Well Hungarians celebrating 25 years of music

See Well Hungarians Thursday night at the Monroe County Fair for free, courtesy of HTC. Pictured is the band, with founder Johnny Holzum sitting in the blue jacket. (submitted photo)

Area band Well Hungarians is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2018. That quarter century has not been all rainbows and butterflies, however, as the band has seen its share of difficulties. 

Members have coped with drug and alcohol problems and even the death of bandmates. Twelve band members have made up the band, with many playing for several years. 

But the band has moved along. Looking back, founder Johnny Holzum said those adversities have helped in the long run. 

He singled out the turnover as helping the group stay flexible and relevant.

“By having turnover and having variety of age and instrumentation, it allows us to adapt with the times and appeal to a mass audience,” said Holzum, who is a vocalist and bassist in the group. “It’s better to have a 20-year-old singing a Justin Timberlake song to a 22-year-old girl than to have a 50-year-old singing it. The delivery just works better. And that’s the same with the 30-and 50-year-olds in our band and those demographics and that music.” 

Well Hungarians is currently made up of Boone Wheeler on electric guitar and piano, Keith Barton on pedal steel guitar and guitar, Holzum, Greg Bunton on drums and Joey Miner on fiddle, acoustic and electric guitar. All band members also sing. 

While it may not seem like it now, 25 years ago there was no plan to form the band that has played for more than 3 million fans since its inception. 

At that time, Holzum was playing in a band called Sammy and the Snow Monkeys. One night, he got a call from a club owner at the last minute to see if that band could play a show.

They could not, so Holzum assembled a motley crew made up of fellow musicians to play the show.

The band played some classic cover songs and the crowd responded. Someone then asked what the nascent group’s name was.

They had not discussed it, so Holzum threw out a name he had heard before and found funny.

“I said, ‘Oh, Well Hungarians,’” he remembered. “And everybody had a good laugh.” 

Holzum, a Cahokia native who now lives in Randolph County, did not anticipate playing with the band again. 

Then, he got a call from the same owner asking Well Hungarians to play another show.  They did. More offers for gigs came in, so Holzum got three other band members to perform with him. 

“It got more and more popular,” Holzum said. “So we added a drummer. It eventually became the precedent over our other bands.” 

For Holzum, that has continued, as the band has become his career.

He said the band being his livelihood means the musicians who play in it must be dedicated.

“It’s my business so I treat it as such and hold it to a high standard,” Holzum said. “We play 100 to 200 shows a year. Plus, you have marketing for the band and traveling for it. Some people think they’re cut out for it and they’re not. That doesn’t make them bad guys. It’s just not for them.”

For those people who have found Well Hungarians to be for them, they have seen success.

The band charted four consecutive singles with its 2004 album “Sorry ‘Bout The Mess.”  

Additionally, the band’s songs have been played in 11 countries. 

Well Hungarians also won Country Group of the Year in 2006 from industry magazine New Music Weekly.

The group has also played with dozens of high-profile musicians that include Alan Jackson, Blake Shelton, Kansas, Little River Band and more. 

“We have had a wonderful time and shared the stage with all these icons,” Holzum said. “Overall it’s been a beautiful, wondrous, amazing ride we’ve had.”

As evidenced by that eclectic list, Well Hungarians plays a variety of music. 

“We’re not a country band or a rock band,” Holzum noted. “We’re just a band. We cover all different styles of music. That’s what keeps us going and working so much. It helps us appeal to our audience.”

Throughout his time in the band, Holzum said his favorite aspect has been the ability to help people, either through music or Holzum’s charity the John T. Holzum Memorial Foundation.

“Being able to have a positive impact on people’s lives through our music is a powerful feeling,” he said. “When people approach me on the street and they recognize my face that’s cool, but what I like even more is being able to have a positive impact on them.”

Holzum specifically said he enjoys being able to help out artists just beginning their careers. 

Even with all their success, Holzum said the band recognizes it would not be where it is today without the fans.

“All these things come from our fans continuing to come out and support us,” he said. “It’s a great big love fest.”

Well Hungarians fans will have a chance to see the band perform at the Monroe County Fair during HTC’s Customer Appreciation Night on Thursday. Admission is free, with Well Hungarians performing at 8:30 p.m.

“We’re looking forward to coming back and playing,” Holzum said of playing at the fair again this year.

“These are our people, so to speak. We don’t play a lot of shows down in Monroe and Randolph County, so we look forward to that.”

For more information on Well Hungarians, visit wellhungarians.net

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James Moss

James is an alumni of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and applied communications studies. While in school, he interned at two newspapers and worked at a local grocery store to pay for his education. When not working for the Republic-Times, he enjoys watching movies, reading, playing video games and spending time with his friends.
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