Local Current Blog

Music History Spotlight: Blaze

Photos courtesy Matt Batchelor

Whether it was setting a drum set on fire or covering the Plasmatics, Blaze built a reputation for boldness throughout the Midwest.

With fierce lead singer Wendy Engler, bassist Ralph Benicke, guitarist Nick Baca, keyboardist Mike Case and Matt Batchelor on drums, the band captivated audiences with a set infused with new wave and dark rock.

They started out playing clubs in 1981, Batchelor said. At the time, many venues required bands to only play cover songs. But Batchelor, who had left behind a punk band in Colorado, couldn’t resist trying his original songs.

So the band started sneaking in their own material into their cover sets, playing each song after a cover that sounded similar.

“So we would play a Judas Priest song and then we would play a song that sounds like Judas Priest … and that’s how we got away with it,” Batchelor said. “Finally when we got a record out, we started announcing that these are our songs. And away it went,” Batchelor said.

In the video below, Wendy Engler intensely gazes out into the audience and jumps side to side while slaying a cover of Missing Persons’ “Mental Hopskotch.” The band’s costumes, like the black leather outfits, were part of their reputation, Batchelor said. At one point, his costume included a top made out of pink plastic bubble wrap.

“At the time, a lot of punk bands were dressing up with trash bags and all that … That was when we started gaining some notoriety,” Batchelor said.

Batchelor would regularly light his drums on fire at Blaze shows. He said he put a “flammable fluid” on the cymbals and heads of his toms, and used customized Ludwig sticks to pull off the stunt.

“We toured around the Midwest and a lot of people were very receptive to what we were doing,” Batchelor said, “But there were some clubs, they’d call [GMA Records] and say, ‘What is this weirdo band?’”

The band was active until 1985, Batchelor said. Afterwards, Engler moved south where she still performs today as a Reba McEntire impersonator. Among other groups, Batchelor went on to play in Morticia, which he said has a reunion show on Oct. 30.

Tonight on the Local Show, we’ll be listening to the B-side of Killer Lover, a five-song EP the band released in 1984.

Jackie Renzetti studies journalism and political science at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities. She is an editor at the Minnesota Daily and co-hosts Radio K’s “Off the Record.”