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Butch Automatic: Decades later, it's still in their blood

November 19, 2007

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

The Midwest’s premier classic rock show by local band, Butch Automatic will be coming to the Blue Note Ballroom in Winsted Saturday, Nov. 24.

Having entertained well over a half million fans during nearly three and a half decades, their high-energy theatrical rock show is sure to once again draw an enthusiastic audience.

Delivering not only top-10 classic rock hits from the ‘60s through the ‘80s, they also provide fans with show- stopping production numbers. When they recreate live performances from some of the more interesting acts in rock music history, audiences often do a double take as the various characters appear on stage.

From the long, flowing beards and spinning guitars of ZZ Top, the black cape form the prince of darkness Ozzy Osborne, and the antics of the Blues Brothers, to the disco beat of The Village People, the dance floor is always certain to come alive.

“We have such dedicated fans, some have never missed a local show,” said Bob Seliski, an original Butch Automatic band member.

Starting back in the early ‘70s, the then-teenagers decided to hop on the resurgence in popularity of ‘50s music with acts like “Sha Na Na” and, following movies such as “American Graffiti,” these youngsters decided to put together a ‘50s “greaser” band.

Delano teens Bob Seliski, Dave Socher, and Dale Graunke, who all graduated from Delano High School, together with Mike Mathisen from Watertown and Dave Pawelk from New Germany, worked to assemble a thin list of 13 songs for their first appearance at a high school graduation party.

Taking place in the summer of 1974, the performance was a little unpolished, but Butch Automatic and the Four Speeds, as the band was then known, was born.

Soon after, Bob Hutter from Delano and Brad Bruhn, just 15 years old and a student at Delano High School, joined to round out the group.

The band worked hard to develop a song list, and soon traveled the ballroom circuit in an expanding circle throughout Minnesota.

Even back then, while performing an extensive list of top hits by artists such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly, their show was theatrical, and it continues to be so today, decades later.

During those early days, after a full week of work or school, the band would often leave home Friday afternoon, travel three or more hours and put on a four-hour show, which ended at 1 a.m.

However, for the musicians, the show may end when the venue closes, but their work continues as they load up equipment then drive home.

Arriving in Delano as the sun came up, they would catch a few hours of sleep and repeat the routine at another location Saturday, and sometimes Sunday night, as well. They have many memories of those countless long trips home.

“We’d be so tired, sometimes our eyes would play tricks on us,” remembered Mathisen. “One time, I slammed on my brakes in the middle of the freeway thinking I saw cows in the road.”

As a group of musicians and friends, they have many memories from shows over the years, including a night when Hutter ended up late to a show and got stuck in the ticket line.

“We were out of songs we could play without him, and I look over at the ticket line. I see Bob there and I thought, ‘why are you standing there,’ get up on stage!” said Socher, shaking his head with laughter.

The late nights and hard work paid off for this local band, and by the early 1980s, Butch Automatic was a respected name in ballrooms and dance clubs throughout the midwest, twice earning band of the year awards from the Minnesota Ballroom Association.

Prestigious bookings followed, such as the Carlson Celebrity Room and the Minneapolis Convention Center. They have enjoyed sharing the stage with national acts The Monkees, Tommy James, the Ventures, 1910 Fruitgum Company, and many more.

“Over the years, the hair grease disappeared, as did some of the hair, and the music of Butch Automatic evolved from strictly ‘50s-era rock and roll to encompass a range of classic rock from the ‘60s through the ‘80s,” said Hutter, an original member, and also an original dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan.

“Oh, we haven’t lost much hair and our waistbands have stayed pretty much the same,” Mathisen joked.

As the band evolved, personnel changes have shaped the face of the band, as well. Four of the original members remain, all from Delano – Dave Socher, bass and vocals, Bob Seliski, guitar and vocals, Mike Mathisen, vocals, and Bob Hutter, sax and vocals.

Admitting that if they were in this for the money, they would all be starving, this band says music and being on stage is in its blood.

“It’s been a fun hobby that pays for itself. If it’s in your blood, you can’t stop it,” said Hutter.

Searching to enhance their musical options in the ‘90s, the band added a female vocalist.

Doreen Shrode of Delano expands the band’s repertoire, and allows them to add music from the girl groups of the ‘60s to the ‘80s, such as the B-52s and Linda Ronstadt.

When asked what it’s like to work with seven men, Shrode admits she thinks of them all as her brothers.

“And, she’s blessed to know us,” added Mathisen, while the whole band, including Shrode, laughed.

Other band members who are now lending their musical talent to this group include Greg Horn, from Minnetonka, on lead guitar and vocals; Bill Gabrys, of New Hope, on keyboards (who is the only member to have a side project – a hip hop band called Unknown Profits); and Shawn Petersen, of Delano, on drums.

“These guys don’t give themselves enough credit – they are good musicians and a lot of fun,” said Petersen, who is a 15-year veteran of top local bands.

Today, Butch Automatic has trimmed its performance schedule from more than 100 shows per year to 10 or fewer.

“We play for fun, and more than 10 shows a year gets to be too much,” admitted Socher.

The days of long distance travel behind them, the band can take the time to focus on improving its music and show. While they only practice about once per month, they do practice more frequently before an upcoming show.

A great show is what Butch Automatic intends on giving its fans at the Blue Note Ballroom in Winsted, Saturday Nov. 24, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., in what has become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition.

With new songs by artists such as Van Halen, Black Sabbath, and The Grass Roots, this rock show is a must-see.

Grateful for their dedicated fans, the band will be showing their appreciation with free beer from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets will be available the night of the show. Contact the Blue Note for more information at (320) 485-9698, or online at www.bluenoteofwinsted.com.

For future show dates or booking information, visit the band’s web site at www.butchautomatic.com.