The Little Drummer Boy
Weston’s inherent talent is evidence of the mark all three generations have made.
At nine years old, Weston Rathbun is already a minor celebrity in the Black Hills. If his shoulder length blonde hair, funky specs and easy going attitude don’t tip you off that there is something special about this kid, you’ll know it as soon as you hand him a set of drumsticks – or chopsticks! he’s captured the attention of more than one waitress with his table-edge talent.
Weston played his first solo show in Art Alley at seven years old and his audience filled his tip jar with $150. His second show was on a stage – at the Spearfish Summer Nights event in front of 5,000 people, by himself, at eight years old.
“I don’t get stage-fright,” he attests. In fact, this summer he made a cameo appearance at the Loud American in Sturgis, rocking out with Tyler and Devin, members of the band Judd Hoos. The band was taken aback by his talent, but his success comes as no surprise to his mother, stepmother and five siblings, who are often sitting in the crowd. According to Weston himself, he was “born drumming.”
November of 2006, to be exact, to Teresa and Oakley Rathbun, and thus became the third generation in a truly incredible legacy of Rathbun entertainers, a bloodline of music that began more than 65 years ago with the birth of Terry Rathbun in Chester, SD.
Terry was a fifth grader attending school in Madison, SD, and while he waited in line with his fellow students to “interview” with the music teacher, the song “Banana Boat” playing over and over in his mind. His parents were great dancers and the radio was always on in the Rathbun house, the calypso beat of the popular Harry Belafonte tune the perfect rhythm for great dancing and the perfect inspiration for a young drummer. When it was Terry’s turn in line and his music teacher asked him what he wanted to play, he responded without hesitation: “bongos.” His teacher directed him to the percussion section where 10-year-old Terry began what would be a long and very successful career as a drummer.
At fourteen he was playing gigs with his band Terry and the Pirates and his high school band – The Bird Dogs. His music career was booming and his work with his college band The Ride – who were inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 – paid his way through school at South Dakota State University. The group continued to play gigs all over the region and Terry’s success continued to grow even after he met and married Julie (Lien), and moved to Rapid City where, in July of 1981, their son Oakley was born.
Oakley grew up in Rapid City and knew that when his dad was gone on the weekends, it was to play gigs all over the Midwest – and to wide acclaim. While, like most children, he wanted to impress his parents, for Oakley, his foray into the music world was “a little more contrived.”
Much like his father, he stood in line for the elective class he wanted: Home Economics. “To meet girls, of course.” But when the young lady in front of him took the last spot in the class, he was railroaded into shop class, where he met his partner, who was taking guitar lessons. The two hit it off immediately and started the band Amnesia in the basement of Oakley’s house. “That is still my favorite band. That’s when it was most sincere.” The group quickly earned a passionate following and began playing regularly at local venues like the Atomic Cafe.
In 2002, Oakley began his pursuit of a Political Science degree at the University of South Dakota and by the time he graduated with his bachelor’s – along with a Masters in Human Resources – his college band had been signed and was touring the United States in a van. From then on, Oakley played every weekend for the next decade. He played upwards of 150 shows a year and achieved significant success in the industry. Over the years, he’s played with countless bands and in nearly every imaginable venue in a five state region. He’s graced the stage with the likes of the Temptations, and – after landing a front-of-house gig at Dublin Square – transitioned into a tremendously successful career as a radio personality and professional DJ at Hot 93.1.
Despite his successes, “I’m not as naturally skilled as my dad, or Weston,” he asserts. “I did it because I couldn’t do anything else. Weston, though, is a whole new landscape. I think he was about 18 months when he started playing. It’s easy to overlook him, thinking of him as a nine-year-old with crayons,” his father says with a knowing smile. “He’s seriously got more talent and a better ear at nine than I had at 19.”
Now, the bearers of his legacy are teaching Weston about other elements of high-level musicianship: how to develop his craft, avoid the pitfalls of the industry and how to work with others. “If you can’t sit in a room with musicians and get along, there’s no point in trying to make it,” Oakley reminds his son and Terry agrees. “You always have to have respect for other musicians.”
Weston’s successes stretch far beyond his musical career – he’s a straight ‘A’ student and an all around great kid – but his inherent talent is clearly evident of, and, perhaps, an extension of, the mark all three generations of Rathbun musicians have made on the world. Oakley still makes his living as a professional entertainer, and Terry also continues to play professionally – 57 years after he discovered his passion as a 10-year-old. In 2015, he was inducted into the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (again) this time for his career with the band The Bird Dogs.
For his part, Weston considers his father and grandfather’s legacy a powerful force in his own passion for music. “Mom used to take me to Dad’s shows in the stroller,” he remembers. Now, the whole family – grandparents, Mom, Step-mom, brother and step-sisters – rally in support of Weston, simultaneously encouraging him as an artist, and giving him the chance to live the life of a nine-year-old – even if he’s already become another Rathbun Rockstar.
Written by Jaclyn Lanae
Photos by Legacy