Are you ever too old to rock and roll? Cindy Obetts’ answer is pretty definitive: “You are never too old,” she says. “It’s fun to tell people you’re in a rock band as they look at your wrinkled face and think, ‘yeah, right.’”
Cindy’s face — along with the faces of the Six Pak band’s other three members — is not particularly wrinkly. In fact, all the “girls” have held up remarkably well, considering their first gig together was more than 45 years ago.
Back in the day, Six Pak played most of the West Michigan hot spots; Club Ponytail, the Shelby Pavilion, the Lowell Showboat. They shared the stage with acts like Louis Armstrong and The Boxtops.
Dressed in matching, psychedelic jumpsuits — cringe-worthy by today’s fashion standards, but the height of chic in 1967 — the band performed most of the day’s Top 40 standards. “Wooly Bully”, “Mony Mony” and “Hang On Sloopy” all had their slots in the Six Pak set list.
Despite their popularity, the band’s career spanned only two brief years. In 1969, the girls went their separate ways, some to college, some to start families and careers of their own. Of the six original members, Cindy, the band’s drummer, was the only one to continue making music and that was just once each year, at her church’s annual festival. Not nearly enough to keep up her “chops,” but more practice than the rest of the band was getting.
The band’s original lineup consisted of Cindy, Rochelle Mudrey on bass, Mary Arbanas on rhythm guitar, Karen Delehanty on lead guitar, Andrea Sullivan on keyboard, and Marcia Boruta covering lead vocals. Over the years, Delehanty, Sullivan and Boruta moved to other parts of the country.
The idea for — to quote Elwood Blues — “putting the band back together” didn’t surface until early this year, when Cindy attended a meeting of the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of the area’s early rock and roll.
Though the original members of Six Pak have kept in touch through the years, it wasn’t practical for the out-of-state members to take part in the reunion show. That single performance was to be the long and short of it; a one-shot deal. After bringing in keyboardist RuthAnn Scott, who in the early ‘60s headed up her own group, Invictas, the girls decided playing live music again was just too much fun to let it go with one show.
“That first night we were all together in February to learn a few songs, I thought, it’s a good thing I’m drinking wine, because this is insane,” says bass player Rochelle Mudrey. “I was the reluctant one. I was afraid we might regret a reunion because it could never be the same and it might taint our fun memories of 40-plus years ago. Silly. It never occurred to me that it could be just as much fun and in some cases, even more so from a different, older perspective.”
The band’s first show as adults was sponsored by the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society and featured Six Pak along with several other well-known bands from the ‘60s. Rochelle remembers the gig as being “a blast.”
“I honestly don’t remember feeling as excited back in the ‘60s,” Rochelle says. “I had my daughter on stage and she had never seen me play guitar.
Singing with her, surrounded by lifetime friends … my family; It was just so much fun.”
Rhythm player Mary Arbanas felt no trepidation at all about revisiting the Six Pak chapter of her life. She says she still has trouble believing she’s getting a “second chance” to recreate the music that gave her so much pleasure in earlier years.
Playing live again after more than four decades was a nerve-wracking experience, Mary adds, but one she can’t wait to repeat.
“When I walked on stage and looked out, seeing family and friends, I couldn’t wait to play that first chord,” Mary says. “The applause when we finished was overwhelming, and bringing my four brothers to tears said it all.”
Recent Six Pak inductee keyboardist RuthAnn Scott describes the band’s reformation as a “recipe for disaster” and an act that “took a lot of guts.”
“(It was incredible) for Rochelle, Mary and Cindy to pick up borrowed instruments after 44 years and then have the audacity to commit to play again before hundreds of people,” RuthAnn marvels. “Then, to throw in another 60-plus-year-old rusty vocalist playing keyboard … but listen, these gals aren’t sissies and we were all willing to work really hard and you know what? We pulled it off and did it well.
“I am so proud of what we accomplished. It feels so good to be making music with my friends, drinking a little wine, and making a lot of music. Yeah.”
RuthAnn adds the band will keep rehearsing and will take advantage of any performance opportunities that come their way.
“(We’ll play) anywhere the good Lord allows us to go,” RuthAnn says. “Music still has a call on our lives, the rich harmonies, the strong backbeat of that music from our era … I still get lost in it.”
Since playing their reunion performance for the West Michigan Music Hysterical Society, Six Pak has appeared at various venues around the area, for the most part sharing the stage with other West Michigan bands. The reason behind this tactic is two-fold; first, after a 45-year hiatus, the band has virtually no equipment of its own. Also, the girls have had time to learn only about a dozen songs.
That’s likely to change in the near future, however, as the group gets more rehearsals under its belt. And learning new tunes isn’t that tough, considering the band is really re-learning all the material it performed years ago.
“We’ve made a conscious choice to play the old songs,” Cindy explains. “We’re a ‘60s band that plays ‘60s music. The difference is, now we’re (in our) 60s.”
If time has added a few well-earned wrinkles to the Six Pak band, it has been powerless to diminish the exuberance and flat-out joy with which they play. Watching the girls on stage, it’s all too easy to imagine the 16-year-old, fresh-faced, jumpsuit-wearing, hard-rocking teens they once were.
Anyone old enough to remember the days when the Top 40 ruled AM radio will be unable to attend a Six Pak performance without smiling. The band plans to play a few venues around the Greenville area in upcoming months, though most of those dates have yet to be firmed up.
For the time being, the girls are happy to just be playing again.
“If music is in your soul, even after a long absence, it will somehow find a way to draw you back in,” RuthAnn says. “And maybe in a more fulfilling way than you’ve ever dreamed. I know it’s true. It’s happened to me.”