On Saturday, October 18 a remarkable anniversary will be celebrated. It isn’t often that a band lasts 30 years, and it’s even more unlikely for a local band to endure that long, but this month marks the beginning of one of the most reliably popular bands in Fort Wayne, the Junk Yard Band.The origins of the band go back even earlier than its official launch in 1978. The core of the band, Dale Pequignot and Mike Hockaday, were Northwood Middle School teachers who discovered a mutual love for and history with music, having both played in bands and performed locally since they were kids. Their performing days were temporarily on hold as they entered the teaching profession, however, with Pequignot becoming the school’s art teacher and Hockaday teaching math. But a friendship developed, and from that an opportunity to renew their love of music was born.
“The school was having a 50s/60s day and all the kids were dressing up in clothes from that era,” says Hockaday. “And we performed music that day. We were young – it was my first year teaching – and the kids weren’t that much younger than we were, so it worked.”
That was 1975, and by that time nostalgia for the 50s and early 60s was rampant, thanks in no small part to the popularity of films like American Graffiti and television series like “Happy Days.” Performing classic hits of early rock n’ roll suited Pequignot and Hockaday, and they eventually joined with Bob Sweigert and Dave Patton to form a band which would focus on the great music of rock, which by the late 70s was an increasingly unusual effort. At the height of the disco era, the newly formed band was decidedly swimming against the tide.
“You couldn’t even find rock music on the radio anymore,” says Pequignot. “We started before WXKE was even around, and we couldn’t hear the kind of music we wanted to hear anymore.”
The unnamed band booked what was then called Pelz Hall on Freeman Street, a reception facility where they could play for their friends and coworkers a couple times a year. The hall’s immediate environment, located near a junk yard, ultimately gave the band its name, though it was one applied to it by their audience rather than the band itself. Though none of the musicians were especially partial to the moniker, it stuck, giving the Junk Yard Band their distinctive brand.
But just as distinctive has been the music they have played and the energy and enthusiasm with which they have performed it. As their reputation began to grow beyond a devoted core of fellow teachers and loyal friends, their bookings expanded to include other venues and other towns, making the Junk Yard Band one of Fort Wayne’s most popular musical acts. The foursome of Pequignot, Hockaday, Patton and Sweigert continued for 20 years, but by year 15 another drummer joined the fold as well.
The story of drummer Don Miles’ arrival on the scene was fortuitous, but it also demonstrates the work ethic of the band’s members.
“It was the summer of 1993, and we were opening for Jefferson Starship at the Three Rivers Festival,” recalls Pequignot, the band’s lead singer and original drummer. “We had strict instructions not to play over our time limit, but we weren’t allowed to quit early either. We had just finished doing ‘Shout,’ and I started to have these pains in my chest and arms. But I knew we couldn’t stop yet, so I kept on playing.”
Having promised the Starship drummer he’d leave some of his equipment, Pequignot finished the set, instructed the road crew to let Starship use whatever they needed and drove himself to the hospital, where it was discovered that Pequignot had suffered a heart attack. Now limited in his activities on doctor’s orders, Pequignot needed to step back for a time, and the Junk Yard Band brought Miles, who worked with Sweigert at IBM, into the band to relieve Pequignot during his recovery. When he did return, Pequignot was still unable to resume drumming duties, but eventually the band discovered that having their lead singer in front of the drum kit increased the energy on stage, providing Miles with a full-time gig as JYB drummer.
The band’s third decade has seen the departures of Patton and Sweigert, though the latter continues to serve as the band’s booking agent. Currently rounding out the current lineup are Rick Brown on sax, guitar, keyboards and vocals and Greg Reszel on guitar and vocals. Each brings a unique new dimension to the Junk Yard Band, and Brown, who came to the group from another Fort Wayne band, Not My Kids, was happy to find a band with such an eager, active audience.
“I was getting tired of playing with Not My Kids,” says Brown. “We were playing a lot of bars and clubs where sometimes you have a lot of people and sometimes you don’t. And I was starting to feel like it wasn’t working for me age-wise anymore, since we were playing more and more music to stay current and I wasn’t enjoying it as much. But when I saw these guys play I remember being really excited about it. They were playing classic rock, and I could finally get to play music from the beginning of the rock era. And the audiences weren’t just sitting there watching – they were up and dancing and really enjoying it.”
Reszel, a luthier and lead design engineer for guitar company GREM USA, joined most recently, coming on board in 2005. Although he has a great appreciation for the music the band plays, much of it was not the music he was hearing and playing as he grew up.
“It’s been a challenge,” he says. “It’s taken a couple of years to really get comfortable with the music, but it’s been a cool thing to continue to grow with this treasure trove of musical styles.”
“Greg fit in right away with his work ethic,” says Pequignot. “When we first brought him in he didn’t know any of the songs we were doing, but we gave him some recordings, and he must have gone home and just listened to them and worked on them because he came to practice really prepared.”
“Since Greg joined, it’s been like a rocket ship,” says Miles. “We’ve been very productive, and we’ve gotten a lot of new gigs in the last three years.”
Although each has a love of music in general, their musical tastes vary. Hockaday says he, Brown and Miles all were inspired by the appearance of The Beatles on “Ed Sullivan,” while Pequignot had a different take on that event.
“I was completely entrenched in Sun Records, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran,” he says. “And I was into the Beach Boys. When I saw them with their bare feet, jeans and t-shirts, I thought that was a totally revolutionary thing. So when The Beatles came along, I thought ‘What the hell is this?’ I didn’t like their hair, I thought ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ wasn’t all that good and I didn’t like that these guys didn’t even move. It didn’t take long for me to understand this was pretty good stuff, but at the beginning of it all I just really loved what the Beach Boys were doing vocally with those harmonies.”
The merging of their individual styles has provided a lot of energy for a lot of years, and the Junk Yard Band look back on their 30 years with a lot of pride and appreciation. The decision to mark their anniversary came not from them, however, but from the current owner of their original venue, now called Lunz Hall. A performance there, complete with hog roast and photos capturing the band’s rich history, will provide fans an opportunity to share the celebration and the band a chance to thank their audience and all of those who have been along for the ride, including their stage manager of many years, Jimmy Robison. As remarkable as the 30 years has been, even more amazing is that there’s no end in sight.
“Being in a band is 80 percent work and 20 percent fun,” says Miles. “But that 20 percent is so much fun that you put up with the work. It wouldn’t be that much fun if I didn’t like the people I was working with. I just really like hanging out with these guys.”
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