Their music is difficult to define. It’s been called “classic rock and beyond,” which leader Bill Serfass said sums it up about as well as any other description.
To my ear – I only know what I like but I’m not good with labels – it’s a mixture of gentle Rock-and-Roll and ballads. As my wife and I sat enjoying an appetizer of potato chips and sauce (both of which are made in the Underside kitchen) the group started one song I thought could have played in a Jimmy Buffett concert, though it wasn’t a Buffett song. In another number, I could hear a hint of Jim Croce. Then Bill, who is lead vocalist, did Eleanor Rigby.
OK, that’s the familiar stuff, but the group’s real forté is performing original songs: “Butterteeth,” and “Where the Children Don’t Grow Up.”
“I can make a song about anything,” Serfass said, using a dare he has passed to his music students.
Serfass studied music at Gettysburg College, and has been teaching music to Gettysburg Area School District students since Fall 1983. This year, he was appointed chairman of the district music department.
And the dare is one he has given to his students from time to time, to show them what their imaginations, if allowed to range unfettered, could create.
“Butterteeth,” from the Willy’s fourth and latest album, “Butterteeth Smile,” refers to the color of a smoker’s teeth. Another song asks why “The Man who Mumbles” is “ talkin’ to the sky.”
“Where the Children Don’t Grow Up” was written by a friend of Serfass, Kevin Thornton, about how quickly children grow up and leave their parents behind.
In fact, the group was formed in Summer 1992 to perform songs no other band knew – music written and arranged by the band members. They took their name from Bill’s other nickname.
“They always called me Willy,” he said.
Serfass, who began his local band playing career with a group at the Ott House in Emmitsburg, Md., teaches guitar.
On drums and vocal is Neil Ecker, a history teacher at Southwestern High School, in Penn Township.
Bill Mitchell, an Operating Room nurse, plays guitar, mandolin, flute and vocals.
Dan Chase tickles the keyboard; in his other life tunes huge pipe organs in the Washington, D.C. area.
And bass player Todd Mudd, in his second year with The Willys, is a self-employed carpenter and cabinet maker.
The Willys have opened for national acts such as the Bacon Brothers (yes, THAT Kevin Bacon, and his brother Michael), and have been three-time finalists in the 98.5 The Peak’s annual battle of the bands. More recently they have been featured artists for the Gettysburg Festival and the Gettysburg Wine and Music Festival.
CD Number 5 is compiled and scheduled for release in mid-June.
“We’re sold all over the world,” Serfass quipped.
The Willys music is available through CDBaby.com, – on CD and downloadable mp3 – and has been purchased by aficionados in Russia, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, Sweden and China – and the United States.
The band performs at a variety of venues and private functions around Adams County. They are slated to be at Hauser Estates Winery May 27, Gettysburg Festival June 17, and Gettysburg Rec Park for Sunday in the Park, July 10. The list of venues is much longer than that, though; check it out at TheWillys.com.