Abbey Rodeo was born out of a group of individuals with great ambition and a positive outlook on their musical journey. Ever since they came together in 2003, they’ve found great joy and satisfaction in making music and sharing it with fans and people all over the world. Finding success in the music industry is anything but easy, but they’ve managed to stay strong while overcoming personal and professional challenges. Being through so much together has only brought them closer, and their hope is to stay true to their main objective which is to make music they can be proud of.
Chris Butcher, singer, guitarist and songwriter from Mentor, has played numerous Northeast Ohio venues since the mid-sixties. He has worked with many of the most notable musicians from Cleveland's rock and roll history as well. His Music Timeline reads like a Who’s Who of area musicians.
Chris was born in Gassaway, West Virginia and was raised in the Headlands of Mentor, Ohio. There were strong family ties and frequent trips back to the hills or "back home” as his mom and dad used to say. “The music we listened to as kids was on the radio and on my father’s LP’s … hillbilly, gospel, bluegrass, the Grand Ole Opry, the Louvin Brothers, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, the Everly Brothers… later on it was the Beatles and any of the British Invasion groups. Locally it was bands such as the Mods and the Rockers. The Choir, Cyrus Erie and the Raspberries… among others."
That was the Sixties. It was a thriving local music scene and Chris was hooked and became involved very early on. Chris remembers, "We played so many cool gigs in those early days. We may not have hit the big-time but it sure felt like it sometimes". They opened up shows for Dave C and the Sharptones, the Choir, Terry Knight and the Pack (later on Grand Funk Railroad), the Newbeats and Billy Joe Royal to name a few.
Chris has been in sixteen bands since 1965 and has worked with many area musicians over the years. He has won the Music City Song Festival Award and the Billboard Magazine Award for his singing and songwriting. He owns Fortega Recording Studio and has recorded many local artists as well as his own projects. Chris studied music, audio recording, engineering and electronics, earning a music scholarship from the Society of Professional Audio Recording Studios [SPARS 1986 National Studio Exam].
His latest musical venture... a collaboration with five other musicians in the band, Abbey Rodeo.
Together with bandmates, Verne McClelland, Bob Yocum, Jim Bonfanti, Chuck Citraro and Debbie Z, Chris is continuing on his long musical journey. He admits that he couldn’t ask for a better bunch of musical cohorts and thoroughly appreciates their fellowship and talents. He adds, “A critical element of this band is Abbey Rodeo’s audiences, they are the best part of the whole thing! Our audiences have been coming to our shows from the beginning and I absolutely love them and the support they’ve shown for us.” Chris hopes to keep going with Abbey Rodeo as long as folks want to hear them. He loves to sing and play the favorites that we all love to hear.
In addition to the band, Chris works on other projects such as the iTunes single Cadillac Daddy and a video album compilation on YouTube entitled, Chris Butcher & Fred Grupe present... the Abbey Rodeo Project ... a prequel. The late, great Fred Grupe was a founding member of Abbey Rodeo and also coined the band’s name. Chris’ and Fred’s Foolish Fire, recorded by Abbey Rodeo in 2004, can be heard in the video.
Chris on performing live:
"I know thousands of songs and have performed most of them countless times. Trying to keep the show fresh and exciting is what you have to do. For the sake of the audience and the musicians. When the audience seems to enjoy the music so much, it's like I'm jumping on a roller coaster and taking them and myself on a ride. It's a real thrill to play these songs for people."
Chris on playing covers:
"No one can say that playing covers is not a creative process... where do they think all that noise is coming from then?”
Verne’s musical history began in the 70’s when he attended “Jam Sessions”.... where he played his guitar and sang Folk and Country tunes with dear friends like: Bob Batyko (guitar & vocals ), David Chapin (dulcimer & Autoharp), Tom Murphy (guitar & vocals) and Nel Arnold. Verne states “Nel was one of the most gifted vocalists I have ever known”.
About that same time period, Verne joined his first band, Patchwork Blue (1978-1980), which included Fred Grupe (Bass), Tom Murphy, (Guitar, Vocals), Kevin Weinbrecht (Guitar/ Harmonica, Vocals), Dan Brady (Keyboards, Vocals), and the late Bill Perry (Drums, Vocals).
Verne’s next venture was a duo with good friend, Don Loy (Guitar, Banjo, Vocals) and they were billed as The McDonald Brothers (1980 – 1981). They played many weekends at what used to be Major McKinney's in historical downtown Willoughby.
Following that, Rumor Hazit (1982 – 1984) was formed. This dynamic group included Don Loy (Guitar, Banjo, Vocals), Anita McClelland (Keyboards, Vocals), Ken Davis (Guitar, Vocals), Chas Bowdler (Bass, Vocals), and Kevin Morgan (Drums, Vocals).
Verne’s musical influences are still quite prevalent in his preferences for both performing and song writing. These influences include Dan Fogelberg, the Eagles, Simon & Garfunkle, James Taylor, Joni Mitchel, John Hartford and all else who write melancholy love songs.
Verne confesses, “I love to sing and play songs that move me, and usually those are songs about love and loss. I believe that playing and singing in an intimate environment, where you can evoke an emotional response from those listening, is the most rewarding part of playing music. To connect lyrically and musically with the listener is the key to what I would consider a successful performance.”
He continues, “Abbey Rodeo is, without a doubt, the best band I've ever been a part of because I work with people who share the same musical interests as well as a sense of brotherhood (and sisterhood since we have Debbie). This band plays songs that people react to. The music we play is history and memories for a lot of people. It’s really a blast to see the expressions on their faces and hear the comments after the gig.”
Verne is proud of his work with Abbey Rodeo and considers the members of the band his friends and family. He appreciates the support and encouragement the crowds supply time and time again. Verne anticipates the future of Abbey Rodeo as they continue to bring a different kind of music to the live scene in Northeast Ohio.
Roger Friedman, national music critic for FOX News, said of Jim Bonfanti after seeing Raspberries in their 2005 NYC reunion concert:
“…drummer Jim Bonfanti, the center of their power...he should be playing with The Who or The Rolling Stones on tour. He's phenomenal.”
Jim Bonfanti, co-founder and renowned drummer for legendary classic rock band Raspberries, has been playing professionally since the mid 1960’s. Jim also was a member of sixties band The Choir, known for it’s 60’s garage band classic “It’s Cold Outside” which prominently features Jim’s drums in the song’s memorable intro. Jim has been featured in issues of Modern Drummer, Classic Drummer, MOJO and others. Jim made several TV appearances in the ‘70’s, including American Bandstand, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, Midnight Special and The Mike Douglas Show just to name a few. Jim performed on the 2005 VH1 Classic special, “Hangin’ With The Raspberries”.
Raspberries count artists as diverse as John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Elton John, Tom Petty, Jon Bon Jovi, Kiss and Rick Springfield among their fans. They burst onto the national music scene in 1972 with their million selling Top 5 smash, “Go All The Way”, followed by the Top 10 “I Wanna Be With You” and the top 20 hit “Let’s Pretend”. Regarded internationally as the architects of the “Power Pop” genre of rock and roll, Raspberries are highly respected by their peers for such classic album rock tracks as “Tonight” and “Ecstasy”, which prominently feature Jim’s skills. The group’s 1974 hit “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” was Rolling Stone Magazine’s Record Of The Year.
After more than 30 years apart, the original lineup of Raspberries reunited for the grand opening of The House Of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio on November 26, 2004. The show sold out in four minutes. A wildly successful national tour followed in 2005 that met with with SRO crowds, rave reviews and many celebrity sightings. Fans from as far as England, the Netherlands and Japan flocked to witness concerts by these icons of power pop.
In 2005 EMI records released “Raspberries Greatest”. In 2007 Raspberries released “Live On Sunset Strip”, a 2-CD / DVD set and the band’s only official live recording, on Rykodisc Records to rave national and international reviews. The band played a limited number of concerts to support the release. In April 2009, Raspberries were invited to headline the private VIP party for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum’s Induction ceremony, which would be the band’s final performance. Raspberries’ international legacy as the architects of the “Power Pop” genre continues to this day. 2014 saw Raspberries’ signature million selling top 5 smash “Go All The Way” featured on the platinum selling soundtrack to the motion picture “Guardians Of The Galaxy”.
After more than 40 years Raspberries continue to show the music world why they are considered among the most influential bands of the rock era.
Jim continues to be very active in the Cleveland music industry, playing and recording with various bands.
Jim uses Cold Mountain Drums and Evans heads.
Management / Publicity: Al Kaston 216.402.3402 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Bass Guitar, Vocals
Music is my passion. I believe the best musicians learn to play based on how they feel the music and what is in their heart-this is really important if you play bass.
Some background info:
I was born and raised in Cleveland and have lived in Mentor for the past 30 years.
I’ve been playing bass since I was a 13 years old and started performing with local bands when I was 17-that’s a lot of years ago! As I reflect, there have been many highs and few lows but I have loved every minute of my time spent playing music.
I have had the privilege of working with many of the area’s top musicians during this time and have also had the opportunity to learn how to play all types of music, but I’m most at home playing good old rock & roll.
My biggest bass influences are Paul McCartney, James Jamerson, John Entwisle, and Ronnie Lane.
I feel fortunate to be performing with Abbey Rodeo as they are a group of fine musicians and more importantly genuinely nice people.
If you play bass, the most important band member for you should be the drummer. I appreciate the opportunity to again perform with my friend Jim Bonfanti as one could not ask for a better drummer.
You know what they say: "It's all about that bass and drums!"
Debbie Z will crack jokes, tell stories, and talk your ear off - that is, until you ask for her musical resume. "It's all a blur," she says. Recounting the many bands she'd been in, she got bored and stopped at 23. "Basement bands, too?" For her, it isn't how long she's been playing, it's how long she will KEEP playing.
Debbie Z joined Abbey Rodeo during the pandemic of 2020. Through all the adversity and hardship, the band has kept its sense of humor. "Everybody has a lot of fun and they're all incredible musicians. I'm really proud to be part of the back line. You know, I remember being 4 or 5 years old and all I wanted to do was to play the piano. Sometimes I look around on stage, smile and think, yup, it's still all I want to do."