Daryn Bertelson, left, plays the drums with Houdek at JazzFest in July 2010 at Yankton Trail Park in Sioux Falls.
/Patrick Baker, left, and Sean Egan play guitar and bass.
/Molly Valentine ‘ is a Houdek singer and songwriter. Courtesy photos
• Editor’s note: Marlys Roe and the Talismen will have their 50th anniversary concert at the Swiftel Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 21. The opening act for the South Dakota Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame band will be Houdek, a nine-member band in which eight of the members have strong ties to South Dakota State University.
What follows is an updated version of a story originally published in STATE magazine, the publication of the SDSU Alumni Association. Houdek’s CD can be purchased at the Museum Store at the S.D. Art Museum on the SDSU Campus. Find out more about the band at www.houdekmusic.com.
BROOKINGS – All you need to know to figure out this band is the name: Houdek.
No, it’s not some urban hip-hop slang.
It’s the name for a specific kind of soil, a loam found only in South Dakota.
There’s some irony in the name, because so many of the band members no longer live in South Dakota. But they long to be there. The state infuses their best memories. It inspires their music. It haunts them, but in a good way.
All nine band members have a connection to South Dakota, with eight of them having attended South Dakota State University. There’s no room here for the flow chart that would be needed to track the number of times these people played in bands together, jammed together, wrote songs together.
Music, like their home state, ties them one to another.
Let the elder statesman of the group put it in perspective. “They all miss South Dakota and decided to write music about it,” said Pat O’Connell, a 1968 graduate of SDSU who was a 2010 inductee into the South Dakota Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame for his tenure with Marlys Roe and the Talismen in the 1960s. “I think that’s what inspired this.”
In 2007, members of what would eventually become Houdek were part of a round-robin email, trying to figure out how to put on a show or at least get together to play music.
During that exchange, Tom Valentine, a 1997 graduate, originally pitched the idea to Patrick Baker, who graduated in 1995. He wanted to write an album of songs about South Dakota. Valentine later admitted he was half joking, but Baker wasn’t. “I said, ‘Count me in.’”
Writing songs was as natural for Baker as playing music.
“I’ve been writing on and off since I first started playing in junior high,” Baker said. “I was looking for a project to sink my teeth into.”
They started the project in early 2008, writing 15 songs in six months.
“Once we started, it went pretty quickly,” Baker recalled. “I’ve never been quite that productive.”
The songs were a group effort by Valentine and his wife, Molly, and Baker and his wife, Jen.
“Jen and Molly were integral to the process of writing the songs,” Baker said. “There was just a whole lot of collaboration.”
Getting nine people together to play music can be a logistical nightmare, particularly when they’re spread from the Twin Cities to the Black Hills and points in between.
But sharing and learning the new songs for an album was easy in the age of MP3 files and the Internet. Technology also allowed more collaboration.
“Pat and Tom encouraged us to write our own arrangements,” said Brian Stemwedel, a 1995 graduate who currently works as assistant coordinator of the Yeager Media Center at SDSU. “There was a volley back and forth over the Internet.”
The technological advances were particularly interesting for O’Connell, who had done some recording with the Talismen in the 1960s.
“If you needed an organ here, or a horn there, somebody could add their little part of it,” O’Connell said. “It was a whole new experience.”
An album, a concert, a film
The band debuted its album, “Return to Houdek,” in Pierre in October 2008, playing in concert for two nights at the Grand Opera House as a fundraiser for Pierre Players, the community theater group.
“The first show in Pierre, we did with a minimum of face-to-face rehearsal time,” Stemwedel said. “We were all on the same page because we learned the songs at home.”
It’s easy to check how polished the performance was because it became the subject of a documentary, “Return to Houdek: Live at the Grand.” The film was made by Brookings-based Lights Out Productions, which at the time was a new video production company looking for a project.
If the songs on the album and in the film were going to be categorized, they’d be called Americana.
“It’s such a mix of music from folk to a little bit of rock ’n’ roll,” O’Connell said.
In it for the fun
Where it all will lead is anyone’s guess, but a band that’s named after dirt and sings about South Dakota seems like it’s doing all it can to avoid commercial success.
“That seems to be our modus operandi,” Baker said with a laugh. “If anything looks like it might be an avenue to success, we take a left turn.”
For the band members, just getting to play music together is its own reward.
“For me, playing music, it’s a lot of fun,” said Stemwedel, who plays guitar and branched out to the mandolin for the album. “To play music with good friends is even better.”
While most of the band members are contemporaries and friends, O’Connell has another connection: He’s the father of Molly Valentine.
“In my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d be able to be on stage with my daughter,” O’Connell said.
On the road again
To make those dreams come true, the members of Houdek log plenty of miles to play together. They’ve played shows in Mitchell, Pierre and at the Jazzfest in Sioux Falls. A Sunday afternoon gig at Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood led to an invitation to play at last year’s Deadwood Jam.
“None of us would be doing this if we didn’t love to play,” Baker said. “These are troupers, real troupers.”
So what started as a group of college friends who wanted to play music together again has grown into an album, a documentary film, a website, and a place on the bill with Blues Traveler and Grand Funk Railroad at the Deadwood Jam.
That’s far more than they expected back when they were emailing each other, trying to find a way to make music again.
“There was no necessarily saying there would be a second act for us at all,” Baker said. “But we get to play, we get to record, we get to write. And we get to do that with our friends.”