’ve been around for a long time because of the way that we conduct ourselves and what we put out,” Snyder said. “We appreciate the Fort Wayne audience and supporting live local music.”