Quirky career of Hector Qirko reaches 10-year milestone - Shannon Stanfield Knoxville News-Sentinel, September 28, 1997

The Hector Qirko Band, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, has won over fans with its blues-based rock 'n' roll, performing around the Southeast and gracing some of the largest and smallest stages in Knoxville.

The original Qirko lineup still remains -- front man Hector Qirko, Jim Williams on bass, Steve Brown on drums and Dirk Weddington on saxophone.

The band will perform Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Ramsey House Plantation. Billed as ``Blues at the Plantation,'' the event marks the 200th anniversary of the stone mansion, and proceeds from the show will provide support for the Ramsey House programs.

While Hector Qirko may be best known for his front-man position with his band, the singer-songwriter-guitarist also has a long history of guitar-playing stints with other bands. One pursuit saw Qirko living lean, trying to make it in New York City; another was nothing less than a Knoxville guitar picker's ``Paradise.''

In 1980 Qirko was a member of one of Knoxville's very first punk art-rock bands, Balboa, which also featured local guitar guru Terry Hill. Balboa performed in some of the same dives that supported Knoxville's punk scene, but it broke ground with more mature musicians who could really play their instruments and write intelligent songs.

After a year of packing clubs at home, Balboa was ready for the big time, so the members moved to New Jersey to be closer to the New York club scene. But Qirko says living communally in the Garden State and working day jobs was not the type of success the band had planned on.

``I guess it was the end of '81 that I came back from New York,'' he says. ``Back then we weren't doing very well. . . . We were all going pretty hungry.''

One reason Qirko came back to town was to rejoin Knoxville's popular Texas swing band The Lonesome Coyotes. Qirko had played guitar and sung back-up vocals with the band before Balboa and did a few gigs with them in New Jersey when the Coyotes were on tour.

The Lonesome Coyotes' country-inspired songs and top-notch musicianship was a perfect springboard for Qirko and Coyote drummer Doug Kline to land a high-paying television gig. They became fulltime session cats as members of The Mighty Notes, the house band on Cinetel Productions' ``I-40 Paradise.'' The comedy-music series was filmed in Knoxville for The Nashville Network.

``The show came out in '82, and I was with it through the summer of '85,'' Qirko says. ``We recorded 250 half-hour programs and another 130 episodes called `Pickin' at the Paradise' that was an offshoot of `I-40 Paradise.' ''

Though Qirko has fond memories of playing with the TV session band, backing such artists as Reba McEntire, Hoyt Axton and Porter Waggoner, he says the job was no walk in the park.

``When we were doing `Pickin' at the Paradise' we would do two episodes a day, and we would learn and play seven songs for each episode. So we would listen to tapes and read charts and play three songs with whoever the guest artist was; then we would break for lunch and do it all again. It was so grueling, . . . but that was the only time I recall I really made pretty good money playing.''

Years before Qirko was picking country melodies on TV, he was learning Beatles tunes and South American folk songs on a guitar his parents won in a raffle. Born in New York, Qirko left the States when he was 6 years old, for South America when he was 6 years old. His father worked for the international division of a chemical company, and the family lived in several South and Central American countries, including Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and Mexico.

When he reached college age Qirko returned to the States, enrolling at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., but he spent only two years there.

``I am afraid I wasted my years at Northwestern. What I had wanted to do desperately was to come to the States and get into the rock 'n' roll scene, and the way for me to do that was to go to college.''

In 1973 Qirko was a part of the Chicago blues scene, playing with ``Chicago electric bluesman'' Lonnie Brooks. He stayed with Brooks for four years, but by 1977 he was living in Knoxville.

In addition to appearing regularly in Knoxville, Qirko and the band have toured regionally and shared stages with such performers as Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Robert Cray and George Thorogood. He performed frequently with R.B. Morris in Knoxville, and this past summer toured with the now Nashville-based Morris.

These days, Qirko says, his South American roots are starting to surface in some of the music he and his band are performing.

``We started adding some other things, Latin-based things, and we are seeing if we can incorporate different influences with a rhythm-and-bluesey approach. . . . It is not really like authentic Latin music; it is a hybrid.''

New approaches to music is not all Qirko has been taking. He has taken classes at the University of Tennessee since the early '80s, making up for his wasted time at Northwestern.

``Toward the end of the Coyotes,'' he says, ``I went back to school at UT to finish up my undergrad degree (in anthropology), which I so disrespectfully tossed aside at Northwestern. So, I went ahead and got my master's, and now I'm pretty close to getting my doctorate.''

Copyright (c) 1997 The Knoxville News-Sentinel