When most young boys do play with guns or cars at early age, both brothers Jan (b.1954.7.17) and Luc Van Dessel (b.1956.5.28) from Lier, where crazy about making music. As their parents were practising music themselves, it was rather obvious that their young children would one day pick up an instrument. Jan was 12 when he got his first drum-set while Luc had already convinced his dad when he was 9 to buy him a guitar, as the violin he studied earlier didn’t satisfy him. At the end of the sixties they formed their first band The Tails. Jan played drums, Luc sang and played guitar while a friend of them Guy Van Hool played the bass. Besides a few cover-tunes (like The Who or The Cats) they soon played their own written (pop-)songs and managed to open the Gouden Lier concert, for Belgians well known rock bands The Pebbles and Wallace Collection. Not a bad start for these rookies considering that Luc was only thirteen when he played his first concert. One of the few gigs they got was on a big festival in Westende; it had a contest for unknown bands and to their surprise The Tails won the first prize!
Another band who played there was Black Sound Collection who were from the same region as The Tails and that’s why they became friends with their singer Willy Vissers (b.1952.11.27) from Lille and their bass-player Ferre Cuylaerts. Black Sound Collection played cover tunes from The Who, The Troggs, The Equals and Blue Cheer while Ferre’s energetic stage performance had really made impression on the Van Dessel-brothers.
Early 1971 The Tails changed style towards blues-rock and Guy Van Hool left as this wasn’t his cup of tea.
With the arrival of his replacement, Marc VanRooy, Jan and Luc decided to change the name of the band to The Tails Blues. This trio played the Bilzen festival amateur-selections -without success- and also at the three-day Summer Festival Den Haan who had no less than 45 Belgian bands on the bill (Doctor Downtrip, Paul’s Collection and Freckleface to name a few). They delivered well and took Hendrix’ “Voodoo Chile” in the set-list. But Marc didn’t stay that long either (he was years later successful with his band The Parking Meters) and that’s why the boys thought of asking FerreCuylaerts to play bass with their band. They already had been to the Black Sounds rehearsal place in Poederlee, but as this band got inactive for Willy Vissers who was doing his army-time, Ferre was happy to join.
The next one to join was singer Jos “Stone” Piessens from Herentals, who also brought a lot of stage-presence to the band, as Luc wanted to concentrate only on playing guitar.
By then it was absolute necessary to have your own written songs to find dates to play, so they worked hard and soon had some songs as “Motorcycle Mama” (a long mid-tempo blues-rocker), “Country Rock” (Gallagher-like country blues), “Message To a Lady” (a great melodic ballad), “Laughing Blues” (a slow traditional blues) and “Freedom” (real heavy blues-rock with a lot of guitar). Other-man’s songs who were played now and then were Who’s “See Me, Feel Me”, Stray’s “All In Your Mind”, Chicken Shack’s “Poor Boy”, Black Sabbath’s “Sweat Leaf”, Grand Funk Railroad’s“T.N.U.C.” (complete with drum solo!), Budgie’s “In For The kill”, the Ted Nugent version of “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Johnny Winter versions from “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Johnny B.Goode”.
Despite their early age a concert-promoter advised them to go to for audition when a British band was looking for a drummer and guitar player. As this band was yet unknown by then, both brothers didn’t felt much for it; they couldn’t know that this group, Supertramp, would be real famous the following years.
Early 1972 the first major fact in their existence was a contribution on a local (“Passe Partout Records) compilation album named “Life fromBelgium”. Tails recorded three of their songs (Freedom, Country Rock, Laughing Blues) at Tamara King Studio’s in Heist Op Den Berg. They were also recorded on stage at dance-hall Fauna in Schilde to choose the best versions for lp-release. After all it were the studio recordings who made it to the album (with some audience noise mixed to it), although “Freedom” was left off as it probably was too heavy.
Now the band started playing a lot of concerts and festivals (as the big Kick-festival in Oostende or supporting Living Blues in Rijkevorsel) and thanks to these experiences they progressed fast. The boys decided to give the audience what they wanted which is some spectacle besides the music.
Jan always played a long drum-solo while Luc did a lot of guitar-throwing like Pete Townshend and together with Ferre they ran and crashed in on each other. Even the amplifiers and speakers were kicked down quite a few times.
In may 1974 Tails Blues (without “The” now) was asked to perform on national TV (“Singer Sanger Superstar” with Jo Met De Banjo) but this turned out to be a little disaster. They played a shorted version of “Freedom” but the sound was really bad as those studio technicians didn’t know how to handle a loud guitar.
Above that Luc got a broken string which made him really angry that they weren’t allowed to redo their performance. Luc remembers: “in those days a guitar had to be really loud to have a good sound and with the first note I played, the producer got this sound in his headphone, pulled it off and started yelling at us that we were not in Vorst-Nationaal (a big concert-hall) as this sound made him nearly deaf;… so he hated us right away…”
Major point of critic in the press during those days was singer Stone who’s voice was a question of “love it or hate it”. Jan: “Everybody in reviews kept complaining about the vocals and being young and naïve we asked Stone to leave”.
It was in the summer of 1974 when he was replaced by Danny ”Jumbo” Goovaerts while also bass-player FerreCuylaerts (as he went along with his friend Stone) got replaced by Luc Vermeulen.
But once more this didn’t proved to be the right line-up as there were a lot of discussions in the band; and after all, the critics on the bad vocals hadn’t stopped. So a year later the Van Dessel brothers parted company with the other two (“Jumbo” was seen a few years later when he supported Uriah Heep in Brussels with his band Flying Circus Of Vampire Killers) and re-asked Ferre to fulfil bass-duties. As a singer they asked Paul Syniawski (from Paul’s Collection) if he wasn’t interested in fronting the band. The band rehearsed but Paul didn’t thought the music suited him. The three musicians remembered Willy Vissers from the two years he played with Black Sound Collection and when Ferre asked him to join he was happy to!
They soon began working on new songs and this time the blues was left out, despite the name; they did play pure hardrock now! The Tails boys worked on a set-list of original songs, mainly in the Black Sabbath vain. For the first time all reviews were 100% positive and a lot of concerts and festivals followed.
Early 1976 they were asked to record a single for this sub-label of Monopole records: Kazan records. It was dj Roger Out who produced the recording; the band only had to pay 30000 Belgian francs themselves and got some copies of the single to sell in return.
So once more Tails Blues went to Luc Derdin’s Tamara King Studio’s in Heist Op Den Berg were they recorded both songs “Is This Your Day” and “Tribute To Gary Thain” with engineer Dré Van Miert. The fans who were used to hear those songs with the full load of guitar on it hardly recognised them on record. While the recording on the slow B-side is not really good, the up-tempo “Is this Your Day” on the A-side is completely ruined by the awful sound. Luc: ”Once again the problem were the people at the studio who weren’t used to record heavy guitars and obliges us to play real clean…”.
Jan also knew a great keyboard player from his village; Koen Berghmans and at the start of the new year they asked him to join.
Koen agreed and this made their sound change towards Uriah Heep (although they had a song on the set-list entitled “Warm Love” which was played with talk-box like the then immense popular Peter Frampton).Koen had not played in a band yet, but he had studied music all those years and could play besides the keys also guitar and bass. He had just ended his military service and was glad to finally show his musical ability. Later in September they played the Kioskival in Rijkevorsel for the second time. In 1976 they had seen Living Blues headlining while this time Dizzy Man’s Band where the final act. Other support-gigs were Kayak and Focus.
As the sound was really changing towards the more symphonic heavy rock of that time – and hardly without cover-songs – Willy Vissers didn’t felt comfortable with this new direction. When at the start of 1978 he got an offer from the renewed Mustang to step in for singer Guy Mertens he decided to leave Tails Blues. He was soon replaced by Ludo Van Den Schoor from Geel but this line-up lasted only till the end of the year despite a well received concert in Germany.
As it happens, Koen, Luc and Jan had made a lot of progress; Koen started playing bass at rehearsal when Ferre turned up too late, something that made them decide to have much more possibilities with Koen instead of Ferre.
So that’s why the others explained Ferre and Ludo they wanted to continue as a trio in a more technical way; like major influence Canadian band Rush (they wanted to play Rush’s “Ouverture” from 2112 as an encore). The three of them were all a bit fed-up looking for a singer, especially while with this new material (some ten-minutes long songs with mostly only a few minutes vocals) those vocals seemed less important. Luc saw it this way: “I started singing again after we doubted to keep it completely instrumental; but finally this option seemed a bit over the top, that’s why we regarded that voice as just one of the instruments…”.
That same year Jan took an offer to jam with jazz-rock band Outfit; they had a lot of musicians coming and going (one of them Octopus’ Paul Michiels) but they never managed to record something. He liked playing different styles of music; two years ago he had already replaced the blues-rock group Working Class Band’s drummer for only two gigs (one of them on 1976’ Rock Werchter!) Before Outfit he also played drums in a band from his hometown that just started; they were called War (later renamed De Kreuners) but as they sounded awful Jan left quite soon.
The new Tails Blue -as they would call themselves by now- felt free to experiment without limitations and besides this new name they soon came up with some great new songs as well. After a year of many rehearsals they recorded five of those songs at Berchem’s Nightingale Studio’s to sell on tape at their concerts and eventually look for some label interest.
It certainly was an impressive recording. First song “At The Day” immediately made clear they had to be taken seriously from now on; this was ten minutes pure symphonic rock. “3th World War” was even longer and included several different musical patterns packed in a “mini-war-soundtrack”. “Alcohol” with his quiet space parts showed off their Rush adoration after which the tape closes with two short songs (“Dreams & Fantasy” and “Brainwash”) who looked more like a search for radio airplay. Another major event was the announcement of being support act (together with Willy Vissers’ Victim) to Thin Lizzy at Vosselaar’s Townhal.
As it turned out Lizzy didn’t show up when a packet hall was waiting right after all support bands had played….
The promoter Xavier Dries finally found Lizzy in some Antwerp hotel, completely drunk and unable to play. The management pretended the stage wasn’t big and high enough so the organisation had to give everybody their money back. The only other support spot worth mentioning was with Dutch rockers Normaal.
Although musically the band was really happening now; as usual the Belgian press was totally averse to symphonic rock. Tails Blue had less concerts than in the early days so Jan came up with the plan to do a drum-record for the Guinness Book of Records. As he had already won a drum contest back in 1977, this seemed a good idea to put Tails Blue also in the spotlight.
On October 27 th till October 30 th at De Molen in Nijlen he played the drums for 78 hours which gained him the Benelux record and a lot of media exposure.
Unfortunately they didn’t have much advantage of it as right after this, Koen Berghmans decided to leave the band as he had trouble to combine music with his day-job. The search to replace him wasn’t easy and it was already by the end of 1983 when Luc Van Den Heyning joined on keys; he had played with his band Braintrust on the shock-festival in Gierle where he got noticed by the others. Bass duties were fulfilled by former roadie Willem Menheere so that they could continue working and writing as a band. Once again this new line-up started creating new material and when they got better month after month they recorded three of their songs (“Leaving Time”, “Follow Us” and “Brainwash”) on four-track just to look for some interest in the band.
Another year later they asked Wim Wouters (b.1964.4.26) to step in on bass. Wim used to take guitar lessons at Luc’s place, and had founded his first band Cemetery in the seventies while since two years he played guitar in melodic metal band Oracle. When Oracle supported Tails Blue (Zaal Centrum, Rijkevorsel), Luc asked Wim if he would like to join the band to play bass, which he accepted. Wim: “In Oracle I played guitar but now and then I switched to bass for the more difficult tunes as our bass-played didn’t knew all those by then”. It would be March 1985 when this new Tails line-up played his first gig at the Kokatoe in Turnhout with once more, (the renewed-) Oracle as support act. They all where eager to play the songs they already had recorded a few months earlier in the studio.
Now that the band was tighter than ever, they really felt it was time to make a proper recording themselves and try to sell this as a finished album. After a while the boys found producer Marc Smitt; he was a drummer who worked for Paiste cymbals but sometimes he did small productions in this studio C in Leuven. As he was relatively cheap and the band had to pay it all for themselves, they accepted his offer. They all worked a long time to get the recording and mixing right, although too much time was spend to get the vocals right after which there wasn’t so much time (money…) left for the instrumental pieces, who looked way more important to the band. Even the so called more “commercial” stuff was recorded in order to have a bigger change to get a record company interested. “Fool For The city” was the last song they recorded, so now they had enough songs for a full album. When everything was recorded they posted tapes to all the record company’s. Most of them weren’t interested at all and if they were (EMI), they only asked for a 7” release. Jan about this: “I never forget the one who wrote: We’re not talking about musical quality here, as we hear a lot of them, but unfortunately we don’t hear a song that’s fit for single release…”
In 1985American label “New Renaissance Records” had planned to release two of their songs on a compilation album, while later on they even changed their minds and opted for a full album, but nothing concrete happened about it.
At last it was former singer Willy who advised the band to ask heavy metal label “Mausoleum”.
Main-man Alfie Falkenbach was impressed and as he said that the label wanted to broaden his horizon, he was willing to give it a try. Wim saw it this way: “ You could not exactly call it a record-deal; it was more a “purchase-contract” as we got paid with some albums…”. A few weeks later they got a call to check out some cover-artwork and immediately they agreed that this futuristic head that Michel Bouchat had draw, did fit the title “Brainwash” perfectly. The album finally (as it was already announced for April!) hit the shops early august 1986 and it was clear that Tails Blue had made another big step forward; already on the first song “Leaving Time” they showed off an even more symphonic sound than before. The title song was the only one who had survived from the previous demo-album although it had a new long Rush-like intro. But they had managed to leave other Rush influences behind in favour of some more “Kansas-touches”, and came up with six diverse songs; the melodic “Black Out”; the more rocking “You”, “Starwater” in true “pomp-rock-style” and the nine minutes long masterpiece “Fool For The City”. This song written at the time with the trio line-up was rearranged with keyboards and with his climax and rich tempo changes it had a real “Kerry Livgren” feel among it.
The album was presented in concert in Geel but soon after, in October that year, bad news was spread as record-company Mausoleum was declared bankrupt.
One of the highlights in the bands career came in march 1987 when they were asked to support British rockers Magnum at their Belgian show in Borgerhout’s Hof Ter Lo. Wim remembers: “When I got a call from Frank Dom, our manager at that time, who said he could arrange this gig, I really had to think twice as I was doing my military service by then. I agreed to play but had to sneak out from those military barracks, to be at the hall on time”. They opened with an older unreleased song “Follow Us” which was really up-tempo and heavy. Two more new songs followed: “Place InMy Heart”, a beautiful ballad and “Summer In New York”. During their set they were told to expand Jan’s drum solo a bit more, as there was an accident happened with Magnum’s guitar player Tony Clarkin. After the Tails set Bob Catley came on stage to announce that Tony cut his finger and was unable to perform that night so the concert was postponed to April 7 th. This gave the Tails boys the opportunity to play a second time for a lot of people. And this time they also had a surprise in store. By the end of March their old friend Willy Vissers had agreed to rejoin the band as his group Victim had fallen apart. As this night the set-list was exactly the same, the audience were now able to see the difference between the four-piece from the first show and this renewed five-piece, and it was clear that the band had improved a lot. This time the Magnum entourage asked to cut down the drum-solo which of course Jan refused to do…
One of the conditions on witch Willy had rejoined Tails was to form another band at the same time to play only cover-songs. This was no problem for the others as also Jan had since 1984 been in sixties band Mirror 60; just to play more often. And after that, both brothers together with “Stone” Piessens and Luc Vermeulen (both ex Tails Blues) had also performed blues-rock covers now and then as “Twilight Stone & The All Round Boogie Clowns”.
So their new cover-band was named Rock Circus and had besides his Tails Blue mates Jan Van Dessel (drums), Luc Van Dessel (guitar) and Wim Wouters (bass), two keyboard-players: Koen Van Hoof (ex-Victim) and Luc Van Den Heyning (Tails Blue). They both stayed only for a few rehearsals and were replaced by another ex-Tails Blue musician: Koen Bergmans, while Guy De Bock (ex-Victim)replaced Jan Van Dessel (who became professional drummer with country star Jimmy Lawton)not only on drums but also on vocals. This line-up was later expanded with Willy’s brother Ronny (later on replaced by Chris Peeters) while there were also a few different girls who helped singing lead. Rock Circus were extremely successful and played for thousands of people up until 2002.
It was already the end of 1988 when Tails Blue was invited to record a video-clip for a commercial on RTL Kempen. It was shot at Antwerp ’s Monty for the song ”Long Hot Summer Night”. Right after, keyboard player Luc Van den Heyning announced he would stop with Tails Blue and it was obvious that the others went back to ask their Rock Circus college Koen Berghmans which he accepted.
The recordings they had made up till then at the small Artist Anonymous-studio in Schilde (still with Luc Van Den Heyning) were released as a demo tape to try to find someone to release a second album. Thanks to the fine vocals this turned out to be Tails Blue’s best release yet. Tape opener “If She Walks By” starts off quite heavy but soon it’s clear that the bands major influence these days can be found in the rhythms and melodies of Canadian band Saga. There are no weak songs on the tape while songs as “The Building” (lots of tempo-changes with howling guitar and synths) and “Summer In New York” (with exiting long instrumental bridge) deserve a special mention. Also the already performed power ballad “Place InMy Heart” were singer Willy stole the show, had finally found it’s proper recording.
But besides that, not that much happened with the band except rehearsing, so most energy went to Rock Circus and also the Boogie Clowns. The difference between both cover bands was that the last one played much more blues- and hardrock, so when their singer Stone had to stop in 1991 due to some health problems the others decided to continue Boogie Clowns with ex-Mirror 60 singer Died Daems and a shortened name. Much too their surprise they had loads of work with both cover-bands.
A sign of life from Tails Blue came when they were announced to play at the famous Biebob club in Vosselaar on March 29 th 1991 . The crowd was welcomed with an energetic version of the still yet unreleased “Follow Us”. More new songs followed: “Motormania”, ”Day Of Luck” and a song in fine Magnum tradition; “All I Wanna Do”.
All the songs from the last demo tape were played together with “Leaving Time” and “Starwater” from the album, before they ended up with “Jakke’s drumsolo” and “Smoke On The Water”. A memorable night after all….
Despite this success Koen and Willy explained the others they wanted to stop with Tails Blue and only concentrate on Rock Circus. Willy: “I really got to the point were I thought it was useless to rehearse every week just to play a show twice a year…” while Koen left for the same reason as several years ago.
The others understood their point of view but decided to continue anyway. Wim Wouters took over the keyboards, so that they were a trio just as when they started playing symphonic rock back in 1978. Wim had taken a few years of piano lessons and had already studied a lot of keyboards on his own. They started working on new songs, but as they had a lot of work with Rock Circus it was already 1994 when a new tape with five songs saw the light of day. Being a trio with it’s limitations had automatically changed their style towards that other famous Canadian trio…. Finally the old “Follow Us” had it’s proper recording when it opened this new tape in an impressive way. It was the structure and tempo-changes of the songs in which the band had once again made a lot of progress as exposed on the following “You Fool”. “ Temple Of Love ” also deserves a special mention not only for the beautiful melodies in the refrain but certainly also for the fine acoustic intro.
On June 10 th 1994 the tape was presented once again at the Biebob club. Besides those five new songs two very old songs from the first-trio line-up were also performed that night: “Alcohol” and “3th World War”. Together with the lp-masterpiece “Fool For the City” it truly was a legendary evening there in Vosselaar. Unfortunately this was the very last time the band was on stage as from there on the rehearsals got fewer and fewer until they stopped as there simply was too much work with the other bands the boys were in.
And if two bands wasn’t yet enough… Luc and Jan started working in 1995 with Polle Eyckmans and Jo Van Nuffelen on real blues music. They called themselves The Rectifiers, played many gigs and recorded in 1998 a traditional blues cd simply called The Rectifiers (with the beautiful goose-flesh ballad “Luke’s Blues”).
The Boogie Clowns were asked by Tessa records to record a live-cd who was released in 1996 in many countries and even in Brazil on Ipanema Records (who managed to sell several thousands of it). Besides well known songs as “Maggie’s Farm”, “Stranglehold” and “Voodoo Chile ” it also contained five own compositions. Two more cd’s; one with own work (“Originals”) and another with covers (“Undercover”) would follow but this time without the back-up from a record company.
When Luc Vermeulen had to leave the Boogie Clowns in 1997 it was rather obvious that the others would ask their friend Wim Wouters to fulfil bass-duties, who accepted and made the whole “Tails Blue – Boogie Clowns – Rock Circus” story indeed a real incestuous one…. It was with this line-up they even made it to Kroatia to play large outdoor festivals.
And back in 1996 Jan had found another challenge on his way; together with his brother Marc (who had already replaced his older brother on the Boogie Clowns drum-seat a few years back), he founded the Van Dessel Drum Duo (initially Luc was also involved). They played both drum-improvisations on a base of programmed synthesizer tunes. The 4 song demo they had send to all venues didn’t gain any interest to let the brothers play (for free) so they decided to embark on a summer tour to play under bridges. That year 1997 they got a lot of media talking about it but the three following years (in 1999 with Jan Geerts on guitar) they had every time more trouble from authorities who didn’t allowed them to play, as well as an increasing audience. Last sign of life from this remarkable project was another demo-cd once again with brother Luc (as Van Dessel Trio named “Boecht”). In fact, Jan had always been extremely busy playing music. Besides teaching drum, he had worked as a freelance drummer during his entire career. One of the bands he started working with back in 1980, was funk-rock band Mix. Playing with horns was something he hadn’t done yet; they recorded some songs and even got into Humo’s Rock Rally contest but not in the finals.
Another band who did got in the Rock Rally finals were new-wavers Blanc De Blanc where Jan stayed a year until they split in 1984. It happened many nights that he had to combine a Tails gig with one of the other bands. After he had been hired for a Swiss tour in 1982 by country singer Jimmy Lawton & the Hot Beaver band he became professional drummer but only stayed it for three years as he got really tired of this music and the special clothes he had to wear. Together with his ex Outfit college Walter Marien on guitar he was in this group called The Politics Of Experience, although he didn’t manage to play on the records. From 1985 on this experimental band was relative successful and so it happened that they even played at the Melkweg in Amsterdam and Vooruit in Gent (this one with his brother Luc).
And to made this Tails Blue story even more complicated; 2004 saw the birth of another “super-de-luxe”-cover band named Undercover to fill in the gap that Rock Circus left two years earlier. Luc Van Dessel, Wim Wouters and Guy De Bock were all former Rock Circus members and they were completed with Wim Horemans on (outstanding-!) vocals and Dominik Vannuffelen on keyboards. The cd they released at the beginning of 2006 with some of the songs from their set-list made clear that this wasn’t just an ordinary “juke-box-band”.Although both brothers Van Dessel talked about playing a Tails Blue reunion show, until now nothing emerged from that as it would take a lot of hours rehearsing to study those complex songs again. Hopefully some of the songs who never got a release on record will see the light of day in the near future as they are simply too good to be forgotten.
Lp LIFE FROM BELGIUM (Passe-Partout P.8003 — 1972)
7” Is This Your Day / Tribute To Gary Thain (Kazan records S 75002 — 1976)
Tp DEMO (private tape — 1980)
-At The Day
-Third World War
-Dreams & Fantasy
Lp BRAINWASH (Mausoleum SKULL 83108 — 1986)
-Fools Of The City
Tp DEMO (private tape — 1988)
-If She Walks By
-Long Hot Summer Night
-Place In My Heart
-Is It Just The Way
-Summer In New York
Tp DEMO (private tape — 1994)
-Temple Of Love
-The Black Box
Cd BRAINWASH (Mausoleum 704148.2 — 1994)
-Fools Of The City