The KOKE Band : Rock and Roll Friends Forever by Eileen Shapiro
The KOKE BAND was born in a snow bank and raised on pine needles and is a gritty and tight band. KOKE hails from Mercer Wisconsin, a tiny logging and tourist town in the northern most part of the state. At the time the band was formed the three members of the band were the only musicians in the town. During the long cold winter they practiced in a small cabin where is was so cold they had to stand on mattresses and hold their hands over the small stove just to be able to play. Maybe it was the cold, or maybe the lack of an audience, or not being able to hear other music but The KOKE BAND formed a sound that was unlike any other. Since they didn’t have outside music to play they wrote most of the music in their set.
The KOKE BAND is Ed O’Meara on drums and vocals, Ed Kobesko on bass and vocals and NO Mansfield on guitar and vocals. The band went through several names during it’s time. A couple of them were The Purple Passions, Mercer Mountain, The Jonny Got Shot in the Head Today Do DA Blues Band and finally The KOKE BAND.
The band stayed together for 6 years during which time it became popular in the Midwest. KOKE was able to travel outside of the north woods and see big cities play with other bands and polish their sound. After touring relentlessly the boys decided to put KOKE on hold and went off the play with other bands.
During the summer of 2016 the band reunited on stage being backed up by NO’s current band Revolushn. From that gig the spark was re-ignited and the band began to plan to record and do some shows.
During a trip to California here NO lives the band wrote and recorded six songs, of which the first single from the band has been released.
The single consists of NOT AFRAID and DOG HOUSE. NOT AFRAID is a rocking Mac truck of a song that starts out hard and finishes the same way. The rhythm section created by the Ed’s holds down the song as NO’s guitar whips through the middle like a giant snowplow. DOG HOUSE starts out like a traditional 12 bar blues but by the first chorus it is evident that this is a different type of blues. After a ripping guitar solo the B section comes in with Ed O’s voice commanding the center stage with an unexpected breakdown near the end.
In addition to The KOKE BAND, Ed Kobesko is an expert on the concertina and has a thriving career playing polkas and traditional songs at festivals throughout the state. Although Ed O’Meara played drums very little during the last decade he was back on top of his game with only 3 days rehearsal although he did seem pretty sore.
NO had never stopped playing and became an accomplished studio musician and engineer. He has produced the KOKE BAND’s latest efforts and has brought the band into the new century while still keeping that original, quirky sound that brought the band together in the first place.
I know you’ve told me….but tell the planet, how did you get the name?
ED K: “We simply wanted a super recognizable name that people could easily recall and relate to. We thought about “Shell”, “gas station condoms”, “Xmas”, “Pyronate-A200”, “Pepsi”, and even “Exon”. An exon is the portion of a gene that codes for amino acids. We chose koke, which is the portion of our genes that code for different acids! To this day, our faithful fans simply know us as the “KOKE BAND”.
NO: A lot of people, including the cops thought we named it after cocaine. But we were backwoods hicks and didn’t know what cocaine was at the time. We had a big old box truck we used for a while and we had written KOKE on the side. Must have gotten stopped every 10 miles in that thing.
Tell me the history of Koke.
NO: I think we started playing together in grade school; it was before I was able to drive. We were first called The Purple Passions and our manager’s mother owned a gift shop were we would put on shows in the winter. We all played through one Sears Silvertone amp. We played dances and talent shows till we got out of high school. Then that first winter after high school we lived at Ed O’Meara’s parents resort. It was way out in the woods and we got snowed in for like 2 months. During that time we played every day in one of the cabins. It was freezing and we used to have to stand on mattress and hold our hands over the little heater to warm them up enough to play.
We were poor as church mice and couldn’t afford records or anything so we had to write enough songs to do a set. We really developed a unique style and sound.
When we got out of there in the spring we started playing all over Wisconsin and the mid-west. We had a pretty loyal following. I think it we were together 6-7 years and kind of all decided we wanted to play with other people as we had never done that before, I mean we had never played with anyone else but our band. We all went on to play with really good bands.
Ed O: At my parents resort that NO mentioned, way up in the woods in northern Wisconsin, my parents would occasionally have bands play. Polka or Country bands. I came home from school one day and there was a set of drums set up. I asked who was playing that night but my mother told me, “No one, those drums are yours!” So, I had a set of 1957 blue sparkle Ludwig drums and I learned to play them by tinkering along to the songs on our juke box. The resort was only open in the summer. I did a lot of practicing in the winters. Thankfully there were two guys I went to school with who had the same interests as me, NO and Ed K. We clicked right away. Keep in mind this was a very small school and the odds against finding two other musicians that were not only good but didn’t play the same instrument as you, were pretty high. We had a built in audience too, as when we played a school dance or a jam at any empty building we could find, there was nothing else for anybody to do, so they would come and listen and dance to us.
Ed K: No and I started practicing together when we were 12 and the following year Ed O. joined us on drums. We went to a battle of the bands in Rhinelander Wi. and won! The promoter of the event wanted to give us motorcycles with his cycle shop’s name on it for promotion. None of us were old enough to drive. When NO said “it was cold at Ed O’s north woods cabin that winter”, we practiced wearing winter parka jackets and you could see your breath! When he said “we were poor as church mice”, we used plastic bread wraps for picks! We were totally in our own world, without any news or even what day of the week it was. Didn’t matter. It was all about music!
What inspired you to pick up the group from where you left off?
NO: My band Revolushn played the Loon Festival in our hometown of Mercer 2 years ago. Ed Kobesko had tracked me down a year or so before that and we had started to work together again. He played bass at a couple of gigs for Revolushn so when we played Mercer we tracked down ED O and he came to the show and sat in with us. It was so fucking cool we just wanted to do it again.
So the next year the three of us played at the Loon Festival as The Koke Band. It was super fun so we did a couple more gigs and as usual started writing songs. Last spring they came to California where I have a studio and we wrote and recorded an EP. We are having a great time. I love those guys.
Ed O: I was hooked up to a chemo drip in a Wisconsin hospital when I got a call from NO. It had been decades since I had spoken with him. He said he and his band Revolushn, along with Ed K, were doing the Mercer Loon Festival and would I like to sit in for a couple of tunes. The gig was on a Wednesday and I had to stay hooked up until Tuesday so I said, “hell yeah!” Playing with these guys again is hard to describe. I love these guys and in many ways, it’s like we never disbanded. Really, we can have even more fun with it now than back in the day when we had to feed ourselves from playing music, by payment or barter.
Ed K: Getting back together was “Kismet.” Sometimes when the cosmos correctly lines everything up, just right, predetermined events happen in a very orderly and harmonious fashion, result–Koke Band re-unites!
You have two pretty good new singles that you are set to release shortly…how would you describe them and what was the inspiration behind writing them?
NO: Pretty good???? They are FUCKING AWESOME!!!
So Ed O’Meara wrote the lyrics for NOT AFRAID and it is powerful. The song is about how there is no use in being afraid of things. The reason is because he is a rock and roll musician. It gets back to how we felt when we first started.
DOG HOUSE was a song I wrote for the band when we started doing shows. It is about how you can get in trouble in a relationship without knowing what you did. It is not a serious song. We made the chorus sound like a party, which it was. All of the Kokette’s were drunk or stoned out of their gourds. We had a blast with that one.
Ed O: NOT AFRAID is not meant to be an earth shaking revelation. It’s just about how life can throw you some challenges and it’s best to meet them head on. If you are afraid then you are fighting two battles. It really came to me when I was on that chemo drip and I wanted to go play the Loon Festival.
DOG HOUSE: What fun! I dare you to try to hold your head still while listening to it! One constant through the years for all three of us, I think, even though we didn’t see each other for years and were separated by miles and the living of our lives, is a strong blues influence. And I don’t mean sad blues, but fun upbeat blues.
Ed K: Ed O’s lyrics in “Not Afraid” reminds me that the greatest experiences are often the scariest. That song just rocks with a youthful Punkyness vibe. “Dog House” is a fun, good times tune that I can really relate to from the fact that until recently, I spent most of my life in the “Dog House”. Ed O’s vocals and NO’s superb guitar playing, highlight this party tune!
You’re planning an event….let’s talk about it?
NO: We are planning to do an outdoor concert next to a place we play in Wisconsin. Kind of a mini festival with several local bands. We will have a big stage and do it in a field next to the bar so people don’t have to walk too far for their PBRs. We are going to have camping and shit so people can get wasted and not have to drive anywhere. We are against drunk driving. We are still working out the details so stay tuned.
How is Koke different from Revolushn?
NO: The KOKE BAND drinks PBR and REVOLUSHN drinks ayahuasca.
Ed O: the Governor of Wisconsin asks you to leave the state if you don’t like beer.
Ed K: I’m not in Revolushn, but you could say this Frank on my behalf. Revolushn is a group of extremely talented and gifted musicians. They are highly respected and I always anxiously await to hear their next album. “Koke Band” is a group of three buddies, best friends, over one lifetime! We simply telepathically bounce our feelings off of one another and the magic happens! Love you NO and ED O!
Listen to The Koko Band on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-942497759