Ken Leighton 9:30 a.m., Aug. 24
RIYL: Iron Butterfly, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap
Upcoming Local Shows
Singer/bassist Kerry Chater (later of the Outcasts, which evolved into Gary Puckett & the Union Gap) used to play in two earlier local San Diego bands with Doug Ingle and Danny Weis (later of Iron Butterfly): Jeri & the Jerritones and the Palace Pages (formerly known as the Progressives).
Jack Pinney and Greg Willis (later to become Iron Butterfly’s first rhythm section) played with Danny Weis in the Palace Pages. Pinney was 18. At the time, Willis and Pinney (both had grown up in El Cajon) and Weis were still in the Pages, the house band at the long-defunct Palace, an all-ages club that once stood on the ground now occupied by the Home Depot near the Sports Arena.
By 1966, the Pages were in turmoil: the older members wanted to style and play lounges. The younger members, including Pinney, Willis, and Weis, wanted to grow their hair long and play harder rock. The Pages split. The older guys (including Kerry Chater) went with Gary Puckett and started the band that became the Union Gap, and the younger guys formed Iron Butterfly.
Later, Willis and Pinney would reunite in another local band called Glory, which featured a young guitar slinger (and future Beat Farmer) named Jerry Raney as well as guitarist/keyboardist Jack Butler and singer Mike Milsap.
Glory split in 1978. Willis and Pinney would reunite with Jerry Raney, in a band called the Shames. Willis also played in the King Biscuit Blues band and in the Mississippi Mudsharks before delving into a career as a side man that saw his familiar overall-clad figure on stage with dozens of local artists.
Greg Willis was 63 in April 2012 when he suffered a stroke, most likely caused by high blood pressure. "I didn't have any idea I had high blood pressure," he says. "I'm completely surprised."
After the stroke happened in his sleep, "I couldn't stand up. I couldn't say words."
Patty Birchard, his girlfriend, tried to help. "He tried to get up and get dressed, and he couldn't." That's when she called her dad. He had a van. They would need to use it to get Willis to a hospital.
Willis spent the next three days at Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest. After, he was transferred to a physical rehab center near Alvarado Hospital for another two weeks. Therapists there helped him to learn how to walk, talk, and dress himself all over again.