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A Brotherly Act : The Wellers, who share an enthusiasm for music, offer a varied look at contemporary jazz.

July 08, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SHERMAN OAKS — Remember Herman's Hermits' 1965 pop-rock ditty, "I'm Henry VIII, I Am"? The perky little tune, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard magazine charts that year, might not seem like the kind of song that would inspire a career in music, let alone jazz, but it worked just fine for Dick and Bob Weller.

"We used to have a summer cabin up by the St. Lawrence River in Upstate New York," says Dick Weller, "and this kid next door had a drum set and played along to the record all summer long in 1965. I got to play a couple of times, and that's when I decided I wanted to play drums. I could play different rhythms with different hands, and people said, 'Oh, he's really good.' "

Bob Weller had a similar reaction to the drumming of that neighbor, a youth named Fred Hodges. "I thought my friend's drums were really cool, and they seemed to be something that I had a natural ability for," he says. Now, Bob plays both drums and piano--he started on the latter six years ago.

Soon, the Weller household in Syracuse, N.Y., where the brothers were born and raised, had a drum set. Because Bob was four years older, he got the lion's share of playing time, which made Dick's moments at the set that much more exciting.

Dick is now 35, a resident of Manhattan Beach, and Bob, who lives in San Diego, is 39. Close to 30 years--and thousands of performances--later, the Wellers still have the enthusiasm for music that began gestating that New York summer. They'll bring their Weller Bros. band to Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks on Sunday, and to Common Grounds in Northridge on Monday.

The brothers are big fans of each other, and have captivated many other listeners. Paul Solomon, owner of Common Grounds, says, "They've got a really strong band, and they always pack the place."

This Sunday and Monday, the Wellers will bring along some of their regular associates: saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, guitarist Larry Koonse and bassist Trey Henry. The brothers offer a varied look at contemporary jazz, from pieces that have a dancing, almost rock flavor, to more introspective, deeper pieces that still swing. Many of their tunes will be drawn from their 1993 CD, "Coast to Coast" on YUSM Records.

There are definite differences between the brothers' compositions.

"I like to write melodies that people can sing, that stick in their heads after the performance," Dick says. "And I like fast tempos, where the tunes build, get exciting and kind of end with a bang."

"My songs are darker, more dissonant," says Bob.

There's a particular sense of satisfaction and honesty for the Wellers when they work together. "The base thing is our familiarity, our solidarity," says Bob. "We've hung together for so long . . . that what comes out in our music is real. It has integrity."

The Wellers have traveled circuitous routes in their careers. First Bob, then Dick came to Southern California in the '70s, and both studied music at Cal State Northridge. Bob got his bachelor's degree in music there; Dick studied for three years and finished up at New York University. Then they both moved to New York in the early '80s. Work was intermittent; eventually Bob started a limousine company, and Dick took to playing music on the streets.

"I was in a quartet, and we'd play in Times Square, Columbus Circle," he says. "I made $300 to $350 a week until the police no longer allowed" those kind of performances, he says.

Both Wellers came back to California--Bob in 1987, Dick in 1993--and they've been active here since. Bob works in San Diego as a drummer and pianist--he's played with the late Joe Pass and tenor great Benny Golson--while Dick has been heard in bands with saxophonist Bob Sheppard and keyboardist John Beasley.

Dick says he is also speaking for his brother when he says that music has provided a wonderful, if at times difficult, life.

"There's a feeling that I get playing, when everything is clicking, of being lighter than air, that this is the way life was meant to be," he says. "When you really put out, you're supposed to get this good feeling back."

Where and When

What: The Weller Bros. at the Room Upstairs at Le Cafe, 14633 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Hours: 8:30 and 10 p.m. Sunday.

Price: $5 cover, two-drink minimum.

Call: (818) 986-2662.

What: The Weller Bros. at Common Grounds, 9250 Reseda Blvd., Northridge.

Hours: 9 p.m. Monday.

Price: No cover, $2.50 minimum.

Call: (818) 882-3666.

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