Known as one of Chicago’s top high school garage bands of the mid-1960s, The Ryells continue to play classic rock ’n’ roll once or a twice a year and will do so Saturday at 6 p.m. as part of a Fourth of July celebration hosted by The Suds drive-in restaurant in Greenwood.
Founded in 1963, the band soon became a hot commodity for sock hops, homecoming dances, proms and numerous graduation and college parties.
“We were really in demand,” said Jack Fazio, who plays guitar for The Ryells, a name given to the group by one of its managers. “We were playing at least two nights a week and had to beg our manager to get a weekend night off. We were making good money, but it was a lot of work.”
The Ryells won the semifinals of the Talented Teens Search – a battle of the bands contest – and were awarded a recording contract with Orlyn Records, which resulted in airplay for some of their songs.
However, a career under the bright lights wasn’t in store for the band as its members broke up after graduating from St. George High School in Evanston, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.
“We had played so much through high school that I wasn’t disappointed when we stopped playing after graduating. We were burnt-out,” Fazio emphasized. The guys went their separate ways, got married and were raising families when approached about performing at their 25-year high school reunion in 1992.
Fazio had laid off playing because he and his wife, Barb, were raising two children, Nick and Jenny. “I didn’t think about it for years, but playing music is truly like riding a bicycle. We practiced the night before, and we sounded pretty good. That was a great experience,” he said. “Music is my first love.”
Another great experience for him was about five years ago when the band celebrated the 60th birthday of Charlie Streff, the group’s guitarist. As the group that had been hired to play took a break, The Ryells got on stage and performed about five songs. “We realized that we still had it,” said Fazio.
It was then that the guys agreed to get back together for a couple of gigs each year. “We’re renewing friendships and getting really tight,” said Fazio,” who has four grandchildren. “There is no greater time machine than music.”
Streff started playing guitar with a few of his buddies in 1963, and when he heard The Ryells in 1964, he joined them soon thereafter. He and his wife, Joyce, were high school sweethearts who have three children and four grandchildren. He was in the automotive repair business for 25 years and is a retired detective with the Chicago Police Department.
The band, which plays classic rock from the 1960s and ’70s, also features Dr. Steve Phlaum, Bill Flosi and Bill Schultz.
Phlaum, lead guitarist, posts on the band’s website: “I can’t believe that I’m now in the “30 twice” age bracket. I still feel like a 15-year-old Ryell.”
A psychotherapist in St. Louis before moving to Destin, Fla., to practice cardiology, Phlaum is married to the former Sherry Londe. They have two daughters, an actress and a dancer. “For fun I mountain bike, catch sharks and wrestle ’gators,” he laughingly posted.
Fazio said Phlaum loves the reunions and calls them “fantasy camps.”
Flosi, the band’s lead singer and keyboardist, got his first taste of music when taking organ and piano lessons as a 10-year-old in 1960. He later learned how to drum and play the guitar. Flosi graduated from Northeastern Illinois University in 1973 with a teaching degree in music and music theory. He has two children and five grandchildren and since 1985 has been with Northwestern University as a voice and data telecommunications technician.
Schultz started playing drums when he was 10. He is a retired sanitation engineer who resides in Mackenzie, Ill., with his wife, Sue. The couple have two boys. “Being back with The Ryells is a dream come true,” he recalled saying after the birthday party.
That music will come to life again at The Suds, 350 Market Plaza, and Fazio advises to get there early for a good seat (bring a chair). Even though the weather was iffy last year, nearly 400 people were estimated to have attended. A beautiful evening could easily double that amount. The band will probably take two breaks and play until the city’s fireworks show starts around 10:15 p.m.
The band’s extensive play list always ensures a good show, and Fazio said he is particularly impressed with the way the group sings “Nowhere Man,” by The Beatles. “We really take pride in our harmony of that song.”
Another song The Ryells like to perform is “Time Won’t Let Me,” by The Outsiders. “We kick butt on that one,” Fazio boasted. Other favorites include “Do Wa Diddy,” “Louie Louie” and “Roll Over Beethoven.”
Fazio said a few songs may be a little rough at the beginning and ending, but in between it’s musical bliss.
Doug Wilson, who says The Ryells sound great, is quite confident that if all the members lived in Indianapolis, they would be jamming all the time.
Fazio, the only Hoosier resident, among the band, resides in Greenwood and is a retired general sales manager for AT&T Yellow Pages in Indiana. He also is a member of Playing in Traffic and So They Say, both which play classic and contemporary rock.
In addition to the music, an array of classic cars will descend upon The Suds, a known hot spot for cruisers since 1957. The restaurant, which has been ranked as No. 6 top cruising spot in America by “Car Craft Magazine,” is also known for its mouthwatering burgers and root beer floats.