Sioux City Drummer Still Rockin’ Out at 73
His hair may be greyer and it may take him a week to recover from each show, but Don Bourret, 73, is still living out his rock and roll dreams.
After all, he’s been a drummer in bands ever since he was a Central High School senior back in 1957.
“I was in a group called the Screamers because our singer would scream when singing (Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps’) ‘Be-Bop-A-Lula,'” Bourret said, while reminiscing in the home office of his Riverside home.
And it continues today with the Velaires, a band that he helped found more than 55 years ago.
The current version of the Velaires — consisting of Bourret, bassist-lead vocalist Mike King; guitarist Bill “Chopper” Pelchat; saxophonist Dave Napier; rhythm guitarist Denny Wurster; and keyboardist Gene Ambroson — will be performing at April 19 at the VFW Post 1973, 2126 Court St.
But it was the original Velaires with Bourret, rhythm guitarist Dan Matousek, lead guitarist Bob Dawdy and bassist Jerry DeMers, who zoomed onto Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 recording charts with an electrifying cover of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven.”
But before the Velaires signed a recording contract with the Philadelphia-based Jamie Records, they were a popular touring act called the Flairs, playing sock hops, nightclubs and ballrooms across the Midwest.
“As soon as we signed with Jamie, they told us we had to change our name since there was already a group called the Flairs,” Bourret said. “Since we had just played the Val Air Ballroom in Des Moines, it was my idea to call ourselves the Velaires.”
With a hit record under their belt, the Velaires soon snagged a guest appearance on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” becoming the only Iowa band to appear on the legendary show.
Bourret remembers the Aug, 15, 1961, performance as if it happened yesterday.
“My hands were bandaged because I had just injured them in a water-skiing accident at McCook Lake (S.D.) a few days before,” he said. “It didn’t matter since all of the acts appearing on the show were merely lip-synced to their records and I only had to pretend I was drumming.”
Mere moments before the Velaires’ live appearance, Bourret also discovered the zipper had broken on his pants.
“When (Clark) came over to interview us, he zeroed in on my bandaged hand that I hoped would cover my broken zipper,” he recalled, laughing. “That’s how I made my TV debut, with my fly wide open.”
Bourret stayed with the group for a few more years before retiring from the Velaires in the mid 1960s.
“It’s tough being a touring musician when you start having kids,” he said. He is the father of two and stepfather to two more.
Bourret continued playing drums for various local bands through the years while running his family’s restaurant and, later, working as a salesman for a paint company.
Though the Velaires were reunited for some gigs after they were inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association Hall of Fame in 1997, they disbanded the group following the death of Dan Matousek the following year.
“In 1999, I took a job offer selling paint in Greeley, Colo., and stayed there for about six years,” Bourret said.
A bout with throat cancer was one of the reasons the veteran musician returned to his hometown. Another reason was a chance to connect with the reassembled Velaires.
“I had my last cancer treatment in the summer of 2005 and began playing with the Velaires a short time later,” Bourret said. “I think being in the group gave me one more reason to live.”
Yet, Bourret also credits Donna, his wife of 38 years, for keeping him grounded in his career and keeping him going through his cancer treatment.
“Before Don, I wasn’t really into music,” Donna Bourret confessed. “My girlfriends were impressed that I was marrying Don Bourret from the Velaires but to me, Don wasn’t a rock and roll star. He was simply my husband.”
Still, Donna Bourret is always in the audience for every one of the Velaires’ shows.
“We play one or two gigs a month,” Don Bourret said. “That’s plenty for me.”
And Donna Bourret will be by her husband’s side when he picks up the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association’s Dan Matousek Lifetime Achievement Award Aug. 31 in Arnolds Park, Iowa.
The award — named after his former Velaire band mate Dan Matousek — will go to Bourret for his long performing career and dedication to rock and roll.
Memorabilia from this long career fills his small home office.
Asked if he’ll ever retire from performing, he shakes his head “no.”
“Rock and roll was great when I was younger and it’s just as much fun today,” Bourret said with a wide smile. “I love my life and I wouldn’t change a thing.”