In the late 1960s, the Juggernauts, a popular local band, delighted hundreds of Gonzaga University students at dances at the COG and played at every venue they could book. Three of the members have stayed in touch over the years and are still making music.
Pete Arthur and Jim “Fritz” Braukmann live in Spokane, and, for 50 years, they have played together in Stagecoach West. Mike O’Neill made music his career and settled in Germany. When O’Neill, 72, visited his friends in 2018, Braukmann, 74, dug out some old Juggernauts reel-to-reel recordings.
“They were highly distorted and over-recorded, but you tell we were having a lot of fun,” Braukmann said. The Juggernauts never released an album, but those tapes inspired the bandmates to record some of the old songs. Modern technology and ample time due to COVID-19 enabled the group to release their first CD in January.
“The tracks for the recordings were laid down in Spokane in our studio and then sent by internet to Mike in Germany, who added his parts,” Arthur, 73, said. “Then we would build on each other’s work by sending the work back and forth. Total COVID project, as we were never all in the studio together.”
In Braukmann’s home studio in northwest Spokane, he and Arthur talked about the process while O’Neill weighed in via email. “’60s Hits From the Famous Gonzaga University COG Dances” features classics including “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Green River.”
Braukmann grinned. “No originals because we’re not smart enough,” he said. He and Arthur met at GU in 1967. “Fritz walked into my dorm room one morning and said, ‘I’m putting together a band, and I need a drummer,’ ” Arthur recalled. Of course, he was game. It was the 1960s, and bands were springing up all over.
O’Neill joined a short time later, and the Juggernauts were soon booked at venues all over town. “We were pretty much penniless. We’d have to borrow someone’s truck and rent equipment,” Braukmann said. “It was the most exciting thing you can imagine at 18.”
Arthur agreed. “Making music with your friends – it’s the best thing ever.” Even better, many of those relationships have endured. “A lot of the friendships that developed during that time have lasted and go a lot deeper for me than ones that came along later in life,” O’Neill said.
After the Juggernauts days, O’Neill traveled to Germany as an accompanying musician for Pat Cronin’s 1980 European Tour. “We spent time in London and Paris before coming on to Hannover. We were supposed to move on to Italy and possibly Spain, but we had so much work in Germany that we ended up spending the rest of our time here,” he said.
At the conclusion of the tour, O’Neill returned to Germany to “continue the adventure.” Meanwhile, after graduating from GU, Arthur formed Stagecoach West while earning his master’s at Whitworth University and teaching in the Mead School District. Though retired from Mead, he serves as an adjunct professor at Whitworth.
Braukmann ended up in education, as well. He taught engineering and design at Eastern Washington University and served as department chair. Currently, he’s an adjunct professor at EWU. Until the pandemic hit, Stagecoach West stayed busy and developed a loyal following. Last year, they had 40 gigs cancel due to COVID-19.
“The love of music kept us going,” Arthur said. “It’s been a great counterpart to our day jobs.” With no opportunity to play for an audience during the shutdown, time spent recording the Juggernauts CD was a godsend.
Working from an old playlist O’Neill discovered, the three got to revisit the music of their youth. “I had a ball!” O’Neill said. “For one thing, there was no pressure. I could take all the time I needed and try any idea I wanted to before sending my tracks off to the boys. Connecting with someone, musically, is an indescribable experience.”
Part of the enjoyment came from not just recording old songs, but also doing them the way the band had always wanted. “We got to revisit those early years and do it right,” Braukmann said. “It was really exciting. This represents what we sounded like in my imagination.”
Also fun was discovering that they could still hit all the notes. “Songs I thought were so hard at 19, we picked right up,” Arthur said. “I’m pretty proud we could keep them in the same key.” He and Braukmann are looking forward to playing with the other Stagecoach West musicians when restrictions loosen up. They plan to offer the Juggernauts CD wherever they play.
While they miss performing, the downtime from their regular gigs allowed them to record this musical trip down memory lane. “It felt really great to play music,” Arthur said. Stagecoach West can be found on Facebook at Stagecoach West and at stagecoachwestmusic.com.
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