Happy Birthday: Dennis Drew of 10,000 Maniacs

Friday, August 8, 2014
Happy Birthday: Dennis Drew of 10,000 Maniacs

If you went to college at any point during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, then you’ll most likely want to wish a happy birthday to Dennis Drew, keyboardist for 10,000 Maniacs, whose one of only two members – the other being bassist Steve Gustafson – who’s been fighting the good musical fight with the band since the very beginning.

Born in Jamestown, New York, in 1957, Drew was actually part of 10,000 Maniacs before they were even called 10,000 Maniacs: when he, Gustafson, drummer Chet Cardinale, guitarist Robert Buck, and singer Teri Newhouse started the group in 1981, it was called Still Life. From there, Gustafson invited 17-year-old Natalie Merchant to sing a bit with the band. In short order, John Lombardo joined the fold, Cardinale and Newhouse departed, Merchant became the primary vocalist, and they changed their name to…Burn Victims.

Yes, really.

It didn’t last, of course: as history reveals, the band eventually became 10,000 Maniacs, and over the course of the next couple of years years, they went on to put out an EP (Human Conflict Number Five), found a new permanent drummer in Jerry Augustyniak, released their debut album (Secrets of the I Ching), and signed a major-label deal with Elektra Records. Although Lombardo left the band in the wake of the band’s Elektra debut, The Wishing Chair, he ultimately returned after Merchant left, so you can, uh, draw whatever conclusions you want from that tidbit.

Drew, however, has remained a stalwart of 10,000 Maniacs since the start, regularly contributing to the band’s songwriting – including singles like “Don’t Talk,” “Trouble Me,” and “Candy Everybody Wants” – and on their 2013 album, Music from the Motion Picture, he even took a rare lead vocal on the track “Downhill.”

To celebrate Drew’s birthday, we’ve put together a playlist of tracks from throughout the band’s career, a blend of their most popular singles as well as songs in which Drew had a hand in writing. As you give it a spin, if you should find yourself wanting to give Drew a birthday present…well, actually, we’d bet he’d just as soon you take the money you’d spent on a gift and use it to make a donation to WRFA-LP, the listener-supported radio station where he serves as general manager. We’re not saying he’d actually suggest it, but if you decided to do it of your own accord, we know that he – and, more importantly, the station – would certainly appreciate it.