Dan Mulholland, Ann Arbor's ubiquitous frontman (or, as he will sometimes say, the world's oldest teenager), formed the band in 1983. "It all came together in a single package when I saw Chris's band the Untouchables. I think I got ninety percent of the band right there!" he recalls. Chris Casello (lead guitar) and Surfin' Freddy Klein (keyboards) immediately jumped ship to join the Watusies, followed several months later by drummer Bill Newland (replacing original drummer Jimmy Kimball). Auditions continued until Oni Werth (bass) and Drew Howard (guitar) came onboard to complete the group.
"I came on as a drill sergeant, or tried to," Mulholland admits. "I don't think they completely bought that, but they thought I was asking them to play completely weird music. I was a record collector and I was talking about Nervous Norvus all the time. I was making them cassettes of weird-ass music to do."
"We thought Dan was out of his mind," confirms Casello, who is returning from Nashville for the reunion.
Local press and word of mouth set the stage, and the Watusies debuted to a packed house at Joe's Star Lounge in January 1984. Playing a crazed mélange of 1950s and 1960s rockabilly, garage, and rhythm and blues, they were an instant hit. Loaded with an arsenal of obscure and A-list cover tunes as well as originals like "(Because I'm a) Jaguar" and "Sharkskin Buffalo," they went on to perform at all of the regional hot spots. "We were the toast of the town from eighty-four to eighty-six," says Casello. "There wasn't a big event in town that we didn't play."