Spelunkers

Of the possible professions for a Midwesterner, being a Spelunker has to be among the most fun. You get to venture into unknown musical territories and wear a cool hat if you want to. Tommy O'Donnell is the Spelunker who plays very fast, very interesting guitar and sings the most, too. John Ganser gets to hit the drums and other hittable things. Clay Thompson gets to play the bass and sings lots as well. And all in the service of great songs that twist and turn like no other musical journey we've been on.

The story of Spelunkers is really something, as in The Something Brothers. This was the legendary live band that has been proclaimed as one of, actually the, greatest of the last decade in the Midwest. The Something Brothers were a six-piece band featuring two lead vocalists/writers that barnstormed the region and served as the opening act for bands such as Soul Asylum, The Meat Puppets, Uncle Tupelo and the Goo Goo Dolls. Born in Bloomington, Illinois' fertile late '80s music scene, the Something Brothers eventually reached a level of success that resulted in constant touring. Tours extended to New York City (CBGBs, Kenny's Castaways), and Key West but their home market extended largely from Minneapolis to the Quad Cities to Kansas City to Chicago and Lafayette.

The instrumental core of Tommy, Clay and John would rehearse together and Spelunkers became the vehicle for their instrumental writing. "Iowa," "Grounded To The Soil," "Goodnite Gents" and "Waterline" were all developed as instrumentals at this time. Whenever there was a rare night off, these three members would take a busman's holiday as an all-instrumental outfit: Spelunkers. When The Something Bros. decided that the band could not break into the big leagues, the group disbanded. But Spelunkers continued, changed and grew.

After the demise of The Something Brothers, most of the members briefly played in a band called Skybeard. But Tommy took off for Los Angeles to pursue a music career and mainly spent the time writing. "A lot of my songs are pretty personalized. The melody does come first and the words have to fit the music foremost." John joined Cedar Falls' House of Large Sizes for nationwide touring in support of their Columbia Records debut. But soon the call of Spelunkers drew Clay, Tommy and John together again. While Tommy and Clay had always been singers, the reincarnated Spelunkers was now really using their vocal talents. Clay and John are both writers but are so enamored of Tommy's tunes that their first two albums, Breakfast Is America and Demand Your Annual Rent, consists of all O'Donnell compositions save for Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse," perhaps more popularly known as the theme music from the "Ren And Stimpy" cartoons.

The band is no more since Tommy joined as a full time member the now-defunct Mount Pilot. The Spelunkers released a third album of improvisational instrumentation called AlphabeticalDigit, that's no longer available. Once in a while any of the members may show up on a recording or sitting in a live situation but we can only hope for a full-scale Spelunkers reunion sometime this decade.