Butch Imhoff

Butch Imhoff performs in The Sound Room at WEEU, 830 AM in Reading, PA. Set includes “Working Man” at 0:00, “Hey Mr. Bluebird” at 5:40, and “Slide Back” at 9:45.

From the Reading Eagle:

After 50 years of performing, Butch Imhoff remains all about the music

Friday October 30, 2015 12:01 AM
By Don Botch

You don’t have to spend much time with Butch Imhoff to realize he doesn’t pull punches or rattle too easily.

He speaks in choppy sentences with a bit of a drawl, says what he means, means what he says and admits that he doesn’t sound much like most other folks from around here.

But around here is exactly where he’s from. Temple born and raised, to be exact. Still lives there, too.

And he’s been playing music locally since the early ’60s, when he and three of his Temple cronies – he describes them as two Italians and a German, who might’ve gone by the name Temple Terrors – played a gig for pretzels and Coke at the In Town on Centre Avenue.

Reading Eagle: Ben Hasty | Butch Imhoff sings from the heart during a recording session at the Sound Room at WEEU in downtown Reading. Audio and video from the session are posted with this article at readingeagle.com.

Reading Eagle: Ben Hasty | Butch Imhoff sings from the heart during a recording session at the Sound Room at WEEU in downtown Reading. Audio and video from the session are posted with this article at readingeagle.com.

“We had four songs, and I think we played the same four songs three times each, then they threw us off the stage,” he said with a chortle.

Half a century later, he’s still hitting local stages any chance he gets as the leader of the Acoustic Roadshow, an outfit that provides opportunities for aspiring musicians to showcase their talents, and as guitarist for the Martin Sisters Band.

It was his affiliation with the latter that first brought him to the Sound Room at WEEU, where the Newmanstown-based family band videotaped a session last spring to promote its performance at the inaugural Berks Country Fest.

While there, Imhoff ran into Dave Kline of Dave Kline and the Mountain Folk Band fame. Kline once recorded an Imhoff original (“Hay Ride”), so the two have some history together that, besides music, includes having lived in the same home – at different times – in Temple. And when Kline broached the subject of Imhoff doing his own Sound Room session and making a live CD out of it, Imhoff, who already had grown comfortable with the laid-back vibe of the place, was all in.

“This is pretty much how I work anyway,” he said. “Seat of my pants, whatever happens, happens. Have a little fun with it and don’t take it too seriously.”

In Kline, he has a kindred spirit, and the two share an admiration for one another.

“He believes in me, and he encourages me,” Imhoff said, “and I appreciate that, because I’m just a poor kid from Temple having a little fun, that’s all, trying to remember the words to some songs. That’s how I am.”

The performance was nothing if not laid back. Sporting a sleeveless white T over jeans and his ever-present long beard, Imhoff took plenty of time for banter between songs, and if something didn’t go just right the first time through, he’d happily try it again. Then, with the cameras ready to roll, he pulled on a proper button-down shirt and got serious, more or less.

“I’m just a regular guy,” he said afterwards. “I don’t take myself too seriously. I can play some chords on the guitar and I can sing a couple of songs. Big deal. There’s millions of people out there who can do way better than me. So I’m just having fun.”

Imhoff started down his musical path as a child when his mother sold the family Studebaker out from under his dad, who was away on a hunting trip, and used the money to purchase an upright piano for Imhoff’s sister.

She wasn’t very interested in it, so it kind of became his. He could barely reach the keys, but that didn’t stop him from learning to play by ear.

Inspired by family get-togethers – his mother, two uncles and grandfather used to be in a minstrel show – Imhoff got hooked on songs like “Down by the Old Mill Stream” and “Darktown Strutter’s Ball.”

“They used to sing these songs, and I just loved to hear them singing,” he said. “Then I got involved.”

“I played piano in barrooms and stuff and used to be able get a free load on because I played a couple of hundred songs on the piano,” he said. “Adam’s Hotel and Johnny and Hons, those places had pianos, and I’d sit down, they’d put the shots up and a beer, and sometimes even a dozen clams.”

Along the way the third-generation alcoholic also learned to play guitar, and then figured out how to turn down a drink. The day before his Sound Room session, he said, he celebrated 34 years of sobriety.

His easily relatable songs are written from the everyman perspective that he’s honed over a lifetime.

“I think I wrote my first song in about third or fourth grade,” he said. “It wasn’t much. But songwriting to me is like painting a picture with words. You know, you got a little melody going through your mind. Sometimes it’s almost annoying that you got this thing going on in your mind, you get a phrase going and you think, ‘I wonder what that’s all about,’ so you write it down. I’ve written some songs in five minutes and there’s some songs I’m working on for 25 years.”

Of the batch he recorded at the Sound Room, the oldest dates to the 1980s.

“I’ve written five, six, seven dozen songs, I don’t know,” he said. “But then a lot of them are crap, too. Of course, Dylan didn’t have a hit with everything he wrote, either. But I never had an idea or dream of making it big or that kind of stuff.”

Local music is more his thing, and he formed the Acoustic Roadshow in 1998 to give local musicians an outlet that was a step up from open mics.

“The reason I started it is because I started in some bad places, places where people shouldn’t be playing music,” he said. “When I was young and dumb, I thought you had to get souped up to play rock ‘n’ roll, just like everybody else. And that’s the biggest load of horse pucky there is. The Roadshow came about because I thought I’d like to give people – especially young people – an opportunity to perform in a good place with a live, friendly audience.”

He recalled running an ad for auditions in the newspaper in October 1998. He stated right up front that it would be for showcases – opportunities for experience and exposure – but there would be no pay, and any interested parties should call after 5 p.m. on a particular day. And darn if a dozen people didn’t call that day and the next wanting to come out and sing him a song.

Seventeen years later, the Roadshow still is going strong, and many past participants who have gone on to bigger and better things keep in touch with him.

Among those are the Martin Sisters, who not only have kept in touch but have brought Imhoff into their band. He says it’s the best band he’s ever played in.

On Saturday and Sunday, when the Acoustic Roadshow pulls into O’Pake Fieldhouse at Kutztown University to provide the entertainment at the Reading-Berks Guild of Craftsmen’s holiday show, Butch Imhoff’s “Hey Mr. Bluebird” won’t be the only new CD for sale.

The Martin Sisters Band, which will perform Saturday at 2:30 p.m., also will have its September release, “Somewhere West,” in tow, making these proud times, indeed, for the Acoustic Roadshow.

Contact Don Botch: 610-371-5055 or dbotch@readingeagle.com.