Madison minstrels

Musicians O’Neal, Adkins,
Perkinson form ‘Whalebone’

The group plays at Joeyg’s
and plans to record a CD of original songs soon

By Levi King
Staff Writer

(October 2005) – When you hear them play, you’d never guess that Whalebone only formed last December. That’s partly because the members, John Adkins, Dennis O’Neal and Joe Perkinson, have each been playing since junior high, and partly because they’ve performed together before in different arrangements.

Dennis O'Neal

Photo by Levi King

Whalebone musician
Dennis O’Neal.

O’Neal, 53, and Perkinson, 48, have been members of the Doctors Band for the past seven years, and Adkins joined when he moved to Madison from the Portland, Ore., area one year ago. Whalebone formed soon after Adkins’ arrived. “The Doctors Band only plays about six times a year, and we all wanted to play more,” O’Neal explained.
Their history goes back much farther, however. Adkins, a Wooster, Ohio, native, started playing guitar in bands with his brother at the age of 15. “My first gig was a neighbor’s birthday party,” he said. “I used to carry a note from my dad saying it was OK for me to play in bars. I kept it until I was about 30.”
In 1973, Adkins was seeking a drummer for his Cleveland-based rock band, Shotgun. O’Neal had recently moved to Cleveland from Madison and successfully auditioned for the opening.
“When Dennis showed up, he wanted to play but he didn’t have a drum set,” Adkins said. “So we all went in together and bought him one.” Shotgun played gigs in the area for two years before its members went their own ways.
Adkins and O’Neal started a short-lived band called Voyeur in Madison in 1979 before Adkins moved to Oregon. O’Neal started another band, called The Band With No Name, with Perkinson, a resident of Milton, Ky.
O’Neal and Perkinson also started playing music as kids. O’Neal was a seventh-grader when he began drumming. “I sold my 4-H cow and bought my first set of drums with the money,” he said.
In the early 1980s, O’Neal and Perkinson joined with veteran rocker and Harrison, Ind., native Lonnie Mack. O’Neal had long known Mack through his Indiana connections. “I think we played in all 50 states with Lonnie,” O’Neal said.
Perkinson, who played bass with Mack for three years, said he enjoyed meeting other musicians while on the road. “We played shows with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Pure Prairie League,” he said. Once, Eric Clapton, who had come to watch a performance, joined the group on stage. Perkinson also recorded three songs with Mack.

John Adkins

Photo by Levi King

Whalebone musician
John Adkins.

O’Neal stayed on longer, drumming on the albums “Strike Like Lightning,” “Second Sight” and “Too Old For Rock.” “Stevie Ray Vaughan was just getting big when he recorded on ‘Strike Like Lightning,’” O’Neal noted. The success of the album led to a world tour, carrying Mack and O’Neal to Australia, England and Japan.
Adkins continued playing music in cafes in Portland and drove a truck for 20 years. He moved to Madison last year so his wife, Nancy, a Madison native, could be closer to family. Adkins started playing at open mic nights at Joeyg’s Restaurant and Nightclub, and soon landed a solo gig performing there every Wednesday night. “Big” John Adkins performs acoustic covers and originals.
O’Neal owns and operates Clifty Creek Studio in Madison, and Perkinson works for the Trimble County school system.
Whalebone performs every Saturday night at Joeyg’s and rehearses once a week in the studio. “Since we don’t always have a bass, we spend a lot of time experimenting to get a full sound,” Adkins noted. Perkinson plays bass, but also plays guitar and keyboards as different songs require. Adkins plays guitar, slide guitar and keyboards. O’Neal plays drums, and all three share vocal duties. They credit David Butler as an “unofficial” member, as he sometimes performs with the band. Cheri Gayles, who owns and operates House O’ Hits and Joeyg’s along with her husband, Joey Gayles, picks up the bass when she isn’t busy in the kitchen. “Cheri’s a very good bass player,” Adkins said. “She’s a lot of fun to play with.”

Joe Perkinson

Photo by Levi King

Whalebone musician
Joe Perkinson.

Whalebone covers such bands as Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and the Beatles, but they also play original songs.
“It’s hard to pinpoint our style,” O’Neal said. “I call it ‘Americana flair.’ We do some rock and some country, but we do it all our own way.” The band has just started playing gigs outside of Joeyg’s. They recently performed at The River House, a tavern in Vevay, Ind. The band is scheduled to play at 3 p.m. at this month’s Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew festival in Madison.
They plan to record and release a CD of original songs in the next few months. “We’ve got plenty of material ready to use,” said O’Neal.

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