Since 2004 Plastic Crimewave (aka Steve Krakow) has used the Secret History of Chicago Music to shine a light on worthy artists with Chicago ties who’ve been forgotten, underrated, or never noticed in the first place.

I’m a lifetime fan of vinyl records, but “record collecting” continues to befuddle and annoy me. I know I might sound like a pretentious gatekeeper pontificating about a trivial problem, but despite the huge number of records I own, I won’t even call myself a “collector.” It seems like the folks who do use that word often acquire a record just to fill a gap in their stacks, not to enjoy listening to it—sometimes they even keep it hermetically sealed so they won’t reduce its value as an artifact. As a longtime “accumulator of music, art, and ephemera” (how’s that for a euphemism?), I get sad when I learn about great LPs that no one can actually hear. 

The fact that old records sometimes sell for wildly inflated prices makes it even more offensive that the musicians who made them—who could often really use the money—don’t see a cut from these secondary-market transactions. Albums that reach “holy grail” status among collectors are mercilessly bootlegged.

I’m ranting like this because I’m writing about local band Paradoxx, who arose during the first flowering of U.S. power metal in the early 80s, bridging the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and thrash. Their 1985 EP Plan of Attak is one of the rarest and most valuable pieces of vinyl ever to come out of the stateside metal scene. From what I can see online, it sold most recently for $1,380 in November 2020. The EP traded hands for $4,100 in 2016, and the following year a signed copy went for a whopping $8,500.

This record is so sought-after that you could basically use a copy to buy a used car, but that doesn’t seem to have translated into interest in the people who made the music. I can’t find much info about the band online, though they do have a Facebook page and an entry in online heavy-music guide Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives. The highest-ranking piece searchable via Google is a 2020 article on Revolver magazine’s website, and of course it focuses on the outsize value of the Plan of Attak vinyl.

The Secret History of Chicago Music aims to right this wrong, by celebrating Paradoxx’s music (which is great!) and giving a voice to the working-class Chicagoans who made it. I was lucky enough to interview two of the band’s guitarists: John Dobbs, who’s been with Paradoxx since 1981, and Gary Vermette, who joined the following year. 

Dobbs was born in Chicago on February 5, 1961, and grew up in Portage Park near Six Corners. He got his first guitar as a lad when his parents saved up enough S&H Green Stamps to trade for one. Sperry & Hutchinson’s popular rewards program awarded customers stamps according to how much they spent at participating supermarkets, department stores, and the like, and the stamps could be exchanged for products from the company’s catalog.

In the late 70s, Dobbs fell in love with the heavy guitar playing of Michael Schenker of UFO, Wolf Hoffmann of Accept, Dave Meniketti of Y&T, and Mark Reale of Riot. Beginning in his early teens, Dobbs learned guitar from his friend Nick Koclanis. Soon he was working lights for Koclanis’s band Impakt.

Dobbs started his first basement band, Windjammer, in 1978, influenced by the gonzo guitar rock of Ted Nugent and the gooey hooks of Cheap Trick. When he started gigging properly in 1979, it was with the group Maltece. “This was a band with drummer Dean Maltese,” Dobbs says. “We just liked the name, and changed the spelling to put a twist on it. We did mostly Rush songs, with a sprinkle of my metal input, plus Scorps, Def Leppard, Montrose. That band was a lot of fun. Dean and I have always been together since ’79, in some shape or form.”

After Maltece broke up in 1981, neighborhood promoter Tony LaBarbera approached Dobbs. He’d publicized some of Maltece’s gigs at school gyms and such, and he was working with a band he wanted Dobbs to see. The nascent Paradoxx were playing in the basement of a nearby Catholic school, and though Dobbs wasn’t terribly impressed, he was dazzled by drummer Jerry Wiener. 

The band at that time also included Frank Mola on guitar, Andy Havnoonian on lead vocals, and Michael “Vinny” Kujawa on bass. That lineup didn’t last long, though. Paul Gillespie, formerly of Windjammer, replaced Kujawa on bass, and two of Dobbs’s mentors soon came aboard as well: his older brother Glen Dobbs as lead singer and Koclanis as guitarist. 

“Glen was actually the one who I picked up guitar from,” John Dobbs wrote in the liner notes for a 2021 reissue of Plan of Attak. “He had started guitar lessons, and was a couple years older than me. . . . I started to fiddle with [his guitar], and quickly became obsessed. Glen lost interest, and started to sing as we both were in chorus growing up as well. It was clear that he was something special vocally.” 

As Paradoxx’s manager, LaBarbera secured them their first gig, at the Thirsty Whale in River Grove on a Monday night in 1981. Though the club would soon become famous as a heavy-metal haven, at the time it was known mostly for booking power pop. “We thundered into this club, a bunch of teenagers clad in leather and studs, hammering out our own music, and the likes of Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Saxon,” Dobbs wrote in the liners. 

Dobbs remembers their gigs at the Thirsty Whale drawing bigger and bigger crowds, and he’s convinced the club shifted to metal largely because Paradoxx could pack the place. “We played everywhere and anywhere,” he says. “Gordon Tech and St. Pat’s high schools, Haymakers, Rusty Nail, Nickel Bag, the Edgewater, Rock-It North, Pointe East, Night Gallery, Haywires, A.W. Shucks, the list goes on . . . we pretty much were touring the midwest/tristate area, playing eight to ten times a month at one point.” 

Eventually Gillespie and then Koclanis left the band, making room for bassist Frank Rotondo and guitarist Gary Vermette to join Wiener and the Dobbs brothers. This was the Paradoxx lineup that recorded the Plan of Attak EP.

YouTube video
The 2021 reissue Plan of Attak: The Complete Worxx includes Paradoxx’s original 1985 EP, two compilation tracks, and two previously unreleased songs.

Vermette was born on the south side on March 9, 1960, and grew up in Forest Park, enamored with Elvis and the Beatles. He picked up his first guitar in 1966 but didn’t really begin playing in earnest till he took lessons in 1972 at Lyon & Healy in Oak Park, learning jazz, country, and classical. He started his first band, Ecco, in 1973, and played in school jazz bands in junior high and high school. He started attending Proviso East in ’74, where he sang madrigals and played in several fledgling bands, including Thrust and Soul to Soul (the latter of which exists to this day). 

As Vermette got older, he counted Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Robin Trower of Procol Harum, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and rootsy fingerpicker Chet Atkins among his inspirations. In 1980 he started Madhatter, a band he describes as having a “hard-rocking, blues-influenced early metal sound—melodic and inspired by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. But early Scorpions songs were a huge influence as well as Judas Priest, Motörhead, Saxon.” 

Madhatter never recorded professionally, but they worked the same circuit as Paradoxx, playing the Thirsty Whale, Rusty Nail, Iron Rail, and Nickel Bag. They broke up when Vermette joined Paradoxx in 1982. “By chance, Frank Rotondo had seen Madhatter and met us at our rehearsal space in the Gateway bowling alley on North Avenue,” Vermette says. “Frank had replaced Paul Gillespie in Paradoxx, and when Nick Koclanis left the band, Frank recommended me—after one audition, I was in.

Nobody in Paradoxx could’ve guessed what would become of their only record. Music writer J. Bennett took a crack at explaining the Plan of Attak story for Revolver in 2020, but he didn’t manage to reach any of the band’s members. 

“Originally pressed in an unknown quantity, Plan of Attak was never available commercially,” Bennett wrote. “However, it was released in 1985 by a tiny label called Silver Fin Records. As the story goes, the Paradoxx dudes grabbed 50 copies, hot off the press, to hand out to friends and journalists at their record release party. Apparently, they weren’t happy with the sleeve layout—or the mix of the record itself—so they never bothered to pick up the remaining vinyl. According to legend, the rest of the pressing was recycled. 

“Which means there was a maximum of 50 copies in circulation when Plan of Attak was pressed 35 years ago. How many have survived the ravages of time and the rise of compact discs? No one knows.” 

I decided not to ask Dobbs or Vermette if this were true, to leave some mystery intact. Endearingly, Paradoxx recorded Plan of Attak with a $5,000 loan from the Dobbses’ parents (who also provided an additional $1,000 for T-shirts and pins). The loan agreement the band signed appears in the liner notes of the 2021 reissue. “Be it also understood that we, Mom and Dad Dobbs, have done this for the band in the hopes that it will open doors for you and bring you the success you deserve,” it concludes. “GO FOR IT!!!! And Good Luck!”

The shredding power metal on Plan of Attak has enough falsetto shrieks and blasting riffs to soothe the most jaded metalhead’s soul. All four of its songs are strong and catchy, and the midbudget production adds some grit. Paradoxx released only two more tracks during their heyday, both on compilations issued by the same tiny Silver Fin label that put out the EP: Chicago Class of ’85 and Chicago Metal Works: Battalion #1

Guitarist David Shankle, who played in Paradoxx in the mid-80s, is better known for joining famous loincloth-wearing haters of false metal Manowar in 1989 and appearing on their 1992 LP, The Triumph of Steel. He’s frequently credited on both compilation tracks, but he recorded only one song with Paradoxx: “Plan of Attak,” which appears on the EP and the Chicago Metal Works comp. (He’s not named on Plan of Attak, which adds to the confusion.) Glen Dobbs pushed to get him into the band, a decision his brother felt was hasty, and Shankle didn’t last long. 

Paradoxx landed lots of plum opening slots in their day: Queensrÿche at the Edgewater in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin; Foghat in Peoria; Ratt at the Col Ballroom in Davenport, Iowa; Blue Öyster Cult and Kansas at the Holiday Star Theatre; and Krokus at Soldier Field. But that success didn’t prevent continued turnover in their lineup.

“Around ’85-ish, my brother Glen and the band had hit a point that we needed a bit of space,” says John Dobbs. I was given the ultimatum of getting rid of Glen, or that Frank, Jerry, and Gary would leave. It was a difficult choice, but I chose the latter and gave family another go. This is the point that Randy Jostes (from a band called Mohawk) and Dean Maltese, my brother from the Maltece days, came on board as the new rhythm section, and I was reunited with Nick Koclanis from the second version of the band.” 

This five-piece lineup lasted only about a year, unfortunately. The next round of personnel changes would also lead to a name change for the band. “Differences with Nick and Glen came to a head, and they decided to pursue other endeavors,” Dobbs says. “We were now in search of a guitar player and singer. Enter Michael Posch, who was currently playing with a local outfit called Crystal Axe. He was the guy, and gladly joined.”

The band auditioned singer after singer with no luck, though. “I was singing better than any of the guys we tried, so I just ran with it,” Dobbs says. “This lineup would eventually become Radakka.”

According to Dobbs, Paradoxx never broke up for good. They’ve gigged as recently as March 26, 2022, at the Brauer House in Lombard, with the classic lineup of Wiener, Vermette, and Rotondo. John Dobbs travels to Chicago from his home in Arizona a few times a year for gigs, but sadly, Glen died of cancer in 2016. Paradoxx played a show on September 27, 2019, to celebrate what would’ve been his 61st birthday. Last year No Remorse Records released Plan of Attak: The Complete Worxx, an expanded reissue that includes the original four-song EP, both compilation tracks, and two previously unreleased cuts.

From 1988 till 1998, Dobbs played in Radakka, who released two records on Century Media, Malice and Tranquility and Requiem for the Innocent. He’s currently active with a group called Cover Dogs. Vermette plays in Soul to Soul and Leadfoot, which by his reckoning is his 11th band—it covers classic rock tunes by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Faces, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Here’s hoping another Paradoxx gig can happen soon. I wouldn’t be mad either if they found another original copy of Plan of Attak that they’d be willing to sell—and I promise I’d play the hell out of it.

The radio version of the Secret History of Chicago Music airs on Outside the Loop on WGN Radio 720 AM, Saturdays at 5 AM with host Mike Stephen. Past shows are archived here.