The Class of ’68 began as the “Bob Ross Tribute Band” to celebrate Steve Wild’s good friend Bob Ross’s Birthday, in August of 2002. Steve hadn’t played in 32 years and met Woody Johnson, who agreed to play for one night with a guy who hadn’t played in 32 years! One night has turned into twenty years and counting!
The lineup has changed over the years, but the music remains the same. Woody has been involved in Chicago music for most of his life and had the necessary relationships to get the band “off the ground,” which included filling the band with permanent members. Only 3 of the “Bob Ross Tribute Band” members eventually “morphed” into what would become “The Class of ’68.
Eventually, the black t-shirts gave way to “real” stage clothes as pictured in the band’s first promo picture. The jackets were replicas of the jacket Ringo Starr wore on the cover of the Abbey Road album cover based on the English “Frock Coat.” Pictured left to right are Dave Steffen, Jim Bartholomew, Gordon Rinda, Woody Johnson, Steve Wild and seated Brian Secord (Steve’s son in law).
The logo on the drum head came from the first full length CD the band recorded as it’s promo recording but was packaged and recorded well enough to sell and was designed to evoke images of a high school year book in the year 1968. The band’s name was also intended to conjure images and memories of a high school dance in the late 60’s, a very special time in Chicago music.
The Next promo picture came a few years later and featured a more “formal look” in the Beatles “Hard Day’s Night Suits. The photo featured the same lineup and graced the front of both the website and the second Class of ’68 CD entitled “Reunion.” The band usually saved the suits for “Special Events” and continued to wear the black “Crosswalk / English Frock Coat” featured on the Abbey Road Album.
Continuing the “Frock Coat” theme, the “Red Coats” made their debut in the summer of 2008 and was a probably the jacket that most would associate with the Class of ’68. The 2008 lineup was unchanged with the addition of Dave Wisniewski (Jim Bartholomew’s brother) on drums. The coat was designed from an eighteenth century “Captain’s Coat,” and has the look and feel of what a lot of bands wore in the 60’s.
The band would continue with lineup for the next five years and had a variety of other stage clothes ranging from the “Baseball Jersey” to the black sequin jacket.
Other Stage clothes included a black “Pirate Coat” modeled after one that Jimi Hendrix wore and a red “Tommy Bahama” shirt for “summer venues” like Navy Pier.
2017 would mark the “Second Generation” of the Class of ’68. Irwin Berkowitz would replace Dave Wisniewski on drums and “original keyboard player” Brian Secord would “retire” with Steve Kostakes taking his place for a year before existing keyboard player and veteran musician Joel Pace would eventually fill the spot.
Probably the biggest change in the lineup would be Jay Goeppner replacing Jim Bartholomew, who had been with the band since 2004. Jay is a world renown “John Lennon” voice. With the addition of Jay, at least half of the band’s set list includes songs from the British Invasion. In addition, the Class of ’68 has a new blue coat to augment the existing wardrobe.