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'Son of a Guitar Man:' Iconic singer-songwriter Dave Chastain looks back during recent visit 'home'

Singer-songwriter Dave Chastain reflects on his 40-year-long music career in a WCBU studio interview in October during a return visit to Peoria.
Tim Alexander
Singer-songwriter Dave Chastain reflects on his 40-year-long music career in a WCBU studio interview in October during a return visit to Peoria.

A central Illinois musical icon, Dave Chastain, recently stopped by the WCBU studio to reflect on his successful 40-plus year career.

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In town for the recent “Another Second Chance” concert/celebration in Peoria, Chastain, now 69 and living in Florida with his wife, Sue Schnarr Chastain, talked in depth about his musical influences. He also discussed the success of the Dave Chastain Band’s 1980 Rockin’ Roulette album and tour, his family’s recent escape from Hurricane Ian, and his central Illinois musical legacy during an interview highlighted Oct. 31 on WCBU’s All Things Peoria.

“We were very fortunate; a lot of the houses all around us were destroyed. I was stranded for three days away from home and having nightmares about what I was going to find, but all we lost was a couple of shingles and a big oak tree in the backyard. There was no flooding in the house, and for that we were blessed and fortunate,” said Chastain, adding that the two adjectives could also be used to describe his career, which began professionally in the late 1970s in Cedar Lake, Indiana with the Lake Trash Band.

But it really all began with a visit to a religious revival with his family while growing up in Paragould, Arkansas. Chastain said he was “transfixed” by the “finger-picking” guitar style of the preacher who visited his family’s tiny, Pentecostal church that day. “I knew right then that was what I was going to do,” he recalled, “so I started asking for a guitar.”

After proving the sincerity of his wish by showing progress learning on a borrowed guitar, Chastain’s father purchased a used, acoustic Stella guitar “across the river” in Odin, Missouri as a gift for his son. It wasn’t long before the young Dave Chastain-- who admittedly was shy and underweight-- was entertaining classmates and faculty at grade school assemblies and, later, joining up with a few high school kids in bands.

“Suddenly all the guys liked me, because the girls liked me and they wanted me to teach them how to play guitar. I found out there was a lot of power in a little guitar,” Chastain said.

After moving to Indiana and joining the Lake Trash Band, Chastain heard about opportunities in the Peoria-Bloomington-Normal market for up and coming musicians such as himself. He eventually moved to central Illinois to form the Dave Chastain Band with fellow Hoosier musicians Tom Jernigan and Tom “Nip” Beer, along with Mark French, Bud Pruett and Randy Wickert of central Illinois.

The group’s self-penned music was greatly influenced by the southern rock sound of the Allman Brothers Band and, similar to the ABB, all forms of blues music. The band received their “big break” when Peoria FM radio station WWCT “Rock 106” came up with the concept of a “Basement Tapes” album and competition to highlight some of the local, homegrown bands and music the station had been promoting. Rock 106’s Basement Tapes album, released in early 1980, included the Dave Chastain Band’s song “Highway Man,” which remains a staple in Chastain’s live performances almost 45 years later.

“We entered just because we wanted to hear our song on the radio,” Chastain recalled. “That was our goal. We had no concept of winning the (contest).”

As it turned out, “Highway Man” was elected by Rock 106 listeners as the top track on the Basement Tapes album. Suddenly the band members found themselves carrying the torch as downstate Illinois’ hottest and most in-demand rock band. In July and August of 1980, the DCB released their locally-recorded Rockin’ Roulette album, which, in addition to “Highway Man,” included the regional hits “Sunshine,” “Down at Dee’s” and the title track.

The album propelled the band towards regional fame and landed them some plum opportunities opening for nationally-touring bands including Molly Hatchet, the Outlaws and the Gregg Allman Band. Playing gigs all over the Midwest, the band eventually invested in an old bus and set off for a solo tour of Canada, where Rockin’ Roulette had been receiving a lot of airplay on FM radio.

Tim Alexander

“Those were some great, great days and I am really, really blessed to have had these experiences and met a lot of great people who are also friends,” said Chastain, who reflected on the many local acquaintances and associates that have helped him achieve his musical aspirations. They included-- but certainly are not limited to-- Craig Moore, who managed the early DCB and is well-known as a local musician and record store owner, and Mike Grimm, who produced their breakthrough album.

“If it wasn’t for Craig, no one in Peoria would’ve ever known my name,” Chastain said. “He put (the recording of Rockin’ Roulette) all together for us. The band went over to the back room of a dress shop in Morton, and a fellow named Mike Grimm had a studio he called GDS that was a big white bread truck with a bunch of recording gear in it. He sat in the truck and we went back in the back room of this dress shop and played ‘live.’ Rockin’ Roulette is basically a live-in-the-studio album, and I think we went back later and recorded the vocals.”

By 1985 the southern rock boom had run its course on FM radio. As band members began to drift their separate ways and the public’s musical sensibilities shifted, the DCB disbanded after a magnificent five-year run.

“Craig went from getting several requests (from entertainment venues) for the band a week to hardly getting any at all. Southern rock had its run and disco was coming in. I was thinking it was over for me at that point,” Chastain said. “I was in my thirties and wondering where I could go from here.”

Now approaching 70, Chastain can look back proudly at a long musical career that eventually found its way into the rockin’ blues genre. His recording catalog includes a cassette-only blues release with King Cobra in the late 1980s, the widely acclaimed 1992 Bluesrockers CD “Something for the Pain” (whose title track was covered by the late Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks on his “Satisfaction Guaranteed” album), and 2005’s “Legacy” featuring a later version of his DCB.

Like a true bluesman Chastain is still on the road playing his music, although he’s riding a different circuit than the one that used to take him down to Dee’s Country Lounge-- which was a famous watering hole on Decatur’s North Water Street for 36 years before closing after a 1981 fire. These days, he can be found playing the Florida Grapefruit Circuit as the leader of a new, revamped and re-energized Dave Chastain Band.

“We are doing a lot of stuff from Rockin’ Roulette because all of the (Florida band members) love the album,” Chastain said. “You see, I thought it was ancient, washed-up history and that I was done with it. But we’ve picked it back up, and everyone loves it again.”

On Saturday, September 22, Chastain picked back up where he left off following his 2018 move to Florida on the familiar stage of the old Second Chance Nightclub, where the original DCB honed their musical chops in the early 1980s. His set, part of the Another Second Chance celebration, included early DCB hits ‘Sunshine” and “Highway Man,” with the latter song serving as his closing number.

The set reportedly brought the house down just like in the old days, proving, at least for Dave Chastain, that you can come home again.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.