Fennimore native Tony Novinska is occasionally asked, “Do you still play the drums?”
The answer is a resounding yes.
Novinska takes the stage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest today [Thursday] with his Dr. Love bandmates. Novinska plays the “Catman” Peter Criss in Dr. Love, a 1974 to 1979 tribute to the legendary rock band KISS.
“We are very lucky to be part of the BMO Harris stage, especially because it is in its first year of existence,” Novinska said.
Novinska, a Milwaukee resident, is a 1984 graduate of Fennimore High School and an Arion award winner.
The Arion Award was established in 1948 to give national recognition to junior and senior class members chosen by their schools for outstanding achievement in band, orchestra or chorus.
Novinska played guitar in fifth grade, but took a liking to the drums.
“I decided I was better suited for the percussion end of things,” he said. “I got my first drum set in seventh grade; it was Dennis Lester’s four-piece drum set.
“It was probably the most memorable Christmas of my life.”
As a student at Fennimore High School, Novinska learned from Larry Albrecht, who was fresh out of college at the time.
“Larry was probably the biggest single musical influence of my life,” Novinska said. “I would consider him a friend now, a great guy.”
“They are young and impressionable at that point,” Albrecht joked when learning of Novinska’s praise. “I like when any of the students who have gone through here continue to play after high school.”
Albrecht remembers Novinska as a musician who was driven to be great, even at a young age.
“He was always driven to improve,” Albrecht said. “I think he actually took some lessons outside of here and that helped him along the way too.”
Dr. Love is comprised of four veteran Midwest musicians. Novinska did not know his bandmates prior to the band’s formation.
“I literally saw a Craigslist ad that said Paul, Ace and Gene are looking for Peter [Criss], serious inquiries only,” Novinska recalls. “I told my wife there are worse things I could do with a mid-life crisis.
“We had made a pact a long time ago that if an opportunity like this came up she didn’t have much choice in the matter.”
Much like KISS, which traces its roots to Wicked Lester, Dr. Love did not get off to the best of starts.
“The very first rehearsal I showed up for, Ace met me at the door and said, ‘our Gene just quit 10 minutes ago,’” Novinska said. “I turned to leave but Ace said, ‘You came all the way here, why don’t we just jam for a while?’
“We proceeded to play for three hours straight and my hands were about to fall off. I had been out of it a little while.”
With that, Dr. Love was formed in February 2011. Thanks to a second Craigslist ad, the band soon found a second Gene Simmons.
“We kind of hit it off from there and we found the holy grail of Gene Simmons,” Novinska said. “He is the best looking Gene Simmons besides Gene Simmons.
“We would pretty much have to hire Gene Simmons himself to find a better Gene Simmons.”
The band is a natural fit for Nonvinska, a KISS fan for several years.
“I actually came home from roller skating when I was 11 and American Bandstand was on,” Novinska recalls. “All I heard was ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ and I was mesmerized.
“I remember running up the stairs to grab my tape recorder. I literally listened to that song until the tape wore out. It is their music that grabbed me first.”
What can an attendee of a Dr. Love performance expect?
“An authentic recreation of the 1974-1979 stuff that made KISS famous in the first place,” Novinska says. “We want to be as visually authentic, historically authentic and sonically authentic as possible.
“Our show pleases the diehard fan and the casual fan. We delve pretty deep into the catalog.”
Tony’s parents, Keith and Ann Novinska, attended Dr. Love’s first performance, a festival in Oak Creek last year
“We think it is amazing, it is a dream come true for him,” Ann said. “We’re planning on attending on Thursday as well. There are a lot of people from Fennimore going.
“We are going to take them by storm.”
It was Keith and Ann who provided Tony with a KISS photo for his bass drum as a youth.
“He was set on the drums,” Ann said. “We never had to tell him to practice. We often said, ‘don’t practice.’”
Tony hopes today’s Summerfest performance is a sign of things to come for Dr. Love.
“There isn’t one person in this band that is doing it for a living. There isn’t one person in this band that needs the money,” Tony said. “There is not one person in this band that needs to do this. We are doing this because we want to do.
“We are doing this because it’s fun, and I have to admit we are having a blast.”