The Cherry Pistols usually make it through one or two notes in "Bennie and the Jets" before people recognize the famous tune.
The Jefferson City cover band recently played the Elton John song at H. Toads, a bar near Lake of The Ozarks. The crowd could tell right away. Most people started singing from the first lyric onward, savoring the colorful language of the 1970s hit. When it came time for the long-winded repetition of "Bennie" toward the end, the entire bar may as well have been singing karaoke.
For the five members of The Cherry Pistols - all of whom are either fathers, husbands or working men - performing a good song for an excited crowd is like an escape.
"It's great to be able to get up there and not have to think about anything for three or four hours other than what you're doing right then," said Tom Reichart, the band's drummer. "You're not worried about cutting the grass or what's going on at work - it's just like, "OK, what song are we playing next?'"
Formed in 2010, The Cherry Pistols have become a fixture in the Jefferson City music scene, headlining events like Friday's benefit for Missouri firefighters at Capitol Plaza Hotel. The band is comprised of five members - Jay Pelzer on guitar, David Baker on lead vocals, Mike Kivett on keyboard, Quentin Rice on bass and Reichart on drums.
In the beginning, the ensemble was just a three-piece. Baker and Pelzer - friends from their time at Jefferson City High School - bumped into each other at Prison Brews one night and discussed the possibility of forming a band. Pelzer even had a drummer in mind - Reichart, a familiar face in the local music scene.
Although they immediately felt they had an interesting sound, featuring two styles of guitar and a cocktail drum set, they acknowledge they didn't really have a knack for coming up with band names. In the beginning, they were simply Baker-Pelzer-Reichart.
"Isn't that a law firm?" Reichart said, laughing.
But as Baker-Pelzer-Reichart, or BPR, grew in the Jefferson City music scene, so did the size of the band. Particularly for the larger shows, they started to use Rice, a bassist who's "installed in the music community," as Pelzer put it. His longtime practice space on Southwest Boulevard is now where The Cherry Pistols rehearse.
They didn't add keyboards until 2012's Blues, Brews and Brats music festival. Playing in the annual concert on Dunklin Street, Baker said the performance sounded cleaner and more professional than past gigs. They played a few times after without Kivett's keyboards, but it wasn't the same, they remembered.
"We were like, "Let's go get Mike back,'" Pelzer said.
As a five-piece band, they found their niche right away. Having all grown up with similar musical influences, they suggested playing the same brand of '80s bands. Together, they grooved through the pop melodies of Hall & Oates. They jammed out to the emotional solo work of Phil Collins as well.
Although the band has become known for its '80s covers, they often play songs from different decades. More than anything, Pelzer said, The Cherry Pistols try to play songs that make people want to buy a drink or leave their seat for the dance floor. They also enjoy picking the unexpected songs - the throwback anthems people haven't heard in years.
"You like the idea of someone coming to a show and saying, "I've never heard a band do that before - that's cool,'" Reichter said.
Whatever their philosophy, The Cherry Pistols have proven to be a successful local act. They play three to five gigs every month, headlining most.
"You see the fruits of your labor - the time that you put in and the effort that you put in on stage," Baker said. "When people respond and come out to your shows and you see the same faces a lot of the time, that feels pretty good."
But at the end of the day, the five members of the band know they're just moonlighting as rock stars. They all have day jobs, and Baker, Kivett and Reichart have the additional duty of being fathers. Baker also spends many nights rehearsing for his part as Valjean in the Capital City Player's production of "Les Miserables."
Playing in the band is a way for them to escape a few nights a month, as well as live out a few boyhood dreams. After all, like a lot of people, the members of The Cherry Pistols grew up wanting to become rock stars. Baker still remembers listening to his dad's old Elvis records, and Pelzer will never forget wearing his leather jacket to Michael Jackson's 1986 "Bad" tour.
It's this shared passion for music that drives the band, the members said. It's the reason they play thankless shows in small bars, listening to crowds that sound like "crickets," as Baker put it. It's the reason they spend a few nights away from their families and loved ones every month, or occasionally perform in 90 degree heat.
To them, playing in The Cherry Pistols is like a great second job. They still experience the burdens and responsibilities of a working life, but they get the added bonus of hearing a crowd sing along to "Bennie and the Jets" every once in a while.
"It's nice that we can do this until we're old men and still enjoy playing music," Reichart said. "It's not something that gets old for us."