Hilton Head Monthly: Target the Band feature

Loved talking to Brian Raehm. Hope it came through in the writing for this Hilton Head Monthly July 2014 edition feature.

Here’s the text

Let the good times roll


By Tim Wood

It’s a Tuesday night in Bluffton. The bowling lanes at Station 300 are mildly crowded, a typical lull after the weekend.

But the same can’t be said for the complex’s Zeppelins Bar & Grill. The crowd started to build at 5:30 and by 6 p.m., there was a velvet-rope atmosphere just to get in.

A sell-out crowd of seniors on a Tuesday night? That’s the norm when the headlining attraction is Target the Band.

Brian and Michelle Raehm are in their fifth decade in the business of entertaining people. They’ve travelled close to 2 million miles on the road, but have called Hilton Head Island and Bluffton their home for the past 20 years.

They are joined by long-time collaborator Mike “The Sicilian Song Bird” Carletta to form the musical powerhouse trio that continues to be one of the most popular nights out in the Lowcountry.

“Boy, it’s been a beautiful ride, I’ll tell you that,” Brian Raehm said. “I never thought I’d be happy being tied down and not on the road. But boy, once we came up over the Hilton Head Island bridge the first time, it was game over. We found home.”

Home was originally upstate New York. That’s where Raehm first got together with Michelle Lapaugh to start making music in 1973.

“I gave up my dreams of pro hockey stardom to perform with the love of my life,” he said. “Not a bad trade.”

The group started with fellow musicians Dean Blask and Vinny Esposito and became a veteran of the road very quickly. They achieved fame when their song, “Give Me One More Chance,” became a Billboard soul pick of the week. The record went on to sell more than 100,000 copies.

As the record became a hit from New York to Michigan, the band became a touring force. At the height of their fame, they toured in a 28-foot bus with a three-man road crew and a traveling nanny to help watch their kids.

From New York to Chicago to Las Vegas, the Motown-infused music carried on through 38 states and six countries. At their road peak, they logged 70,000 miles per year.

It’s taken on different members throughout the years – Blask left the band in 1977, Esposito in 1996 – but the constant has always been Brian and Michelle.

“We lived and worked together for 10 years before I finally got up the nerve to ask her to marry me,” Brian said. “It has been an absolutely blessed journey for us. I work with my best friend, I share all these adventures with the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The two grew up with similar roots in New York – both their fathers worked for General Electric, both had tight-knit families and both had music in their soul.

“Michelle has always been the creative one, I was the technical guy, setting up the equipment, booking the gigs,” he said. “Together, it’s been one hell of a pairing.”

They have their separate lives outside of music – Brian’s passion is tennis, while Michelle teaches equestrian at Moss Creek. But when they meet on the stage, it’s magic.

“I can’t remember the last time we fought. Music has truly made our lives a joy,” he said.

Even when tragedy has hit, the music has carried them through. When one of their three children, Matthew, passed away from sudden infant death syndrome at 5 months old in 1986, they were on stage five days later.

“It was more tragedy and trauma than we’d ever suffered,” Brian said. “To get on stage, it was a huge relief and release. It wasn’t our best performance, but it truly helped us honor him and start the healing.”

Home base was always New York until a chance call changed everything.

“The daughter of one of our long-time clients, she was running resorts across the country and she moved to Hilton Head,” Brian said. “They were looking for entertainers. We came down in 1991 thinking it was going to be like some rowdy resort town like Myrtle Beach. Four years later, we knew we had to live here.”

Nine years ago, the Raehms called their long-time friend Carletta, a veteran performer back to their days of growing up in Utica, to see if he’d be interested in joining them down South.

“He had just finished treatment for cancer and the timing was right. He was looking for a new adventure,” Raehm said. “We couldn’t have gotten luckier there. He’s just such an incredible talent on guitar and vocals. He’s used to being the front man and having the guitar riff to end the song, as am I. But we just blended together right away, as if it was 45 years ago.

“I’ve learned more from Mike in these nine years than in any other point in my career,” he said. “He teaches me every day in just his presence and his work ethic. What a professional.”

The trio’s song list is as varied as the band’s history. They tackle everything from the ‘50s classics of Chubby Checker and Sam & Dave right up to today’s hits.

“They did a cover of ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams a couple weeks back and it was just flawless,” said Robert Walsh, assistant food and beverage director at Zeppelins. “They don’t tackle anything halfway. They are so full of personality and harmony, it’s infectious. It’s why we have to take reservations just to get folks in the door on Tuesdays. They are just incredible.”

Raehm appreciates the praise, but he said there’s another secret to keeping the crowds coming.

“We don’t take a break. From 6 to 9 at Zeppelin’s or later at Ruby Lee’s on the island, it’s one big party,” he said. “You take a break, you give folks the excuse to leave. That’s just not in our DNA.”

Raehm said he’d never thought playing 200 nights a year mostly in one place was in his DNA either.

“This place is special. You never feel like a local band. And we’ve seen enough of the road, we know what our accomplishments are,” said the 64-year-old. Indeed, their hit song is seeing a renaissance as a dance-club remix favorite in Japan and Europe, with original 45s of the song selling on eBay for as much as $500.

“It’s nice to be recognized like that, fun to see a Japanese group remaking the song on YouTube, but we’re not chasing that anymore,” he said. “We’re at a point where we’re never embarrassed to truly be ourselves on that stage. With all the different kinds of folks that come here, it never feels like the same show twice. Even the regulars bring a different energy every week.”

The trio will soon head back to upstate New York to play their annual reunion tour in August with Blask and Esposito. But then it’s right back to Zeppelins, Ruby Lee’s and Shelter Cove this fall.

“The warmth of the people down here makes this place feel as close to home as any place we’ve ever been,” he said. “We’ll keep playing as long as they keep coming out. We’ve worked 40 years in semi-retirement, playing three hours a day. We can’t stop now.”

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