Kentuckiana’s Longest Running Full-Time Band Celebrates 50th Anniversary
Writer / Brenda Woods
The third hardest thing for a band to do is build a repertoire that spans multi-generations, contains selections from swing dance to rap and appeals to audiences of all ages.
But, The Wulfe Bros. have done just that.
It all started in 1969 with founding member, Paul Cunningham. At the time Cunningham was playing with Company Front and had also been a member of the Rugbys. Many 1960’s groups were leaning heavily on the British Invasion sound but Cunningham, Ronnie Burnfin and Bobby Ernspiker all Jeffersontown musicians and Billy Grinstead from Eastwood, wanted to go in a different direction and look for a different sound. The Wulfe Bros. were born.
As a testament to the longevity of ’60 music, Gear Fab Records is set to come out with a new CD of previously unreleased recordings from some of Louisville’s beloved bands including Company Front. Louisville In The ‘60s – The Lost Allen-Martin Tapes released May 2019.
The second hardest thing that a band has to do is find members who are versatile, capable of standing alone in the spotlight or blending into the band to provide the perfect musical support their band members need.
But The Wulfe Bros. have done just that.
As members changed and music evolved, the band has had as many as five members. The one factor that has never changed has been the vocal strength of this group. In adding or changing members, that has been the No. 1 criteria. Each “Wulfe Brother” has had the ability to not only sing lead but also the talent to sing true harmony not just background. With today’s technology and computer tricks available, The Wulfe Bros. take great pride in their ability to step up to the microphone and sing an a cappella version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” that does not leave a dry eye in the house.
Although the names and faces have changed through the years and the types of music they play have evolved, The Wulfe Bros., past and present, have a dedication and commitment to making sure everyone leaves an event with a smile. That philosophy has never been more evident than with the current group: Jeffrey Jarboe, a 39-year member and drummer/vocalist, and Rod Wurtele, keyboardist/vocalist and 29-year member of The Wulfe Bros.
The Wulfe Bros. are all full-time musicians. In today’s ever-changing society, they have managed to not only survive but thrive. As the music environment has evolved, this band not only continues to play for dances and parties but has developed musical educational programs for schools. It all began with the seed of an idea in 1992 with a patriotic program and has grown into eight different musical history lessons.
These family-oriented shows are frequent favorites for schools, civic organizations, corporate banquets or festival audiences. Everyone from three to 93, finds the performance educational and fun, but they are also relevant to audiences today. Paul’s wife, Maryann Cunningham, taught grade school in Anchorage for many years. In developing the programs, she had access to the curriculum requirements that schools needed to be able to bring these shows to life and make them not only educational but lively and fun for teachers, students and parents.
Their first program, “Reflections of the American Spirit-Songs of the Brave Heart,” remains a favorite. Taking songs from the American Revolution through current day conflicts makes this program not only a patriotic show but a true celebration of the brave men and women who continue to make the United States the home of the brave. As they introduce the songs, for instance, “Yankee Doodle,” they explain why the song was written, what it meant to those soldiers and other facts from that era.
Other programs include: Taming The Wild West, a rip roarin’ western adventure for young and old, A Rockin’ History Lesson, Cruise back to the Fabulous ‘50s, Kentucky’s The Place, A musical salute to the great commonwealth, Groovy Sixties Show, A trip to the moon and Woodstock. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to John F. Kennedy you will groove to the music and the people of the psychedelic decade, The Awesome ‘80s, Big Hair and Big Music make Big Fun, Let’s Dance, The Twist, Cha Cha Slide, The Electric Slide are just a few dance tunes that will have you on your feet. Their newest program, We’re All In This Together, concentrates on team building and raising self-respect among students. It is receiving rave reviews from both teachers and kids. We’re All In This Together features current songs from some of today’s hottest entertainers and delivers a powerful message of inclusion and anti-bullying.
These programs are also used as community goodwill building opportunities by PTA/PTO organizations, after-school events, library summer educational opportunities and community civic celebrations.
The Wulfe Bros. travel extensively throughout Kentucky and Indiana during the school year, oftentimes going into rural communities and multiple school districts. One of their greatest pleasures is watching as children of all ages walk into a gymnasium and see a full drum kit, multiple keyboards and electric bass guitar set up and waiting to perform. It is many times the first opportunity some of these students have ever seen a “live rock ‘n’ roll band.” Through the years, friendships have formed and memories made with kids, teachers and parents. Paul, Jeff and Rod are widely recognized and it’s not uncommon to see them approached with a story of “…you played for my school every year and now you are playing for my children.”
Arriving at a school, the equipment has to be unloaded, set up and then done in reverse following their programs. So, The Wulfe Bros. often solicit help from a few students. As a token of thanks, the students are presented with autographed photos, Wulfe Bros. buttons or some other memento of the day leaving a special memory and bragging rights about being part of the band.
The Louisville area is home to The Wulfe Bros. Paul is a lifelong resident of Jeffersontown, currently, Rod also lives in Jeffersontown and Jeff lives in the St. Matthews area. The early years found them on the road much of the time. They traveled extensively in Kentucky and the Midwest, also in Alaska, the Caribbean, Florida and New York. They have had the privilege of sharing the stage with Three Dog Night, The Spinners, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, to name a few.
The hardest thing that a band has to do is to adapt as needed, create an atmosphere that invites the audience to participate and beat the odds.
But, The Wulfe Bros. have done just that.
The 50th anniversary of a marriage usually calls for a celebration, and a band celebrating a 50-year anniversary is no less a reason to celebrate. The Wulfe Bros. have been able to blend their musical talents, their magical vocal harmonies and their love of entertaining into one of the area’s most beloved groups and Kentuckiana’s longest-running full-time band.
After making great music for 50 years, The Wulfe Bros. have fans that first heard them at their high school prom or a wedding reception of a friend or at a state fair or community festival. The exciting news is that today they have a whole new generation of listeners who are becoming fans and who think this incredible music is being played just for them.
What does the future hold for The Wulfe Bros.? Paul, Jeff and Rod see no end in sight.
Plans are being developed for a public 50th Celebration later in the year. More details to come later. To catch them somewhere near you, check their schedule at wulfebros.com.