Heath Holloman and Jim Bradley traded lead guitar riffs like a couple of heavyweight boxers.
They were in a makeshift practice garage on the outskirts of Vienna, slugging it out between a jug of weed killer and a plethora of Chicago Cubs banners.
The thunder created by this duo would've brought smiles to the faces of Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, the legendary lead guitarist duo of Lynyrd Skynyrd, as Holloman and Bradley were flawlessly working through a medley of Skynyrd hits. It sounded like they had been executing the timeless tunes from the Holy Grail of Southern Rock forever.
But, in actuality, they were successfully knocking off the rust.
“This is the first time we have all been in the same room together in seven years,” said drummer Chris Whiteside of Anna.
The furious jam sessions was preparation for the highly anticipated Plain Strange reunion concert Saturday at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson in Marion. All proceeds will go to Special Olympics.
Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. Music starts at 7 p.m. by opening acts Taylor Made and Greg Clutts. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Plain Strange “Reunion 2017” T-shirts will be sold at the event. All profits will be donated to 5-year old Kendall James of Benton, Kentucky, who is battling a rare soft tissue pediatric cancer.
High profile break-ups of iconic bands like The Beatles and the Eagles made front page tabloid news. Plain Strange throwing in the towel in 2010 was uneventful.
“We had cut back on the number of shows we were doing. Our plan was to play just the bigger festivals and open shows for major acts,” Whiteside said. ”Then, one day we just quit. Everybody had kids or other hobbies and we shut it down.”
Keyboard wizard Kevin Breeden of Vienna used a little trickery to get the band back together. Holloman, bass guitarist Ken Mathis, lead singer Jeff Mears and Breeden were all in.
“I got a call from Breeden and he said Chris would do the show if I would. It's for a great cause and I didn't want to be the bad guy, so I said, 'Sure. I'll do it,'” Bradley said. “I found out later that Breeden made the same call to Chris. It was a smooth move.”
Breeden is the elder statesman of Southern Illinois keyboardists. He was just 16 when he hit the road with Johnson County musical legend Mike Beasley. He would later tour extensively with Billy Cole Reed and Gary Jones.
Mears is the driving force behind the reunion. He solicited donations from AFSCME locals No. 3605 and 415 to pay for sound, lighting and stage. His friendship with Black Diamond owner Shad Zimbro helped secured the high-profile venue.
“We all knew that we would get back together again someday and performing for a great charity like the Special Olympics gave us some real motivation,” Mears said. “We have been practicing hard for three weeks. Our mission is to take the fans on an unforgettable musical journey. We have fine-tuned our set list. It is going to be two solid hours of non-stop, high-energy entertainment.”
In high school, Mears participated in band. However, he always looked up to Holloman and Plain Strange bass guitarist Ken Mathis, because they were in the Vienna High School rock ensemble.
“I always wanted to be in a band with Heath Holloman. He was the cool guitar playin' rock 'n' roller,” Mears said. “It finally happened when a couple bands had a little shake up in 1999. I was in Strange Brew with Chris and Jim, Heath and Ken were playing in Plain Jane. We merged to form Plain Strange, then picked up Breeden a few years later.”
Plain Strange is a top-of-the-line classic rock cover band that leans heavily toward the driving beat style of ZZ Top, Bad Company and John Mellencamp. They occasionally dabble with outlaw country tunes or a rhythm and blues ballad for the slow dance fans. A highlight of the night is always a rousing rendition of “Never Been Any Reason,” by local favorite Head East.
Whiteside said the band has no plans to resume performing on a regular basis, scheduling would be a nightmare because Breeden is a member of the hot new local band The Deplorables, but there is always a willingness to hit the stage for a good cause.