A Little Story About Michael And John

By Victoria Handysides -

2 American boys growin' up - and making hits still

Right: Guitarist Michael Wanchic says he always had a good feeling about John Mellencamp - that's they've been making music together for 35 years. Mellencamp may be in his 60s, but that isn't stopping him from selling out venues all over the world.
Guitarist Michael Wanchic had that feeling about Johnny Depp, who as a teenager in the early '80s used to record with his band, The Kidz, in Wanchic's Miami studio.

"When you met this kid, you realized it didn't matter whether it was music, acting, he was going to make it. He had the drive, the intuition," he said.

A few years earlier, after Wanchic weaselled his way into a record engineering internship, he noticed that same spark in another guy who dropped by the studio to record his first demos. He was another John. Last name, Mellencamp.

"I recognized a quality in him right off the bat. A tenacity, an attitude. All the things really needed to do the things he said he was going to do. Some people just have it, y'know? ...There's something about when you're young fighting against the empire that gives you strength. When you know the odds are stacked against you, and you're young, cavalier and willing to go the distance, you've got nothing to lose."

We caught up with Wanchic last week in Calgary taking a day's break from a coast-to-coast Canadian tour. It's been 35 years since they met, and he's still making music with Mellencamp.

The band's longevity hasn't come from resting on laurels and riding the success of a few great albums, Wanchic said. Since the mid-'70s, the pair have produced over 20 records possessing chart-topping hits like Hurts So Good, Jack and Diane, R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. and Pink Houses. Wanchic is Mellencamp's song director, lead guitarist and occasional co-producer.

The glory days of rock when Mellencamp and crew were modern icons are past, but the 60-year-old is still selling out venues the globe over and heads to Moncton this week for the band's only New Brunswick show on the current tour.

Wanchic attributes the band's continued success to willingness for growth, and willingness to churn out new material, though he admits it gets harder and harder to keep it fresh as time passes. The band has never taken their audiences for granted, he says. The music business is completely different today than when the band started, though playing shows is 100 per cent the same today as it was in the '70s, he says.

"That's something that you have to earn, a roomful of people."