Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Whiz Kids - Whiz Kids (1974)

This Ann Arbor based duo's back story is a pretty mysterious one.  Based on what I could gather, the band was formed sometime in the late 60's by multi-instrumentalist Pat McCaffrey and percussionist Ken Michalik.  The band's sound was distinct in that no guitars or basses were present.  McCaffrey often would play organ pedals and analog synths in their place.  By 1970, they were supporting the likes of Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, Savage Grace, J. Geils Band and Spirit in and around southeast Michigan.  Eventually, the band hooked up with Ann Arbor music impresario Al Nalli and their first recorded effort was released via his label, Kasaba Records, in 1971.  That single, "Take" b/w "Big Cigar Blues" is now highly collectible.

By 1972, Whiz Kids were headlining their own gigs in prominent area venues like Primo Showbar, Grande-Rivera Theater and The Suds Factory.  In 1973 the band entered Pampa Studios and Glen Arbor Roller Mills to record their sole full-length effort.  The eponymously titled record featured McCaffrey and Michalik in all of their two-man glory, sans guitar and bass.  Whiz Kids embarked on extensive gigging in the region, often stopping for extended residencies at Chances Are and The Second Chance.  The band continued to function until the mid-70's, at one point augmenting the lineup with guitar and bass.  Their activities beyond 1976 are hazy at best, but the band (in a mostly revamped configuration) returned to the scene in late 1981 and continued through early 1984 before finally dissolving.

McCaffrey would briefly hook up with Bob Seger's band before doing session work on a number of major label releases through the 80's before embarking on a career in the corporate entertainment business with his newly dubbed showband, Pat McCaffrey and the Whiz Kids Band.  He continues this career today.  Michalik, on the other hand, took his talents into the Ann Arbor Public School system, working as a music teacher, where he resides to this day.

I know this rarity hasn't exactly set the collector community on fire, but I find a lot to love about this unique sounding record.  There's something funky about these songs.  There are plenty of hooks to be found here and even a few pseudo rockers.  Standouts include "Judas", "Start All Over Again", "Poison" and the addictive funky ZZ Top cover, "(Ride My) Chevrolet".  Make no mistake, this isn't some scorching hot and heavy indie release, but the cavernous ambience and tight performances make this an interesting listen.  Perhaps a little on the vanilla side of things, Whiz Kids will still certainly win some fans with this sole effort.  Standby as efforts are being made to secure a copy of the rare single from 1971.  I'll be posting it here once I've landed one!