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The strange saga of Dakota begins WAY back in the early 70's in Northeast Pa., with a band called The Buoys and a million-selling single called Timothy. The song, written by Rupert Holmes (The Pina Colada Song), was supposedly about the local Sheppton mine disaster, during which cannibalism was rumored to have occurred. Years later, another Holmes song, Give Up Your Guns, became a European hit and is still played on Euro-radio to this day.The band was spearheaded by lead singer/guitarist Bill Kelly, and also featured Jerry Hludzik on guitar and vocals. The two eventually broke off from the group to form The Jerry-Kelly Band, using members from popular local bands. Thanks to the efforts of long-time friend Michael "Dad" Stahl, (who was working for Claire Brothers Audio, doing house mix for the band Chicago) drummer Danny Seraphine and Rufus keyboardist Hawk Wolinski got a hold of a demo tape from the guys, and signed them to Columbia Records to record Somebody Else's Dream, the first and only Jerry-Kelly album.When it was time for the next Columbia release, the label felt it was time for a name change (I believe one comment was that the name 'Jerry-Kelly' sounded too much like the Irish Rovers). Drummer Gary Driscoll had left the band (and sadly, a few years later was murdered in an apparent case of mistaken identity) and producers Seraphine and Wolinksi had chosen John Robinson (also of Rufus, and quickly becoming one of the top studio session drummers in the world) to play drums for the now-drummer-less band. Rumor has it that John actually was the one who suggested the name Dakota, which Columbia thought was a great name. Therefore, it stuck...




...and Dakota was born. The first release yielded a regional hit across the country called If It Takes All Night (regional hit means that some radio stations played it, and most didn't). Michael Stahl was now working with a band called Queen, who were touring to support their album The Game. Michael worked his 'schmooze magic' once again, and Dakota wound up getting the nod to be the opening act, and a 35-date tour ensued.The band now consisted of Jerry Hludzik and Bill Kelly on guitars, Bill McHale on bass, Jeff Mitchell on keyboards, Lou Cossa on keys and guitar and new drummer Tony Romano. All sang but Tony, and the overall vocal sound was quite superb. (Jerry and Brian May became fast friends.) At the time of the Queen tour, Columbia was feuding with Chicago, and the association with Danny Seraphine led to Dakota basically getting NO tour support. When it was over, it was "back to the bars" to start over.The crew at the time was Tom Cush /road manager/drum tech, Mike Keating /house mix and Dave "Waddy" Skaff /monitor mix/guitar & keyboard tech. Tom is now a big-time stock broker, Dave is out on tour with various name artists (U2, Steve Miller, etc.) and Mike (who does the main mix for Sting) took 1996 honors as Performance Magazine's "Live Soundman of the Year."Around the same time, in nearby Reading, Pa., Rick Manwiller was in a progressive rock band with guitarist Eric Rudy and drummer Spyro Sbilis, called Steph. Steph broke up in late 1981, and Rick heard through the grapevine that Northeast Pa. recording band Dakota was auditioning. He joined in early 1982. Less than a year later, he was off to Hollywood with Dakota to record Runaway (MCA-5502), on the MCA/Full Moon label, engineered by Humberto Gatica, and produced by 'Hummy' and Danny Seraphine. Band drummer Tony Romano had left the group prior to the sessions, and Danny gladly pitched in and played drums on the album (also appearing on the album as players were guitarists Richie Zito and Paul Jackson, bassist Neal Steubenhouse, Rolling Stones sax-man Ernie Watts, Chicago singer Bill Champlin and Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro).The bar scene had become quite taxing to the band members, and everyone decided to get away for a while: Jerry and Bill were doing their acoustic duo around NE Pa, and Rick Manwiller and Bill McHale had skipped town to Bermuda to do their duo routine.


Around the same time, another local band, Synch, was starting to write original music. Band leader Jimmy Harnen had, along with a friend, written a pop balled called Where Are You Now?. Jimmy was a big fan of Dakota, and wanted Bill and Jerry to get involved with the recording of a Synch EP. When Bill McHale officially left Dakota, Jerry convinced Jimmy to also hire Rick to help out with the Synch project. Rick actually wound-up co-producing and arranging Where Are You Now?, recorded at The Warehouse in Philadelphia. The song entered the Billboard Hot 100 Chart at 77, and eventually climbed into the Top Ten (more on that later.)When Runaway was set for release in July, 1984, Jerry, Bill and Rick started assembling a band to tour with. Syracuse drummer Robbie Spagnoletti was chosen, along with Tom Navagh on bass. Tom was later replaced with Robbie's friend, bassist Jim Fricano. This was the official 1984-5 lineup, but through the usual bad luck/bad politics syndrome that followed (it has since been re-dubbed "The Dakota Curse"), the Runaway album never got the proper promotion, and it 'withered on the vine'. As did the live tour...Jerry, Bill, and Rick decided they could only afford to maintain the nucleus of the band as a trio, and Rick's drum machine (affectionately dubbed "Dexter") was incorporated into the pseudo-4-piece band. (Dexter went on to become the most used drummer in NE Pa, playing on literally hundreds of studio sessions, by dozens of artists. He is currently in retirement at Rick's house, where he is used to "stud" small rhythm boxes). During this time, Jerry and Rick built closet studios in Rick's house, a small but high-quality 16-track facility, actually inside a walk-in closet. They also began to establish themselves as quality songwriting partners, as Bill became involved in non-musical things on his own.1987 brought about the inevitable, as Dakota played what the band thought would be it's final performance at Scranton's Montage Amphitheatre, in front of roughly 17,000 loyal fans. Despite 3 acts on the bill, it's safe to say that most of those people were there to see Dakota- a fact Tommy Conwell unfortunately found out too late (but he WAS a good sport about it). As a final tribute, the three remaining members created a local release, Lost Tracks, several tracks from which got large amounts of airplay on local radio, particularly the pop ballad All Through the Night, which spent 7 solid weeks on the Top 5 request list. Almost the entire album was done at (or perhaps in) Closet Studios.


Bill Kelly eventually moved to Nashville, and is currently playing as guitar player/singer with Canadian artist Charlie Major. Jerry and Rick decided to try something new, and Rick's old friend, guitarist Eric Rudy (from Steph) was brought in to play and sing, forming the new band, Secret City. Meanwhile, Jerry and Rick also experimented with writing country music, and once again Michael Stahl was instrumental with connections, and they wound up getting the Oak Ridge Boys to record two of the songs. This led to them eventually landing a deal as staff writers at MCA Nashville.In 1989, Jimmy Harnen's song Where Are You Now? experienced a major resurgence, and wound up rocketing up the Billboard charts, landing at #10 on the Top 100, and #3 on the Adult Contemporary Chart (now Jerry, Bill and Rick were the producers of a Top 10 U.S. single.) Jerry, Rick and Eric from Secret City joined guitarist Jon Lorance (from Synch II) and drummer Joe Bennish to form Jimmy's backup band, doing a small tour that played Sarasota, Fla. and Springfield, Mass., amongst other venues.Secret City's need for a "real" drummer soon became evident, and Robbie Spagnoletti was once again added to the line-up. Eric Rudy eventually left, and was replaced by Jon Lorance, or "JL" (from Synch & Jimmy Harnen). Within a few months, Robbie had decided to get out of bands for a while, and Dexter manned the drum seat again. Secret City lasted till around 1992, when Rick Manwiller decided to "go solo", and headed to ST. Thomas, USVI for the summer, then a 4-month European tour over the winter (sounds backwards, doesn't it? Well, it was...)Rick also recorded a solo album, another fine Mesozoic (which got several rave reviews in print.) Jerry and JL put together a country band called Pony Express (with ex-Dakota member Lou Cossa), as well as an acoustic duo. Later, a rock band was formed called Little Big, with rock singer Josette Miles (Josette later recorded an album for Escape Music, LTD, produced by Jerry and engineered by Rick.)In March of 1994, Jerry started to get feedback from across Europe that Dakota, despite spotty support in the states over the years, was a well-known and well-respected band there, and he eventually singed a deal with Escape Music to re-release a slightly modified Lost Tracks as Mr. Lucky (ESM-005). The resulting success of the new release led to Jerry contacting Rick Manwiller to start writing together again, and put together today's version of the band. Jerry sings and plays bass, Rick handles keyboards, Jon Lorance plays guitar, and Jerry's son Eli plays drums.The Mr. Lucky album paved the way for The Last Standing Man (a reference to Jerry, the only remaining original member of Dakota), and the CD was released across Europe in September '97 and in Japan in February '98.Encouraged by the success of The Last Standing Man in Europe and Japan, Dakota went to work on their next studio project, Little Victories. Released in 2000, Dakota again found success overseas. Dakota has recently spent months in the studio, working on their latest album, 'Long Road Home', which is now available for pre-order.


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