Matching bowling shirts, a retro Harley Davidson motorcycle keyboard, flashing lights, reverberating amps and the electric slide may evoke the ‘80s, and so do The Fabulous Kingpins, a Moscow band celebrating its 30th anniversary Saturday.Founded by Cliff Miller, Bill Willoby, Mark Lamoureux, Dale Keeney and John Colby, the band has been through many transitions, but Miller and Keeney said the band is still going strong.
“Thirty years ago when I started this, I was a young guy,” said Miller, the lead singer and saxophonist, who was 20 at the time.
Keeney, the drummer, was 30.
“The reason why this works is both him and I wanted to be in a band since we were boys,” Keeney said. “When we found a partner that wanted to be in a band, we were already living the dream.”
The dream began when Miller got his saxophone serviced at Keeney Bros. a few weeks after Keeney and Lamoureux had spawned the idea of forming a band. Miller tried out and made the cut.
“When it started, I think Mark (Lamoureux) had more of a vision of what he wanted to do, musically,” Miller said.
Keeney said Lamoureux liked blues-based music, but Miller said the ‘80s audience didn’t as much.
“So our initial set, I would not really call super audience friendly,” Miller said. “It was more of musician’s music to begin with.”
At that time, Miller said there were 28 bars in Moscow and 16 to 18 of those venues had live music.
“Live music was big big big business through the 1980s,” Keeney said. “Venues would have bands five, six, seven nights a week.”
Campuses constantly hired bands and Miller said the first Kingpins show was at a Washington State University fraternity.
“Music was everywhere,” Miller said. “For us, it was great.”
But what was once a constant string of cars down Main Street, emptied, as Idaho raised its drinking age to 21 and venues closed down.
“That business just crashed,” Keeney said.
MTV gained popularity and Keeney said people stayed at home to watch “live” music.
Because the audience was completely unfamiliar with the jazz and blues music they played, Keeney said the band had to find a way to make itself marketable.
Miller said he finally decided the band needed to do something “that’s more marketable, more appealing to the masses.”
Although there have been many members throughout the years, the current band has been stable since the late ‘90s. Bass player Randy Reis, singer and dancer Suzanne Piel Miller and guitar player James Dence signed on.
“Costuming became more important for us, a little bit of dance, a lot more actual crowd interaction than what we’d done,” said Miller, who introduced their bowling garb and 8-foot tall bowling pin decor. “And people love that.”
Dance music became their genre, and hits such as “Jessie’s Girl,” “Footloose” and band favorites, like AC/DC and The Rolling Stones, made their playlist.
“To be a musician on stage, for me, it’s more to be the drive of the party and actually be the reason why people come out and have a good time,” Miller said. “Going from the, ‘God, that was the best we ever played’ and people going, ‘Ehh,’ to playing something that everybody knows and people going berserk, I love that. You just feed on the energy that comes out of the crowd.”
The Kingpins often synchronize dance moves on stage and some of their sets can last four hours.
“Where we’re at now, is where I want to be. It’s more of a whole package for me and it really fulfills what I wanted to do and I think what everyone wants to do. We’re traveling a lot more than we ever have,” said Miller, who has traveled with the band from Seattle to Boise as well as Phoenix, Ariz.
Arbor Crest Winery in Spokane, is a favorite for Keeney, while both men love performing at Pullman’s Fourth of July show, which will happen again this year. The band plays two to three gigs each month.
The Fabulous Kingpins will play their anniversary show at 8 p.m. Saturday at Mingles Bar and Grill.
“People have said, ‘Are you ever going to retire from that?’ ‘Retire from what?’” Keeney would respond. “All I ever do is play music with my friends.”
The current band will also reunite with past members, who will play at the Saturday show.
“It’s been a good run, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve still got a little bit longer left in me. We’ll see if the leather pants hold up when I’m 50,” Miller said. “At this point and time, we really enjoy what we do.”
Treffry can be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 883-4640.
-If you go:
WHAT: The Fabulous Kingpins 30th anniversary celebration, performance
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mingles Bar and Grill, 102 S. Main St., Moscow