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Music as Destination

7/28/2012

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

The fancy dress coat and sparkling gold shoes are gone. So are the thin white tie and black bell bottom pants. And, the greased-back hair -- well, there really isn't enough to grease back anymore.

But that voice, and that energy, are still there.

Jimmy Dee and the Fabulous Destinations -- with soon-to-turn-60 Jim Schmidtberger from Russell on the mike -- are still going strong 12 years after getting together for a 25-year reunion in 2000.

It's been 37 years since Schmidtberger and some of his buddies from Victoria decided to form a rock 'n' roll band back in 1975. The original band members were still in their teens or early 20s.

They played together for about five years and eventually broke up, with most of them going to different bands during the next several years.

Then, in late 1999, drummer Bill Gasper came up with the idea of a reunion for the Destinations.

Gasper and five of the other original members decided to get together and play for one dance, in February 2000.

"Then we thought if we were going to put in all that time practicing for several months, let's do a few more dances," Schmidtberger said.

"When we decided to keep going, we were going to do 12 more performances," said Bill Gasper, the group's drummer who lives in Ellis. "We didn't mean 12 years."

"It's 12 years later, and wow," Schmidtberger agreed. "I don't know how that happened."

What happened is the calls kept coming, and now the Destinations play for 20 to 24 dances a year.

Fans from long ago still are showing up to listen to one of their favorite bands, and they attract a few new ones along the way as well.

"When we were younger, we just went and played and expected big crowds," Schmidtberger said. "I appreciate crowds differently now. When people come to see us, I really appreciate them doing that now."

Folks still come from near and far, especially when the dance is free, such that it was at the Ellis County Fair earlier this month.

Delbert Heier from Gove County was all smiles as he danced with his granddaughter, Katelyn Heier from Valley Center. Heier, who made the trip to Hays with his wife, Shirley, from their home in Park, also took turns dancing with daughters Chris Schneider and Carrie Legleiter from Hays.

Nine-year-old Katelyn even got to take the stage and dance "The Twist" alongside Jimmy Dee.

Shirley Heier said she and her husband had come to Hays to meet Katelyn's parents, Kevin and Angela Heier, after their children had spent the week with their grandparents.

The Heiers didn't know the Destinations were playing that night, and were they in for a surprise.

"We went dancing twice a week when we were young," Shirley Heier said. "And we went to a lot of their dances. So that was fun.

"Jimmy Dee still has a really good voice," she added, "and he still has pretty darned good moves. You can tell he's having a good time up there."

Schmidtberger didn't skip a beat while doing "The Twist" and said he still does a weight-lifting workout and runs a couple miles three or four times a week to stay in shape.

"If I wouldn't do that, I don't know how I would do this at my age," he said.

Schmidtberger first got interested in music growing up as a youngster in Victoria when garage bands were just that -- bands playing in the family garage -- and not a music-making software for a computer.

"My dad was an oil well pumper, and as kids we would ride around with him and we'd listen to his country music," Schmidtberger said. "Then I watched my older brothers Galen and Wayne play out in the garage, practicing for their band."

The same was true for two other band members, brothers Anthony and Tim Pfeifer, who now both live in Hays. The Pfeifers grew up in a family of musicians and still play in their own band, Anthony and the Anamals.

For the Destinations, Anthony is lead guitarist and vocalist and Tim, a multi-talented musician who can play many instruments, mainly plays saxophone. Joe Dreiling from Walker is on keyboard, and Ray "Red" Schmidtberger, Jimmy Dee's cousin from Ellis, is on bass.

"When you get together with good people who are dedicated and get along, good things typically happen," Gasper said.

"There were a couple of times we wanted to quit," Schmidtberger said. "But we've all stuck together. It's a still a lot of fun."

Now, it's so much more than traveling the roads on their way to another gig.

"We have a lot of camaraderie," Schmidtberger added. "One of us drives and we talk about family, about politics, about all kinds of things. For me, it's an 'out' from work."

The Destinations won't have far to go for their next dance, at the annual Herzogfest in their hometown of Victoria on Aug. 11 -- a week before Schmidtberger's 60th birthday.

Those are just numbers, says Schmidtberger, who doesn't plan to retire from the stage any time soon.

"Oh, the next day, I know I've played a dance, I'll tell you," he said with a laugh. "But as long as the crowds keep coming, we'll keep playing as long as we're able."