By Don Paris
It all started back in 1965, when Don Paris and Roger Groethe first picked up their instruments and began to jam together. Along with their friend Bill (Tex) Davis, they honed their skills and played wherever they could, even if it meant performing with just a snare drum, a cymbal, and a guitar case. But despite their humble beginnings, the trio knew they were destined for something greater. After Tex's family was transferred out of state, they brought in Roger's cousin Peter Diggins on guitar. They dubbed themselves Plastic Rat and continued to jam in their basements and garages.
It wasn't long before they added Mike Wannigman on bass and got their first big break: a gig playing for senior citizens at a veteran's nursing home (see picture below). Though it wasn't a paying gig, the response of the audience made it clear that Plastic Rat was on to something special. And as they looked out at the smiling faces of their audience, they knew that they were destined for greatness.
As the band played on, it was clear that they had struck a chord with their audience. The sound of clapping hands and tapping feet filled the room, and one person in particular looked like they might be ready to jump out of their wheelchair and start dancing. Alas, they were strapped in, but the energy in the room was infectious nonetheless.
But for all the promise of that fateful gig, it soon became clear that not everyone was cut out for the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Mike, in particular, found himself struggling to cope with the newfound fame and attention that came with being a member of Plastic Rat. And so, after much soul-searching, he decided to step away from the band and pursue other endeavors.
But Plastic Rat (soon to be Freeflite) was not deterred. They soldiered on, with Don stepping in to take over on bass and the band retreating back to the basement to continue honing their craft. It was a time of hard work, dedication, and endless practice sessions, but they knew that it was all worth it if they were going to make it to the top. As they emerged from their basement sanctuary, they knew that they were ready for whatever the world had in store for them. For the future Freeflite, the journey was just beginning.
It was a pivotal moment in the history of Plastic Rat. The band had been grinding away for months, practicing and performing whenever they could. But despite their best efforts, they had yet to make a real splash in the local music scene.
That all changed when they entered a talent show sponsored by the local church. Plastic Rat was sure that they had what it took to take home the top prize, but to their shock and disappointment, first place went to a magician. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but the band refused to let it get them down.
And as luck would have it, fate intervened in the form of a customer on Roger's paper route. This person just happened to be a booking agent (Monty) with MRA, a regional agency that could be the key to FreeFlite's big break. Roger talked to him every day, telling him about the band's progress and potential as a hot new act.
The agent was impressed and suggested that the band change their name to something catchier. They decide on FREEFLITE with the altered spelling being intentional and special. And then, to Freeflite's amazement, the agent came through with a real, paying gig - a dance at a church. It may have only paid $15, but to the band, it was a sign that their hard work was starting to pay off.
Fully electric with a PA system and electric guitars and bass, Freeflite took to the stage with confidence. And this time, they had an audience of teens who were ready to dance and rock out. The response was even better than their previous gig at the nursing home, with some people even daring to dance without covering their ears.
Of course, not everyone was sold on Freeflite's sound. But for those who were, it was clear that this band was something special. And for the band members themselves, it was a night they would never forget - a night that would set them on a path to greatness.