No Cavern band was better named for the infernal depths of the studio than the Dantes, calling to mind Alighieri’s vision of the Inferno as nine circles full of suffering sinners deep within the Earth. The Dantes’ own first stanza took the swashbuckling form of Kansas City, Kansas’s Jolly Roger and the Buccaneers. Guitarist Tim Cornelius and bassist Tim Brewer, both juniors at Shawnee Mission High, fell under the spell of older drummer Roger Pieratt, already a graduate of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Embracing the fell warning of their namesake banner, the band took a step beyond piracy into total darkness in 1966, renaming themselves after the 14th century poet of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. The newly named Dantes added Mike Smith on piano and John Wise on guitar and lead vocals.
The elder Pieratt guided the band, wrote their lyrics, and booked them to play all the old fraternity houses, sororities, and bars he’d haunted back in Lawrence. “It was a lot of drunken parties,” Brewer recalled. Despite the chaos and privileged alcoholism they found in Lawrence, the Dantes operated with a strong sense of purpose and a sobriety beyond their years. “We were really a serious bunch of guys,” said Brewer. “When we were in this band, it was probably the most important thing in each of our lives at the time.” Sick of school and looking to do the band full-time, Brewer dropped out during his junior year and got a job as a shipping clerk at Macy’s to support his musical dreams.
Brewer’s father, also in the sound game, regularly used Cavern to record voiceovers and commercial jingles for his work in advertising. Despite his son’s ditching school in the name of rock n’ roll, the elder Brewer encouraged the Dantes: He pointed their way to the underground and even paid for the September 1968 sessions that produced “Any Number Can Win” and “She’s a Part of Me,” though the tracks never made it beyond a few lathe cut acetates.
The Dantes’ July 1968 press kit listed a whopping 37 original songs—“rhythm and blues, psychedelic, jazz-oriented pieces, and even a couple country and western,” it reported. Powered by the same earnest seriousness that had energized their frat party gigs, Pieratt and Brewer broke up the band and headed west to sell tunes as professional songwriters. Resettling in Los Angeles in 1971, the two reframed themselves as folkies, using an amateur reel-to-reel recording setup to tape their works. Too poor to afford anything else, Brewer rode his bicycle around the sprawling car town, trying to shop songs to the big labels. “We didn’t have any luck at all,” he said. “We were both really pretty shy people.” Far sunnier than Cavern, LA proved itself a Hell all the same for the two former Dantes, and both returned home in the early ‘70s. L'ombra sua torna, ch'era dipartita