The Rhythm Checkers

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.

14 thoughts on “The Rhythm Checkers”

  1. it’s the same man ,he was very involved into the english freakbeat scene
    remember the covers of my friend jack (smoke) & painter man (creation)made by boney m
    13th floor elevator had an ep including “you’re gonna miss me”released in france and you can imagine the singer of this excellent band listening ericssonandtelling to himself : woah !!! i want to sing like this guy
    why not ???

  2. I dig everything I know and hear about THE RHYTHM CHECKERS!! Cool unhip name, the one longhair in the group, EVIL GIRL-PUT DOWN LYRICS (which is one of the things I dig the most about “garage rock”, 60’s devil music, hell yeah). Well, now I’m moving on to one more ditty, Cause I Need You. Have no fear coz at this point it doesn’t matter to me if The Rhythm Checkers later became a carbon copy of Barry Manilow and Celine Dionne – ON YOUR WAY DOWN THE DRAIN and THEME OF THE RHYTHM CHECKERS SHUT DOWN WHATEVER INFERIOR PRODUCT THEY MAY HAVE LATER PRODUCED!!!!

    But thanks, you there, for pointing out that organ grinder Frank Farian was later involved with Bonnie M and Milli Vanilli. I don’t dislike Bonnie M only because my Congolese lady brought them to my attention but I’m gonna ignore the Milli Vanilli connection or I’m gonna suppose that Monsieur Farian’s tongue was firmly in cheek when he was involved in Euro-trash pop music.

    And Chris, you need to post my ramblings so others can bask in my combination of ignorance and knowledge and all around adoration of the BIG BEAT OF THE MID 60S! Where’s my ramblings about some of that Georgia-Florida action and about The Swingin’ Medallions? I’m keeping score, Chris. You’re a groovy cat, we both know that and we both agree.

  3. just to information, sarrelouis town is in germany in the region of sarre not in elsass, and strasbourg is in elsass, thats correct.
    anyway, fantastic job there !! many thanks for this !
    Tom (français d’alsace)
    wish you the best
    go go gooo !!!!

  4. Hé Eddy,

    Tegek joh, dat moet een mooie tijd zijn geweest en schitterend aan de Franse Riviera, Parijs en het Olympia!. Ik wist dit allemaal niet, het is voor het eerst dat ik informatie vind over jou na Duitsland. ik zou het leuk vinden om nog wat van je te horen, als je zin hebt kun je me mailen.

    Vriendelijke groet,

  5. i have the live ep if you want to post it …it really rocks ….i had both but sold the one you have and kept the live one

  6. hello friends i am bouboule the voice of the rhythm checkers you cant joint me on facebook or myspace my name is roland bauer artist name bouboule i’m happy to survive all this years.

  7. I’m Ed van Nelfen singer and rhythm guitarplayer.
    it’s nice to find this about The Rhythm Checkers. I hope that every menber
    of the are well. I was the one who ask Chris Hatfield to join us. He came from Waterloo Liverpool

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