An Interview with Bob Reuter of the Cough Medicine Company
Guitarist for a Steller, St. Louis ‘60s Rock Band
"Mildly well known . . . and not headliners," the Cough Medicine Company nonetheless played many of the local teen clubs in St. Louis during the 1960s. Guitarist Bob Rueter shares his recollections of his teen band with "The Lance Monthly."
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
Bob Reuter My sister was seven years older than I was. When I was six or seven years old in 1957, I was hearing all her records, seeing Elvis and Jerry Lee on TV, and listening to the radio while living in a lower working class neighborhood on the northside of St. Louis. We lived right on the black/white border of Fairgrounds Park, so I got a pretty good mix of cultures. There were also poor white folks moving up from Arkansas. We had street corner storefront churches every few blocks, where they rocked out pretty good; we'd hang around outside listening.
[Lance Monthly] What was your first band?
Bob Reuter My first band was called The Cartels. We had two electric guitars, an accordion player and a one-armed drummer . . . I swear I'm not making this up. Our second gig was at a Battle of the Bands downtown at Famous Barr. It was called "Search 66." We sucked bad. They had a free Pepsi give-away and when we came on, everybody ran outside for their free Pepsi. We lasted about three months.
[Lance Monthly] What about the Cough Medicine Company? When was that band formed?
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Bob Reuter In 1966, by a school friend, Tom Chiapel and myself. Tom later gained some notoriety in being the guy who sold the pictures of Vanessa Williams (the first black Miss America) to “Penthouse Magazine,” which led to her losing her crown.
[Lance Monthly] Please detail who comprised the band, along with the instruments they played.
Bob Reuter At first we called ourselves The Group. I was on vocals and guitar; Tom Chiapel was on drums; Don Tomazi was on lead guitar; and Mike Downey was on bass and vocals at first. When Mike got kicked out of the band, I moved over to bass and we changed our name to the Cough Medicine Company.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
Bob Reuter Tom lived with his parents in one of the few inhabited buildings in the middle of an industrial area across north Broadway down near the river. There was an abandoned building next door and we ran a ten-foot extension cord over from their place. We called it "The Group House." We had posters all over the walls, a black light, and a small electric heater for the winter. It was great; we played every day of the week and could go half way through the night if we wanted to.
[Lance Monthly] Did you play the typical dances, school events, and party-type gigs?
Bob Reuter We played at all those. Somehow we hooked up with some fraternities at St. Louis University and were playing frat parties on a regular basis throughout 1966 and part of ‘67 . . . and we were like fourteen years old! It was pretty heady stuff for us. We thought since they were college kids they'd want to hear protest songs, but all they wanted was "Louie, Louie" or anything they could drink and throw up to. It was like a seedier version of the movie “Animal House.” We'd wait until they were pretty messed up and then we'd go into what we called "a freak out," which meant some Yardbirds-type of feedback and scraping action with our volume up to ten!
We played these church dances at a place called Friedens Hall, which was right on our neighborhood. There were a lot of bad asses at those gigs and once we had to have a police escort to get us out of there okay.
[Lance Monthly] What were some of the local teen clubs you played?
Bob Reuter We Played at The Castaways, The Rainy Daze, The Chahokia Castaways and Prince Knight's Palace over in Bellville.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound?
Bob Reuter Well, we had these band cards that said, "The Sound of West Coast Blues." I came up with that, but right now I have no idea what it meant. I guess I just thought it sounded really hip at the time. Everybody would come up and ask what it meant.
[Lance Monthly] What bands influenced you?
Bob Reuter We were influenced by Mitch Ryder, the Young Rascals, the Yardbirds . . . blues, [and] soul [artists]. We liked to do psychedelic versions of soul songs, and we liked a lot of English groups, but felt a loyalty to other American bands.
[Lance Monthly] Did you ever have a manager?
Bob Reuter We had a manager for a while. He was a twenty-two-year-old guy named Dennis McGuinne, who put up the money for us to join the musicians union in 1967. He had a wife and two kids, so it didn't really last long. [After that] Tom Chiapel mostly acted as our manager.
[Lance Monthly] How popular locally would you say the Cough Medicine Company became?
Bob Reuter I'd say we were mildly well known. We were never headliners or anything--I guess it depended on where in the city you lived.
[Lance Monthly] What other local groups of the day were well known?
Bob Reuter The Acid Set (who became The Truth), The Good Feeling, The Poets, and The Daybreaks. We went to school with The Daybreaks. They were pretty cool, but a horn-band, so they were like, on the "other team." Part of the Daybreaks broke away and became The Deceased. The Unknown, who were older and from Belleville, later became Spur. I always liked The Public Service Blues Band. There were just a million bands around. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a good band.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Cough Medicine Company ever officially record?
Bob Reuter No.
[Lance Monthly] Did the band write any original songs?
Bob Reuter Yes.
[Lance Monthly] Why did the band break up in the '60s?
Bob Reuter Because of girlfriends and "growing up" in different directions.
[Lance Monthly] Did you join or form any bands after the Cough Medicine Company?
Bob Reuter Well, in 1970 I formed a band called Greyhound, which had two guitar players, did covers and originals, and played on a fairly regular basis. That dragged on for a couple of years and I stopped [playing] until 1977, when I reformed a group with Don Tomazi and Mike Downey, who were originally in that first band. We called ourselves The Dinosaurs and played our favorite old songs and originals, but did it with a hard rock 'n' roll feel, which came out sounding fairly punk. We developed a fairly large following and put out a 45 single.
In 1990, I formed a band called Kamikaze Cowboy, which started out wanting to be cowpunk and wandered all over the place for seven years, going through 36 members in the first four years. We put out three CDs.
[Lance Monthly] What about today? Do you perform at all?
Bob Reuter I just formed a new group called Pallookaville, which is acoustic-based, but rock and roll in its sensibilities.
[Lance Monthly] How do you best summarize your experiences with the Cough Medicine Company?
Bob Reuter It may be a time that's over, but it's still alive inside of me and shaped who I am today. Growing up in the family I did, you could make a good case that it saved my life. I think that Bob, the sixteen-year-old, would be proud of who I am today.