WWS Celebrates Endless 25th Anniversary


For Rockaway’s undisputed #1 rock party band, Wine with Sue (WWS), this has been an endless summer. The weather has been great, and they’ve been playing various local venues nonstop. However, for these four regular Joes, who all hail from Rockaway, what’s even sweeter, is that this summer momentously marks their 25th anniversary playing together. The Rockaway Times got the opportunity to chat with WWS’ vocalist, John Burke, and drummer, Don Sautner, about their epic journey as a band of brothers just loving playing the music their fans near and far clamor for—everything Rock and Roll.


RT: So how did you guys begin together as a band?

Sautner: We technically started the band in 1993 when we started rehearsing, but our first gig was in 1994 at The Blackwater Inn. I met my wife because she managed John’s band. None of us got record deals, but we’ve known each other even before we started playing music. Back in 1994, some friends of ours, The Roving Firemen (who just had a reunion), were playing around Rockaway. So I said, “We know some guys who could play some songs and we could do this too.” At the time, we were all in different bands, but we were all friends, so we decided to get together and play some shows, earn some money as a little side project. Imagine that side project is still playing together 25 years later.


RT: What’s your music training?

Sautner: I got a drum set when I was 13. I had no real formal training. I took drumming in high school, where I learned to read music a little. I was more self-taught and just really passionate about it. When some kids were out playing baseball all day, I was on my drum kit every day.

Burke: My friends all played instruments, and I would just sit in the room and watch, and they would say, “We need a singer. You’re the only one left in the room,” so I just started singing. Then I actually started taking singing seriously and took vocal lessons.

Sautner: John has a voice like an angel. He had long hair too, down to his butt. He was a rock star.

Burke: I guess, you could say, I was one of the original hipsters.


RT: Ok, the grand question that everyone is dying to know. Why the name, “Wine with Sue?”

Burke: We were rehearsing without a name. Honestly, we couldn't think of a name. Our original bass player, Neil MacLeod, was always late to rehearsal. So we would always ask him, “Where were you?” and he always replied, “I was having wine with Sue.” Sue was his girlfriend at the time. So as a joke, one night, I said let’s call the band, “Wine with Sue,” and figured we would change it when we thought of something else. Admittedly that night, we may or may not have had a few drinks in us. After a while, the name just kind of stuck, and we decided to stick with it. So, there is a Sue, she’s a local Rockaway girl. We thought of changing the name after she and Neil parted ways, but Sue is a great friend of ours.


RT:  So, how do you manage playing for such a wildly popular band, while holding down full-time jobs?

Burke: I’ve been with the FDNY for over 22 years. Don is a customs broker, and the other guys work with DSNY and local businesses. We’ve played more this summer than we ever have. It’s hard when we all have full-time jobs and still do what we do. Our wives haven’t seen us very often, especially this summer. After this year, we may take it down a notch next summer. We’re exhausted, but we love playing music for our friends and family.

Sautner: We’re career musicians. It’s not a lucrative career, but like John said, we love playing music. Ninety percent of the gigs we got this summer, were calls to us. When we looked at the schedule, we were like wow, we really booked a lot of shows this year.


RT:  So after 25 years, what do you think is WWS’ staying power?

Sautner: We always say, “If we don’t look like we’re having fun on stage, how can we expect people watching us to get into it? I don’t like to use the word, “fans,” because it’s people in Rockaway that come and support us, so for WWS, they’re our friends and family.


RT: What do you think of Rockaway post-Sandy, especially music wise?

Burke: The way Rockaway has taken off, it’s not the same town we were playing in 25 years ago. We’re getting to play in front of so many new people now. Just last weekend at the Bungalow Bar, I didn’t recognize any faces in the crowd. The crowds, the lines for the ferry, it’s pretty incredible, not just for WWS, but all the bands in Rockaway. Before it was just a few venues like Blackwater Inn, The Irish Circle, American Eatery, The Beach House on Beach 116th. Now there’s over 40 places to play. It’s great!


RT: What’s your Rockaway street cred? How local are you guys?

Burke: Been here since I was seven years old, live in Belle Harbor, work for the local firehouse, so yeah, I’m local 100%.

Sautner: Born in St. John’s Hospital, live in Belle Harbor. When Playland was still here, I was one of the few Irish guys flipping a pizza in the pizzeria.

Our bass player, John Fabry, is from Rockaway Park and our guitarist, Mike Schmitt is from Broad Channel. So, yes, we are Rockaway all the way.


RT: So last question, after 25 years, why is WWS still here blessing fans with their music?

Sautner: To quote John, “You could be 21 or 71, and you would hear something you like from WWS.” We play everything from Neil Diamond to Metallica and everything in-between.

Burke: We love the crowds and the energy of playing live music. I’ve been doing this longer than my real job. Now we’ve become the old timers.


There’s still plenty in stock for WWS’ whirlwind  25th anniversary summer. Check them out this Saturday, August 24 at 6 p.m. at Low Tide Bar (Beach 97th Street Concession), Sunday, August 25, 4 p.m. at The Wharf (416 Beach 116th Street) and their summer grand finale will be at La Barracuda (196 Beach 97th Street), next Sunday, September 1 at 5 p.m.