By JOHN ANDERSON
I was joking with Shelly (Whitwood) Valentine at the VFW on Saturday that we were at our 529th Zoar concert.
As usual, they played well over an hour longer than they committed to playing, and not a single song was performed without a packed dance floor.
Rick Whitwood, Monte Case (drums) and Chris Dahill (bass) playing the Wine Walk Saturday.
The dancing was average. The music was amazing.
When you are around since 1988 and you keep practicing and keep playing … closing in on 3,000 shows, your sound and timing starts bordering on perfection.
Back to those numbers, and the band.
They were honored with the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Wellsville award in 2020, pretty much a citizen of the year award. And if there was a New York State Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, they would be first-ballot entries.
Shelly, Rick’s sister, worked with me at the Daily Reporter. As the decades went on, one thing stayed the same. On Thursday, someone in the office would say, “We should go see Zoar this weekend.” And everyone would say yes. Here is the funny part: The next line was “where are they playing?” We didn’t know if it was across the street at Better Days, the Birdsall Inn, Fillmore Hotel, Angelica Hotel, somewhere that’s not on the official Pennsylvania map, Shongo (you just said Shongo and drove over there and looked for the cars) or a benefit.
Oh yes, the benefits.
Zoar was formed in 1988. In 2010, a long look at the concert ledger showed Zoar had played over 300 benefits. That was 13 years ago. That number has to be over 400. To put it in perspective, Nirvana played 316 total shows.
Frontman Rick Whitwood has been the staple since 1988. He’s still only a few years removed from one swipe of a Goody comb perfectly dropping his feathered hair into place.
His style of blues and rock is so distinct and unique. The song Piano Man plays over and over in your head as you watch him perform and play. And when you listen to his lyrics from any of his originals, you think, “Man, what are you doing here?”
The music industry is a brutal one. Maybe if one more person listened to his songs, Rick would be in Los Angeles or New York City. There are millions of talented musicians in this world. Fate is a strange thing.
Then again, if you ever watched the movie Field of Dreams, it puts things in perspective. Doc Graham was long-deceased when his ghost as a teen was picked up on the way to the magical baseball field in Iowa. His dream was to play in a Major League game. He got that at bat on the field surrounded by corn stalks. When he stepped off the field, he transformed back into a doctor and never got to play baseball again. He said it would be a shame if he didn’t spend all those years as a doctor.
While Zoar and Rick are no doctors, that’s over 400 benefits they played, raising money for treatment, for families, for peace of mind, and in some cases, to help those rebuild their lives after tragedy.
Years of kids and adults learning to play guitar and thumb through records at Music Alley when the nation tried to tell us record stores were extinct. Without that on Main Street in Wellsville, that would be a shame. I’d like to think Rick and Zoar had their Field of Dreams moment opening for Bad Company one year. They drew the loudest applause of the night.
About 12 years ago, Rick was in an accident at his house doing work and the medical bills mounted. The benefit of all benefits was held at the VFW.
Video of the benefit and some of the great musicians in the region who played. Story continues after the video.
At the benefit, it was a chance to see other legends like Chet and Louie Norton (who are pretty close to Zoar numbers as well!) and a Zoar reunion of sorts as everyone from the incredible guitarist and songwriter Cort Dunham took the stage with Hansiell Dunn, Roger Carlin and more.
Today, it’s best to find where Zoar is playing by following them on Facebook (click HERE) or do what Dave Garwood and I would do, just go into the Music Alley and ask.
Do yourself a favor, no matter your age, dancing ability or taste in music, see Zoar perform before the end of the year. You will thank me later.
A video of ’65 Mustang from nine years ago. Story continues after video:
Here’s some great info from their website. First, a bio on the band, and then, bio’s on the current members, Whitwood, Cahill and Case.
Western New York Rock & Roll, Est. 1988
Wellsville lies in an area of Western New York far removed from what “New York” evokes to most people not native to the area. Just a little village, it’s actually the largest town in Allegany County. The band Zoar has survived for over three decades playing music in all these wonderful small towns in this part of the State. Part of the original mission was to include original music in a diverse mix with cover songs they loved to play. Mission accomplished! Since 1988 Monty Case and Rick Whitwood have performed over 2,000 gigs together, traveled countless miles, as well as formed a lasting bond with many of the people that have supported the band through the years. As a matter of fact, the band has had six bass players, with three serving two tenures in the band. Zoar had the good fortune of having Chris Dahill return for his second tenure in 2016, a position he currently holds.
In the late 80’s the Western New York music scene was dominated by hard rock and hair metal bands covering Poison, Motley Crue, Bon Jovi, Warrant and the other top 40 bands of the day. Southern Rock and the Blues had been relegated to the back burner. Despite that landscape, Zoar chose to highlight their set list with music by ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and the like with a healthy dose of their blues rock originals. At one point the song list exceeded 100 songs. The band, Cort Dunham, Monty Case, Rick Whitwood and Jon Gates soon found an audience for their tight, dance inducing rock and roll. Playing over 100 dates a year while maintaining “regular jobs”, the Zoar sound began to reflect the many hours of music they made together.
The spring of 1990 brought bassist Roger Carlin to the fold replacing Jon Gates. Zoar, now Dunham, Case, Whitwood and Carlin began to earnestly pursue recording original material. Their self-titled debut was released in 1992, the culmination of hard work and hard miles. Containing such Zoar favorites as 65 Mustang, Livin’ The Hard Way, Idaho, Poor Man’s Queen, Restless Tonight and Lost In The Space Of Your Mind, the home-spun quality of this release helped make it a strong selling regional album. The weekends often consisted of two to three gigs on top of a 40 hour work week. The band was a well oiled machine and began to earn a reputation for their live shows.
At this point, between rehearsals, live dates, recording sessions and day jobs the grueling pace began to take its toll and the band lost Cort Dunham and shortly after crew members George Newark and Bob Hyde. On a cold February night over a hot cup of coffee at the long since demolished Hamburger Willy’s in Wellsville, Monty and Rick decided they had too much music left in them to let the band die. Neither could have known then that it would be 20 more years and counting.
April of 1993 brought aboard Hansiell Dunn. Initially reluctant to perform live again after a long period away from the stage, Dunn was on board as the band pushed it’s boundaries logistically and creatively. The band now was traveling to Buffalo, Rochester, Geneva and farther to spread the gospel of Zoar. In 1994 Roger Carlin left the band and set in motion a search for their third bassist since 1988. Tom Musingo, a very talented multi-instrumentalist was chosen after numerous auditions and was with the band for two years. As recording sessions for Zoar’s 2nd album “Long Hard Road” approached Carlin returned on bass, a stint that would last through his retirement from performing in 2007. Long Hard Road helped the band garner regional radio airplay and invitations to open for such national acts as Bad Company, Molly Hatchet and the Goo Goo Dolls. Hansiell Dunn left the band in late 1997 and Whitwood, Case and Carlin performed their first gigs as a trio while searching for a second guitarist. Short stints in Zoar by Louie Norton and Jerry Jordan set the stage in 1999 for Tom Greene. Greene’s tenure lasted to early 2002, thus earning him his rock and roll wings. Throughout this period Zoar also enjoyed the dedicated service of crew members Tony Cicirello and Jeff Kinney. By this time the band was over a decade old with no signs of slowing down.
And then there was three … after a series of the most successful gigs the band ever performed, the trio of Whitwood, Case and Carlin came to the conclusion the best replacement was no replacement at all. Since 2002, Zoar has performed as a lean, mean three piece machine. By 2007 these three musicians had logged over 16 years and thousands of miles performing together, becoming one of the areas most respected bands along the way. Carlin called it a day in 2007 performing his last gig, fittingly at Rick’s daughter Nicole’s wedding.
Case and Whitwood had a discussion on how they would replace Carlin as auditions began in earnest. Good fortune shone on the band yet again one quiet summer day at the Music Alley in Wellsville. Bruce Maybee, a talented and experienced guitarist/bassist/vocalist, had relocated to Wellsville and was looking for the right band to play with. He and Rick hit it off musically and socially with Maybee joining the band, playing his first gig 5 minutes after meeting Monty with no rehearsal. He never missed a note. Bruce played with the band for two years in which the Zoar performed nearly 75 dates each year. Some of his studio performances will see the light of day on Rick’s forthcoming album.
Talk about a tall order, Monty and Rick were now faced with finding yet another bass player to replace the departing Bruce Maybee. Up to the plate stepped Chris Dahill. Rick had quietly been observing Dahill develop in to a first rate musician and in 2009 he joined the band. Chris had come of age watching Zoar perform and in part developed his playing style with influences that included Roger Carlin. He was given a crash course then told his first gig would be in Buffalo. Chris rose to the occasion becoming a valuable asset to the band. Dahill in essence went to “Zoar College” having gained the necessary road miles to be highly respected around the local music scene. He departed from the band in 2015 nearly six years to the day he joined. Original member Cort Dunham rejoined the band on bass guitar from September 2015 through August 2016. And back comes Chris Dahill, rejoining Zoar in August of 2016!
Zoar has logged many miles, but make no mistake the engine roars. As popular today as they were in 1988 or 1998, a Zoar performance usually guarantees a good time will be had by all. New original music will hopefully be released in 2021, if not by the band, certainly by Whitwood in his own right. Zoar’s incredible family tree has branches that connect current and former members with many area bands such as, The Rogues, Gambler, Tarkus, Peace Pipe Mafia, Mojo Hand Blues, Onyx, White Raven, Ice Water Mansion, Moondance, Fat Brat, RWB and so many more. With over 2,000 gigs to the band’s credit, Zoar continues to perform everywhere and anywhere. From summer festivals to benefits, weddings to Gin Mills and restaurants to roadhouses expect to see “Zoar” on a Southern Tier marquee sometime soon. To everyone the band has met along the way, we are truly grateful for the support and friendship. Thank you! We hope to see you soon.
The current band members
Guitarist/Vocalist Rick Whitwood was born in raised in Wellsville, New York taking up guitar at the age of 14. Practicing for hours every day to learn the licks of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and all the other guitar heroes of the day. While his classmates were all wearing Iron Maiden and Judas Priest T-shirts, Rick and his guitar buddies were pouring over record albums by the Allman Brothers, Doors, B.B.King, The Band, and anything else they could discover. With the guidance of a few established Wellsville musicians including Cort Dunham and Monty Case he and his friends formed their first band, Jack Frost. Soon his love for sports was rivaled by his passion for music.
He has worked in a variety of capacities in music including on-air Disc Jockey, recording engineer, performing musician, songwriter, Music Store owner and more. Since 1988 his guitar, vocals and songs have been a cornerstone of the Zoar sound. He is a driving force of the bands pursuit in writing and recording their own music.
Many of his songs highlight the bands recordings and his own solo releases. In addition to performing with Zoar, he has done many shows of original material in the Rick Whitwood Band. For the band’s first decade he often played a Gibson Les Paul Standard, switching to a Fender Telecaster in the late 90’s. Fender and/or Carvin tube amps with a Crybaby wah complete his “rig”. For recording it’s basically the same set up with vintage Fender amps including a Bandmaster, Twin Reverb and Carvin Bel-Air with the Telecaster, Les Paul or Stratocaster.
Having joined the Western New York band Zoar in the summer of 2009 makes bassist/vocalist Chris Dahill “the new guy”. With only a few rehearsals, Dahill quickly had his feet to the fire, as his first job with the band was in Buffalo, timing out at about seven hours. He rose to the occasion that first day and has not looked back. Before joining Zoar his resume included having performed with former members Cort Dunham and Bruce Maybee in separate projects as well as sitting in several times with Rick for his original music. These connections coupled with his talent helped make him the logical choice for Whitwood and Case. After a one year hiatus Chris returned to the band in August of 2016.
Chris brings a style rooted in classic rock and roll to the band while still having a feel for music from the 90’s through today. He came of age musically in the area music scene in which Zoar was already prolific. In part his bass style was influenced by long time Zoar bassist, Roger Carlin among others including Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce and Sting. He also brings a great deal of experience in live sound reinforcement that has enhanced the bands sound. Dahill currently plays a Fender Bass through an Ampeg bass rig.
It is nearly impossible to imagine Zoar without Drummer Monty Case. Having performed along with former members Cort Dunham and Roger Carlin in the short lived mid-70’s band of which Zoar appropriated the name, Case has been part of the band’s foundation since the beginning. His drumming style can effortlessly adapt from the more flamboyant style of the early 70’s to a more pocket, groove- like style and many places in between. When creating music, he and guitarist Rick Whitwood share a musical intuition with each other that can speak without words.
Case cut his teeth in the Wellsville, New York music scene watching local drummers like Gary Driscoll (Elf) and Rick Black (Barge, Rogues) as well as studying records by national acts like Mountain, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf and more. He saved his money and purchased his first drum set and before no time was performing in his earliest bands. Monty has many interests including muscle cars, hunting and martial arts, but music is closest to his heart. Monty’s harmony and occasional lead vocals from behind the drum set coupled with his playing make him an invaluable part of Zoar.