What happens when you put together four die-hard music aficionados, three decades of tunes, nearly 250 podcasts and thousands of “do you remember whens”? It’s “What the Riff?!?,” a deep dive into nearly 30 years of musical hits – and obscure songs – by big-name bands as well as little-known groups.
The semi-regular podcasts feature four songs from an album, usually on the BILLBOARD Charts between 1965 and 1994, and include back-stories about bands, the truth behind the lyrics and snippets of the world happenings during its time of popularity.
The brainchild of four long-time friends who live on and near Lake Lanier, “What the Riff?!?” began in 2018. The first episode, which aired on June 1, 2018, featured the Alan Parson’s Project: “I Robot.”
Current lake resident Wayne Rowan along with Bruce Fricks, Rob Marbury and Brian Dickhute all lived in the Hamilton Mill area when they started creating the energetic 25- to 40-minute podcasts five years ago. Although they’ve scattered a bit, they come together most Saturday mornings at Marbury’s office podcast studio in Duluth to record each episode. Rowan is in construction sales for Pella Windows; Fricks is retired; Marbury owns Marbury Creative Group; Dickhute works in IT security.
“We have been the best of friends for a long time,” Rowan said. “The four of us – all in the same Sunday School class – were all listening to 3-4 hours a day of various podcasts and then we had an epiphany: why not do a music show, but not just a Top 10, but something that wasn’t being done?
“We landed on the idea of showcasing our favorite music to recreate the flavor of the times we grew up in, the soundtracks of those years.
“Even more than that, we’d build the show around a single song or a couple of songs from one album, and we’d even look for some of those bands that later became groups like the Allman Brothers, or bands that opened for the more popular bands but then became hitmakers themselves. And we’d riff off each other.”
Any one of them can suggest a song or theme – any kind of music – as long as it’s between 1965 to 1994.
“The guy who suggests the song/band is responsible for the research and takes the lead for that podcast, but each of us gets involved and contributes our two-cents, memories, comments and opinions. It makes for some interesting, insightful and amazing conversation.”
With their chemistry, the talk flows naturally against a backdrop of that week’s featured music. The podcasts are released on Monday mornings.
“Because of our diverse experiences growing up, we all have different perspectives about the groups and their music,” Rowan said. “We saw many of them in concert, owned their albums, even bought their singles in the early days. We might go back to the first time we heard a particular band or song, what was going on in our lives at that time, what a concert was like.
“Our passion and enthusiasm really shines through,” he said. “It’s funny, when someone’s on a roll and another of us has something to contribute, we raise our hands. With our mutual respect and friendship, it makes the shows really flow.”
Shows run the gamut from Southern Rock to jazz, the British invasion groups to movie soundtracks and television theme songs. They even do holiday themed podcasts for Christmas and Halloween. From time to time, they invite guest hosts from local broadcast personalities to musicians.
Episode titles draw in fans, such as “The Crow: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack,” “The Birds, The Bees & the Monkees,” “Sam & Dave ‘Double Dynamite,’ ” “Pink Floyd ‘The Wall” and “War ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and “They Might Be Giants ‘Flood.’ ”
For Allman Brothers fans, they reached back to the days of Hourglass, one of Duane and Gregg’s first bands in Daytona Beach. They also featured Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company; and Ozzy Osbourne when he was with Black Sabbath.
Each podcast has more than 1,000 downloads from across the globe, including Australia, Japan, Russia, Africa, India and South America.
“What the Riff?!?” comments on Apple Podcast Reviews say it all:
“I really enjoy the camaraderie amongst the hosts. It feels like hanging out with friends discussing music, and it seems I finish each podcast learning something new about an artist or song I didn’t know before. Also turned me onto artists I either previously didn’t know, or only knew based off of a radio single.” – Cycle Poet
“It’s way more than just an album review. You get background stories on the making of the album and info about the artists. Also they do a bit of that day in history news plus other songs from different artists that were popular at that time. Awesome blast from the past.” – Texastiger
“WhatTheRiff?!? keeps me up all night, because I found it so entertaining. The four regulars have great personalities and have great knowledge of the albums. I enjoyed their personal stories of songs, concerts and albums. More than just commentary on an album, they also discuss current events and pop culture. I like the surprise of each personal song pick and the comedy pick.” – Kryptshify.
Rowan recalls his younger days when television had only three channels and most songs were sold as “singles” that were played on record players. “As kids, we all played outdoors after dinner and on weekends and that was our entertainment,” he said. “In some ways we were feral kids because we had to make our own entertainment, running around and playing with BB guns and such.”
The first song he heard on a record player was the Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” He said it made an impression on him. In 1974, he purchased a $5 transistor radio and stayed up late in his room listening to tunes.
In college, he became a deejay at WEGL radio on campus. A graduate of Auburn University, by that time music became more than a hobby.
He connected with his fellow “What the Riff?!?” creators when they all ended up living in the Hamilton Mill area.
“These guys are all my closest friends,” Rowan said. “We socialize together, we’ve watched each other’s kids grow up. They’re the guys that you can call up in the middle of the night, no matter what, and they’ll be there. No questions asked. We just implicitly trust each other.
Recently, John Lynch of Mableton joined the show, replacing Dickhute, who left to become a supporting grandpa. Since the beginning of 2023, he has brought music by “The Black Crowes ‘The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’” and “Skid Row, ‘Skid Row.’ ” Lynch works as a network engineer.
“John’s right there with us and although we miss Brian, he fits in perfectly. We’ve all known him a long time too, he’s around our ages and ‘gets it,’ ” Rowan said. “We’re just having a blast and hope other people will tune in.”
To listen to “What The Riff?!?” tune in to Spotify or iTunes.
Photos: courtesy of What the Riff?!?