Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

John Curran & Renegade


Evan Gillespie

Whatzup Features Writer

Published November 5, 1998

Heads Up! This article is 24 years old.

The ambitions of the members of Renegade are simple. Ask any one of the guys in the band what he’d like to see happen, and each one will tell you the same thing.

“I’d like this to be my full-time job.”

No one really mentions a desire to get a recording contract, sell millions of records and play to sold-out crowds at football stadiums around the world, but that goes without saying. Just look at lead singer John Curran, with his bold shirt and headset mic, and it’s obvious what kind of career Renegade would like to have. It’s the kind of career that has been epitomized by a guy whose name begins with a G, and it’s a career without limits.

In the meantime, though, the six members of Renegade would be happy to simply be able to make a living playing music.

Curran put the band together last year by putting ads in the paper and trying to collect musicians who could back him up in his quest to play the kind of country music that he loved to play (and write). He ended up finding a group of musicians from a wide geographical area who shared his musical vision. More importantly, the men shared the same philosophy of what the band should be, and Renegade was born.

Drummer Keith Byers was born and raised in Iowa, where he got an early start playing country music. His father was a recording artist who performed on the Grand Ol’ Opry, and Byers took full advantage of the influence from the start; he’s been playing since 1968.

Byers moved to Fort Wayne in December of 1997, and he immediately began searching for an outlet for his musical urges. He frequented music stores in an attempt to find a band gig, but it wasn’t until he picked up a copy of WhatzUp that he found what he was looking for. A new band was looking for a drummer, and once he and Curran got together, they agreed that he was the drummer Renegade needed.

Guitarist Terry Petre didn’t have to venture quite so far from home to find his place in Renegade. He’d been playing in classic rock bands around his hometown of Angola since he was a teenager, and when he saw an ad in Peddler’s Post for a new band that needed a guitarist (Curran covered all the bases in his search), he jumped at the opportunity. His sister-in-law played country music, and Petre was no stranger to the new country music – music that was closer to rock than traditonal country, with a strong beat and “a kick in it.”

The rest of Renegade fell into place just as easily. Keyboardist John Carpenter, a native of New Haven, has been playing since he was in the sixth grade, and Payne, Ohio’s Russ Pierce has been a musician since he played guitar in his dad’s band when he was a kid. Huntington’s George Hebert has been playing bass and teaching music for over 26 years. All the players agreed not only with Curran’s desire to play rockin’ country music, but also with his goal of creating a band that was professional and dedicated to providing a good show for its audiences. They wanted Renegade to be a “people band,” not just a music act that was focused on hitting the Big Time.

It was a philosophy that got its start when Curran won a songwriting and talent competition that provided him with studio recording time, a video shoot and the opportunity to embark on a tour. From the beginning, Curran was skeptical of the deal.

“It didn’t feel comfortable to just drop everybody and go,” he remembers. “I was just not real comfortable with it.”

Curran decided not to put his trust in a music industry that didn’t seem to be too concerned with him as an individual performer. He chose to stay home and put together his own band and take his shot at making it on his own. That’s where the newspaper ads came in, and that was the genesis of Renegade.

With the band in place, it was time to get down to the business of making music. The first step was developing a live show that would build a fan base and keep crowds coming back for more. That show is built around Curran’s energy; he dances and roams through the crowd, making sure that the audience is as much a part of the show as the band is. He backs it up with a vocal style that is strong ã and a little more reminiscent of Travis Tritt than Garth Brooks.

The band was so successful in putting together a show that it gained them not only a devoted group of fans, but a manager as well. When Sandy Thieme caught the band at the Rock-N-Horse, she was hooked. She began helping Curran promote the band, and he eventually asked her to be Renegade’s official manager. Since then she’s combined the job with her already-established role as the band’s No. 1 fan, telling anyone who will listen about the virtues of Renegade.

The band is currently working on the next step in its trip to the top. They’ve been in the studio at Sweetwater Sound, putting together a CD of original tunes that Curran and the band have been working on for quite some time. Once the CD is done (sometime early next year), the band will use it as a demo to get booked into larger clubs in larger cities around the region. Expansion into markets like Toledo and Indianapolis is part of a plan for controlled growth, and Curran hopes that the increased exposure will allow Renegade to make more contacts and put their music in front of the right people.

Will the plan pay off? Will Renegade become the next superstar country act? Only time will tell, but Byers is cautiously optimistic.

“Stranger things have happened,” he offers. “Right now, we just want to get some time together under our belts.”

Petre agrees.

“For now, we’ll just keep pluggin’ away.”

Curran, like everyone else in the band, remains focused on a modest goal.

“I’d like to eliminate punching the clock.”

That just might be the key that lets Renegade beat the odds: take it all one step at a time.

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