thetelegraph.com Silver anniversary
By Vicki Bennington For the Alton
December 18, 2014
That applies to marriages, friendships, co-workers and yes, even
Local group, Cottonmouth, celebrated 25 years as a band this
fall. They’ve played their music through
thick and thin, good times and bad, marriages of band members
and the birth and growth of their
children. The members have become much more to each other than
just “band buddies.” They’ve
become more like family.
Lead singer Dennis Laird (aka Johnny Bash or just Bash), who you
might have also heard on the local radio station, WBGZ-1570 AM, doing sports or the
Saturday morning comedy show, said they all agree that family
comes first. And that’s probably one of the biggest reasons they’ve stayed together.
“We all understand that if a member needs to be with one of his
children, then we can’t book a gig,” Laird said. “It’s that simple. Our families are the
important things in our lives, and we support each other on
“We began to realize that when the first baby was born,” he
But that’s not to say they don’t love playing
It all started at Lewis and Clark Community College in 1989,
where Laird was in the radio program, and Gruen was majoring in music. At first,
Cottonmouth had five members, including Laird and Gruen, Ted
Nitz (Banger), Eric Roberts and Aaron Roberts. Banger and Laird did a radio show on
campus, called The Mosh.
“We knew we wanted to get a group together, and use all original
material, but we were all shy, broke kids and didn’t have any money to market
ourselves,” Laird said. “In those days of no Internet, I learned
to market the band through the College Music Journal.”
He wrote letters and sent them in the mail along with copies of
their 11-song cassette, “Going to Pot,” to places all over the world. T hey advertised in
“zines,” and eventually, somehow, their 1995 song, “Charge of
the Light Brigade” made it to Germany and was picked up by a soccer team to use as their
“That cassette also had a really cool cover in a cemetery that
attracted a lot of attention,” Laird said. “And the soccer team contacted us and sent us
jerseys and hats, and we were thrilled they were using our
Their songs received radio airplay, and they began to play live
around the area.
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The member lineup began to change. Some
moved on, and Butch McMaster III joined the group as drummer in
1993. Laird said he took the group
new directions. They built their own recording studio to save
time and money; and McMaster suggested they approach some of the local motorcycle
clubs, hoping to develop a following of their
The Back Door Men Motorcycle Club, who throw three big parties a
year, including charity fundraisers, hired Cottonmouth as the official musical
entertainment for the events.
“They told us if we did the parties, we had to play until the
sun came up,” Laird said. “For that many hours, we had to start playing covers because we
only had about 20 original songs.”
Songs by Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Metallica were added to
the repertoire, along with other 1970s and 1980s hard rock tunes. Now they can play
as much as 10 hours without repeating songs.
“And we got paid,” Laird said. “That was exciting. We’ve been
doing those three gigs every year with them for 15 years.”
In 2001, McMaster was a passenger in an automobile accident, and
was killed. T he band was devastated, but they wanted to continue as a group and
wanted to release music he created with them. In addition to
Laird and Gruen, who are the two originals, other current members include bass player Alex
Honke, who has been with the group since 1999, and T ravis Puhse
has been on the drums for several years.
Cottonmouth has continued through the years to play at venues
around the Alton and St. Louis area, and in 1995, was voted one of the top 10 hard rock
bands in St. Louis. Many of the same people attend the band’s
shows, following them from place to place, and now bring along their grown children.
“Fans are so important to us,” Laird said. “And when we play in
local bars, we are told that we set records for attendance.”
Cottonmouth plays for many charity events, including those
arranged by the Back Door Men. This month, at the Alton “Something Bigger than Y ourself
Xmas Benefit 2014,” which raises awareness and helps to enhance
the lives of those living in U.S. children’s homes.
Cottonmouth’s latest release, “Delta 9,” an album dedicated to
McMaster, can be downloaded from iT unes, Xbox Live and other download sites. For all
copies downloaded by the end of the year, the band will donate
100 percent of the profits to the Salvation Army.