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Bremerton man headed to Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame
The year was 1963. As an 8-year-old boy, growing up in a small town in Iowa, Lance DeMers would watch his two older brothers as they played in a rock band.
“The band would practice in our living room,” he said. “I’d sit on the sofa and watch them, especially the drummer, all night long.”
It was the same era as when the Beatles came to America and played on the Ed Sullivan Show. And, for DeMers, that was enough to make him know that he wanted to be a musician.
“We all sat around the little black and white TV set and watched the Beatles,” he said. “All the parents thought they were just awful. All us kids were mesmerized.”
His dreams of playing the drums in a rock ’n’ roll band may have seemed unreachable to some, but not to him.
“I had a cousin who played in a band, The Belaires,” DeMers said. “They were making it. They played on Dick Clark. They were pioneers in the early days of rock ’n’ roll. And they were from Iowa. That showed us that someone could be from Iowa and make records and make it big.”
To reach his dream, he played around with an old beater guitar that his parents had. But it was the drums that interested him the most. His brothers’ band stored their instruments upstairs at his house. And, when no one was home, he’d sneak up there and teach himself how to play the drums.
One night, the drummer for his brothers’ band called in sick and the band members made a joke about DeMers filling in.
“Being a kid, I took him seriously,” he said. “I sat down behind the drums and played their set list note-for-note.”
Surprised looks were exchanged around the room, he said. His oldest brother Dan saw Lance’s potential and loaned him $250 to buy his own drum set.
“I’d been saving money from my paper route, but I only had about $30,” DeMers said. “Back then, $250 was a small fortune and my brother actually gave the money to my parents so I could have drums.”
Once he had his own set, he began to perform at school and community events. Lance and his brother Tom formed a band called The Jaydes, which evolved into The Instant Blues Machine. A third member, Johnnie Bolin was added. Other members joined and eventually, his bother Tom opted for athletics over music. But it is that band for which DeMers will be inducted into the Iowa Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame during the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
At age 20, DeMers joined The Wall Brothers Band, getting his first taste of life as a professional touring musician. The band played Contemporary Christian music.
“I had been writing songs and the band members knew of me,” he said. “They’d come home and heard me play at a coffee house. They asked me to sit in with them and I learned all their material. Then, they asked me to join their band.”
The band toured for three years, from the west coast to the east coast and then throughout the south.
“It was an exciting time,” he said. “It was a new kind of music and we were pioneers.”
They played colleges and outdoor festivals and their music got airplay on mainstream radio.
“Back then, there were no Christian radio stations and the regular stations had to devote a certain number of hours to religious programming. So they’d play our music.”
Much of what he wrote came from his experiences as a Christian.
“There’s church and then, there’s Christianity,” he said. “At 18 I had a conversion experience that changed my life. I was invited to a party at a church and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. There were young people there, with long hair, wearing t-shirts, bell-bottoms and with facial hair and no shoes. They were searching for spiritual meaning.”
The experience opened his eyes to Christian music and he began writing about his experiences from a spiritual perspective.
But the rigors of touring eventually got to DeMers.
“When you travel with four guys, hotel to hotel, and when you’re always in confined spaces, you begin to wonder who’s gonna kill who first,” he said. “I began to feel like a hypocrite, one moment singing on stage about the love of Jesus, and the next moment wanting to kill someone.”
In 1978, DeMers left The Wall Brothers Band and moved to New York. There, he joined a fellowship called the “Love In.”
“It was in an old converted barn,” he said. “It was started by well-known disc jockey named Scott Ross, who was big in radio in New York.”
It became the Love Community Church and gave DeMers an opportunity to nurture his spiritual life.
New York also gave him the chance to write songs for Phil Keaggy, a top Christian music performer.
“I was a 23-year-old kid from Iowa and I suddenly found myself in New York surrounded by these world class players,” he said. “I am indebted to them for taking me under their wins and treating me like an equal.”
It was also in New York where he met his wife Loraine. They were married in 1982. In 1988 they moved to Washington state where DeMers’ brother lived.
“He had moved out here and I had and aunt and uncle who lived in Bremerton,” he said. “And my parents had retired to Washington.”
DeMers and his wife, who is an oncology nurse, have lived in the Bremerton area for 26 years. They have three sons, all of whom are musical. And they have two granddaughters.
In his career, DeMers has recorded with some of Nashville’s finest, including Al Perkins, Farrell Morris, Gene Eichelberger and Shane Keister. Those artists have worked with internationally-known artists such as Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Al Green and Lyle Lovette.
But he is most proud of the fact that he knew Tommy Bolin, whose younger brother was in The Instant Blues Machine with him.
Bolin played with Deep Purple and also is a member of the Iowa Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Bolin died in 1976 at age 25 of an accidental drug overdose.
“Tommy was a great guy who made success seem attainable for us,” DeMers said. “He never forgot his roots, and no matter how successful he became, he always came back home to do shows and jam at local clubs.”
Today, DeMers plays with his son Dylan’s band, lostsideproject. He also plays with his son, Skyler, at services at the Crosby Chapel in Seabeck. He played in local bands since 1988, including Payday Daddy and Hannah’s Prayer.
His song “Big Boy Now,” was on an album that was nominated for a Grammy.
He also had a career in internet technology with a local insurance company, a “real job,” that paid the bills while he made music on the side. He currently works for Eclectic Home Furnishings in Silverdale and is just starting to teach private drum lessons in his home where he has two sets of Ludwig drums, one that is shiny red and dates back to 1968, which he bought on Craig’s List. He’s also building a set of Sky Blue Pearl Ludwigs from 1965 to 1967.
Band members from The Instant Blues Machine, including Johnnie Bolin, who now tours with Black Oak Arkansas, will come from Chicago, Virginia, Colorado and Washington to the induction ceremony which is set for Aug. 31. DeMers has been emailing back and forth with them since the notification of the induction a couple of months back.
“We’re just all looking forward to seeing each other again and being back in Iowa where it all started,” he said.
And, of course, they’re picking out what songs they’re going to play.
“As I look back, I realize just what a special place I grew up in,” he said. “It was a very nurturing environment for young musicians. “We all kind of took that for granted then. But music was everywhere. It was wonderful to have that in my young years.”