Spike and the Bulldogs
Heads Up! This article is 9 years old.
Spike and the Bulldogs have been one of the area’s most popular and successful bands for several years. The band has won the whatzup Reader’s Poll Whammy Award for Best Oldies Performer ever since the category was invented and are a highly sought-after attraction for festivals, fairs, weddings, class reunions and corporate events. They even have their own cruise. But, more on that later. According Val Asay, the founding and only original member still in the band, Spike and the Bulldogs came about by accident.
“I started my first band when I was a sophomore in high school,” Asay said in a recent interview. The band that is now Spike and the Bulldogs started out as a duo that morphed into a four-piece as keyboards, guitar and drums were added. “We would play a little bit of everything from country to Top 40 during the shows. Then, for the last set of the night, we would change clothes and become Spike and the Bulldogs, playing early 60s music,” Asay recalled.
“One day this guy called and wanted to book us for a dance. But he didn’t want us to play our usual sets; he wanted us to do the whole night as Spike and the Bulldogs. It went so well that we realized we might have stumbled on to something. We said ‘let’s run with it,’ and we dropped everything else off the set lists and focused on what we do now.”
Spike and the Bulldogs – whose lineup now consists of Asay, Wayne Neukom, Bernie Stone, Jim Heimann, Bob Zmysloni and Kenny Taylor – play a specific era of music, songs from 1955-1965. But that doesn’t necessarily limit them. With a pirate’s treasure chest of songs from the likes of Buddy Holly, The Beach Boys, Bill Haley, The Dave Clark Five, The Righteous Brothers, Bobby Darin and many more to choose from, Spike and the Bulldogs can usually find something to interest just about everybody.
Asay says the definition of the era of music they play is what makes the band stand out. “We’ve stayed in that genre simply because no one else is doing it,” Asay said. “Every (nostalgia) band does a couple of the songs we do, but no one sticks to the era we do. That’s what makes us unique. If we do other songs from other eras, then we become just like everyone else.”
The summer festival season and its opportunities to play family friendly venues is a busy time for the band. “We appeal to a wide range of people, so we are perfect for these events. The songs we play are still being used in commercials and TV shows, so most people are familiar with them.” And there’s nothing offensive about the songs that might turn people off. “It’s good, clean rock n’ roll.”
Asay seemed particularly excited about the direction the band is headed with its newest member, Fort Wayne guitarist Kenny Taylor.
“Kenny joining the band was a nice addition for us,” Asay said. “He obviously brings a lot of experience to the table, and he fits right in. He already had a real grasp of the genre of music and was able to get up to speed fairly quickly. Some of the songs we play with him sound like he has been playing them for years with us. I think people are going to be excited when they see and hear him play with us this year.”
As you might guess, with 27 years under his belt as the frontman for Spike and the Bulldogs, Asay has a lot of stories he could tell. Opening for The Beach Boys is a highlight of his career, as is opening for Chubby Checker and Mike Smith of The Dave Clark Five. Asay remembers Smith as a “a great guy,” adding that “he sat and talked with us for a long time.”
The band also was asked to play a private party at John Mellencamp’s house during the Indianapolis 500 a few years ago. “We were a bit nervous about that one,” Asay said. “His manager said you never knew who might show up at one of these parties. Bob Dylan had been there before” as well as other celebrities. The gig went off well, though they ended up playing an abbreviated set.
“We played for about an hour, but he (Mellencamp) had three of the guys from his original band there at the party and they had us stop playing so they could do five or six songs together, using our equipment. The neighbors complained, though, and they shut it down, unfortunately.”
Then there’s that cruise. The Spike and the Bulldogs Cruise has been taking place for 17 years now. We’re not talking pontoon boats on Lake Erie here. This cruise navigates the waters of the Caribbean and takes place on a major cruise ship, with Spike and the Bulldogs as the feature attraction. “A member of a travel agency saw us play at a function at Lake James several years ago,” Asay said, “and she approached us and asked whether we would be interested in playing a cruise ship. She had some inside information about playing as a guest artist. The cruise organizers required us to submit a video; we did that and we got the gig. We publicized it and a number of people who follow the band thought it was a great idea for a vacation. Last year we had about 200 people who booked their cruise through us, and we have had as many as 300.”
The 2014 Spike and the Bulldogs Cruise, booked through Travel Leaders and running Feb. 4-13, will be Asay’s last.
“I’m currently trying to sell my house so I can move back West, which is where I grew up. My kids and grandkids are there, so we are going to go as soon as we can.”
Does this mark the end of Spike and the Bulldogs, then? Asay doesn’t think so.
“I’m sure the band will continue on after I leave. They won’t be called Spike and the Bulldogs. Maybe they’ll just be called The Bulldog Band or something like that. A few weeks ago [after Asay fell ill] they did a show without me, and they did very well. There are a lot of strong voices in that band. I’m sure they’ll be fine.”