Master Danse | Interview | Feelin Dead: Insane Detroit Hard Rock from the 70’s
Master Danse are a Detroit, Michigan band that released a promo single in 1974 and soon got lost in time, but thanks to RidingEasy Records we are able to hear a top-notch killer set of unreleased recordings from the 70s.
Master Danse was formed in late 1973 in Detroit, Michigan when drummer Tom Riss and bassist Cary Fletcher, formerly of the Detroit band Licking Stick, went looking for a new guitarist/lead vocalist and jammed with John Giaier, who had most recently played in the band Crawdad. The three musicians hit it off immediately, and a new power hard rock trio was born. The band recorded a promo single ‘En Route To Fame’ / ‘Feelin Dead’ and by the end of 1974 the power rock trio decided to call it quits.
What was left for posterity were only two live reel to reel recordings and one promo 45 single. Some forty-seven years later, the 45 found its way onto the internet. With the help of modern-day tape restoration techniques, the two live recordings were restored, and together with the 45, the best versions of the eight songs that have survived the decades are featured on the recently released ‘Feelin Dead ’. Although recorded on a two-track stereo tape recorder, you can still feel the power of Giaier’s Marshall stack, Fletcher’s twin Acoustic 360 amps, and the relentless attack of Riss’ Ludwig drums.
“We had the best equipment money could buy. When you put all of these things together, it was a unique, original sound”
I first heard about you via the absolutely fantastic ‘Brown Acid’ compilation. Did you ever imagine that someone will contact you for a possible inclusion of your old material in the compilation?
Tom Riss: First off, hello Klemen, it’s a pleasure to be interviewed by It’sPsychedelic Baby! Magazine. Now, to answer your question, hell no, I never imagined that some record company would contact us in 2021 about Master Danse, a band that I played in some forty-seven years prior. It came completely out of the blue and was a pleasant surprise. We learned that someone had posted a bootlegged copy of our song ‘Feelin Dead’ on the internet and that’s how Lance Barresi and Daniel Hall tracked us down through social media. After all these years of playing in a dozen different bands and trying to get a record deal, this thing happens forty-seven years after the music was recorded. It just goes to show you: Kids, never give up; it’s never too late!
John Giaier: Thank you Klemen. I can’t think of a more appropriate magazine for us to talk about ‘Feelin Dead’ and Master Danse. Some time back somebody put our 45 promo on YouTube. My daughter Olivia, who helps with my music business, started getting the calls. When the calls started, she didn’t tell me at first. I’ll explain why later. When I finally learned about the calls my mind was blown. The A side, ‘En Route to Fame,’ was about fun and rock n roll. The B side, ‘Feelin Dead,’ was about death and drugs. I finally hooked up with Lance and Daniel and their enthusiasm was inspiring. It had been years since I had spoken with Tom Riss the drummer. I tried to find him, but I couldn’t; however, Lance and Tara did.
Where and when did you grow up? Was music a big part of your family life? Did the local music scene influence you or inspire you to play music?
Tom Riss: I’m from Detroit, Michigan, born and raised. There was always music being played in our home and my dad played violin and sang in the church choir. He had three sons and he desperately wanted one of us to take up the violin but none of us would bite. Later on, I regretted it, because it would have been such a great instrument to learn how to play, and I had free lessons available to me right there in my own home. But this was before people like Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty made playing the violin look cool. Oh well, I was a stupid kid.
The local music scene in the early 70s definitely inspired me to play music. There were a number of great bands that I would often see playing around town, like the MC5, Savage Grace, The Frost, Bob Seger, Alice Cooper, The Stooges, and The Amboy Dukes, just to name a few. These great bands played somewhere in town almost weekly it seemed, at places like high schools, bars, The Grande Ballroom and other venues and I went to see them as often as possible. It definitely gave me the jones for the rock and roll stage.
John Giaier: I grew up on the east side of Detroit, just a few streets from Tom and we went to the same Catholic grade school together. I started to learn to play the guitar at the age of 12. Most of the music stores in Detroit wouldn’t let little kids touch the displayed guitars unless parents were with them; however there was a large music store in the area called Artist Music Center, they were smart. They let us little kids pull the guitars off the shelf to hold them and try to play them so that we would bug our parents and get our parents to buy the guitars for us.
At the time the Detroit music scene didn’t inspire me; however, seeing The Beatles for the first time on television, really sucked me in. To me, seeing them was very inspiring. They made me want to learn how to play the guitar and play it day and night. I never did well in school, and I never wanted to go to college. My father, who had a great work ethic, would always tell me, “You don’t have to go to college, you can dig ditches and I’ll buy you a golden shovel to do it.” However, the guitar was my life and I eventually bugged him to buy me my first guitar.
When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
Tom Riss: I have always been fascinated with the drums. I think I came out of the womb banging on pots and pans. I heard one time that drummers are people who were especially cognizant of their mother’s heartbeat. I don’t know how true that is but it’s a nice thought and makes me feel even closer to my mom. Anyway, I got my first drum kit at age five. It was a cheap toy kit and I banged the shit out of it until I broke all the heads. I started pestering my dad for a real drum kit, but he couldn’t afford it, so I got a paper route and began saving my money to buy myself a kit. This was back in the 1960s when a 15-year-old kid could go into the neighborhood music store and put a down payment on a drum kit and take it home. It was a four piece Slingerland drum kit with a blue flame finish and I thought I was a real badass with that kit. I made monthly payments faithfully until I owned the drums and I learned to play them in my parent’s basement by playing along with records. I must have driven them crazy, but they never complained. At least I was home and doing something constructive.
John Giaier: I started to learn to play the guitar at the age of twelve. By the age of fourteen, I started listening to Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix. I had a brand new Less Paul Custom and I ended up trading it for an old 1959 Fender Strat, which eventually got stolen at gunpoint when I was walking into the Wayne State cinema theatre for band rehearsal. At the age of 18 years old, I decided I wanted to learn to sing so I started listening to James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, and Mark Farner. Incidentally, on my 70th birthday, my kids hired Mark Farner who performed ‘We’re an American Band’ and other Grand Funk’s songs at my private birthday party. I was totally surprised. Mark secretly rehearsed at the Birmingham Athletic Club for two days. He took the gig very seriously. But getting back to James Brown, he was very influential; he was unique. He had a built-in limited compressor into his voice. He had the ability to sing every note at the same volume. The secret was, he didn’t sing very loud. I quickly learned how important that was when learning to sing.
“Our parents sat with Aretha Franklin’s parents, as she was in one part of the studio”
What bands were you a member of prior to the formation of Master Danse?
Tom Riss: The first band I was in was a three-piece folk-rock outfit called Dapple Inc. probably around 1968. That band morphed into a classic four-piece rock band called Sunstone (two guitars, bass, and drums). The notable thing about that group is that our lead guitar player’s dad had a connection to Motown Records, and we were briefly in negotiations with them to become just the second white rock band (after Rare Earth) to get a deal with them. However, things didn’t quite work out and I had to wait another fifty years to get a record released. I just found out recently that the lead guitar player from that band, a great dude named Mark Dunn, has passed away. Very sad.
John Giaier: At the age of fourteen, I started a band called Salazar. One night, we were playing at a Saint Matthews grade school celebration dance. I was approached by two gentlemen, Russ Terrana and Ralph Terrana. They owned a very famous studio in town called Terashirma studios. At the time, they were a big part of Motown. They recorded everybody who was anybody in this business. They ended up signing my parents to a recording contract. My dad wasn’t too thrilled about it, but my mother was. It was there that I made my first album. The Terrana brothers, they were old; they were around 25 years old and I was just a kid. We ended up becoming good friends, and they treated us like equals. It was there when I first met Aretha Franklin, Mitch Ryder, and Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk (they might’ve been called The Pack at that time). I do remember watching Isaac Hayes making the song ‘Shaft’ from the ground up.
Thelma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson were the secretaries to the studio. They were also famous background singers. I was lucky enough to have them sing on my album. Since I didn’t have a driver’s license, my parents and my bandmates’ parents would have to drive us to the studio. Our parents sat with Aretha Franklin’s parents, as she was in one part of the studio and they were in another. In fact, when my parents ended up signing the contract with the studio, Mark Farner and Don Brewer were recording. They were so loud that we had to go into the alley to sign the contracts. I remember my parents saying, “Are they going to have to grow their hair long? Are they going to start doing drugs now?” Russ and Ralph were very tactful and they not only cooled my parents out but the other parents too. I also remember the time Russ took me into the four-track studio so that I could hear a new song that he just recorded. It was ‘Cool Jerk’ by The Capitals. I remember hearing hits from Mitch Ryder before they even hit the radio. That took me to my next band, Crawdad. That band played at a lot of bars in the area. We played 3-4 nights a week, mostly weekends and early in the week. It was a great way of making money, but very difficult to do.
Tell us about The Licking Stick, did you play a lot of shows?
Tom Riss: Ah, Licking Stick; that was one wild ride, playing in that band. We were a three-piece all original psychedelic hard rock band that formed sometime around 1971-72. We played songs like ‘Touching Tongues,’ ‘Tipping and Tooling,’ and the ever popular ‘I’d Like to Love You’. We played a ton of gigs in Detroit and the surrounding area often in concert with two other legendary Detroit bands, The Motor City Mutants and The Dogs. Our guitar player was a former member of The Mutants, so we had a tight bond with those guys. It was always a party when those three bands got together, and we consumed a lot of alcohol and drugs, I can tell you that.
I remember the night when I had to bail everybody out of jail after the show was busted for some reason which now escapes me, and another time when the cops literally pulled the plug on us at an outdoor concert in Lansing even though we had a permit to play there. I think they said we were too loud or some bullshit. Licking Stick was a blast, but unfortunately it ended in 1973 when I broke my hand playing softball during a brief hiatus from touring and got booted from the band. The guitar player took off to L.A. and the bass player remained behind with me to eventually form Master Danse in 1973.
Can you elaborate on the formation of Master Danse?
Tom Riss: Like I said earlier, when Licking Stick broke up in 1973 the bass player, Cary Fletcher, and I remained together and began to search for a replacement for our guitarist/lead vocalist. We were pretty committed to the three-piece line up because it was just less complicated than trying to keep a larger band together. As I recall, my cousin, Mike Novak, told John Giaier that we were looking for a replacement. John contacted me and we set up a jam session. During that jam session we found instant chemistry and agreed to form a band together. John was a great singer and an equally great guitar player, and he brought with him a number of song ideas, including the song ‘Feelin Dead’. The thing is, John was going to be married in late 1974 and I think he was looking for one last stab at getting a record deal with a rock band before settling down to married life. So right from the get go we were committed to writing tunes, producing some demos and trying to get a record deal. Unlike previous band adventures, we really weren’t focused on playing bar gigs which would necessitate learning a bunch of cover tunes. We were strictly an original music kick ass rock and roll power trio.
John Giaier: Master Danse was a three-piece band. Three people agreeing to play music with each other and then agreeing which songs to play, and how to play them. We were very well rehearsed. We had enough to play one gig. We were lucky enough to play at the Wayne State cinema theatre. What a place to rehearse. It was the lower level of the Unitarian Church on the corner Forest and Prentice on the Wayne State campus. The place was very clean, but I remember seeing a cockroach with green and yellow fur on it, and it wasn’t afraid of anything. It kind of creeped me out, but it prepared us to play our one gig. We were so loud that the theatre caretakers had to hire people to screw in the hundreds of lights that were in this historical building that vibrated out from all the loud music. I think we had to pay for them to do that, I recall now.
“The music on the Master Danse album was recorded live”
When and where did you play some of the first gigs? Tell us about the repertoire? How was the band accepted by the audience?
Tom Riss: Now, you’ve got to remember this was fifty years ago, so my memory is somewhat cloudy. But as I recall we really only played one gig and that was a carefully planned music showcase that was designed to get us a record deal. We may have played another time or two to get our chops together but I don’t recall where or when that could have been.
Here’s the thing, we had a great rehearsal facility which was in the basement of a local church near downtown Detroit adjacent to the Wayne State University campus. And this wasn’t just some little activity room but a large auditorium with an elevated wood stage and capacity for a few hundred people. As I recall it was also used by the Wayne State theatrical troupe and the alleged former practice space for the Alice Cooper band when they returned to Detroit from California in 1970. At any rate, it was a great place to practice because it provided us with an environment to simulate a live performance. We played on a spacious stage that accommodated all our gear and we could play at concert volume, which I can assure you we did. We were a loud fucking band! We played through the same PA system we would use on gigs and even used monitors on stage for the vocals. The music on the Master Danse album was recorded live in this setting at two different rehearsals between January and July 1974.
Because of our great rehearsal facility, I do recall people would often stop by to hear us, so there was somewhat of a live performance feel to many of our rehearsals. But our main objective was to write material and get our chops tightened up for a music showcase.
What sort of venues did you play early on? Where were they located?
John Giaier: The first and only gig that we played was a giant roller rink in Roseville, Michigan. It was heavily promoted by a gentleman who’s name I don’t recall. There was a rock group called The Rockets who were starting to get very popular at that time, but we were so good that the promoter had them play warmup to us; we were the main act.
How did you decide to use the name “Master Danse”?
Tom Riss: I have no idea. We kicked around a bunch of band names and settled on that one. I think it was John’s suggestion. I’ve always had a love/hate reaction to that name. I don’t know what the fuck it means, but it sounds good.
John Giaier: Tom will say that I came up with the name, but I remember that he was the one who came up with it, and I love the name.
What influenced the band’s sound?
Tom Riss: Here’s the thing, when you form a band, assuming it’s a democratic formation, your sound becomes an amalgamation of all the individual members’ influences combined. Normally, band members share a common ground of musical influences which is why they find chemistry in the first place, but it’s also nice when people can share some different vibes with each other to keep things fresh. I think that was the case with Master Danse. We had a lot of shared influences but also brought with us a variety of musical tastes.
For me at that time, I was greatly influenced by Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Grand Funk Railroad. But I also liked Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Chicago, and Jethro Tull. All that shit gets into your bloodstream and swirls around until it comes out through your playing and creates your own unique sound. That’s what is so great about music. There’s a never-ending supply of influences to be tweaked and molded into a new sound, provided you make yourself available to it.
As a drummer, at that time I was greatly influenced by Ginger Baker and John Bonham (like millions of other guys). I felt like my job was to lay down a tight groove and provide the backbone for John and Cary to play off, while at the same time looking for key spots to drop in a tasty fill or two. That, and being a good timekeeper; I prided myself in being a solid drummer.
John Giaier: We had the best equipment money could buy. When you put all of these things together, it was a unique, original sound.
You released a single ‘En Route To Fame’/’Feelin Dead’ in 1974. Was this a private release?
Tom Riss: In order to promote our upcoming music showcase, we were encouraged to self-produce a demo 45 that could be played on the local rock radio stations and sold at the gig. As I said earlier, John wrote ‘Feelin Dead’ and brought that with him when he joined the band, but ‘En Route To Fame’ was a band composition. As I recall, I came up with the name as a tongue in cheek jab at our lofty objective to snag a record deal out of the showcase.
John Giaier: Yes, it was a private release, but it was used as a promo. The A side, ‘En Route to Fame,’ was about happiness and rock n’ roll music. The B side was called ‘Feelin Dead’ and that was about death and drugs. I know Tom talked about a gentleman by the name of Stirling Silver, but there was another guy by the same sounding name, Sterling Silver, who was the program director and head disc jockey for CJOM, an alternative rock radio station in Windsor, Canada. He came to our one gig and from that point on, he always talked about us on his radio show. I gave him a copy of the 45 promo and I remember him saying “I love ‘Feelin Dead,’ you should’ve made that the A side, but I can’t play a song like that on this broadcast or I’ll lose my job.” He was born in 1927 and unfortunately, a few years back, he passed away. He had always wanted to be our manager.
What were the circumstances surrounding Detroit record store “The New York Rock Exchange”?
Tom Riss: There was this local Detroit record store on the east side called The New York Rock Exchange managed by a dude named Alden Walker Gallup III who went by the moniker Stirling Silver, and we somehow got introduced to him. He was a rock musician/promoter/entrepreneur who was part of the hip rock scene in Detroit at that time and he hung out with the likes of Rob Tyner and the MC5. He subsequently came to hear us play at rehearsal one day and fell in love with our music. Together we came up with this plan to promote an exclusive showcase event designed to expose local DJs and record people to our music and land us a record deal. Stirling encouraged us to produce the demo 45 that he could then sell in his record store. I believe he was also able to get us some airplay on the local rock radio stations as I recall.
John Giaier: I have to apologize, I don’t remember “The New York Rock Exchange.” But I do think I remember that Stirling Silver who was from Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
Would you like to tell us what inspired the lyrics behind the two singles?
John Giaier: I wrote ‘Feelin Dead,’ the B side, and that was the result of two people that I knew who died from heroin overdose. One of my best friends at the time was getting more addicted to heroin. I was angry and I wanted to sing and play about it. Tom Riss and I wrote ‘En Route to Fame,’ and that was a very appropriate song for the band to play because it reflected fun, enthusiasm, and happiness. It made us feel inspired when we played it.
How many copies of the single were pressed? Did you send them to any radio stations or even labels?
Tom Riss: I don’t remember how many records were pressed, but typically you purchase those things by the hundreds.
John Giaier: I think I printed 100 copies of it from Archer Records.
Where did you record it? What kind of equipment did you use and who was the producer? How many hours did you spend in the studio?
Tom Riss: The demo 45 was recorded at Pioneer Studios in Detroit. Our soundman, Frank Haas, was basically our producer as he was an expert on our sound. I don’t remember much at all about the studio recording experience.
John Giaier: As Tom said, it was recorded at Pioneer Recording Studios in Southfield, Michigan. It was recorded, at the time, on a state-of-the-art tape recorder called “Skully.” I can’t remember the recording counsel or what kind it was, but the tape machine didn’t have lifters. Lifters were little bars that would lift the tape off of the heads so that you could fast forward or rewind without wearing out the heads of the recorder and the tape. That machine didn’t have lifters but through the years, I believe it was Less Paul who invented a solenoid that eventually would be on all recorders that would alleviate this problem.
When and where did you record the material that RidingEasy Records recently released under the name of ‘Feelin Dead’?
Tom Riss: The eight songs included on the Master Danse ‘Feelin Dead’ album were recorded live during rehearsals between January and June of 1974. Our soundman extraordinaire, Frank Haas, recorded us on a two-track stereo tape deck to ¼” Scotch reel to reel tape at 7 ½ IPS. After miking up all the instruments, he plugged all the lines into a mixing board and mixed it down to two tracks. So, think of this, he was doing a livemix of a loud as shit hard rock band to a two-track stereo recorder while sitting near the back of the stage. The fact that he was able to capture all of the instruments and the vocals and put them in balance with each other is an incredible feat. I still marvel at the sound quality of those recordings. I tell you, that is exactly what we sounded like live, like it or not.
John Giaier: I believe that you’re talking about the album ‘Feeling Dead,’ which was recorded at the Wayne State cinema theatre, when nobody was there but us. Our friend, Frank Haas, sat in the back of the theatre and with a two-track tape recorder, all properly miked but with no special effects—we played it all live—on the second slowest speed that that machine had. I think it took us a couple of days to do it.
Was there a plan for a whole album being released at the time?
Tom Riss: Absolutely. This would have been the bulk of the material we would have recorded if we had gotten a record deal. There were a couple of other tunes that would have made it on the album for a total of ten songs instead of eight, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good enough version of those tunes to include them on today’s album.
John Giaier: When we made the live recording, we thought we had enough for an album, but if it weren’t for Tom Riss, who had the inclination to take those recordings and put them in a vacuum sealed container (that container sat there for years in his possession) those reel to reel tapes would’ve disintegrated by now. In fact, they would’ve had so much degradation after 25 years, let alone 50, so kudos to Tom.
Were you inspired by psychedelics back then?
Tom Riss: Ha, can I plead the 5th? Just kidding. One thing I learned from the Licking Stick experience is that you never played as good as you thought you did while under the influence of drugs. At some point you’ve got to give that shit up. I can only speak for myself, but by the time Master Danse was formed I wasn’t doing any type of drugs, psychedelics or otherwise. As far as the other two guys, we have not been able to locate our great bass player, Cary Fletcher, and John will have to speak for himself. But it’s my impression that we were pretty clean during that time. As John sings in ‘En Route To Fame,’ “Hey everybody we don’t need no (sic) narcotic, we just gotta rock and roll.”
John Giaier: I did my share of drugs. I’ve done them all. There was one drug that I would never and will never do. As far as psychedelics, my band Salazar used to go up to Northern Michigan and we would drop acid together and would play a game of “chicken,” and whoever would get up last from the freeway would win the game. We were young and stupid. When it came to recording and performing, the band and I would never do any drugs. That was one line I would never cross. I still carry that same work ethic today.
What kind of amps, speakers, guitars, pedals et cetera did you have in the band?
Tom Riss: During the Master Danse sessions I played a 5-piece Ludwig drum kit with a black diamond finish. I used Remo Weatherking coated Emperor drumheads and tuned them up so my sound would cut through the volume of the band. I played with ProMark Rock Knocker drumsticks (sticks with no beaded tips) for maximum power and volume. I played Paiste and Zildjian cymbals and used a Ludwig Speed King bass pedal. Since we have not found Cary Fletcher, I can tell you that he played a burgundy colored Rickenbacker stereo bass guitar through twin Acoustic 360 amplifiers. He would meticulously mix his stereo signals to balance the treble and bass tones to his liking. I know that Chris Squire from Yes was a big influence on Cary, and he played bass with a pick. Cary’s thick bass tone and aggressive attack really helped carry the band by filling in a lot of space even when John went off on extended guitar solos. Near the end of our time together he bought a synthesizer, although I couldn’t tell you the make or model. He used it on just two songs, ‘We’re Not Alone’ and the intro for ‘En Route To Fame’. Maybe someone who knows Cary will read this and tell him we’re looking for him.
John Giaier: Tom, I recall, had a beautiful set of Ludwig drums, and Carythe bass player had two Acoustic 360’s, one on each side of the stage. Since he had a stereo Rickenbacker bass guitar, he was able to set one 360 on one side of the stage, all bass, and one on the other side of the stage, all treble. We had a custom made sound system that was 800 watts, made by our friend Frank Haas. I, myself, had a 100-watt Marshall amplifier, with two Marshall speaker bottoms and one Crybaby wah-wah pedal. My strings were set on the high side for terrific resonation. I remember in order to tune my guitar, I had to call my sister who had a piano and she would hit an E note on the piano over the phone. Kary later brought in a keyboard and we were able to use that for tuning and it was also used on the song En route to fame. I also had my 1959 Stratocaster guitar which seemed to have its own unique sound.
Today, I use a Kemper Profiler plugged directly into a Marshall bottom. I swear that Kemper has artificial intelligence. It lights up and turns on by itself in the middle of the night and updates itself with improving sounds. I love it; it seems to sound better every time I turn it on. Today, I use a Fender Stratocaster, Eric Clapton edition. I have removed the Eric Clapton vintage frets and have replaced them with medium jumbo frets which are Fender factory frets. My friend, Mike Koontz, has taken the shielding off my pickups and since they’re noiseless pickups my guitar is way louder than a normal Strat. It also has a built-in phantom power supply, which makes the guitar sound explode.
How would you describe the rock scene in Detroit?
Tom Riss: Like I said earlier, there was a vibrant rock scene in Detroit in the 1970s. A lot of great bands either came from the Detroit area or called Detroit their home base. There’s a good reason why Kiss wrote the song ‘Detroit Rock City’. Besides all the bars and concert clubs in the city we also had Cobo Hall downtown, The Grande Ballroom, The Palladium Ballroom, and the Eastown. A young musician like me could pay three bucks and see 3-4 great bands on one bill at one of these places. It was always my dream to play a gig at The Grande and that came true when in 1973 Licking Stick opened for Cactus there. That was a rush. Of course, that was also our goal as Master Danse, to get a record deal and play at some of those great concert venues.
John Giaier: As far as right now, Russ Gibb’s Grande Ballroom is gone. I believe the Eastown theatre also is gone. There are some smaller, local places to play like the Blue Goose Lounge on Jefferson in St. Claire Shores and the Majestic Theatre in Ferndale. Of course, we have DTE Energy and Freedom Hill.
Tell us the restoring process for the ‘Feelin Dead’ release.
Tom Riss: I’m glad you asked that question because it’s an interesting story. After we signed the contract to release the song ‘Feelin Dead’ on the Brown Acid compilation album, I was having a conversation with Daniel Hall at RidingEasy Records, and I informed him that I had saved through all these years two reels of tape recordings from Master Danse. I didn’t have a reel-to-reel tape deck and I had no idea if the tapes were still any good, but I had carried them with me from Detroit when I moved to Nashville, TN in 1986 and had stored them carefully to protect them from extreme temperature and humidity. He got excited about the prospect and told me that if I could get the tapes restored and the music transferred to digital media, he was 95% sure he’d like to release a whole album of Master Danse tunes. That’s all I needed to hear.
I searched the Nashville area and found a recording studio called Welcome to 1979 that specializes in tape restoration and transfers. I took the two reels to them and explained what we were trying to do and they took it from there. They baked the tapes, EQed them and transferred them to digital. Next, I took the digital media to Chanterhaus Studio, also in Nashville, which is owned by my good friend and former bandmate Rob Chanter. Rob and I sat for hours listening to the recordings and enhancing the fidelity the best we could under the circumstances. Remember, these songs came from a two-track stereo recording, so we could not isolate an individual instrument or a vocal in order to improve the track. We had to work with what was already there in the mix, which fortunately was already pretty damn good. We took it as far as we could and then handed it off to Daniel who had his in-house guy master it for pressing a record.
John Giaier: We originally recorded it two ways. One was at the studio, at Pioneer Recording Studio. The other was the album version, which we recorded at the Wayne State cinema theatre.
What happened after the band stopped? Were you still in touch with other members? Is any member still involved with the music?
Tom Riss: It’s my recollection that the band broke up after John got married in 1974. He and I have talked about it and agree that there was no animosity between us, no bandarguments or harsh feelings over the decision. I think we all knew what the plan was in advance and we just ran out of time to make things happen. Many years later I would find myself in a very similar situation after I had moved to Nashville with another band. By 1992 I was married and had a young daughter about to start school and I decided that I needed to quit playing music full time in favor of working a day job with a regular income and co-parenting my child.
But getting back to the post Master Danse era, after John left, Cary and I continued playing together in several other Detroit bands for a few more years before parting ways at some point to pursue our own musical projects. I played for two or three years in a great bar band called Jessica Spruce which is how I met my friend Rob Chanter (Cheplicki). I learned how to play guitar and fronted a Detroit rock band called The Panthers for a short time. I played drums in an eclectic rock band called Dog Latin and later joined my buddy Rob in a rock band called Private Lives which subsequently moved to Nashville in 1986. We played regularly all around town, once again searching for a record deal that just seemed to elude us. We did get picked to appear on the old NBC talent show Star Search in 1987 and had a blast traveling out to Hollywood. Although we had some minor successes, we just never made it to the top. I still play music to this day as a hobby, mostly acoustic guitar stuff and I do gigs occasionally. As John sings in En Route To Fame, “Music makes us happy, it’s all that we can do.”
John Giaier: After I left the band Master Danse in 1975, I scraped up enough money with a partner to start a studio called Elephant Recording. I bought my first 3M state of the art tape recorder (16 track) from a guy named Jerry Milam. He, like Less Paul, was the godfather of recording. He owned a studio called Golden World and recorded Elton John in his basement. He eventually became the sole distributor for MCI consoles and tape recorders. He supplied every major studio in America with recording equipment, including my studio. He once told me if I wanted to make money in the recording business to make jingles. I didn’t even know what jingles were, but I quickly learned. So I took the A-700 Revox reel to reel tape recorder from my studio and set out across the country selling jingles. I was lucky enough to secure contracts with media companies such as Time Warner, CBS, Clear Channel, and Hearst Argyle, just to name a few.
For years I was gone forty weeks out of the year, four days out of the week. I was never home. On June 11, 1996, my picture appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. After that, more jingles, more traveling, more studio time. I have since been to every big and small city in America numerous times. I was able to find some time to do five Christian albums, which were successful when they were sold as a collection. One weekend night, I got a call from the manager of Kiss. I had just bought a new transformerless recording counsel and they were in town and wanted to use it. They wanted to do a Gene Simmons solo album. When leaving the studio early one morning—it was hot and still—Gene asked me, “How is the neighborhood around here?” I told him, “It’s great; nothing bad ever happens.” Within five seconds of me saying that, a car pulled up across the street and blew up the store right in front of us. I remember seeing the flashes from the explosion. He then said, “I knew it, let’s get the hell out of here.” I haven’t seen or talked to him since.
What would be the craziest story that happened to the band?
Tom Riss: Since we didn’t gig much in Master Danse, I don’t have a crazy story to tell. The only thing I can think of is the time that John got mugged in the parking lot after practice one night and had his prized Fender Stratocaster stolen. That sucked, but he was otherwise unhurt.
John Giaier: When I was robbed at gunpoint walking into the Wayne State cinema theatre.
Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?
Tom Riss: The highlight would have to be the music showcase that Stirling Silver and friends produced for us. I can’t remember much about it, like where the venue was or the date it happened. But I do remember there were a few hundred people there as well as a few local rock celebs. We played great and were well received by the audience, and for a brief moment I really thought something big might happen for us. But unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case. It’s not always about the talent, or even the songs, but just about being in the right place at the right time, and for some reason that just didn’t happen for us. Perhaps if we had had more time it would have, but we’ll never know. I’m just grateful for what has happened since then with Daniel Hall and RidingEasy Records.
John Giaier: We only played one gig, and I loved the songs ‘IOU’ and ‘Givin’ In’.
Is there any other unreleased material by the band or even by any members?
Tom Riss: There are no other recordings of Master Danse other than what appears on the album. Since 1974 I have played in numerous bands in Detroit and Nashville and recorded on many occasions, mostly making demos for record execs. It’s funny, but I also have old ¼” reels of tape recordings from bands prior to Master Danse, like Sunstone, Licking Stick, and Dog Latin. I have no idea what’s on them or if they are any good, but I’ve held onto them all these years.
John Giaier: No, not that I know of.
Thank you for taking your time. Last word is yours.
Tom Riss: Thanks again Klemen for the opportunity to tell our story. This has been a fantastic experience from the first time Lance connected with us to our involvement with Daniel Hall and RidingEasy Records. I don’t know where I’m going, I only know where I’ve been, and I can’t wait to see where this all ends up.
John Giaier: It’s 2023 and I’m 71 years old. I’m in better shape now and in better health than when I was 22. My goal is to perform these songs live, if and when the time comes. I have great reverence for the people involved in Master Danse and great reverence for this business called music, which enabled me to feed my family for years. I still have a lot to offer, and I pray every day that I’ll be around to enjoy this next plateau of my life. That’s why I pray to God every night: “Not yet, let me do this.”
There’s been a lot of things that have happened in the last couple of years about Master Danse. All the way from the guy who mysteriously put the 45 promo on YouTube—to this day we don’t know much about him—and he had no business doing this, but I’m sure glad he did. And when my daughter took the first calls, one from a record company in Spain where they asked, “Did your dad do a song called ‘Feelin Dead,’ where a guy does heroin and kills himself in the end?” She originally told him, “He would never do that.” One day she asked me, “Dad did you record a song called ‘Feelin Dead’ about a guy doing heroin and committing suicide? Did you do that? Because I finally heard the song and it’s got your name on it and it sounds like you.” I replied, “What did you tell them?” She said, “I told them no. Did you do that? Well, I think you did. How could you record a song like that?” You see, this song could’ve been about my daughter, Olivia. She struggled with heroin addiction for years. This song also would have also been about others’ sons and daughters or about a soldier returning from Vietnam. I told her, “I did the song before you were born and before your mother and I were married.” We both wept and she looked at me and said, “I’m glad you did the song. Now call Lance Barresi from Permanent Records. He’s very enthusiastic about Master Danse and ‘Feelin Dead’. Today, Olivia is one of the greatest human beings I know. She is alive with an enthusiasm for life, and she’s become a mentor for other people in recovery. She is so precious to me and my great wife, Debbie. I love her to pieces.
Tom Riss, without him there would be no Master Danse. He’s one of the best drummers I’ve had the privilege of working with. When you play with the ferocity and feeling of Dave Lombardo of the group Slayer and the precision drumming of Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad and the time keeping talent of Pete Rivera from Rare Earth, how can you go wrong? Those are some of the greatest drummers in the world and Tom Riss is all of them put together. And who puts reel to reel tapes in a sealed container 50 years ago with his friend, Rob Chanter. The two of them prepared the reel to reels for remastering. Who does that? Tom Riss did that. He made it easy for one to play effortlessly and uninhibited, and for that I thank him. And then the two newest members of the band, Lance Barresi and Daniel Hall. Oh, they don’t perform or play in the band, but they happen to be the heartbeat of Master Dance and that heartbeat is getting stronger day by day.