Story and Photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
The Wicked Lewsers, a KISS cover band, has provided entertainment for Islanders for the past 10 years, at both the summer series in the Town Hall Gazebo and the Independence Day parade. They will next be seen at 8 p.m. Oct. 28, at the Matt Urban VFW Post, 3741 Walden Ave., Lancaster.
Recently, I sat down with the Wicked Lewsers to find out more about this band. The Wicked Lewsers is made up of John Lewandowski and Eric Lewandowski, Eric Beecher and Joshua Beecher.
Dispatch: How did the Wicked Lewsers form, and what is the significance of your name?
John Lewandowski: When my brother and I were 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 years old, we pretended like we were KISS with tennis rackets as guitars, and hockey sticks as microphones. So, for us to pretend like we were KISS when we were little kids and now be doing what we’re doing for real, I never would have imagined it. The name Wicked Lewsers comes from KISS’s original name, which was Wicked Lester. Our last name is Lewandowski. Our nickname, when we were in grade school, was Lew. He was Little Lew. I was Big Lew. We took Wicked Lester, and we made it Wicked Lewsers. Some real KISS fans get it. It’s all come together, and it’s been phenomenal.
Wicked Lewsers was born, and it’s a pretty cool story. I was in the Air Force Reserves for 27 years (before retiring in 2012). I had never picked up an instrument myself. My brother had been in a band as a singer, and he played some guitar. My oldest son was a guitar player. So, they didn’t need another guitar player. I knew that. So, I was like, now that I have this freedom of time from the Air Force, I’m gonna pick up the bass, and I’m gonna play with my brother and my son. We just started getting together and playing, and we gravitated toward the KISS music.
Dispatch: I want to ask you, John, how long did it take you to achieve proficiency on the bass?
John: I’m glad you said proficiency and not perfection. It took me two and a half years before I could be proficient in it enough so I could play a few songs, and I was able to get through an entire song. Now I can play a whole set with these guys and sing with it. Singing and playing is a challenge.
I live on Grand Island now. When I saw my first Grand Island parade, I was blown away. The Fourth of July parade. The people, when the town let you, would line up the chairs a week before. I had no idea what was going on. When I saw the parade, I was like I wanna do this. The very first parade that you saw us in, we didn’t have a drummer. I think we had backing tracks.
Eric Beecher: First time I ever saw KISS, I was 10 years old. My neighbors had a live tube. The album cover. I saw the inside cover, and I was absolutely mesmerized by them. Who are these guys? I’ve got to listen to this. I had “Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits.” I still have the cassette tape. That was my introduction to KISS. So, talk about these guys. I had been in a few bands. I had sold my drum set. We had one at the house, but it wasn’t like my own. Joshua was just beginning to really get into music. I was looking around and thinking that I’d really like to play KISS music. I came across Facebook, and these guys were doing the parade. And I was like “that looks cool.” I couldn’t find any local KISS bands around. And I was like, “those guys don’t look like they have a drummer.” So, I messaged John. I said, ‘Hey, you guys need a drummer?’ And it kind of went from there.
John: I didn’t know if he was joking. I didn't know this guy. I was taking it a little sarcastically, like ‘Are you offering?’
Eric Beecher: Yes, because I knew the music front and back. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to fit in and do the whole thing. I didn’t know where they were musically. I knew that you guys were doing the parade, and it looked like fun. And, yeah, I’d like to do that. I’ve dressed up a couple of times as a KISS member at Halloween. I went to the reunion in ’96. That was the first time I’d ever seen them play, which was kind of cool.
Dispatch: So, tell me what it was like seeing KISS play in person?
Eric Beecher: It was unbelievable, like everything I pretty much thought it would be: loud, hot. Just the whole show. The only bummer was that it obviously wasn’t the ’75 band. It was the ’96 band. It was a little bit different, but it still felt the same. We were sitting close enough to the side that, when the pyrotechnics went off, we could feel the heat from them, and that was cool.
John: I got to tell you that it’s cool the way it’s worked out. I do the Gene (Simmons). Eric Lew does the Paul (Stanley). They were the original founders of KISS. The real KISS band has gone through different drummers and different guitarists. When Beecher came to us, we had a different guitarist. That guitarist left us, and we were without a main lead guitarist. We’re family and enter in father and son.
Dispatch: Josh, tell me about your role in the band.
Josh Beecher: I am the lead guitarist, and I pretty much portray Ace (Frehley) in the band. I knew I saw myself playing out somewhere.
Dispatch: How long have you been a fan of KISS?
Josh Beecher: (Since) when I was like 6 or 7.
Eric Beecher: He’s had a guitar in his bands since he was 4.
Dispatch: How old are you now?
Josh Beecher: I’m 19, going on 20.
Dispatch: What about playing with this band do you like the best?
Josh: I really like jamming and having fun. I like being part of the show. It’s always cool.
Eric Beecher: Josh is so talented. When I learn a song, I have to read all these papers. I have to learn it through tabs and stuff like that. Josh can hear something, and he can play it. We couldn’t be more thrilled that this young man wants to play with us. He is the most talented person I’ve ever met. We’re so honored to have him as part of our band.
Dispatch: I’ll ask each of you. What’s your favorite song to play?
Eric Lew: “Love Gun,” I think.
John: “King of the Nighttime World.”
Eric Beecher: I would say “100,000 Years.” That’s where my drum solo is.
Josh: It’s probably a three-way tie between “Detroit Rock City,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.”
Dispatch: How about the costumes and the makeup? Do you like that sort of stuff? It seems like you’re really on the stage when you give that kind of performance.
Eric Lew: It’s nice to hide behind that costume and become somebody totally different. That’s how it feels for me. I feel different when I’m behind there. We can show off a little bit. We try and give everybody a good show when I’m behind there. You show off a little bit. We’ve come up with something special for Josh.
Dispatch: Could you talk about it? What sort of things have you come up with for Josh that’s special?
Eric Lew: We’ve basically come up with a makeup mask kind of thing. It looks pretty accurate. We’ve done that because there are some sensory issues, and you don’t want to wear the makeup and that’s totally cool.
Dispatch: I have sensory issues, so I understand. I also understand music being a part of your life since you were a little kid. How does it feel now to play the music that you’ve loved since you were a kid?
Josh Beecher: There’s definitely something special about that.
Eric Lew: Paul Stanley, if you will. The costume and the makeup. That’s different than most bands. I find, when I’m on stage with these guys, I love watching them, like their characters and what they’re doing and their theatrics. I can tell how much they’re enjoying it. It makes me enjoy it that much more and want to give more. Especially my brother, because we’ve got a little friendly competition going on. I see him start to steal the show, so I’ve got to do more to get attention.
Dispatch: Are you saying that you’re all competing with each other?
Eric Lew: Just my brother.
Eric Beecher: It makes the show better. I think we all try and one up a little bit here and there. You know, if somebody’s got a good move, he does a finger point or whatever, I might throw my stick on the next time. He might be back and forth and really hammering it out. This guy over here is doing tricks on his guitar like. … The whole intention was to make people enjoy us and look forward to us.
Dispatch: You have this performance coming up at the Matt Urban VFW on Oct. 28. So why don’t we talk about that?
John Lew: We’re going to do it exactly like we did last year. It’s free, and it’s for all ages. Last year, parents brought their kids, and they came up to us afterwards and said, ‘There’s very few opportunities to see a live band that allows families to come, and also for it to be free.’ But we’re not in this to be millionaires.
Dispatch: So, you’re playing at this concert. You usually play at the parade. You come here and play in the gazebo. Are there any other places you play? Would you like people to offer you a spot to perform?
John: Absolutely. We’re open. We’ll play a park. We’ll play a house. We’ll play a party. We played at the Noco Pavilion for a Halloween party one time so we’re open and we just enjoy playing. If anybody wants us, we’ll play small. We’ll play anything they want us to play.
Dispatch: Is there anything you want to add? Anything I didn’t ask? Anyone you want to thank? Could I take your picture right now?
Eric Beecher: You can say you weren’t allowed to take our picture because we didn’t want to be seen without the makeup. That’s an old KISS thing. We came prepared. We were going to wear these (masks) over our faces. We were going to hide our identities.