© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

"911": Getting the Band Back Together Again

Tom Flanigan

A legendary Tallahassee band re-unites next week. As the group’s leader explained, the idea is to transport its fans back to the “golden age” of the West Tennessee Street Strip.

Back then, guitarist, lead vocalist, songwriter and whirling dervish frontman Drew Tillman recalled his band – “911” – had a prime directive.

“The whole thing behind 911 is that we do things our own way and pick songs that no one else does.”

For example, what other Bullwinkle’s band could get away with playing that old Marilyn Monroe chestnut, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend?” But play such things “911” did back then and will again the evening of Friday, August 4th. But instead of Bullwinkle’s, Tillman said the Lake Ella American Legion will be the scene for the band’s third annual reunion. Featuring the original line-up, including his vocal partner-in-crime.

“Lori Mayer Smith, she just comes up and she’s a bundle of joy. She’s just fun!” Tillman smiled.

Holding down the party’s lowest octaves,

“And of course Richard Tengstedt, bass,” Tillman said. “He comes to the rehearsals and he’s the most prepared person I’ve ever seen.”

That’s a helpful attribute, given the band’s tendency to take off in unorthodox directions at a moment’s notice on stage. Of course, no rock band would be complete without a killer lead guitarist.

“Steve Taff is just so fast at learning things!” Tillman marvelled. “I saw him learn a Jimi Hendrix tune; we were sitting outside of Bullwinkle’s a long time ago when the band was first together, so I’d written down the words to the song because I was singing it. And he said, ‘I’ve never played this song!’ So he listened to it and we went in the next set and played it.”

Helping to glue the whole thing together is drummer Perry Nelson. His challenge – and consummate skill, said Tillman – is keeping the rhythmic heartbeat going no matter what.

“Perry will know where I’m going. And I’ve always said, the closest thing to a lead singer is the drummer.”

And even though it’s been many years since “911” left the night-after-night club circuit grind behind, Tillman said the old on-stage magic remains undimmed.

“And you’re not thinking; you’re just doing it. And that’s the way these guys are. They’re intuitive and when you play together as long as we have, you’re right; it’s almost psychic!”

Tillman added there’s one more critical ingredient to this rock n’ roll stew: an internationally respected sound man.

“With Bruce Jones, he isolates himself off, does his job and never leaves the board. And that’s why people like Annie Lennox will call him up and say, ‘Will you come do the Grammys with me?’”

The Third Unofficial/Official Reunion of Tallahassee’s legendary “911”. Friday August 4th at the Lake Ella American Legion. Doors open at 7:00 p.m.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

Find complete bio, contact info, and more stories. here.