“I thought of that name for the group,” said singer-guitarist Mimi Betinis of the ’70s power-pop group Pezband. “First, I always liked the candy and thought it was very special stuff. Kind of like medicine that tasted good. What really kind of fascinated me was the letter combination: P-E-Z. I thought it was kind of unusual, and out of high school we had a little jam band and called it Pez and then I thought, ‘Why don’t we make it something that people will only associate with us instead of the candy?’ So I decided to call it Pezband.”
Based out of the Chicago area, the innovative band caught the eye and ears of Marty Scott, president of the Jersey-based JEM Records label. Scott signed them in 1977 to PVC, a label of The Passport Group and a division of JEM. They released three albums: Pezband (1977), Laughing in the Dark (1978) and Cover to Cover (1979).
With a sound that was termed melodic and “new wave,” and influenced by the British Invasion, Pezband was one of, if not the first band to be labeled power pop, and promoted as such. However, timing is everything, and during the height of their talents they struggled to find their niche as they were sandwiched between two eras of pop culture.
“We were up against the disco movement and later on against punk,” said Betinis. “Punk stuff like the Sex Pistols came in. We loved them and thought they were great, but our sound was a little more … I don’t want to say refined, but a little more commercial-sounding. Even though we didn’t really sell many records, we had a marketable look and sound.”
The record company and the band members themselves began to lose faith. So with no crystal ball, and a sound that would eventually become more mainstream only a handful of years later, they decided to disband in 1980.
The musicians “kind of floated for a while,” Betinis said. “We tried to regroup as a trio and we did some more recordings in Los Angeles and that, too, didn’t really do too much. We couldn’t get it sold. So that brought us to about 1982, and at that point I kind of called it. I was just fed up with the music business.
“I had been doing it since 1971 and hadn’t gotten where I wanted to go, so I went back to school and got my bachelor of fine arts degree and started teaching art for Chicago public schools later in the ’80s, and I did that for about 22 years. I always had my hand in music, but not like I had in the ’70s, where it was an everyday thing.
“Of course, you can’t do both things at once. You can’t play music and teach inner city kids art. That would be a little too much.”
But nothing lasts forever, and Betinis was once again faced with a change in his game plan.
“My teaching career was cut short because the Chicago public school system … just ousts you out of a job,” he said. “So I lost my job a couple of years ago. My principal said to me, ‘You know, you’ve been teaching for 22 years, take your pension and relax.’ So I took my pension way too early, but I had to because they won’t hire specialty teachers for art. You need to have multiple certifications and I only have one.”
Now with some time on his hands and his love of music still intact, he revisited the band’s past and discovered that there were still some embers burning underneath the ashes. With the 40th anniversary of the PVC release of Cover to Cover approaching, Betinis enlisted a friend, producer John Pavletic, to take on the task of revisiting the album and updating its sound.
“You can’t shake it; once it’s in your blood, it’s there,” said a laughing Betinis as he referred to being a musician and performer. “With us now, with the reissue of the record with the remix and remastered version, I think it sounds much stronger than it did in 1979. I think in 1979, had we sounded like we do today, our future might have been much different, because the sound today is quite powerful.”
Pavletic, he said, “works on all of my solo material, and this is the third Pezband record that he’s done. I took the two-inch 24-track master tape down to his place, I had it digitized, and he started working on mixing and remastering, and it took him the better part of a year to do it. When you compare the two, how it sounded in ’79 — a little rattling and rough-sounding — and how it sounds today, it’s very polished and contemporary. The difference is astounding.”
With the album now having the equivalent of a facelift, Betinis turned to his past once again and old friend, Marty Scott.
“Marty and I had talked for the last couple of years, and we both said that we should do something together because he’s got all of this catalog stuff and I had all of the master tapes. … So I said that John had mixed a couple of songs and asked if he wanted to hear them, and I sent them to him and Marty said, ‘We have to do something. Let’s do a release.’ And that was back in December. So we kind of mutually agreed that we had to do something, and I’m very glad that we have, because Marty was the guy who signed us and had the faith in us in 1977, and again he’s proven himself to be quite good, because the record has received a great deal of radio play and accolades.”
Pezband originally consisted of Betinis, guitarist Tommy Gawenda, drummer-vocalist Mick Rain and bassist-vocalist Mike Gorman. Although many years have passed, these four have stayed in touch and are still up for the challenge of the road. That’s if the re-release continues to gain traction and open up new opportunities.
“The group is not active right now, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be active at some point, especially if the record does better than we hope it will,” said Betinis. “And if it does, there’s a good chance that we’ll get the militia together and come to your town.
“Tommy, who is our other guitar player, is unable to perform loud music due to a hearing condition, but the drummer and the bass player, Mike and Mick, are up for doing shows, and I have another friend of mine who is a guitarist that will fit right in. If need be, we will go out and do it.”
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