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The heart of rock n’ roll, as Huey Lewis once so sagely put it, is still beating, and we can thank bands like the newly minted Heartbeat City for that fact. Named for frontman Andy Simmons’ favorite Cars album, this quintet is a supergroup of sorts, whose members can boast playing time with local favorites Fawn Liebowitz, The Joneses, The Red Belly Boys, The Jury and The Agency, just to name five.
The four male members – Tim Boerger (drums), Simmons (vocals, guitars and keys), Brad Kuhns (bass) and Steve Wright (lead guitar) – came together in September, but Simmons felt that their sound wasn’t quite complete. (Incidentally, Simmons has been in 12 bands since his first foray into the Fort Wayne music scene with No Velcro in the 80s, so he should know what he’s talking about.)
Enter Jill Buckel, a friend of Simmons’ from way back who’d decided to retire from the music scene when her father and singing partner, Steve Jugloff of Pop ‘N’ Fresh, became ill. It was going to take something really special to lure Buckel back to the stage and Heartbeat City had all the right stuff: veteran musicians as passionate as they were talented and the kind of song list Buckel could believe in.
“I think if we had a tagline it would be, ‘Oh my God, I have that on 45,’” Buckel said in a recent interview.
“Jill and I have the same music taste,” Simmons said. “I asked her to send me 10 songs she’d like to do with the band, and we agreed on almost everything. It doesn’t hurt that she can share singing duties with me. I’m 43 years old. I don’t want to sing all night by myself anymore.”
The fivesome rehearsed for the first time in Wright’s mom’s basement this February, a day after Buckel had surgery to donate a kidney to her ailing father.
“She comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, I just lost a kidney. Is that gonna be a problem?’” Simmons said. “Turns out it really wasn’t.”
The band has been perfecting their versions of more than 40 covers from the likes of, of course, the Cars, as well Blondie, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Billy Joel, Crowded House, Queen and the afore-mentioned Huey Lewis. No originals for Heartbeat City, and no plans to enter that territory anytime soon.
“I did the original thing a long time ago, but you know what? I’m a realist,” Simmons said. “If you make it big as an original band out of Fort Wayne it’s an act of God. We’re in this for the fun, but we’re choosy about the songs we do. I’ve had people tell me, ‘You ought to do Sean Cassidy,’ and I’ve had to punch them. There’s a limit, people. We want people to say, ‘Wow, I forgot about that song’ and, when they hear us play it, remember why they loved it in the first place.”
Your first chance to feel that love will be Friday, April 23 when Heartbeat City share the stage with The Beef Manhattans and Susan and Paul Stephens (Fawn Liebowitz) as part of a fundraising event for Mike Conley’s run at an Allen County Council seat.
Simmons and Conley have known each other for years, and so even though half of Heartbeat City pumps blue and half pumps red, they’re all happy to play for Conley’s Democratic bid.
“Mike is just a great guy,” Simmons said. “He’s the kind of person who can bring people from all sides together and get things done.”
The members of Heartbeat City can relate. They’ve only been together two months, but already they have a six-song demo and a gig, not to mention a mission statement.
“We’re all perfectionists,” Buckel said. “We don’t want to get up on stage unless we know the song backwards and forwards. We want to be able to play that tune in our sleep.”