Dr. Bop and the Headliners

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dr bop 1
Artist / Musician
It was the early ’70s. The emergence of Dr. Bop and the Headliners was one of the surest signs that the protest era that had dominated the University of Wisconsin campus and the national news in recent years was coming to a close. Longhairs were packing Marsh Shapiro’s Nitty Gritty to see a band that violated every rule of the then current hip code. They wore stage suits, each member portrayed a likable character, they smiled, they talked to the audience, they were funny, they embraced every showbiz cliche in the book and they played ’50s music.
The classic early Dr. Bop lineup was singer The White Raven, Jerry Lee Larry, Troy Sharmell, Speedo, Ferret De Monte Cristo (pronounced “Ferray”) and, on the drums and expertly handling the duties of Master of Ceremonies, Mike Riegel aka Dr. Bop.
Let me make it clear, although they played ’50s music, they were NOT Sha Na Na. The band always invited the audience into their world. They were so good at it that we wanted to believe that they lived the offstage lives of the flamboyant showbiz types that they portrayed on stage.
By 1972, they exploded out of Madison, toured the nation constantly (and were a regular fixture on the Chicago club scene) and were making good money. They were the only musicians I knew who could not only live alone in a nice house, but own it as well. They worked hard, often 200-plus nights a year.
Touring was rough. Lead guitarist Kenny Champion (aka “Speedo”) once told me about how sweat-stained and filthy their white tuxedos would get after playing so many nights without a break. “They look great from a distance, but don’t get too close.”
The endless nights took their toll, and the band shed many members along the way. Larry Robertson aka “Jerry Lee Larry the boy you wanna marry” left the group very early in their run. He went country.
Larry Robertson then joined the second incarnation of the Harmony Grits with Pat McDonald. The original group consisted of Pat, David McSpadden, Rich Bogan and Virginia Rose. He eventually took up the pedal steel guitar and formed the Mad City Rangers. Troy Sharmell and the White Raven were gone by the mid-’70s and Kenny Champion eventually got off the road, put his guitar aside and, like Larry Robertson before him, took up the pedal steel.
Dr. Bop (Mike Riegel) and Ferret De Monte Cristo (Ned Engelhart) carried on with new members. After a brief lull and a period of experimentation known as “Dr. Bop’s Nouveau Cabaret Orchestra,” the band returned with a vengeance in the late ’70s with guitar powerhouse Mike Dowling aka “Guy Raye,” female vocalist Ena Anka, and a full-time onstage bartender who served up drinks to the band by the ton and caught their comically thrown back empty glasses and pitchers with a baseball glove.
In the last few years, Ferret de Monte Christo continued performing as Count Bop and the Headliners based in Chicago. ( Sadly, it was posted on the Dr. Bop Facebook page that Engelhart has passed away (7/8/2020).
They were great, they will always be Wisconsin’s premiere show band, and here’s the thing……I can’t ever think of them without smiling. What greater legacy is there?