Original member, Jim “Spaz” Garcia, Ed “Felix the Guy” Casanovas, Jack “Biff” Yocum and Peter “Stretch” Oltmanns started out as an original band known as AKA. Explored some recording projects, played a few gigs, but went nowhere.
Steve Tarkanish, established drummer, performer, agent and owner of a recording and rehearsal studio, suggests to Jim they form a band called The Nerds, loosely based on an old skit from Saturday Night Live-not the Nerd movies. The Nerds, he felt should dress and act like nerds, play lots of R&B, and Funk music. And there in the days of top 40 bands playing New-Wave, Madonna and Michael Jackson, was born
The Nerds Were Born
The Nerds…….playing a blend of Soul, Classic Rock, and TV themes. Their stage show and banter was largely influenced by Monty Python and David Letterman’s love of the absurd and Howard Stern’s disregard for tact. More often than not, pointless arguments onstage about trivial matters became a regular part of the act. One of the Nerds most requested bits, came in the way of a sing along inspired by a hot dog cart operator. At lunch one day, Spaz overhear the vendor’s boom-box playing Neil Diamond’s ”Sweet Caroline. When the chorus came around the guy chimed in “Sweeeet Caroline… pah pah pah”. Finding this childishly amusing, Spaz decided to add this to the Nerds set, along with getting the audience to sing the infectious “…pah pah pah…”. It became a regular part of the act, and there isn’t a night that goes by when some reluctant participant isn’t coerced into singing along. “It’s all in good fun, and people love the attention. I hear even Neil Diamond has added it to his live show.” Before long they had developed a strong fan base of people not looking for the same old thing.
August 15th 1985- Nerds first gig at the Lighthouse in Lake Hopatcong. Everything went wrong. It was a smash!
Still working day jobs, The Nerds spend their first 2 years developing a repertoire and fan base at places like The Fireside, in Denville NJ and later Hurricane Alley in Morristown, NJ. Lots of great times, too many diners after the gig. Regular characters start to creep into the picture as the Nerds become local favorites.
The Third Year
The Nerds begin to infiltrate the coveted Jersey shore market, playing places like The Playpen and Birchhill in Old Bridge and the Headliner in Neptune. Next stop Seaside Heights where Sundays at Baby-O’s became a study in the ridiculous, playing mostly to bartenders. Nevertheless, greatness was just around the corner….The Osprey and Joe Pops finally put the Nerds on the map, and the lines start going around that corner. The Nerds had suddenly become a Jersey Shore band, although they were still living in Hudson County.
With all the press and attention they were getting, they decide to try something different and do a big show at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ (then known as the Garden state Arts Center) A triple bill with The Greaseband, The Party Dolls, and The Nerds, sells over 6 thousand tickets. Spaz still remembers what a rush it was running onto the stage to the sound of thousands of roaring fans. About that time, they all move out of Hudson County and spread themselves all over the state. Things were getting better.
Next year they kicked it up another notch doing a solo performance at the world famous CARNEGIE HALL in New York. It was a Nerds seventh anniversary show in a hall that had never hosted a cover band. But they sold it out, over 2500 seats, only to make about a hundred of those seats vacant when Spaz leapt off the stage and formed a conga line up and down the aisles (much to the protest of house security and the union guys). To promote the show, the Nerds appeared on Good Morning America, and even had Howard Stern do a live commercial on his show. “Now everybody knows us…!”
Stuttering John liked them so much, he joined them on a few shows, playing and singing. A few years later The Nerds would play his wedding. They had played a few weddings a year since the beginning, always in Nerd attire, much to the joy of the fans getting married and much to the disgust of their parents. But in the end, there was always love for the guys in the bad shorts.
Poultry In Motion
In 1994, the Nerds put out their first CD of original and live cover material. “Poultry in Motion” took about 4 months to complete and Spaz hated the entire process. Fans loved it and the Nerds toyed with idea of pursuing the original music market, but later agreed that performing live in front of people had honorable merits of its own, and ‘hey, the money wasn’t bad’.
1995 saw the Nerds become one of the first bands on the internet, featuring band photos and schedule on something called a web site that longtime fan and friend John Casullo had designed for them. “He said it would be the latest thing, and we were like, ‘OK, whatever, run with it’. He did and now the world’s a smaller place.”
After ten years, looking back, The Nerds thought they had faced it all and won. All the crazy stories, characters, road crews, agents, and strange little clubs had forged quite a brotherhood. But 1995 brought it’s most difficult time when Felix, having lived with years of health issues became very sick and had to take some time off. Mike “Mongo” Spiro came in as a substitute on keyboards and held that position for a few months while Felix recovered somewhat. Felix came back in May and performed for what would be his last 2 months. When he could not do it any longer, he stepped aside in August of that year and died 2 weeks later, days before the tenth anniversary of the band. A brother, band mate, and friend had been lost. To this day, his twisted sense of humor keeps the band laughing onstage and off.
Mongo and The "C" Section
In September 1995, Mongo became a full time member and things went on for the band, a little rough at first, but getting back into stride after awhile. Besides a thriving club business, the Nerds started getting more and more offers to perform at corporate and private functions. They flew everywhere from LA to Whistler Canada, to the Bahamas, performing for some of the biggest companies around. Later adding the C-Section Horns as a sideline to the act, the band threw in a little bit of swing and funk to jazz up the act. They still join in occasionally to this day. They also added Dr Ricky on percussion for a little more Latin flavor on some shows and on still others Rich the Cowboy Guy on fiddle and banjo. Anything to keep the fans guessing.
The New Era
July 4th of 2000 had the Nerds performing at the South Street Seaport to a crowd of over 12,000 people. “We had cops up on the FDR Drive pacing back and forth with rifles; it was like a scene from Attica”
With the onslaught of cover bands playing alternative-grunge song lists, the Nerds stuck to their guns playing a little of everything that they liked (R&B, blues, funk, dance, classic rock, hair band, punk, new wave, pop and Englebert Humperdinck), and in the fall of 2000, they were asked to host MTV’s Ultimate Cover Band Contest as the house band. They performed throughout the show as 6 other bands competed in an elimination contest. Spaz recalls “After that we were getting emails from all over the country, as well as Australia, Germany, and even prison. That a little unnerving but cool nonetheless.”
OVER 25 Years of Nerds
The nearly twenty five years of the Nerds has seen over 60 people come through the door, either on the road crew or promotional crew, which has always been the best. “It lets us do what we like to do best without having to do what we like to do least” They have built an act, a brotherhood, a team, and a business model that would put many others to shame. Nearly twenty five years and still going strong like the Energizer bunny, or more like the deadly bunny guarding the cave from Monty Python’s Holy Grail…
Besides MTV, the Nerds have also performed on “The View” about 4 times, Carson Daly, and several other TV shows long since gone. Their posters have been on several episodes of “Law and Order” as well as a new show “Love Monkey”. They have played many celebrity hosted events for A&E, 'The Ed Show', 'Book of Daniel'. They have shared a stage with Sheryl Crow, Hootie and the Blowfish, Earth Wind and Fire, Train, The Go-Gos, Maroon 5, Southside Johnny, and more. They have performed for countless political figures, have been joined onstage by numerous sports figures including members of the NY Giants, NY Yankees, NJ Nets, NASCAR champions, and yes even the occasional rockstar like Jon Bon Jovi, members of Twisted Sister, Dickie Betts of the Allman Brothers, Billy Joel’s band and Letterman’s Late Night band. Sooner or later are bound to have a reality show of their own, “Nerds Need Love Too…”. And speaking of that, they are all married and all have 2 sons each, except for Stretch who has 3. In fact, as a side project, Spaz has formed a sort of ‘School of Rock’ teaching a group of kids, including his son Evan on keyboards, how to be a band. They call themselves “The Punks”, and Spaz took them under his wing when they were all about 10 years old. You’re never too young.