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Deuces Wild! Dueling Pianos On The Power Of Music

We had the chance to talk to Ted Manderfeld and Dave Charles Eichholz while they were en route to one of their shows.

Deuces Wild Dueling Pianos

Photo courtesy of Jade Presents

Ted Manderfeld and Dave Charles Eichholz are both singers, musicians, entertainers and comedians who have found their calling by combining all of those careers into one.

As part of Deuces Wild! Dueling Pianos, they’ve found a way to capture the joy, energy and entertainment aspects of music and bring them all together. They’ve been touring together since the early 2000s, and they’re not stopping any time soon.

We had the chance to talk to Ted and Dave while they were en route to one of their shows last week. They’ll perform with opener Michael Shynes this Friday at 8 p.m. at the Fargo Theatre.

Where did your passion for music and entertainment come from?

Ted: I think for me personally it’s been since all the way back since I can remember. I think mostly instilled from my dad who introduced me to all the great classic rock because he was a DJ in college.

Dave: I had a really mean red-headed sister when I was a little kid. I was 4, she was 10. She would not let me play the piano when she was home. She played the piano all day and all night. She came home from school and she’d kick my butt right off the piano, but when I was all alone, I learned and memorized everything she played the night before, whether it was “Hey Jude” or “Stairway to Heaven” or anything. So when she would get dropped off, we had a long driveway and the bus would drop her off and she’d come running down the driveway. I’d have the windows open, I’d be playing “Hey Jude” as loud as I could and sing, knowing full well I’d be taking a beating for it, but I would play as loud as I could so she could hear it as she ran down the driveway. She’d come running in the house to kick me off that piano bench, and that’s literally how I learned to play piano: out of spite.

Who were some of your favorite musicians or songs growing up?

Ted: I grew up on Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. All the greats. But then I also had a healthy dose of Weird Al and Motley Crue.

Dave: My favorite songs were “Hey Jude” by the Beatles and “Stairway to Heaven.” They were just so fun. I taught my kindergarten teacher how to play the piano when I was 5 because she was playing it wrong. She was just trying to play the notes, and I was like, ‘no, you’ve got to learn how to play songs, lady.’ She was a good student.

How did you come with the idea and the name for Deuces Wild! Dueling Pianos?

Ted: Well, we were cellmates in prison and we just hatched an idea to start a comedy troupe so we dug our way out on a pipe during a rainstorm. Oh wait, that might be Shawshank Redemption. Actually, I had just graduated from Concordia and I quit my college job and followed him around until he hired me because the guy he was traveling with was moving on. And that’s been 17 years now.

Dave: I had been playing at the Mall of America in a piano bar there, and this was in the early 90s. It makes me sound old, but I was 22, and it was a wonderful place to learn how to entertain. People would come in and hire me to perform at other venues enough where I realized we had to have a name for the show. And it just kind of popped into our heads that there’s two of us, deuces, and then we’re getting kind of crazy, wild, and the guy I was playing with was addicted to playing video poker so it just kind of worked out.

What was the audience reaction like back when you first started, and how has it changed over the years as you guys have been performing together?

Ted: Well, I don’t know if it’s the audience that’s changed as much as we have. We’ve grown as entertainers, so I think we’ve always been a very interactive, high energy show. I just think we’ve gotten a lot better at it. And that’s just from experience.

Dave: When we first started out, there were only a handful of bars in the entire country that had dueling pianos. And people would travel from all over the Midwest to come see it. This was at the Mall of America, there were lines out the door. It was a two-hour wait just to come in to see the dueling piano. It was crazy. It was really popular, and it just blew up. And I’ve kind of tried to stay ahead of the curve on what’s hip and what’s popular. We’ve changed the show enough now where it’s almost completely different from what you’d see in a dueling piano bar.

You cover a wide variety of genres and songs in your performances, so how do you decide what songs to include when you’re performing?

Ted: Part of it is left up to the audience. Part of it is what we think will work. And the other part is just whatever happens in the moment, whatever moves you. I like to think of it that we have a road map of where we want to start and where we want to end. How we get there is the adventure.

Dave: My favorite songs to play are the audiences’ favorite songs. We used to take requests back in the day, and we still do in a different way. Now we do it over social media. During our show we’ll even say, ‘hey, go on Facebook, and I’ll make a post right now, right in the middle of the show, and request your favorite songs for the second half,’ So we literally do that, and we play the songs that the people want to hear for the second half of the show, so that’s how we decide what we should play.

You’re known for having very interactive shows with a lot of audience participation both in the crowd and on stage. How do you achieve that, and do you ever get stubborn audiences or stubborn audience members?

Ted: For us, we like to think of it like it’s never a matter of whether they’ll get on board with us, it’s just how long it takes. So in a corporate setting, that can take longer than in a theater. We love theaters because right out of the gate, they’re with us. They bought a ticket, they made this the thing that they’re going to do. So theater audiences are by far our favorite audiences to play for.

Dave: We start the night off with 100 percent audience participation, just everybody hands up, clap along, it’s a song you know, everybody’s singing right away. And I’ll run right out to the middle of the audience if I see someone not clapping along and give them a hug and let them know that we’re fun and to just relax. I might go steal someone’s beer and bring it over to that person just to get that person loosened up and laughing. We can see from the stage if somebody’s not having fun, but that’s pretty rare and we deal with that right away

People travel from all over to come and see you. Do you tend to have a lot of the same people who visit you a lot or is it a lot of new people or some kind of mixture?

Ted: It’s definitely a mixture but there are people who travel long distances to see us, but we cover a broad enough area that we try to make it around as much as we can to audiences so that they have the opportunity to but we’re always amazed at the fact that it seems like about half the audience has never seen us before, and we’ve been coming to Fargo for more than 20 years.

That’s cool to have people who have seen you a lot and then people who are seeing you for the first time and be able to see both ends of the spectrum for that.

Ted: Absolutely. I like to think of if you have seen us before, it’s fun to bring people who haven’t and watch their reaction. It’s like sharing a secret. You kind of know ahead of time, and if your friends don’t know, then you get to share it with them and then you’re both in on it.

Being from Minnesota, you’ve performed in Fargo and the surrounding areas quite a bit. What do you really enjoy about performing in Fargo?

Ted: I love to see that Fargo has such a vibrant live music scene and that people actually support the arts. The entire downtown is revitalized. And the people, it really is the people. They’re one of the best audiences to perform for because they’re smart enough to get humor and they’re well-rounded. Sometimes North Dakota can have a bad reputation, like people think of it as being somewhat behind the rest of the country. It’s like no no no, not at all. These are smart, fun audiences to play for.

Dave: I love, well Ted already said the revitalized nightlife in that town is just great compared to almost any Midwestern town. It is super fun. Also what I love is that over the years, Ted and I have climbed from playing in the smallest bars to the best venue in Fargo. That was our goal from day one was to get to the Fargo Theatre.

I’m sure there are a lot, but what are some of your favorite songs to perform live?

Ted: Different ones for different reasons. I enjoy performing the parodies that we write because it’s fun to see the surprise of people reacting to those. Musically, anything where we can actually show off the fact that we’re both decent musicians, too. Some people are coming for the comedy, and I think we’re fairly adept at that, and then we get the comment a lot that ‘wow, I didn’t know that you guys would actually play well, too.’

Dave: I love playing the songs that we write. The parodies that we write are from personal experience, and it shows. Nothing is made up at this point.

I noticed people say you’re not just like a typical group. There’s some comedy to it, there’s also music and performing and singing. It must be a lot to keep up with those different areas.

Ted: That’s the fun of it. That’s what keeps it vibrant for so many years is certainly the improvisational factor and the fact that you kind of get to a point where Dave and I have been together on stage for so long that the challenge doesn’t actually come from just how well can we do “Piano Man” again? It’s what can we do to keep the spice of that alive? The best moments in our show are the moments that you could never plan for but that 20 years of experience on stage prepare you for so that you can deal with whatever is happening in the moment.

What do you want people to know about Deuces Wild! Dueling Pianos that they might not know?

Ted: I want them to know that they can come out and enjoy a night. It seems especially right now that everything is political and serious, and I want them to know that they can come out and expect a night that is just purely fun, positive and high energy. That’s what it is. That’s what we’re selling: just come out and just have fun. Have a drink, bring your date, bring a group, come out, sing together. The power of music is still bigger and more powerful than any negativity that’s out there. It’s political season and there’s plenty of that, so we’re kind of the antithesis to that. We’re totally apolitical.

Dave: We wear our emotions on our shirtsleeves when we’re up on stage, and if you meet us after the show, that’s just us, the two guys who are driving in the truck next to each other, that’s just our personalities. I think if we’re in a room full of people, it doesn’t matter if I’m at home and my kids have two friends over, I want them to have a good time, so I think we both have that entertainer gene that we just kind of have to see people having a good time.

What’s your favorite part of being involved in Deuces Wild?

Ted: I would say how every day is different. Every show is different. We’re at the end of eight shows in 12 days in five different states. Last night we were in Minneapolis in front of 2,500 screaming hairdressers. Quite literally. We did an event for Great Clips last night. Two nights ago we were in Orlando playing for a corporate event. The night before that we were playing for a bunch of insurance people in Iowa.

Dave: Working with a guy that’s like your brother that you can have that bond that you might not even have with your own family. That’s probably my favorite thing.

So what’s next for you guys?

Ted: We’re on the prime leg of our 17-year, never-ending tour. We’re all over. Truthfully we’re all over the Midwest. We’re going to be in Las Vegas in front of 5,000 people at the Mirage. In the short term? Honest to God, the thing I’m looking forward to the most is the Fargo Theatre. That’s next on the docket and that’s not even pandering. That’s the truth.

Dave: What’s next? Well, right now I’m driving to the next show in Rochester, Minn., and then we have two whole days off, which means I only have a couple of radio interviews, and Ted and I are having a work party on Thursday night. So that’s what’s next.

Ted: If you’ve never seen us, go and give us a chance. You can check us out at WildPianos.com. We built the website, so next to actually coming out to see us in person, that’s the next best thing.

Dave: Michael Shynes, he is opening up for us in Fargo this year, and he is a musician that is blowing up internationally. He was just in Poland because he did the music for a video that just went super viral in Europe, and he’s just amazing. His music, it’s just addicting to listen to. He’s just that good. He’s the only opening act that we’ve ever sought out to work with us. That’s how good he is. I mean, we don’t need an opening act, but we want him.

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Jessica Kuehn

Written by Jessica Kuehn

Jessica Kuehn is the web editor for Spotlight Media. She graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead with a degree in print journalism. When she isn't writing or correcting her and other people's grammar, Jessica is obsessively quoting The Office and reading way too many books.

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