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Published: Saturday, 2/26/2005

Branded mixes youth, experience

One thing's immediately apparent about the quintet talking about its new musical venture - Rick Spitler, Scott Thompson, Jim Wozniak, Rich Jones, and Lisa Wilbur genuinely like each other.

At times Wozniak and Jones playfully suggest that starting a band might help the dating lives of Spitler and Thompson. Spitler returns the favor by poking fun at Jones' add-on of "A Musical Impression" that appears beside the band's name, Branded, on the group's business card and promotion material.

Branded is the newest country band in the area. Besides the members' easy rapport with each other, another thing stands out: the mixture of youth and experience.

Spitler, 48, has been playing drums in a band for 35 years, 23 of them with area country legend Bob Wurst. Wozniak, 44, has been playing the fiddle, violin, saxophone, and mandolin in bands for 29 years. Bass-guitarist Jones, 45, has more than 20 years of band experience; Lanny Raper, 56, the sixth member of the group who wasn't able to make the meeting, has more than 30 years in as a steel guitar player.

However, Wilbur, 19, a freshman at Bowling Green State University, was singing in Perrysburg High School's show choir at this point last year, and Thompson, 21, is a student at Monroe Community College.

"What we wanted to do was to take a lot of experience and put a couple of good, young singers up front," Spitler says.

Thompson was the easy choice to be the male lead because he and Spitler had played in another band together. For the part of female lead and to fill out other roles in the band, Spitler placed an ad in the newspaper and held auditions.

"We met some depressing people," Thompson says with a laugh. And some unusual people. "One of the guys wasn't even sure how to plug in his own equipment," Spitler says. "Then when he figured out we weren't going to hire him, he tried to sell it to us."

But when it came to voice, the group was delighted to find Wilbur, who has an impressive knowledge of country music.

"I love Shania Twain, but I listen to a lot of old stuff, like Patsy Cline," Wilbur says. "My parents taught me to have an appreciation for the old-time music."

The merging of experience with youth has resulted in a long collection of material on their playlist - from Cline and Conway Twitty to contemporary stars like Alan Jackson and George Strait. They'll even throw in a little classic rock if that's what the crowd wants.

"I think everyone in the crowd can relate to someone in the band," he says. "You've got the young crowd that's not going to want to listen to a bunch of 50-year-olds, and the older crowd who's not going to want all young people."

For now, as with any new act, Branded is trying to get the word out and line up as many festivals and events as it can.

A CD will be finished in a couple of weeks, and a Web site, www.brandedusa.com, is under construction and will soon contain biographies of the members, along with upcoming appearances and booking information.

Reflecting again on the group's name, Jones jokes, "We've got more than 100 years of experience. Maybe we should call ourselves Branded Centennial."



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