Success is no accident for classic rock band Whiplash

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published August 4, 2015

 The Ghoul — a popular late-night horror movie TV host — poses with the members of Whiplash. The classic rock band has become one of the regulars who perform during an annual Halloween charity fundraiser the Ghoul hosts.

The Ghoul — a popular late-night horror movie TV host — poses with the members of Whiplash. The classic rock band has become one of the regulars who perform during an annual Halloween charity fundraiser the Ghoul hosts.

Photo provided by Whiplash

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DETROIT — If you’re looking for drama and tension, you’ll have to find it in the songs Whiplash plays. Most bands disintegrate because of conflict, but the guys in Whiplash — all local music scene veterans — say this group is thankfully free of that.


“We all get along well,” said bassist and vocalist Rick Crooker, of Clinton Township. “There’s no friction.”


Drummer and vocalist Ernie Modestino, of St. Clair Shores, chimed in with a similar sentiment.


“There’s no egos here,” he said.


The classic rock band — which also includes lead singer and rhythm guitarist Bob Kolinski, of Grosse Pointe City, and lead guitarist/vocalist James Vallar, of Fraser — is gearing up for its biggest gig yet when it opens for Kansas as part of the GM Rockin’ on the Riverfront concert series Aug. 14.


The free concerts are open to all ages and take place from 8-10 p.m. on the Riverfront Plaza, between the GM Ren Cen and the Detroit River in downtown Detroit. Whiplash was one of only five bands selected to open for national acts in the 10th annual series; listeners of 94.7 WCSX-FM and a panel of judges at the classic rock station chose the bands from dozens of entries.


Having attended previous Rockin’ on the Riverfront concerts, the musicians say they’re thrilled to now be taking to this stage.


“This is pretty cool,” Modestino said. “It’s very family-oriented. It’s just such a nice setting.”


Parking “is very inexpensive,” as well, he said.


“This year’s Rockin’ Wars (band contest) was an overwhelming success,” said WCSX Program Director Jerry Tarrants in a prepared statement. “It was amazing to see how many fans submitted entries, voted for their favorite bands and ultimately made their way to (the) riverfront stage.”


The band’s name comes not from the medical condition or the award-winning music film “Whiplash,” but from the animated villain Snidely Whiplash, who appeared on the TV cartoon series, “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.”


“We were trying to think of a good cartoon icon to have,” Crooker explained.


Crooker is the only remaining original member of Whiplash, which formed in 2006.


Whiplash — known online as Whiplash Classic Rock to avoid confusion with other bands of the same name — concentrates on songs from what the band says is the “golden age” of classic rock, from about 1965-79. Their concerts include songs made famous by the Who, the Beatles, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Rivers and other legends. Vallar said they also play “some B-sides,” and the musically accomplished members have the chops to tackle complicated tracks by artists like Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, as well. Crooker said the musicians like to challenge themselves.


“We formed the band because this is the music we love and this is what we want to play,” Kolinski said.


He said they do medleys of songs by artists like the J. Geils Band, the Doors, Led Zeppelin and many more to “keep the flow of the set going” and include more audience favorites.


“To me, we’re almost a throwback to a really good ’70s bar band,” Modestino said.


Kolinski said they currently have a repertoire of an estimated 150 songs, and they tailor their sets to each audience.


“We can kind of flip from being very danceable to being a good, hard-edged rock band,” Modestino said.


On a given night, Kolinski said they play three hour-long sets. Crooker said that equates to about 45 songs a night.


“That’s more than most professional bands do,” Kolinski said.


The musicians all have careers outside of the band. Crooker is a project manager at an automotive paint company. Modestino owns a window treatment company. Vallar is a day shift supervisor at an automotive supplier, and Kolinski is an artist and art educator.


“I always describe it as an expensive hobby,” Kolinski said. “We do get paid (to play), but it goes into equipment” or other band expenses.


Whiplash’s members, all of whom started playing when they were kids, now have 30-40 years of experience under their belts, and that’s apparent from what they say are their tight, high-energy live shows.


“We look forward to playing, and that translates when we perform,” Vallar said.


The band gigs almost weekly at bars around metro Detroit and elsewhere, and they’re booked for most of 2015 already. They’ve also become regular performers at the annual Aqua Freeze Festival in St. Clair Shores — they’re booked for the winter 2016 event — and the Ghoul’s Halloween Bash, an annual charity fundraiser orchestrated by the beloved late-night horror movie host; this year, the Ghoul’s Halloween Bash will take place Oct. 17 at Brownie’s on the Lake in St. Clair Shores.


At press time, the members of Whiplash were working on a couple of original songs in a classic rock vein that they hope to add to their set list soon. If those are a hit with listeners, the musicians say they may start to write and include more original material.


And while they will play bar band standards like “Mustang Sally” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” by request, don’t expect to hear Whiplash play certain classic rock chestnuts.


“We don’t play ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Some Kind of Wonderful,’ because every (other) bar band does,” Vallar said.


For more about Rockin’ on the Riverfront, visit www.gmrencen.com/happening/rockinontheriverfront.axis. For more about Whiplash — including other upcoming shows — visit www.WhiplashClassicRock.com or the Whiplash Classic Rock Facebook page.

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