By Julie Krienke
DELANO, MN The snare drum was made out of a Crisco can, the tom-toms out of Folger’s coffee cans, and the bass drum out of a gallon ice cream bucket.
A young Pete Johnson banged along to the Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper album on his “Folger’s drum set” starting when he was just 2 years old.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Johnson had more than two dozen Elvis records dubbed to cassettes.
“I’d sit in my room and play along with them for about four hours a night, and that’s pretty much how I learned to play,” Johnson said.
Now-a-days, Johnson has ditched the Crisco cans and ice cream buckets for some real drums that he can play in the Minnesota-based band Brat Pack Radio.
“I grew up four houses down from a kid that is now the leader of Brat Pack Radio,” Johnson said. “The band was formed when he and his wife were out singing karaoke and decided it would be fun to form a band that sings ‘80s music.”
Originally from Fargo, ND, Johnson and his 12-year-old son, Bjorn, moved to Delano last year after Johnson got married.
When they heard that Johnson was moving to Delano, Brat Pack Radio asked if he would be interested in playing in the band with them.
Johnson had been a fan of the band since it started six years ago, so he decided to buy a new drum set and start playing again.
“We play what I like to call synthpop,” Johnson said. “We are different than other ‘80s bands because we do more of a theatrical performance.”
Those who have seen Brat Pack Radio perform are not surprised when band members come on stage carrying light sabers and using spinning keyboards and fog machines.
“We dress goofy and in the most obnoxious ‘80s junk,” Johnson said. “We’re probably the nerdiest bunch you could come across.”
The members of Brat Pack Radio even use fake names when up on stage.
“Mine is Bunn E. Nelson, a cross between my favorite drummer from Cheap Trick and the ‘80s actor Judd Nelson,” Johnson said.
Even though he has played the drums his whole life, Johnson admits that playing for Brat Pack Radio is different than anything he has ever done.
“About 80 percent of our material had the drums recorded back in the ‘80s,” Johnson said. “I put a lot of effort into studying the songs and translating the drum parts.”
One of Johnson’s favorite parts of performing with Brat Pack Radio is the time-warp segments, when a voice comes on and says, “Get the hell out of the ‘80s.”
“It’s like the Wizard of Oz is speaking and letting everyone know it’s time-warp time,” Johnson laughed.
Before moving to Delano and joining Brat Pack Radio, Johnson was involved with several other bands.
“He was actually in between a few bands when in Fargo,” said Johnson’s wife, Amy, who owns Maratona Communication in Delano. “He’s such a natural talent and can kind of pick up any instrument and start playing.”
The first band that Johnson was a part of was a basement band formed with his friends in junior high.
In the ‘80s, Johnson and his friends formed a band called The Street Band, and by the ‘90s, he was playing for a different band called The REVs.
“I met my wife in 1987 when I was playing drums in Hibbing, Minnesota,” Johnson said. “We got to know each other, but nothing really became of that.”
It was nearly 23 years later when Johnson ran into Amy on Facebook.
“The coolest thing is finding the one that got away,” Amy said. “You were just the little groupie that dated him for awhile and then got to marry him years later.”
Now, Johnson is playing in Brat Pack Radio several nights a week around the nation.
“It wouldn’t be out of the norm for us to go to Las Vegas for the night and then fly back the next day,” Johnson said. “My son comes along and helps at some of the festivals as a drum roadie.”
When he’s not playing, Johnson is driving school bus for the Rockford School District. He’s also busy being a husband and father.
When thinking about his best memories while playing the drums, two events pop into Johnson’s mind.
The first was in 1985 while he was a member of the Street Band in Fargo, ND. Johnson’s band won the North Dakota State Battle of the Bands in Minot, ND.
“We were kind of an underdog band, and we came out on top,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s second favorite memory is when his father was inducted into the South Dakota Rock Hall of Fame in 2009. Johnson was able to play with his dad at the induction ceremony.
When looking toward the future, Johnson hopes to continue playing for Brat Pack Radio.
“Playing in such a wierd band like this opens a lot of doors that wouldn’t be opened in a typical band,” Johnson said. “It’s the funnest band I’ve been in, and as long as people want us, I’ll still be there.”
Brat Pack Radio will be performing at Delano’s Fourth of July festival July 3 at 8 p.m. under the big top.