DC Drifters to be inducted into Iowa Hall of Fame
Published 9:00 pm Friday, April 21, 2023
Group was started more than 60 years ago in Austin
By Linda Baier, for the Tribune
The year was 1963 and Pontiac Grand Prix, Ford Fairlanes and Chevy Novas lined the streets of Austin. High school girls were wearing drop-waist dresses with big bows and stirrup pants. The guys sported button down shirts, dress pants and shined shoes.
Dick Clark’s American Bandstand was a Saturday morning favorite with music like “Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys, “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons and “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen.
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Denny Charnecki was in high school at the time, and he had a guitar and knew how to play it. He was influenced by his father, uncle and friends after watching them gather around and play music together. Charnecki and some of his friends then formed a band called DC Drifters, and as they say, the rest is history.
After 60 years the band, with Charnecki as its leader, is still going strong. Later this summer, it will be inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Arnolds Park, Iowa.
“I’m very happy, I’m proud,” Charnecki said. It’s taken a lot of hours, a lot of miles, a lot of heartaches, a lot of smiles. It wasn’t easy, but I’m glad we did it.”
Going back to the beginning, the group was made up of Charnecki on guitar and vocals, Jim Harbor on keyboards, Tom Olson on bass and Mike Monroe on guitar. Like many garage bands at the time, when they first started out they did not have driver’s licenses, so their parents drove them to shows.
Early on they auditioned for and signed on with the Fred Fenchel Agency out of Iowa. Soon bookings throughout Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas started coming in, and the group honed their performance skills as they went along.
Charnecki credits Foy Parrish of the Parrish Brothers, who took him under his wing and taught him the finer points of playing the guitar. The Parrish Brothers first broke into the Minnesota music scene in the early 1960s. They were a rockabilly-style band that played six nights a week at a Rochester bar, and also hosted a weekly television show on what was then KROC-TV. They eventually gained national fame and let Charnecki and the band open for them in various venues in Southeast Minnesota.
In 1966, Reaction Records approached the band about cutting a record, and after agreeing to do so, Charnecki recalls that they were asked which songs they wanted to sing. They chose “I know,” which was previously a No.1 hit in the charts by Barbara George. On the “B” side of the 45 was “Louisiana Blues” by Muddy Waters (known as the Father of Modern Blues).
The company took care of all the legal paperwork to get the rights for them to record. Charnecki still has the yellowed with age, handwritten release from Muddy Waters himself. The band thought that “Louisiana Blues” was going to be the song everyone liked, but “I Know” ended up becoming a favorite. The song charted nationally for the band, and today that original 45 is sought after by fans. The band has made other recordings over the years, but “I Know” is the one that fans remember, and it remains in their show set list today.
The DC Drifters have seen many personnel changes over the years. Charnecki estimates maybe hundreds. Originally starting with an all-male group, Charnecki did most of the vocals, but they eventually brought in female vocalists and today the band regularly features four singers, male or female.
The band with Charnecki as the leader opened shows and played back-up for many, many other famous performers. Charnecki himself played in other performers’ bands along the way.
He rattles off too many names to mention, but remembers Tommy Roe, best known for his hits “Dizzy,” “Sheila” and “Sugar Sugar” as being a very gracious man.
He played with the Coasters who were touring with Chuck Berry at the time.
“That was wild,” Charnecki said. “If it wasn’t for him, we probably wouldn’t have rock ‘n’ roll today.”
Charnecki also remembers Willie Nelson as being “the nicest, laid back, cool guy. He didn’t get excited, he stayed really cool.”
“They were all different, so many different personalities,” Charnecki continued. “Some were just like your neighbors would be. They all approached things differently, and they put their personalities into their jobs.”
The DC Drifters band and Charnecki himself have definitely paid their dues but have also received well deserved recognition. In 2008 he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Minnesota Rock & Country Hall of Fame. He is in the Austin High School Music Hall of Fame, and the band itself is in the South Dakota Hall of Fame, and these are just a few of many awards they have received.
This latest accolade coming the band’s way will be the Iowa Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2023.
They will be honored during the Hall of Fame Induction Spectacular on Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31-Sept. 3.
“This one is kind of special, because when we worked in Iowa, we worked with so many of the stars,” Charnecki said. “For them to recognize us, myself, as a part of that pioneering and carrying on (of Rock ‘n’ Roll), it is a great compliment.”
The DC Drifters are just part of the class to be inducted this year, which many note as having an impact on so many.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating the talent of the inductees who have made an incredible difference in all our lives,” said Ralph Kluseman, president of the Iowa Rock ‘n Roll Association. “This class of 2023 Hall of Fame inductees are testament to the caliber of the talent in Iowa and also the talent of inductees from around the world that have enriched our lives.”
Charnecki is able to bring along 10 people to be honored as well, those who have played in the band previously or currently.
“They are very deserving, they have put in a lot of time and effort, blood sweat and tears into their music,” he said. “They have given a lot for their art and music.” Some of their instruments and stage clothes will now be in the museum, and they will perform at a special concert that weekend as well.