Houdek Band

Musical group inspired by South Dakota heritage

All you need to know to figure out this band is the name: Houdek.

No, it’s not some urban hip-hop slang.

It’s the name for a specific kind of soil, a loam found only in South Dakota.

There’s some irony in the name because so many of the band members no longer live in South Dakota. But they long to be there. The state infuses their best memories. It inspires their music. It haunts them, but in a good way.

All nine band members have a connection to South Dakota with eight of them having attended SDSU. There’s no room here for the flow chart that would be needed to track the number of times these people played in bands together, jammed together, wrote songs together.

Music, like their home state, ties them one to another.

Let the elder statesman of the group put it in perspective: “They all miss South Dakota and decided to write music about it,” says Pat O’Connell, ’68 a 2010 inductee into the South Dakota Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame for his tenure with Marlys Roe and the Talismen in the 1960s. “I think that’s what inspired this.”

The genesis

In 2007, members of what would eventually become Houdek were part of a round-robin e-mail, trying to figure out how to put on a show or at least get together to play music.

During that exchange, Tom Valentine ’97 originally pitched the idea to Patrick Baker ’95. He wanted to write an album of songs about South Dakota. Valentine later admitted he was half joking, but Baker wasn’t. “I said, ‘Count me in.’”

Writing songs was as natural for Baker as playing music.

“I’ve been writing on and off since I first started playing in junior high,” Baker says. “I was looking for a project to sink my teeth into.”

They started the project in early 2008, writing fifteen songs in six months.

“Once we started, it went pretty quickly,” Baker recalls. “I’ve never been quite that productive.”

The songs were a group effort by Valentine and his wife, Molly, and Baker and his wife, Jen.

“Jen and Molly were integral to the process of writing the songs,” Baker says. “There was just a whole lot of collaboration.”

Technology overcomes geography

Getting nine people together to play music can be a logistical nightmare, particularly when they’re spread from the Twin Cities to the Black Hills and points in between.

But sharing and learning the new songs for an album was easy in the age of MP3 files and the Internet. Technology also allowed more collaboration.

“Pat and Tom encouraged us to write our own arrangements,” says Brian Stemwedel ’95 a videographer/editor at SDSU. “There was a volley back and forth over the Internet.”

The technological advances were particularly interesting for O’Connell, who had done some recording with the Talismen in the 1960s.

“If you needed an organ here, or a horn there, somebody could add their little part of it,” O’Connell says. “It was a whole new experience.”

An album, a concert, a film

The band debuted its album, Return to Houdek, in Pierre in October 2008, playing in concert for two nights at the Grand Opera House as a fund-raiser for Pierre Players, the community theater group.

“The first show in Pierre, we did with a minimum of face-to-face rehearsal time,” Stemwedel says. “We were all on the same page because we learned the songs at home.”

It’s easy to check how polished the performance was because it became the subject of a documentary, Return to Houdek: Live at the Grand. The film was made by Brookings-based Lights Out Productions, which at the time was a new video production company looking for a project.

If the songs on the album and in the film were going to be categorized, they’d be called Americana.

“It’s such a mix of music from folk to a little bit of rock ’n’ roll,” O’Connell says.

In it for the fun

Where it all will lead is anyone’s guess, but a band that’s named after dirt and sings about South Dakota seems like it’s doing all it can to avoid commercial success.

“That seems to be our modus operandi,” Baker says with a laugh. “If anything looks like it might be an avenue to success, we take a left turn.”

For the band members, just getting to play music together is its own reward.

“For me, playing music, it’s a lot of fun,” says Stemwedel, who plays guitar and branched out to the mandolin for the album. “To play music with good friends is even better.”

While most of the band members are contemporaries and friends, O’Connell has another connection: He’s the father of Molly Valentine.

“In my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d be able to be on stage with my daughter,” O’Connell says.

Next up: Deadwood Jam

To make those dreams come true, the members of Houdek log plenty of miles to play together. They’ve played shows in Mitchell, Pierre and at the Jazzfest in Sioux Falls. A Sunday afternoon gig at Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood led to an invitation to play at the Deadwood Jam on September 17.

“None of us would be doing this if we didn’t love to play,” Baker says. “These are troupers, real troupers.”

So what started as a group of college friends who wanted to play music together again has grown into an album, a documentary film, a Web site, and a place on the bill with Blues Traveler and Grand Funk Railroad at the Deadwood Jam.

That’s far more than they expected back when they were e-mailing each other, trying to find a way to make music again.

“There was no necessarily saying there would be a second act for us at all,” Baker says. “But we get to play, we get to record, we get to write. And we get to do that with our friends.”

Here’s a couple of songs from Houdek:

6th and Medary

Trashin\’ SoDak

To learn more about Houdek, visit their Web site.


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