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The Rocker, The Preacher's Daughter, and the Pink Cadillac : He was born to be wild. She wasn't. Now this unlikely couple is making music together.

October 15, 1992|LEONARD REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rosilee was expecting Fat Old Man. "You know," she says. "Balding, beer belly, beard, maybe with a Windbreaker, a big old Harley biker kind of guy."

Nick, he was expecting a stylish black woman large enough to fill an auditorium with song. "I mean, somebody who would match that huge, soulful voice I'd heard on the tape."

Nick waited for Rosilee at the garage off the highway in Ventura. Got the amps hooked up. Told the guys in the band: Turn down the volume, don't blow her out, we need to hear her sing, we need to let her voice come through. The guys, all thunderous rock players and veterans of the annual Buffalo Chip Bike Rally in Sturgis, S. D., nodded: Sure, Nick. Whatever you want.

Nick didn't actually know what he wanted, but that doesn't matter. He just knew it would be "unlike anything I'd experienced."

Rosilee pulled up, fresh from Rapid City, S. D., and presented her delicate, 100-pound white self, girlfriend in tow. "For protection," said Rosilee.

Right off, things went clank: confused arrangements, awful dynamics, strained nerves. Rosilee asked the band to turn up the amps and crank things out hard. She wanted to rock. The guys looked at Nick, smiling. Then, they hit it.

"In two bars, I could hear it, it was clear to me," says Nick. "One of the most amazing voices I've ever heard. I was in awe of her."

Rosilee Stahl Kahler, in her early 20s, had lived the life of a church mouse. Her musical environment was defined by Rapid City's Faith Temple Pentecostal Church, where she would play organ and sing before the all-black choir. Before that, she had sung in her father's Pentecostal church in Deadwood. Growing up, she had heard of Elvis but really didn't know popular music, because in her house TV and radio were forbidden. She arrived at the Ventura garage having never heard of the Rolling Stones.

Nick St. Nicholas, 51 years old, is another story. Been around the block. A once-famous guy too. Nick was the bassist for the band Steppenwolf, touring the world from 1968 to 1971 on "Born to Be Wild" and "Magic Carpet Ride" and flying through pharmacologic space with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin before vanishing altogether, only to re-emerge in the mid-1980s as a biker hero with a no-record band called the Wolf.

"Bikers don't forget," says Nick. "They are my friends."

The Wolf was always a hit at the Sturgis rally, held annually. But in 1990, the promoter wanted to introduce Rosilee, then an emerging talent on Rapid City gospel radio.

Rosilee had no band. Nick, kicking around Ventura doing lighting for such events as the Ojai Beauty Pageant and the Oxnard High School Football Celebration, got the call.

Of course, Rosilee had never heard of Steppenwolf, much less Nick St. Nicholas, whose real name is Nicklaus Kassbaum. But that wouldn't matter. Because there, in the rent-it-yourself warehouse off the Ventura Freeway, in a garage leased to a bar band called Splintrz, two individuals from the very poles of existence and experience would meet to rehearse, forge a musical union and spark a love that would pry them from bad marriages and glue them together. They'd wind up, improbably, in Oxnard, where they now live in a house with a croquet court, a dog named Heidi, a pinball machine and, in the garage, a pink Cadillac.

At night, Nick and Rosilee play the local bar scene--at the Deer Lodge in Ojai, for instance, or the Palms in Carpinteria. Always they get the place jumping, the Wolf-based band doing, among other things, Bonnie Raitt cover tunes and obligatory renditions of "Born to Be Wild."

But by day, at their home in Oxnard, they practice not rock 'n' roll but country music. Hank Williams, Travis Tritt, Merle Haggard, and a growing store of original material. It's the country music that will, they are convinced, deliver unto them their next life: for the once-cloistered Rosilee, a recording contract and a tour and, maybe, fame; for the once-famous Nick, a state of grace, a surprise return to commercial vitality.

Says Nick: "We recently visited Nashville and left a buzz with producers there. I feel it. It's going to happen. I just am very dedicated to Rosilee. I would do anything for her. I want to get her signed to a record label, and then I want to sit back and light a cigar."

Says Rosilee: "I only want to do what I am here to do: sing and make people feel good. It's been hard to get to the place where I could say that. There's been a lot of pain along the way. But out of the pain has come this, and I am so grateful for it."

*

Rosilee's first out-of-church performance was at Sturgis before a mere 30,000 bikers. Rosilee grew up knowing Sturgis only as "the forbidden zone--a place you just never go to." She and Nick opened for Tanya Tucker.

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