Open wide

Dentists' drill out solid northside niche

It is no small irony that the Delbert McClinton tune "Standing on Shaky Ground" is in the repertoire of Alan Wesley's band, 4 Out Of 5 Dentists. It was shaky ground, in fact, that brought Wesley to the Atlanta area.

Until 1994, Wesley — whose Dentists perform this weekend at Will Henry's Tavern in Stone Mountain — was living in Northridge, Calif., just northwest of Los Angeles.

Wesley, who plays rhythm guitar, formed the band in 1986, performing mostly at bars and military bases in Southern California. This often involved playing for young soldiers who would rather have heard Metallica or Dokken than the vintage R&B, rock and blues that Wesley & Co. were offering.

"Once they drank enough beer, we could convince them that Chuck Berry was OK," Wesley says with a laugh.

The band's work for military bases also led them to two four-week engagements at a base in Thule, Greenland, just below the Arctic Circle, most memorable perhaps because the band members joined the "Polar Bear Club" and plunged naked into the frigid waters of North Star Bay.

Over the years, the group's ever-changing lineup included members who also had performed with Kris Kristofferson, Three Dog Night, Buddy Miles, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh and Cher, according to Wesley.

All that came crashing to an end, however, on the morning of Jan. 17, 1994, when a 6.7-magnitude earthquake struck Northridge, killing 57, seriously injuring more than 1,500 and causing millions in property damage.

"It threw me off the couch, scared me good," Wesley recalls. "I knew I was never going to be comfortable living there again."

Worried for his own safety and that of his children, Wesley sought out terra firma, settling in Smyrna. His parents also live in the Atlanta area.

It was a propitious choice, because Wesley found an audience for his retro repertoire. The group performs most weekends, usually in the north suburbs, at such venues as Will Henry's; Rudy's Food and Beverage in Snellville; the Zoo Tavern in Lilburn; and My Brother's Place in Smyrna, where the band plays June 15-17. The Dentists (no, they're not dentists, Wesley just liked the name) also play in town at Fuzzy's Place, where they have a gig June 12.

"This area suits the music we're doing," Wesley says. "L.A. had gone to a pay-to-play situation, and the recession or downswing on clubs hit pretty hard there. It has hit here, too, but not as deep."

The band's set list runs the gamut from '60s rock/R&B classics (Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools" and the Coasters' "Do You Love Me?") to blues (songs by Albert King, B.B. King and Muddy Waters) to '70s pop and funk (Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight," the Commodores' "Brick House," and Wild Cherry's ubiquitous "Play That Funky Music").

The group's lineup includes guitarist Bob Rumer, bassist Larry Germain, keyboardist Lee Dunlap and drummer Beth Ann Dukes, in addition to Wesley. Each band member sings except Wesley. In fact, the band dynamic is unusual — while it's unquestionably Wesley's band, he is not the center of attention onstage.

"Alan leaves me a lot of room for guitar playing," says Rumer, whose resume includes work with Sandra Hall, Chicago Bob Nelson, the Snitkickers and others. "I get to solo and do all the fun stuff. He takes care of booking, club owners, publicity, PA, lights, more of the ugly, nonglamorous end of it."

Clearly, Wesley is happy to do it for the chance to perform.

"It's not MTV and it's not Las Vegas, it's not glitzy," he says. "We're just a fun-loving blues and R&B club band. If [fans] come out, that's what they'll see."

4 Out Of 5 Dentists perform at Will Henry's Tavern, 1228 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain, June 8-9 at 9:30 p.m. No cover. For information, call 770-279-9098.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.