One More Time, With Feeling!

Catch The Pits on a Saturday night, and you could hear anything. Walk into the club, it could be Dr. Dre. Grabbing a table at a Florida retreat favored by Evansville snowbirds, it’s Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” A stop at the bar at Tiki on Main for another drink, it’s every bar patron’s favorite, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” On a packed Bokeh Lounge dance floor, it’s “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga.

“Four old white guys doing Lady Gaga. Just the thought of that is (funny), but if you pick the right songs, it works,” says The Pits guitarist and vocalist Gene Baker.

And they know it works when listeners get out of their chairs and stay out of their chairs.  For more than 40 years, The Pits have kept fans on the dance floor.

In the Downtown home where the Evansville band found its footing (their “Abbey Road,” they call it), Baker and George Barnett, the band’s drummer and vocalist, talk about what’s kept people coming to their shows all these years. After all, they’re long self-described as “love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re The Pits.”

“Our whole thing is we want people to dance and party,” Barnett says.

They have original tunes they keep in rotation, but cover songs make up the band’s 60-plus song list. It spans eight decades because their audiences are 21 to 81, Baker says. Barnett calls Baker the “consummate entertainer.” Barnett sings the prettier songs, while Baker takes the lead on the contemporary pop and rap.

“I have the musical taste of a 16-year-old girl,” Baker says.

That’s why the setlists can hop from Sabrina Carpenter and Dua Lipa to Tom Petty and The Turtles.

What helps set the band apart is that all four members, which includes Ray Pritchett on keys and Jon Hyneman on bass, sing four-part harmonies.

The band’s first gig was in the summer of 1983 at a beach party with a stripper pit near Alcoa in Warrick County – hence “The Pits.”  Another early show was an outdoor party on a flatbed truck.

“Gene fell off the back of the truck in the middle of his ‘Johnny B. Goode’ lead,” Barnett says, holding back a laugh. “Fell onto his back from six feet up. I thought he was dead. But he kept playing.”

Their public debut was on St. Patrick’s Day 1984 at the long-closed Green Oasis on South Green River Road. The Evansville Press headline about the show captured the essence of the party band that still lands today, “The Pits: Everything but the pits.”

Upcoming Performances
8 p.m. Saturday, July 27, Bokeh Lounge, 1007 Parrett St.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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