Say what you will about the state of popular music these days, but the following diagnosis remains in effect: The heart of rock ’n’ roll is still beating, steadfast and true. If additional proof of life is required, look no further than the vital signs of a band comprising a half-dozen local doctors that goes by the medically induced name of the Dysrhythmics.
“The first name we entertained was Controlled Substance, but that was a little too medical—and probably too controversial,” admits co-founding guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist John O’Neill, M.D. (Internal medicine for adults is his specialty.) “When you have a heart arrhythmia, it’s also called a dysrhythmia—and then there was that great ’80s band called Eurythmics. We had a couple of cardiologists in the band, so the name became a tongue-in-cheek cardiology adaptation. We don’t always play the right notes or have the right rhythm, so it’s totally appropriate.”
O’Neill had just completed his residency at ChristianaCare in the early 1990s when he and a few fellow residents got together for a jam session. In 1994, the Dysrhythmics graduated to performing at local parties and venues and established their rock-centric vein in the process.
“Most of the music we play is from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, because we’re all sorts of vintage people,” O’Neill says. They perform their own versions of songs by iconic bands of that time, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. “But then we’ll sprinkle in later bands like Stone Temple Pilots,” O’Neill adds. “Basically, it’s whatever we’re listening to at the time.”
Given those sonic symptoms, the prognosis for what any given Dysrhythmics setlist prescribes is relatively clear. “When you come see us, expect to hear a lot of classic rock and blues,” O’Neill confirms. “Right now, we have five singers, so we do some songs with three-part harmonies. We’ve also had a female singer for the last 15 years, and she’s really helped expand our horizons.”
How did Denise Russell initially get onto O’Neill’s radar? “Her parents were patients of mine,” he reveals. “I had heard Denise sing in the St. Joseph’s Catholic church choir in Middletown. One time when they came in for an office visit, I said, ‘I heard your daughter in the choir. Can you get a message to her?’ I asked her to come sing the really high part on the hit Toto song ‘Africa’ with us, and the rest is history.”
“The first name we entertained was Controlled Substance, but that was a little too medical—and probably too controversial.”
O’Neill, a self-taught guitarist who considers the late Terry Kath of Chicago and instrumental jazz icon Pat Metheny among his personal guitar heroes, leads a pack of four Dysrhythmics guitar players onstage—a task that might seem daunting to some, but not to him. “We don’t all play the same part,” he explains. “We try to mix it up so different people are doing different things—plus, the instruments we use are all different with different tones, so they all get along. If everybody wound up playing the same thing, it just wouldn’t be that good.”
In addition to headlining at public venues and private parties at various locales in their New Castle County stronghold, O’Neill confirms plans are on the prescription pad for some benefit events in the band’s future. “We want to help people get better and not get sick,” he affirms of the band’s oath to always look out for the well-being of their audiences first.
In other words, if you plan on going to see the Dysrhythmics operate onstage, you’ll get just what the doctors ordered.