The Winona Post once again conducted an “interview” with Steve Cooker about the Annual BABY BOOMER SHINDIG to be held Saturday, Aug. 3, at 6:00 p.m. at the Blackhorse, Winona, Minn.
Post: Cooker, I see you shaved your beard? You look much younger.
Cooker: Well thanks for noticing Fran. Actually I feel like a plucked chicken. A younger plucked chicken.
Post: The Annual Baby Boomer Shindig is Saturday August 3, 6 p.m. at the Blackhorse, in Winona. What is the Shindig?
Cooker: A fun gathering of fellow boomers who grew up in the 50s-60s-70s; however younger and older folks always show up to dance and have fun seeing friends they haven’t seen for ages.
Post: I see you’ve changed the band’s name from the Baby Boomer Boogie Band to The Classic Rockers.
Cooker: We play a lot from St. Paul to La Crosse and found the “Boomer” name alienated younger crowds, so the”Classic Rockers” is a better marketing name. Same music; different box.
Post: Who’s in the Classic Rockers now?
Cooker: Bob Rydman on bass, Johnny “Rock” Peterson on keyboards, Greg Bishel on drums, Me Myself, and Irene on guitar.
Post: What inspired you at this age to keep playing?
Cooker: My philosophy is, “Yer gonna git hit by a truck tomorrow, so live life like it’s yer last day on earth.” It’s still fun Fran. It keeps us sharp mentally and physically. Like golf or duck hunting or billiards, it’s a passion for so many of us. As a kid we’d go to the Oaks Ballroom and I can still see the juke box in the bar/lounge. I’d put a quarter in and play “Memphis” by Johnny Rivers. I think around ‘63. Bill Koutsky or Al Thurley would remember, since my memory is slipping. I couldn’t hear that song enough. A psychologist may be able to put it into words better, but most of us were compelled at some point to buy a record we heard on the radio, whether it was by Elvis, the Beatles, or Madonna. Ya absolutely had to own it and listen to it. Maybe you were a teenage girl and spent your baby- sitting money on it, or you mowed lawns, or collected pop bottles to get enough money to go to Woolworth’s, or Kresge’s, or Hal Leonard music, but you absolutely had to have the 45 or album.
Post: What was your first record?
Cooker: “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys, 1964. I had to have it. I walked to the “Tempo” store in the “new” mall and paid, I think, 99 cents. The flip side was “Don’t worry baby.”
When the song ended, my brother or I would walk over to the stereo “Hi-Fi” and put the needle back to the beginning and crank it up again.
Post: Sounds like you had fun growing up in Winona?
Cooker: We had a blast. Winona was the perfect size. We spent the summers at the Goodview pits, Madison Silo pits, Lake Winona (that was as busy as the Ganges River in Bangladesh), and Latsch Island beach. In school we never carried knives or guns. The only rivalry was when WSH or Cotter battled it out with a regional city in football at Jefferson (Paul Giel Field). Or Jefferson played “WK,” or maybe Central or Madison had a team. I’m not sure now. The schools were packed with baby boomers. I played in a popular school band “New Research” at the old high school/middle school with Jim Reed, Scott Hafeman, Steve Lynn (who later owned a successful music store in Los Angeles for decades) Dave Nyseth, and Gary Drazkowski, who came here from San Diego.
In the winter we’d line up on 5th Street to “pelt” the big city busses with snowballs. I can still hear the sheet metal sides of the buses as the snowballs banged the sides. We didn’t aim for windows, we just wanted to hear the “Boom” when they hit. One time we climbed the public library fire escape in the rear and literally walked around a one-foot edge on the dome, We bombed everything from cop cars to cabs. They could never find us, or where the snowballs came from. I can still throw a baseball through the eye of a needle because of that training. The poor bus drivers had to take tranquilizers when they got home, I’m sure. “Those damn kids…if they were mine I’d kill em!”
Post: People from around the country come home for the Shindig don’t they?
Cooker: Oh yea. Mike Searight hitchhiked here from England. He had a tough time about a third of the way across the Atlantic after getting a ride aboard a “cabbage” freighter from Yugoslavia. They ran out of gas and had to go back to fill up. It took almost as long as the time he jumped in an inner tube off the coast of Scotland, but the current took him the wrong way. He called us from Finland and said he’d be late. He’s thoughtful like that. (What a guy won’t do to see an old girlfriend.) A lot of the older folks remember his dad “Moke” who ran Westfield golf course back in the day.
Others come from around the country. It’s like a multi-class reunion.
Post: The Shindig usually tries to help out someone in need each year. Whom are you helping this summer?
Cooker: I asked my friend Louis Kowalski if he knew someone. He responded immediately, “Ya, Michelle Kanz...” I don’t think I know her personally, but Louis said she’s had some terrible tragedies lately. (She’s the mother of Casey Kanz, who recently passed away.) The BB Shindig is never a benefit, we just collect “free will” offerings as we go along. If the spirit moves ya to throw a buck or two in, it all helps.
Post: We all hope the Annual Baby Boomer Shindig goes well again this summer, Steve.
Cooker: Thanks again, Fran. C’mon out to the Blackhorse on Hwy. 61 Winonaville, USA, Saturday, Aug 3, at 6:00 p.m. and I’ll buy ya a “kiddie cocktail.”
Fran: I’ll take a double.