MARQUETTE -The name came from the financial status of the founders at the time.
The Flat Broke Blues Band started as a duo in 1991, with guitarist Walt Lindala and singer Hank Kaspala, known as Big Red Williams.
"The duo was named 'Flat Broke' because that was a reflection of the financial status of both of the guys," Lindala said. "The Flat Broke Blues Band formed in early 1993 and was a logical evolution of the name when I and Williams teamed up with bassist Mark Johnson along with a revolving door of drummers."
The band lost Kaspala, who passed away, then rebuilt itself around 1995 with a revamped four-piece lineup, finding success for the next four years.
Lindala and Johnson weathered changes in the lineup through 2000, when singer Lorrie Hayes joined the mix, followed by Mike Letts, guitarist, who filled in when Lindala took a trip to Finland, and stayed on. Drummer Jim Cohen was added in 2001 and that lineup has worked together ever since.
Johnson said: "Eventually, the current line up of the band came about from some of the best musicians that the area had to offer. They're certainly the best I've ever have worked with in the long term."
Jim Cohen, drums
Lorrie Hayes, vocals and harp
Mark Johnson, bass and vocals
Mike Letts, guitar and vocals
Walt Lindala, guitar and vocals
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Skandia native Cohen, whose father bought him a set of drums when Jim was 13, was in a band with his guitarist father Mike as his first paying gig. Bands he's been part of include Rough Cut, Blanket Party and Firewater. He became a member of Flat Broke after the band heard him play.
"I played with another band at a 9/11 Red Cross relief benefit in 2001," he said. "Lorrie saw the other band and asked me about joining Flat Broke. I have been in it ever since.
"I really like being part of a really good band," Cohen said.
Letts has been in a number of other bands as well, including Queen City Rockers, Radioactive, Country Tradition, New Riders of the Seney Stretch and Fast Eddie's Blues Band. He is loving the Flat Broke Blues experience.
"Playing the music in places when the people are really into it. It's an unbeatable feeling," Letts said. "The music, playing live, is definitely the best part. But we have also made a lot of good friends, both in the band, and the people who come to listen."
Johnson, who has played in bands everywhere from the southern United States to New Zealand, moved to this area in 1989.
"My wife is from the U.P.," Johnson said. "She would come here and spend time with her family when I was on the road. I was a hired gun, so to say. I worked through an agency out of Minneapolis. My final road experience was not a good one. I was determined that I was done with music all together.
"My wife and I moved here and started attending NMU. This is where I met Walt Lindala. He wanted to start a 'blues band.' It took him a while to talk me in into it," Johnson said. "When I finally conceded The Flat Broke Blues Band was born.
The Flat Broke Blues Band members are thrilled to be working as a unit.
"For the first time in my life, I get to play and compose the music I really want to," Johnson said.
"It's great to be part of the band. All the guys are serious about the authenticity of the music that we play," Negaunee native Hayes said. "They are not just 'playing around' but are studying where the music comes from, the history of it, the people making the music.
"It's important to everyone to keep the art form correct. These guys are scholars of the blues," she said. "We all study what we do and that helps us when we write our own songs."
"The music that we make together as a group is some of the best I've ever had a chance to be a part of," he said. "There are some serious musicians in this group."
This summer, the Flat Broke Blues Band is working on a CD of originals.
"We're going to be recording our own songs in August," Hayes said. "We are finding out a lot about ourselves. Are we a Chicago blues band? A New Orleans-style blues band? Who are we?" she said. "Because of the various influences each of us has experienced over the past 25 or 30 years, we bring a lot of different things to the table. It makes it fun. We can all pull from our histories."
Hayes, a breast cancer survivor, said the band found out a great deal about itself when she was in the midst of her battle with the disease.
"Us being able to play when I was sick was something. Our CD came out in January of that year and in February I was diagnosed," she said. "But our CD was out there everywhere and it ended up being our busiest summer ever."
Hayes would have chemotherapy on Monday so that by the weekend she would be ready to play.
"We kept going," she said.
That perserverance is one of her best memories of being in the group. The other was playing at a huge Super Bowl party in Detroit when Motown hosted the big game a few years ago.
"Going down there and representing the U.P. and the state at the No. 1 event in the world was amazing," she said. "It was really important for us, getting that attention."
For Cohen, another gig will stay prominent in his memory.
"When we opened for Johnny Winter at the Calumet Theatre," he said. "I was in shock that even got to say hi to him let alone be on the same bill."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253, or firstname.lastname@example.org.