Frontier Village Behind-The-Scenes:  The Gaslite Gang Story,   by Allen Weitzel

 

 

The Gaslite Gang started playing in Silver Dollar Saloon in 1975.  The group consisted of Kevin McCabe (Plectrum Banjo), Scott Hartford (Tenor Banjo), Bruce Jolly (String Bass), and Debbie Hartford-Weitzel (Piano).  Early on, members of the Gaslite Gang played in two groups, the Junior Banjo Band and later the Peninsula Banjo Band.  Kevin had been performing in Saloon with a partner named Doug.  When Doug moved away, Kevin began searching for another person or group to perform with.  Having played together off and on in the Junior Banjo band, the group (Kevin, Scott, Debbie and Bruce) was assembled from that association.  Around 1975, the GLG group was granted an audience by the Frontier Village Staff and quickly impressed the Village Management.  From that point forward the weekends in the Silver Dollar Saloon belonged to the Gaslite Gang for the next 5 years, until the park closed.   There were times when the park experimented with roving entertainment, so the band took their music to the Village streets.  Several times during their run at FV, we had some acts that were booked for Sagebrush Theater cancel at the last minute.  The Gang, being true professionals, braved the elements and filled in where needed.  Wherever they played, the Gang was always a hit.  However, the Saloon was their home and when they are on stage, they took over the whole place.  The GLG group was not hard to manage.  Once everyone agreed on a schedule, The Gang always showed up on time, played longer than expected and if one member was sick (which hardly ever happened), they played very well with three.  The Silver Dollar Saloon was not a temperature-controlled environment; the building was not air-conditioned.  One very, very hot day the group approached Allen that the Saloon was stifling and they asked if the guys could perform the rest of the afternoon without wearing their uniform bow ties?  We complied, but I think that was the only day ever relaxed their garb. They were always professional.  In the summer of 1976, Debbie had her romantic eye on one of the Weitzel Brothers, and she boldly asked Warren to the Employee Bay Cruise event.  Their second date was to dinner at the Hartford home, where Scott and Kevin also attended with their dates.  Warren and Debbie dated for 18 months and were married in 1978.  Only a few Village Employees knew that Warren would, on occasion, leave little love notes on Debbie’s piano in the Saloon.  In 1979, the GLG approached Allen Weitzel (Director of Merchandise and Entertainment) and Ed Hutton (General Manager) with the idea of joining forces with FV to produce a record to sell at their shows.  The group needed to purchase a minimum of 1,000 records.  Ed and Allen liked the idea and agreed.  The funds were allocated from the FV Merchandise Department budget. When the album was recorded, several test pressing were made and Ed and Allen, as well as members of The Gang, all received them.  One or two of those test pressings are known to still exist.   When the park was open, both Joe Zukin and Allen used to (not at the same time) take delight in standing in the single doorway of the Saloon on Nevada Street (near the Saloon Patio) and watch the GLG play.  Between song breaks, we would yell out, "Play Nola!"  Kevin would say, "Sir there are only two songs in the whole world we don't know and that's one of them, but see if you like this....”  Then they would play Nola.  The SDS was packed (even on slow days) when The Gang was playing.  Pete Kopulos, (Allen’s Father-In-Law) was hired (as often as needed) to tune the SDS piano for Debbie, to her specifications.  One of the most requested GLG songs was Dueling Banjos.  By the time the park had closed, The Gang had sold all their albums.  After FV closed, Allen took up residence at Winchester Mystery House as the Director of Food, Merchandise and Arcades.  In 1981, Kevin approached Allen with a professionally produced audio tape containing a recording of live GLG shows from the last year the Village was open.  Kevin asked to have the tapes put on sale at WMH, which was done, but without a distinct connection between WMH and FV, not many tapes were sold.  When asked why the GLG sounds was so clear and distinct, Kevin and Scott used to say that many banjo players have “lazy fingers” and their fingers might touch or lay across several strings at once, where Kevin and Scott were trained to have only the very tip of their fingers touch one string at a time, giving a crisper sound.   FV Management gave The Gang complete control of their show and the content within.  We never hard a complaint, but we were stopped quite often by Village Guests who wishes to compliment the group.  Allen’s favorite GLG tune was Mr. Sandman.  On that live 1981 live cassette tape, titled THE LAST FRONTIER, you can hear Saloon food orders being called out from time to time in the background.  Where is The Gang now?   Sadly, the talented and beautiful Debbie Hartford-Weitzel passed away in 1987.  Kevin McCabe is employed in the technology industry, and still plays his music from time to time.  Scott Hartford has moved to Nevada.  Bruce Jolly still resides in the area.  It is the goal of many FV former Employees and fans to entice the remaining GLG members into some day making an appearance at the annual June Remembering Frontier Village picnic.  If that happens and with any luck, they will drag their instruments out of retirement for one last time, and entertain us all.

 
Kevin McCabe (Plectrum Banjo), Bruce Jolly (String Bass), , and Debbie Hartford-Weitzel (Piano) and Scott Hartford (Tenor Banjo),