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By Vicki Bennington For the Alton Telegraph

December 18, 2014

silver tele pic

That applies to marriages, friendships, co-workers and yes, even rock bands.

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 most

important things in our lives, and we support each other on that.

“We began to realize that when the first baby was born,” he said.

But that’s not to say they don’t love playing music.

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

intro song.

“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 song.”

Their songs received radio airplay, and they began to play live around the area. 2/2


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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 in

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 music.

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.