It is the mark of a true artist when he or she can take someone else’s song and transform it into something else entirely, to the point of making the new version almost unrecognizable. Stevie Wonder‘s 1971 version of “We Can Work It Out,” for example, begins with a funky clavinet riff whose boldness and originality immediately sets it apart from The Beatles’ 1965 single. An even better example of taking someone’s else tune and completely making it their own is Earth, Wind & Fire‘s stellar arrangement of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” – a radio highlight of the summer of 1978.
Speaking of The Fab Four, those of you from outside the Cincinnati area during the 1980s have been sadly deprived of a Beatles cover version so original and inspired that it instantly merited inclusion in an exalted, exclusive group – a Cover Version Hall of Fame, if you will – once it was broadcast on Cincinnati’s public television station WCET in 1980 as part of a local talent series called Rock Around the Block. Fortunately, some kind soul has made this blazing musical moment by Cincinnati’s finest – The Raisins – available to the rest of the world:
The Raisins (1980)
[Guitarist Rob Fetters, it is worth noting, would later reprise his classic ‘Dr. Robert’ riff for “Mattress,” the kick-off track to 1995’s Awkwardsville album by psychodots, a musical trio whose personnel includes former Raisin alumni, Bob Nyswonger (bass/vocals) and Chris Arduser (drums/mandolin/vocals).]
WCET’s “Rock Around the Block” (1980)
[Michael Hodges, drummer]
The Raisins’ explosive performance on Rock Around the Block was an ‘Ed Sullivan’ kind of moment for some of us impressionable Ohio Valley teenagers. “Raisins Create Another Way To Rock,” Bob Blackwood‘s piece for the short-lived Cincinnati arts weekly, The Outlook, was published at a time when it was possible to enjoy an entire night of live Raisin music —.original songs from each of the band members, seasoned with a wonderfully odd assortment of covers — for a modest two-dollar cover charge at such intimate (departed) venues as Alexanders, Shipley’s, and The Golden Pheasant. Blackwood’s full-page feature article for The Outlook cleverly employs the use of Raisin song titles as thematic section headers: “Porkopolis”; “A Little Discipline”; “Stand Up On Your Feet”; “Let Us Prey”; “Too Much Is Enough”; “The Problem.”
Jun 25/Jul 2, 1982
“A Little Discipline”
In fact, Fetters’ style is one of the solid trademarks of The Raisins. His rhythm playing is alternately jangly and gutsy, while his solos are models of well-crafted but adventurous climaxes. Fetter’s instrumental prowess is generally acknowledged in local music circles: .by request, he performed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in their tribute to John Lennon.
In spite of the guitarist’s solo capabilities, “We don’t like to solo a lot,” keyboardist Rick Neiheisel, himself an outstanding soloist, said. According to Neiheisel, “We try to keep the songs simple and small. The melodies are what stand out; the melodies are eternal.”
“Stand Up On Your Feet”
If the promise of a major record deal is the inspiration for the group, the challenge of writing solid, hook-laded original songs is the motor driving them. To date, the Raisins have penned 42 songs. Characteristic of each tune is a catchy refrain, strong harmonies, tasty solos and a bedrock backbeat provided by drummer Rick Powell.
“We’re always sure there’s a dance beat to any song we write,” Powell said. This is no mean feat, considering many of their pieces seamlessly shift from 4-4 to 6-4 or 7-8, uncommon metric territory for most pop songs.
As are the band’s other members, Powell is a triple-play musician: instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter. This accounts for the depth of the material, ranging from fun rockers such as “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Teacher’s Little Pet” and “Stealing Dad’s Beer,” to beautiful ballads such as “Stella” [17:45 mark in this live video] and “Interspecies Love” (inspired by John Lilly‘s dolphin experiments).
Bob Nyswonger, Michael Hodges, Rick Neiheisel, Rob Fetters
Although there was some fluctuation in the group’s membership in the early years (at one point, the band even had twin guitars, briefly), by the time of the Raisins’ first 45, the lineup consistently featured Rob Fetters (guitar & vocals), Bob Nyswonger (bass & vocals), Rick [‘Ricky Nye‘] Neiheisel (keyboards & vocals), and Rick Powell (drums & vocals). All four band members wrote songs and shared lead vocal responsibilities.
Incredibly, the group’s debut album, released on Cincinnati indie label, Strugglebaby Records, was reviewed by none other than Robert Christgau, “Dean of American Rock Critics,” as a direct result of the efforts of Ohio State University student (and Evans Scholar) Tom Newbold, who took it upon himself to send a copy of The Raisins’ LP to The Village Voice‘s chief music critic and senior editor, along with a handwritten letter hailing the band’s sophistication of songwriting as well as vitality of live performance.
From Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide Reviews
The Raisins [Strugglebaby, 1983]
All but the schlockiest variants of what must still be called mainstream rock are listing toward marginality so fast that soon the whole genre will be a purist specialty like white blues. Overlooking a few organ arpeggios and obvious guitar solos, these four Adrian Belew-produced Ohioans do their passion proud, with Rob Fetters’s funny but not parodic (or slavish) Springsteen impression on “Miserable World” a typical high point. The songs stick, too, though the lyrics are matter-of-fact enough about bent sex to make me wonder what the really kinky people in Cincinnati are like. Then again, in Cincinnati a purist mainstream rock band may well define kinky. .B+
Despite a devoted local following and the potential break-out success of “Fear Is Never Boring,” the four musicians would not be able to sustain the partnership, sadly, and by 1985, three of the Raisins — Fetters and Nyswonger, along with early drummer, Arduser — would form an “avant-pop” ensemble with art guitarist extraordinaire, Adrian Belew, as The Bears, whose debut album on IRS subsidiary label, Primitive Man Recording Company (PMRC), featured caricatures of the four band members on the front cover by the Mad magazine master, Mort Drucker.
Rolling Stone‘s Moira McCormick, in her favorable write-up of The Bears as one of 1987’s ‘New Faces,’ noted the personal connections amongst the band members that predate The Raisins’ relocation from Toledo to Cincinnati, as well as the group’s shared love of The Beatles and non-Western sounds — hence, the title of the piece, “East Meets Midwest“:
(June 4, 1987 edition)
The Bears’ decade-plus friendship, Belew observes, brings a depth to their music that belies their scant two years as band mates. Their association began in 1976, when Belew’s Nashville-based cover band, Sweetheart, played the same Southern club circuit as The Raisins, then headquartered in Toledo. “The circuit was grueling depressing,” says Fetters. “One night in Jackson, Mississippi, the audience was so dead I smashed my guitar and I don’t think anyone noticed.”
“We met each other by playing the same Nashville club, Fanny’s,” Belew says. “That’s where Frank Zappa heard me a year later and asked me to audition for his band.”
Following that big break, Adrian continued to fraternize with The Raisins (now based in Cincinnati) between superstar gigs, and he eventually produced their 1983 album The Raisins on Strugglebaby Records. “Fear Is Never Boring,” composed by Fetters (and reprised on the Bears’ debut), went on to become a major hit in Cincinnati. It got no further, however; the Raisins’ anticipated major-label deal never materialized.
The Bears had their own tribulations getting signed. A contract with CBS Records fell through upon the band’s return from a minitour in Israel last summer. Then, a demo that [manager, Stan] Hertzman had sent to I.R.S. Records found its way to Sam Gennawey, the president of the newly created Primitive Man Recording Company. Gennawey had already heard favorable reports of the Bears’ exhilarating live show and proceeded to sign them.
The Bears recorded and mixed their album last winter at Royal Recorders, a digital studio in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Belew and his longtime engineer, Rich Denhart, were so taken with the place that they have both chosen to settle in the resort town. Denhart is currently a staff engineer at Royal Recorders, and Belew is what he calls an “artist-producer in residence,” free to bring in outside projects as well as to carry on with his own solo efforts. Belew said that he also plans to continue performing on other artists’ albums; a recent credit to his work on Paul Simon’s Graceland LP, for which Belew collected his first gold record.
For the group’s follow-up album, Rise And Shine, video director – and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate – Tom Mignone would shoot a promotional video for “Aches And Pains” inside the Hall of Mirrors at Cincinnati’s art deco Netherland Plaza hotel and then manipulate the images into a ‘low-tech’ patented interactive cardboard toy called a Digital Video Decoder for use as a novelty promotional item! As Billboard‘s Steven Dupler explains in a piece for the May 14, 1988 edition entitled “Low-Tech Clip Offers Do-It-Yourself Graphics” —
Despite its imposing name, the DVD is simply a cardboard disk about the size of a 7-inch single with a window slot cut into its surface. The disk is mounted on the eraser end of a pencil with a push pin so that it may be spun freely by the viewer.
Here’s the key: a brief video segment incorporated into the clip by Mignone packs 420 video frames and 16 simultaneously running images into a 14-second time period. When the viewer watches this segment through the slot cut into the spinning DVD, he or she will see different images every time the video is viewed.
What’s more, because each person will inevitably spin the DVD at a different speed, two people watching the same portion of the Bears clip at the same time will see different images as well.
“Rather than rely on computer-generated randomness, this technique is inexpensive, fun, and takes advantage of the human element,” says Mignone.
Primitive Man and IRS like the concept so much, they’ve agreed to produce between 10,000 and 20,000 DVDs (they only cost about 10 cents per unit) and put them in record stores as promotional giveaways, so that Bears fans can use them while watching the ‘Aches And Pains’ clip on their favorite video outlet. IRS also plans a promotional mailing of the cardboard toys to programmers, press, and retailers.
In addition to the video and album title and other graphics, the face of the DVD will likely bear a phrase stating: “Call your favorite video outlet and request the Bears video,” Mignone notes. The reverse side gives simple operating instructions.
Mignone says that when we was developing ideas for the DVD, he did “experiments with various blink rates and drew on my physics background in slitted-disk experiments.” The result, notes Dupler, “is a toy that is easily understood by a child but yields sophisticated visual effects when used to view specially shot and edited sequences.”
Rise And Shine appears to be among the final releases from the fledgling Primitive Man label.
Rob Fetters, Bob Nyswonger, Chris Arduser, Tom Toth
Every so often, The Raisins have joined back together for live performance, as in 2011, when the band reunited to participate in a celebration of the annual Album Project releases by Cincinnati rock radio station, WEBN (see Brian Baker‘s “Re-Meet The Raisins” for CityBeat‘s August 10, 2011 edition, which recalls the heady moment at the 1982 WEBN Fireworks on the banks of the Ohio River when the group’s ‘power ballad’ “Your Song Is Mine” was included as part of the pyrotechnical musical accompaniment).
Raisins Reunion Alert!
Rob Fetters announced on September 1, 2023 that The Raisins (Bam, Ricky, Bob, Rob) will reunite for two nights in March, 2024, with all net proceeds to benefit Cincinnati’s Pay It Forward Foundation — “tickets will go on sale in November.”
Raisin Records 
Strugglebaby Records 
Raisin Records 
Strugglebaby Records 
“Your Song Is Mine“
[Tom Toth, keyboards + Chris Arduser, drums]
included on WEBN Album Project 3 
(cover design by Charley Harper)
(live anthology box set)
Just For Fun:
“Obsession Of The Heart” – a ‘drum cover‘
A Song Listing (partial)
“Obsession Of The Heart”
“Teacher’s Little Pet”
“Your Song Is Mine”
“I Like Ice”
“Stealin’ Dad’s Beer”
“Get Out Of My Way”
“Too Much Is Enough”
“Sugar Baby Honey Pie”
“Babyhunt (Pt. 1)”
“Women Of My Life”
“A Little Discipline”
“Let Us Prey”
“Fear Is Never Boring”
“Consumed With Love”
“The Last V-8”
“It Takes Too Long”
“The Bottom Line”
“My Red Truck”
“One More Sunny Day”
“Patton In Love”
“Love In An Instant”
“Home Sweet Home”
“All Summer Long”
“A Creep Like Me”
“True Love Has No Brain”
“Shut It Off”
“You Gotta Wonder”
“My Mommy, My Sister, My Wife”
“Hillbilly Break Dance”
“King Of Beers”
“Possum In The City”
Secret Hidden Bonus Track