The Slapstick legend is one that has endured in Tallahassee and the Big Bend region for many years. The sold out shows at Bullwinkle’s and Tommy’s-with lines wrapped around the bar and into the parking lots. The infamous “traffic jam concert” on St. George Island that drew so many people that the bridge to the island was temporarily shut down, with cars backed up into Eastpoint. The wild "Cow Chip Jam" outdoor concerts at Smitty’s Farm. The road trips to bars in Pensacola and Daytona Beach-where scores of Tallahassee fans followed the band to party through the weekend. In their day, Slapstick was the biggest draw, the best rock and roll band, and the center of the party, no matter where they held court.
It all started in the 1970’s, where John Kurzweg, Richard Tengstedt, Steve Taff and Perry Nelson met in Leon High, where all participated in the Leon band. In 1978, Steve and Richard formed "Airlayer", and John and Terry Simpson started "Fair Warning". “Airlayer” and “Fair Warning” split up to form Slapstick, whose original lineup had Steve on guitar, Terry on keyboards, Richard on bass, and John on drums.
The band practiced religiously, and in 1979, they started playing at fraternity parties and local bars. Their enormous musical talents combined with their selection of classic rock and new wave covers to draw huge crowds of wild dancers and rowdy partiers. While the band played at many bars both in and out of town (Machine Gun Kelly’s in Pensacola, The Crash Landing in Tallahassee), the epic three and four day runs in Tallahassee’s two biggest rock clubs at the time-Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Tommy’s Deep South Music Hall (now the homeless shelter) were where the band really formulated their stage style.
In 1981, Slapstick made a key change to their line up. John’s playing drums didn’t afford the band a front man, so the band hired Perry Nelson to play drums and John took center stage to sing and play guitar. The band’s popularity continued to grow, and their insistence on creating the total concert experience resulted in their hiring the production team of Chris Peiser to run sound and Larry Schmidt (of Reel Rock Productions) to run lights.
The Cow Chip Jams, sponsored by local rock radio station D 103 at Smitty’s Farm were some of the first "outdoor music festivals" in Tallahassee. Slapstick was the venerable headliner at these giant field parties.
The Memorial Day concert on St. George Island, where the band played on top of the old Surf Hut is still talked about by the island locals. "Man, that was crazy," said island resident Jonathan Dwyer. "It was the biggest crowd on the beach I ever seen. Folks was backed up across the bridge into Eastpoint trying’ to get on to the island. Cops had to stop traffic, and they only allowed a car to come off the bridge if a car left the island. Never seen nothing’ like that before, or since".
But it was the sweaty throw downs in Bullwinkle’s and Tommy’s that became the fan favorites. Blistering Led Zeppelin sets, complex note-for-note interpretations of Pink Floyd and Genesis, and clever versions of Cars tunes were interspersed with original songs penned by both John and by Terry.
"The shows at Tommy’s and Bullwinkle’s were sonic", said Larry Schmidt. "What separated Slapstick from the rest of the music scene was pushing the envelope in regards to production-the quad sound, the lighting concepts, the effects. That and hard work. That marriage of logging hours at rehearsals, selecting great songs, their enormous musical talents, and great production made it a rock show. That’s what brought the crowds."
In June, 1981, with songwriters John and Terry each wishing to pursue their own musical paths, this version of Slapstick ended. Several years later (1989-92), a three piece version of Slapstick was formed, with Perry on drums and vocals, Steve on guitars, and Richard on bass (and a computer to do the rest). They played regularly at Bullwinkle’s and the old Flamingo Cafe culminating with a special concert at The Moon called "Pink Floyd on The Moon".
Some thirty years later, it’s time to light this ROCKET again.