A truly European band, the Rhythm Checkers had members from four countries over the course of their three-year career. Their first EP includes some of the wildest garage ever cut on the continent.
Begun in 1965 in Sarrelouis, a town in the Saarland region of Germany very close to the border with France, the band had three Germans: Dave Kelly (Wolfgang Mersinger) on vocals and guitar, Kurt Horbach on bass, and Norbert Hohlweg (spelled Hohlweck on the EP) on drums, with Eddy Van Nelfen from the Netherlands on rhythm guitar. Occasionally Frank Farian, the founder of the Hansa label, would join them on keyboards.
Kibitz Club, Strasbourg, May 1966
The band relocated to Strasbourg, France in 1966, replacing Dave Kelly with two Frenchmen: Robby Stierheim of the Black and White (“Where Did You Go” on Storz) on guitar, and Roby’s friend Roland Bauer (aka “Bouboule”) of the Skat Five as new lead singer.
That summer the Rhythm Checkers traveled to play the Puce Palladium in the town of Juan les Pins in the French Riviera, and on November 8 they opened for Jerry Lee Lewis at Paris’ Olympia Theatre, playing r&b hits like Ride Your Pony and Long Tall Sally. They went over big, leading to a month-long booking at Kiki Chauvieres’ club the Locomotive in Paris.
Juan les Pins, Summer 1966
Returning to Strasbourg in December, they cut their first EP at the Kibitz Club, produced by Alain Dubois and pressed in 2000 copies on the Disques AGD label. “Cause I Need You” and “Theme of the Rhythm Checkers” are originals by Robby Stierheim and Eddy Van Nelfen.
Both are solid songs, though the production brings the drums and vocals to the fore and buries the fuzz guitar on “Theme of the Rhythm Checkers”. On this song especially, Roland’s voice reminds me of Roky Erickson’s though I’m sure he was unaware of the Elevators at the time.
They also cover Bo Diddley’s “Said Oh Yeah” and, surprisingly, a great version of “On Your Way Down the Drain,” originally by the New York group the King Bees. This song is crude as can be, a real garage classic.
On February 21, 1967 they returned to the Olympia to open for Chuck Berry. By this time another former member of the Black and White, Danny Gentner replaced Kurt Horbach on bass. A hoarse Roland Bauer opens their set with a shout of “Vivre le rock n’ roll et vivre les Rhythm Checkers!”
This wild performance was recorded for their second EP, featuring all cover songs this time: “Long Tall Sally”, “Kansas City”, “Land of a Thousand Dances”, and the Small Faces’ recent release “I Can’t Dance With You”. Again they’re engaged to play Paris clubs, this time the Tchoo Tchoo, the Poporama and the Bus Palladium.
At Gérardmer, summer 1967
In the fall of ’67 English keyboardist Chris Hadfield joined the band for gigs with the Artwoods and Sandie Shaw. The group broke up at the end of the year, with Robby, Chris and Roland forming a r&b group called the Meats. Roland reformed the Checkers in the 1970s for one single.