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by JB Birney
When queried about his unique and “rear-view mirror” look at his many years as a hardworking St. Augustine-area musician, the familiar Walt Kulwicki responds that there always seems to have been a ton of great singers, players and pickers here and lots of great venues to play.
He should know. He is one of them and he has played all of them.
Kulwicki was born in Baltimore in 1959 and due to his Dad’s work, the Kulwicki family was repositioned numerous times. After age four, young Kulwicki spent time in New York City, then on to Massachusetts, through Quad Cities, Illinois until finally making it all the way to his home state of New Jersey and back again. He started strumming away at age eight and seems to have always had a guitar in his hand. Young Kulwicki worked hard, took lessons and tirelessly practiced different playing styles. He remembers his first paying gig at age 14 and fondly recalls his band’s early “Fire Hall” shows in Jersey. Kulwicki graduated high school in 1976, made a brief pit stop in college, and since then has never stopped playing songs and making people happy with his music.
His lengthy musical career has intersected with many famous rock-n-roll names like Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gary U.S. Bonds and many others. He reached his zenith when his band, “Those Guys” was chosen to accompany Bo Diddley as his backup band.
It was a sad and jobless pre-Labor Day Wednesday in 1991 and the soon-to-be Those Guys were drowning their sorrows at a bar. Chris McVey and Kulwicki had been in many bands together for a long time playing rock, fusion and metal.
When an offer came for them to play as a duo over that holiday weekend, Those Guys was born. Chris programmed a drum machine and they quickly drummed up 60 songs to play.
“I have it on VHS tape. It’s horrible,” declares Kulwicki, who lived in Ponte Vedra Beach at the time. Next, after a fated Mill Top meeting, local music hero Dave Besley was added, creating a new trio in 1993. St. Augustine’s music scene was changed for good.
On its long, strange trip since then, Those Guys has included twenty different members. The band toured throughout the southeast with famous alumni including former longtime Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artemis Pyle, bassist Banner Thomas of Molly Hatchet (co-writer of the southern rock classics “Gator Country” and “Flirtin’ With Disaster”) and the late John “Shelton Irwin” Jr. (Chambers Brothers, Johnny Nash & Bo Diddley), who sadly passed away in December 2014.
Even with Kulwicki’s busy solo career taking off, Those Guys (or former members thereof) can still be appreciated all around The Oldest City seemingly any day at any given time – sometimes as a duo, sometimes a full band, and sometimes as a truly electric experience.
Those Guys fans have appreciated the band’s longevity and have stayed loyal, loving and large. “We’ve jokingly said that our crowd is age 8 to 80. Now I think it’s younger and older,” kids Kulwicki. During Those Guys’ busiest years, Kulwicki was playing about 300 gigs annually. Although he moves a smidge slower through tour dates these days, he has never taken a musical break. He has lived many rock ’n’ roll stories and they’re etched into his life, however he is still easily humbled by being recognized and appreciated or knowing that he has had a musical influence on others wanting to play.
When asked to take a snapshot of his life right now Kulwicki says, ”I love where I’m at!”
Visit www.thoseguys.com and check your local musical listings for gig dates and times.