published Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Curtain Call: Watching The Beatles on TV changed Michael Welch's life

  • photo
    Michael Welch decided to play guitar after watching The Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Photo by David Welch
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


Hometown: Red Bank.

Education: Red Bank High School, American River Junior College and Sacremento State University (California).

Age: 60.

Married: wife, Valerie Robinson; children, Roseanna and Justin.

Vocation: Painting contractor and musician.


Movie: "Harold and Maude."

Play: "West Side Story."

Actor: Dustin Hoffman.

Book: "Casino Royale"

Performer: Arthur Lee of Love.

Song: "Nights in White Satin."

Expression: "Live long and prosper."

Michael Welch has been a guitar player and a singer for more than a half-dozen bands in the Chattanooga area dating back to The Dead Past in the mid-1960s.

Over the years, his bands have included Donahue, Welch and Scruggs, Buffalo, Overland Express, The Pool, The Beaters and The Loop.

In 1970, he moved to Sacramento, Calif., and joined a band called Help, which was the first band in the country to record a Christian-rock concept album. That group released an album based on the Bible called "Azitis."

Q: When did you start playing music?

A: In junior high at Red Bank. I was in the marching band playing trumpet. My big role model was Al Hirt. I wanted to be Al Hirt.

Q: Did you play in the marching band in high school?

A: No, I didn't. On Feb. 9, 1964, I watched "The Ed Sullivan Show" and my life changed forever.

Before that, I wore my hair like Elvis. The hair cream, the ducktail, everything. The day after the show, I washed my hair and looked in the mirror and realized I looked like a Beatle without putting the Brylcreem in. That Monday I went to school looking like a Beatle. Of course, they sent me home.

I wanted to be a guitar player after that, and my dad had a Silvertone acoustic guitar. He said if I learned to play it, he'd get me an electric guitar.

Q: How old were you?

A: Thirteen. My dad of course said they [The Beatles] looked like a bunch of girls, and my brother Ken had bought "Please Please Me" and I really didn't like it on record. I was more into The Beach Boys and stuff like that, but then seeing [The Beatles] live changed my whole perspective. Girls were screaming, they were having fun playing and I decided that night that that is what I wanted to do.

Q: What was your first band?

A: The Dead Past. We were a folk/rock band.

Q: When did you start playing for money?

A: In 1970 I moved to Sacramento with a friend. I liked Chattanooga and all, but it wasn't a good place for a long-haired hippie type. Along the way we picked up a hitchhiker in Albuquerque named Dennis Sullivan. He was a musician moving to San Francisco. We hit it off and he decided to move to Sacremento and we'd form a band.

We decided we'd find the coolest record shop and put up a sign saying, "Guitar player and keyboard player looking for bass player and drummer." When we got there, we saw a sign that said, "Drummer and bass player looking for keyboard player and guitar player."

It was meant to be. We formed Help with Don Lower and Steve Nelson. Our common ground was the Beatles and the Moody Blues. We all liked theme rock and decided to do an album and to take the Bible and put it to music. No one else was doing that.

Q: Did you choose the Bible because no one else had done it or because you guys wanted to be evangelical with your music?

A: We were by means and purposes Christians. I mean as much as we were into rock 'n' roll, we were into the idea of being Christians. Back in the 1960s, when you quit doing drugs, you did a lot of soul searching and all the guys in the band were in the same place.

Q: How was it received?

A: Very well. We were one of the most popular bands in Sacremento. We did other originals and covers from The Beatles and art rock bands like Pink Floyd. The album is still available online actually.

Q: When did you move back here?

A: In 1973. The band was breaking up. My friend had split so I was pretty much alone and a little homesick I guess.

Q: What did you do once you got here?

A: I played in a trio called [Glen] Donahue, Welch and [Ed] Scruggs and then a group called Buffalo with Bobby Boyd and all his brothers.

Q: How did you hook up with Overland?

A: While I was with those guys [Buffalo], Randy Clark and Rick Williams used to come watch us and they discovered my guitar playing I guess. They were a trio with Keith [Sherman]. They added a drummer and wanted to add a guitar player and I fit.

Q: How big a deal was it playing in Overland?

A: It was a very big deal. We were just right on the cusp of signing with somebody the whole time we were together. We just never did, and I don't know why. Everywhere we went and played people loved us. I'd put those three guys vocally up against any other group or band. Crosby Still and Nash, anybody.

Q: When did that end?

A: 1985. When that ended, I did a brief stint with Danny Shirley before he signed. Then I joined the Forester Sisters, who were about to sign. I was fired from that because they said my guitar playing wasn't country enough, which was a compliment in my book.

Then I put the Pool together and then when Rick Jacobs left The Beaters, I played with them a while and also did The Pool.

Q: These days you play with The Pool and the Loop, which is an acoustic version of The Pool, right?

A: Yes. Sort of. It's me and Nick Honerkamp and David Cornwell but not [drummer] Monte Coulter. We also don't do any of the same songs. It's not an acoustic version of The Pool. It's stuff we don't play with a full band.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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