Playing Dr.

The members of Dr. Zhivegas have lives beyond the stage

Starting with a modest four members in 1995 and ballooning to an 11-piece at its most extravagant, Dr. Zhivegas currently consists of nine members:

Frankie Muriel, lead singer and co-owner of Z (nightclub/restaurant on Locust Street): Some may know Muriel from his days fronting hair-metal band KINGOFTHEHILL, which made a stab at the big time with a major-label CD in 1991, right before Nirvana killed hair metal. Needless to say, the CD didn't fly. His solo debut is in the final-mix stage, and he's shopping it to the big labels. Muriel looks like a lead singer and acts like one, too. During the encore of a show at the Springfield, Mo., club Remington's, a dozen ladies ended up dancing onstage. Just as the show was concluding, Muriel motioned to the perfectly named Joe Sturdy, Zhivegas roadie: "I thought he was telling me to get the people offstage," says Sturdy. "But he was telling me to have the Cadillac waiting by the back door because he wanted to get back to the hotel directly from the stage. He never wants to hang around after the show."

Paul Chickey, drummer and co-owner of Z: Chickey, who serves as the band's booker/de facto manager, is one of the four founding members of Dr. Zhivegas, which began as an offshoot of the alt-rock group Nerve. They started Zhivegas "as a lark," he says. Chickey acknowledges the contempt with which the band is sometimes treated: "We call ourselves Whitey Cheeser," he says. "We kind of wallow in it now. I don't take it personal, because I know where I come from, and I know what I like, and I know what I want to play, and I feel good about myself. And I don't feel like I have to prove myself to anybody. I came from a completely different background than Frank, more of a do-it-yourself, originals-right-off-the-bat punk-rock scene. Whatever it was that we [Nerve] wrote, whether it was shit or it was good, we were doing it ourselves, and we were convinced that we should pat ourselves on the back because of it."

Cubby Smith, bassist and road manager: According to nearly everyone in Zhivegas, Smith is the unsung hero, the hardest worker, the nicest guy. "Without Cub, there would be no Zhivegas," they say. On days that Zhivegas is playing outside of town, it's Smith who loads the gear, drives, unloads, deals with union guys, does all the bullshit work. In addition, up onstage, Smith simultaneously lays down fat bass lines and runs some of the lights with his foot. "To see people's response when you go out and play a cover song," he says, "man, I've seen people throw stuff, stand there all night and flip you off, spit at you, and you're, like, 'Why?' It can be a big drag; it'll definitely give you an edge."

Dee Dee James (a.k.a. Muggs), guitarist: James occasionally performs naked or debriefed in chaps. A former touring member of Color Me Badd, James is very cool and an amazing guitar player. He started his music career playing in cover bands in his teens; one of his early bands, Vision, actually gigged at drummer Chickey's Chaminade prom in the mid-'80s. From there. he ended up as the touring guitarist for Color Me Badd. "I played with them for two years -- they had that Sex You Up album." He also spent, "like, three years" playing with Paula Abdul and hooked up with Bootsy Collins during his Color Me Badd stint. "One thing led to another," says James, "and a lot of it [came] from me doing a lot with Bootsy. That's how I ended up going to LA -- moved out there and started working with [Ice] Cube and Snoop. I did a lot of guitars on those rap records out there -- Dr. Dre, Friday soundtracks -- all through Bootsy. They were calling him, 'Hey, man, who's that dude you got?' That's how I was able to make a living out there [in LA], and I lived there for six years. I did all these sessions."

Alonzo Lee, keyboardist: Lee is the former keyboardist for Reggae at Will. His production company, Classic Black, pumps out rap and R&B tracks and is starting to get national exposure by landing songs on major national releases, including forthcoming songs on albums by Young Dre and Krayzie Bone and Shane, plus incidental music on MTV Undressed. "I'm no crusader for cover bands," Lee admits. "I'm all about originals. I know that's the way to go to have any serious longevity, so I have respect for that. But in terms of what people like, and what's working, if you look at numbers, basically people like cover bands. They like stuff you can dance to. It works, so I'm all for it. The whole point is to pack a room and get people out and checking you out. And if you do that, and you switch to originals, that's even more of the ultimate goal. So I see it as a tool to do what you want to do. Also, with this caliber of musicianship, we go into a lot of jams, so we don't exactly do it the same. So it's not the true cover band -- there's a lot of flex in there."

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