Guitar for hire: The return of Scott Dercks

scott-dercksBy George Halas

One of the recurring themes of The Inquisition is that Fox Cities Inquisitors (FCI) have a myriad of entertainment choices in a rich and varied musical environment, particularly when it comes to jazz.

The rich environment got a little richer recently when guitarist and Appleton native Scott Dercks returned home after a successful and productive 20-year stint in the Twin Cities. His fellow musicians have welcomed him back with open arms.

In his earlier Wisconsin incarnation, Dercks began playing guitar seriously at the age of 13, and while at Appleton West High School, he started his professional career at 14, playing for various Democratic Party functions prior to the 1972 elections (his mother was a national delegate for George McGovern).

Along the way, he had his own jazz-fusion band, August, and was also a member of the legendary Rip Tissue and the Waster Paper Products before joining the successful and highly regarded Nearvana with saxophonist Tom Washatka, keyboard player Matt Buchman, bassist Ken Skitch and drummer Brian Brinkman.

“We had a weekly gig at Emmett’s in Appleton in the late ’80s,” Washatka recalled. “The band was called Nearvana and it was a blast.  Mostly fusion-ish.  We had a lot of fun and also made some great music.  Hope to do a reunion gig in the near future.  All the guys are still around and now that Scott’s back––who knows?”

Dercks also crossed paths with a young Janet Planet, now an international jazz star and spokesperson on women’s issues.

“I first met Scott when I auditioned to join his band,” Planet said. “I was 21 years old and embarking upon my illustrious career in music.”

“After posting ads at various music stores in the area with the banner, “Vocalist Janet Planet looking for band,” she continued. “Scott was one of the handful of musicians that called me back.

“I remember they wanted me to sing “Reminiscing” by The Little River Band for my audition. I didn’t get the gig.  I guess my ears weren’t beyond the blues that I was singing at the time. It’s a difficult melody for a 21 year old!”

Planet seems to have recovered nicely; she subsequently worked with Dercks on other projects and developed an admiration for his musicianship.

“Throughout the years I was involved in project bands along with Scott and Fred Sturm.  Scott has always been high energy, not only with his diverse musical skills but his personality,” she said. “He’s always been encouraging and really shows up to play.  He’s got a dynamic stage presence and knows how to ‘bring it’ whether laying tracks for a commercial jingle or jamming in the clubs.

“I’m delighted that he’s back in town,” she added. “Maybe we can get together and I will sing ‘Reminiscing’ for him once and for all!”

Washatka also forged a friendship with Dercks. He, too, came to appreciate Dercks’ musical talents.

“Scott’s a guitar players’ guitar player.  He’s still extremely vital because he continues to be a student of his instrument, the basis for longevity and relevance,” Washatka said. “And he has a deep bag; he knows a lot of styles and can play them authentically.  He’s done his homework.

“Scott has an unwavering dedication to both his instrument and the music,” Washatka added. “He maintains a consistency and level of musicianship that’s incomparable.  I have a hunch he’ll play ‘til he can’t; ‘retire’ is simply not in his vocabulary.”

Dercks’ success set the stage for the next phase, a move to the Twin Cities.

“I was hoping to have a full-time, working, recording, nationally touring band––the whole dream thing,” he said. “There were not a lot of players in this area interested in touring nationally and I thought that in a big city there would be more full-time players.”

“I had family in the Twin Cities,” he added, “and they strongly urged me to come.”

In the more than 20 years that followed, Dercks averaged 180-plus dates a year, performing in every conceivable venue, from tiny clubs to huge festivals. Scott has appeared on the radio and television, both in taped and live broadcasts, and has done dozens of record dates. His playing and composing is featured on CDs, jingles and films. He has written and/or performed jingles for such companies as Disney, Ford Motors, Sony, Kimberly Clark, AAL (Thrivent), Ameritech, Cenex, The Green Bay Packers, Treasure Island Casino and many more.

He has also helped teach clinics with such notables as Tommy Tedesco and Gene Bertoncini, as well as on his own at the grade school, high school and college levels.

As a sound engineer, he has worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Clark Terry, Bobby McFerrin, Dianne Reeves, Gerry Mulligan, The Hi-Los, and numerous others. Thanks to his knowledge of music, he is a published concert/CD reviewer and interviewer, covering shows by many of today’s greatest musicians, meeting and interviewing some of the best guitarists that have ever lived.

The above-mentioned are just some of the highlights. For a full and very impressive chronicle of everything he has done, go to:

The move produced a lot of upside.

“I worked a lot, played with a lot of good players and went to Hawaii,” he said. “Prince and George Benson both came out to hear a band I was in. It was a great learning experience. I learned many styles and how to be versatile.”

“Another highlight of my stay in the Twin Cities was that I got to play a number of times with organ player Jack McDuff,” he added. “Jack had a knack for finding the best guitar players in the world to work with, including George Benson, Pat Martino and many more. It was an honor to share the stage with him.”

This past May, “serendipitous” circumstances precipitated a return to Appleton. His lease in the Twin Cities ended, and, at the same time, the renter of the house he owns here in Appleton informed him that he would be moving out to buy a condo.

Even before he moved, he started reaching out to old friends and colleagues, inquiring about work.

One friend, a highly regarded guitarist who has been working in the Fox Cities for many years, replied “Is there work? You’ll work.”

Dercks has already been invited to sit in with many of the area’s best bands and he already has a regular Thursday night gig at The Black Boot in DePere.

“Everyone has been so gracious to me,” he said. “I am so grateful to Janet and Tom, Tom Theabo, Jeff Johnston and the guys in The Jazz Orgy. They don’t need to be promoting me and helping me, but they are and I appreciate it.”

His dream remains intact.

“I don’t think the dream has changed,” he said. “I’d still like to find a full-time band that is interested in recording and touring. I’d love to play festivals like the Montreaux Jazz Festival. There are players in the area who are more than good enough to do that.”

In the interim, Inquisitors, another fabulous musician is available for your listening pleasure.

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