Gone in threes: 2019

They go in threes. They always go in threes.

Badasses: Richard Cole (the last of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of World War II), Al Haynes (United pilot crash-landed a crippled DC-10 –“a cartwheeling ball of flame” — in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1989, saving 185 of 296 people on board), Paul Krassner (Yippies, Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, “The Realist”)

Badasses, too: Leah Chase (New Orleans chef who hosted secret civil rights strategy meetings at her restaurant during the ’60s), Dorothy Fontana aka D.C. Fontana (writer and story editor on original “Star Trek” TV series), Dorothy Olsen (ferried fighter planes across the country during World War II)

Baseball trailblazers: Pumpsie Green (integrated Red Sox, the last team to do so, in 1959), Don Newcombe (first black to start a World Series game, 1949), Frank Robinson (first black manager, 1975)

Basketball trailblazers: Wat Misaka (broke pro basketball color barrier, 1947), Johnny Neumann (first player to sign under hardship clause, 1971), Carl Scheer (invented ABA slam dunk contest, 1976)

“Batman” bad guys: Seymour Cassel (Canceled, TV show, 1967), Sid Haig (Royal Apothecary, TV show, 1966), Rutger Hauer (William Earle, “Batman Begins”)

Beatlemania: Robert Freeman (photographed five album covers — “With the Beatles,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Beatles For Sale,” “Help!” and “Rubber Soul”), Johnny Hutchinson (drummer filled in with Silver Beetles and early Beatles, once considered as Pete Best’s replacement but passed on joining the band), Terry O’Neill (photographed Beatles in early ’60s),

Black queens: Diahann Carroll (actress and singer), Toni Morrison (writer), Jessye Norman (opera)

Brow-beaten ballplayers: Andy Etchebarren, Tex Clevenger, Don Mossi

The Bucks stop here: Chet Coppock (broadcaster), Tom Nissalke (assistant coach), Bob Rule (played one game with Milwaukee in 1974; it was his last NBA game)

By the numbers: Jerry Merryman (helped invent handheld electronic calculator), Dan Robbins (invented paint-by-number kits), Seymour Siwoff (Elias Sports Bureau)

Composers: Jerry Herman, Michel Legrand, Andre Previn

Cool chicks: Susan Bernard (“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”), Peggy Lipton (“The Mod Squad”), Sylvia Miles (pretty much everything she was in)

Covered: Pedro Bell (Funkadelic album art), Raeanne Rubenstein (Steely Dan’s “Pretzel Logic” cover photo), Guy Webster (“The Doors” and many memorable late ’60s LP cover photos)

Fast company: Lee Iacocca (Ford, Ford Mustang, Chrysler), Junior Johnson (NASCAR), Niki Lauda (Formula One)

Filmmakers: Stanley Donen (musicals), D.A. Pennebaker (documentaries), John Singleton (black cinema)

FYI, they guested on N.Y.P.D.: Verna Bloom (1967), Robert Forster (1967), Bill Macy (1969)

Globetrotters: Jumpin’ Jackie Jackson, Fred Marberry, Jumpin’ Johnny Wilson

Gone viral: Pete Frates (ALS patient who popularized ice bucket challenge), Bruno Ganz (Swiss actor’s Hitler bunker scene in “Downfall” inspired many YouTube parodies), Grumpy Cat

Godfathers, Part 2: Danny Aiello (Tony Rosato), Carmine Caridi (Carmine Rosato), Barry Malkin (editor)

Hasta la bye bye: Nuon Chea (Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge), Juan Corona (California serial killer), Li Peng (China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown)

Heard, but not seen: Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca of “Star Wars”), Maria Perego (created Topo Gigio), Caroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar of “Sesame Street”)

Here come the judge: Red Cashion (NFL referee; “First dawwwwwwon!”), Jim McKean (MLB umpire), John Paul Stevens (Supreme Court)

He was in the band? Mike Grose (Queen’s first bassist), Doug Sandom (Who’s first drummer), Larry Wallis (Motorhead’s first guitarist)

Hey, hey, they were Monkees: Gerry McGee (guitar on “The Monkees” theme, “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Valleri” and more; also in the Ventures), Larry Taylor, bass on “The Monkees” theme and “Last Train to Clarksville” and more; also in Canned Heat), Peter Tork

High society: Lee Radziwill, Gloria Vanderbilt, Claus von Bulow

Hollywood royalty: Carol Channing, Doris Day, Peter Fonda

Hosts with the most: Bob Dorian (American Movie Classics), Robert Earle (“GE College Bowl”), Jim Fowler (“Wild Kingdom”)

Hosts with the most, sports division: “Mean” Gene Okerlund (AWA, WWF, WCW, WWE wrestling), Lou Palmer (ESPN), Jack Whitaker (CBS and ABC)

Inventive: Fred Cox (Vikings kicker helped invent Nerf football), George Laurer (helped develop UPC bar codes), Alan R. Pearlman (ARP synthesizers)

Irreverent writers: Jim Bouton (“Ball Four”), Dan Jenkins (“Semi-Tough”), Nick Tosches (Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, Sonny Liston biographies)

Last laughs, the men: Tim Conway, Arte Johnson, John Witherspoon

Last laughs, the women: Kaye Ballard, Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper

Lovers, American Style: David Hedison (one episode, 1969), Sue Lyon (two episodes, 1969, 1974), Louisa Moritz (three episodes, 1971, 1972)

Movie inspirations: Herman Boone (“Remember the Titans” coach), James “Radio” Kennedy (yes, that “Radio”), Chuck Kinder (“Wonder Boys” professor)

Muscle Shoals session men: Jerry Carrigan (drums), Donnie Fritts (keyboards), Reggie Young (guitar)

‘Nawlins legends: Dave Bartholomew, Dr. John, Art Neville

Notorious: Scotty Bowers (Hollywood pimp and fixer), Rosie Ruiz (faked Boston Marathon victory), Charles Van Doren (’50s TV quiz show scandal)

Obit desk: Fred Berner (Wisconsin publisher who died at his desk on the week he was to retire), Robert Elkin (New York journalist), Jim Nicholson (Philadelphia Daily News obit writer)

Packers from the Glory Years: Zeke Bratkowski, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr

Producers: Robert Evans (films), Lee Mendelson (Charlie Brown specials), Harold Prince (Broadway)

R&B brothers: James Ingram, Harvey Scales, Andre Williams

R.I.P., Rip: Steve Ripley (The Tractors), Rip Taylor, Rip Torn

Representative of America: John Conyers, Elijah Cummings, John Dingell

Rolling with the Stones: Robert Frank (“Cocksucker Blues”), Jimmy Johnson (engineered three tracks on “Sticky Fingers” at Muscle Shoals), Michael Putland (tour photographer)

Songwriters: Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead), Les Reed (co-wrote “It’s Not Unusual” and “Delilah” for Tom Jones, “There’s a Kind of Hush” for Herman’s Hermits), Allee Willis (co-wrote Earth, Wind & Fire hits, “I’ll Be There For You,” Rembrandts song that became theme for “Friends” TV show)

Soul brothers: Chuck Barksdale (Dells), Willie Ford (Dramatics), Jerry Lawson (Persuasions)

Soul sisters: Doris Duke, Clydie King, Jackie Shane

Space, the final frontier: Mickey Kapp (made mixtapes, chose music for Apollo astronauts), Chris Kraft (NASA’s first flight director, created Mission Control), Alexei Leonov (first person to walk in space)

Star Trek, stardate 1966: Michael J. Pollard (Jahn, “Miri”), Robert Walker Jr. (Charlie Evans, “Charlie X”), Morgan Woodward (Dr. Simon van Gelder, “Dagger of the Mind”)

Subversive humor: Russ Gibb (“Paul is dead” prankster on Detroit radio), Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Monty Python, “The Rutles”), Gahan Wilson (macabre cartoonist)

Trailblazers: Patricia Bath (first black woman doctor to get medical patent), Jerrie Cobb (first woman to complete the same preflight testing as the Mercury Seven astronauts), Edith Irby Jones (first black woman at all-white medical school in the South)

Truth seekers: Wallace Smith Broecker (climate scientist who helped popularize “global warming” term), Robert Morgenthau (longtime New York federal prosecutor and Manhattan district attorney), William Ruckelshaus (quit as Nixon’s deputy attorney general rather than fire Watergate special prosecutor)

Voices of Americana: Sleepy LaBeef (about whom I once did 52 blog posts, one a week, here at the blog), Leon Redbone, Russell Smith (Amazing Rhythm Aces)

“The White Shadow” fades to black: John Falsey (writer), Jerry Fogel (Bill Donahue), Larry “Flash” Jenkins (Wardell Stone)

Witness to history: Werner Doehner (last survivor of 1937 Hindenburg crash), Jim Leavelle (Dallas police detective escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot in 1963), George Mendonsa (kissing sailor in Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous V-J Day photo in 1945)

World music: Irving Burgie (Caribbean composer), Beth Carvalho (Brazil’s godmother of samba), Joao Gilberto (bossa nova)

Wrecking Crew session men: Hal Blaine (drums), Dick Hyde, (trombone), Emil Richards (percussion; the finger snaps on “The Addams Family” theme and the bongos on the “Mission: Impossible” theme)

Gone in Threes, the band

Front men: Jules Blattner (Midwest roadhouse fave with the Warren Groovy All-Star Band), Roky Erickson (13th Floor Elevators), Ric Ocasek (Cars)

On guitar: Paul Barrere (Little Feat), J.R. Cobb (The Classics IV, Atlanta Rhythm Section), Dick Dale

On bass: George “Pops” Chambers (Chambers Brothers), Eric Haydock (Hollies), Larry Junstrom, (Lynyrd Skynyrd, .38 Special)

On drums: Ginger Baker (Cream), Dick Richards (Bill Haley & The Comets), Paul Whaley (Blue Cheer)

On keyboards: Daryl Dragon (Beach Boys, Captain and Tennille), Lenny Pakula, keyboards (MFSB), Larry Willis (Blood, Sweat & Tears)

On winds: Steve Cash, harmonica (Ozark Mountain Daredevils), Malcolm “Molly” Duncan, sax (Average White Band), Steve Madaio, trumpet (Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Stevie Wonder)

Special mention

The stunners: There always is one death that takes your breath away. In 2019, there were two.

The stunner among a bunch of friends on the local music scene was the passing of Kim Shattuck, the lead singer and guitarist for the Muffs. She’d played gigs in Green Bay — the video above is from the Muffs’ show here on Aug. 27, 2016 — and by all accounts she was a wonderful person and a tremendous musician, one of the all-time great rock chicks.

The stunner closest to home was Emmanuel. He was our son’s college roommate for a brief time in late 2013. Then, after staying in his dorm room until the last possible second, Emmanuel became homeless. He was separated from his Latino family, could no longer afford college and was, as he told Evan, “a U.S. citizen but not the right kind of U.S. citizen.” So Emmanuel lived in our basement rec room for the first half of 2014, working at Sears and saving money to get back on his feet. He accomplished that and moved to Chicago, where he died in late October. Emmanuel was 24.

The last word

Some memorable obits: William C. Ebeltoft from Montana (“He died 50 years after he lost, in Vietnam, all that underpinned his life.”), Katy Lynn McDonald from Georgia (The family believes she did it on purpose to avoid having to cast another vote in the American elections.”), Tim Schrandt from Iowa (“We are considering establishing a Go-Fund-Me account for G. Heileman Brewing Co., the brewers of Old Style beer, as we anticipate they are about to experience significant hardship as a result of the loss of Tim’s business.”)

Noteworthy

— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2019. This is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.

Nipsey Hussle isn’t on this list. Nor is Juice Wrld. That’s because I’m of a certain age, having grown up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Nothing illustrates this better than the passing of Jack Sheldon in late December. Mention his name, and many go right to “Schoolhouse Rock!” and rightly so. But that came after my childhood, so I have no connection to it. Nor largely, any connection to his work as a jazz trumpeter. No, I know Jack Sheldon from an obscure, long-ago sitcom, “Run Buddy Run.” We watched sitcoms at our house, and that was one.

— This year was harder than most for organizing actors. It pains me to put Robert Forster, one of my favorite actors, and Verna Bloom and Bill Macy, who were in two of my favorite films, together in a reference to “N.Y.P.D.,” another late ’60s TV show that few remember.

The credits

— Each year, I use three prime sources for this list.

First, the Wikipedia contributors who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.

Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.

Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.

Other sources include comics and animation writer Mark Evanier’s blog News from ME, Ultimate Classic Rock and the Washington Post.

Previous “Gone in threes” entries

20182017 * 2016 * 2015 * 2014 * 2013 * 2012 * 2011 * 2010

Plus similar year-end posts in 2008 and 2009.

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Here’s hoping Santa is cool with this

Now that Christmas has come and gone, I can come clean.

Six days before Christmas, my son and I took a quick overnight trip to Minneapolis. For Evan, it was an opportunity to do some research at one of the University of Minnesota libraries.

For me, of course, it was a chance to go record digging. For the record, so to speak, I went record digging while fully mindful that it was a time to be looking for a few last things for other people, not for myself.

After dropping off Evan at the library, I made a bee line for Mill City Sound in suburban Hopkins. My friend Todd tipped me to it a couple of years ago. It’s one of the best record stores around. Highly recommended.

When I walked in, there was a guy looking at the new arrival bins. He was taking his time, which is fine, so I headed for the soul and R&B bins. Along the way, I glanced at the collectible records on the wall. Always interesting to see what they have up there.

So I dove in, flipping through the letter A soul and R&B records. Nothing for me. I took a couple of steps to my right, and started flipping through the letter B soul and R&B records. About a dozen records in, I glanced up at the wall in front of me. What I saw took my breath away.

There, among the collectible records on the wall, right smack in front of me, was the LP that has been No. 1 on my wish list for the last 10 years. I immediately took it off the wall. Never mind that it cost about four times what I’d planned to spend on records on this trip.

Behold.

“Two For The Price Of One” is a soul scorcher by Larry Williams and Johnny Watson, released on Okeh in 1967. The title cut is proof.

My friends Larry and Derek tipped me to Larry Williams and Johnny Watson on their blogs way back in 2009. The closest I’d come to finding that record was coming across a CD re-release while digging at Amoeba Records in Berkeley, California, in the summer of 2010. I’d never seen a vinyl copy in the wild.

I found no other records that day at Mill City Sound, nor at either of the other Minneapolis record stores we visited. Finding that one kinda negated the need to look for anything else.

Now, with Christmas come and gone, I can fess up.

That record has been sitting in a Mill City Sound bag for the last nine days. I didn’t say anything about it to Evan during our trip, nor to Janet when we got home, nor have I put it on the turntable. Until tonight, that is.

Santa’s listening, you know.

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The gift that keeps on keepin’ on

Christmas has come and gone for another year, but some gifts you never forget.

50 years ago, for Christmas 1969, Santa brought a radio. Yep, that Panasonic RF-930 AM-FM radio. It changed and shaped my life.

I took it upstairs to my bedroom and set it on top of my filing cabinet. I tuned in WOKY, the Mighty 92 out of Milwaukee, one of the great Top 40 AM stations of the era, and started digging all kinds of pop, soul, R&B and rock. I can’t think of many more exciting times to listen live to the Top 40 than 1970 and 1971.

— One night, without asking my parents’ permission, I quietly made a long-distance call to WOKY because I could win a record if I was the right caller and knew the answer to a certain question. I knew that Creedence Clearwater Revival started out as the Blue Velvets and the Golliwogs. I won the record. A couple of weeks later, my record arrived. It was an obscure record sent to DJs. I had never heard of Bob Summers. Certainly not on WOKY. Yeah, just slightly disappointed. I no longer have the record I won, but I did buy another copy years later.

— WOKY ran a contest to get petitions to try to persuade the Beatles to not break up. One of my junior high classmates gathered signatures for one such petition. If memory serves, she won some kind of prize for her efforts.

— WOKY’s morning DJ, whom I could listen to only during the summer and during school vacations, was Bob Barry. It was quite a kick to hear some of his stories and meet him at a book signing last year.

My other regular stop was WTMJ, Radio 620. “Packers, Badgers, Brewers, Bucks! Hear ’em all on WTMJ, Milwaukee.” At night, when the clear channels were crystal clear, I’d surf the AM dial for distant baseball and basketball games.

Not long after Christmas 1971, we moved, and I switched over to FM — yep, it was AM, then FM.

WIFC, the Big 95 out of Wausau, Wisconsin, was a tremendous small-market station during the ’70s, Top 40 during the day and free form after 9 or 10 p.m. Those free-form hours, jam-packed with deep album cuts, introduced me to so much great rock and, yes, even some pretty cool jazz.

When I was a high school senior in 1975, I spent a cold February morning with WIFC’s morning DJ. I sat in on his show to write a feature for the school paper. Ten years ago, I reconnected with Bruce Charles and interviewed him again. That three-part story is here, here and here.

From 1970 to 1977, that radio was my constant companion while at home.

Then I got my first stereo system, and its receiver pretty much took the radio’s place. (For the record, that stereo consisted of a BIC 940 belt-drive turntable, an Akai AA-1010 receiver and Atlantis speakers.)

In the late ’70s, I took that radio with me when I went to shoot baskets. I’d set it at the base of the hoop while I played. It took a few shots from balls that came straight down off the rim. One such wayward shot bent the antenna. It eventually broke, so there’s long been just a stub of an antenna. I’ll forever associate the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” LP with that radio. In the summer of 1978, it sat at the base of the hoop at the park and the Stones poured out of it.

50 years on, I still have that radio, and I still listen to it.

On fine summer days, I set it out on the patio, sit in the sun and listen to the Brewers. During football season since at least the ’90s, I set it next to me in the rec room during Packers games, turn off the TV sound and tune in the Packers Radio Network.

If there’s one song that demonstrates how that radio changed my life, it’s the Jackson 5’s take on “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.” It blew my 13-year-old mind when I heard it for the first time on WOKY at Christmas time in 1970. I had no idea there were pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year. What a magical thing.

“Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” the Jackson 5, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. Originally released on “Jackson 5 Christmas Album,” 1970.

Truth be told, though, I haven’t listened to music on that radio for a long time. But I still hear it.

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Filed under December 2019, Sounds

Three Christmas wishes

The first wish

Christmas bells, those Christmas bells
Ringing through the land
Bringing peace to all the world
And good will to man

“Snoopy’s Christmas,” the Royal Guardsmen, from “Snoopy and His Friends,” 1967.

In 1965, Charles Schulz started drawing Snoopy as a World War I flying ace battling the Red Baron. But “it reached a point where war just didn’t seem funny,” he told biographer Rheta Grimsley Johnson. Even so, Snoopy and the Red Baron inspired this novelty Christmas song with explosions, with gunfire and with a solid message of hope that came as the Vietnam War escalated.

The second wish

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

"Someday at Christmas" LP by Stevie Wonder, 1967.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, from “Someday at Christmas,” 1967.

My friend Derek reminded me of this one on Christmas Eve morning. Thanks, man. When Stevie sings of “men” throughout this one, songwriter Ron Miller clearly means everyone, of any age.

I have this cut on “A Motown Christmas” from 1973, a record we’ve had since we had only a few Christmas records. The others from way back when? “The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album” from 1968 — here’s some of that — and “A Festival Of Carols In Brass” by the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble from 1967.

The third wish

A very Merry Christmas
And a happy new year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John Lennon and Yoko Ono, the Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir, released as a single, 1971. I’d always had it on “Shaved Fish,” the 1975 compilation LP from Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band, until I found the single a couple of years ago.

War is over, if you want it

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2019, Sounds

Christmas Eve with Satchmo and Irma

Please enjoy our traditional Christmas Eve post.

On a winter day almost 50 years ago, Louis Armstrong went to work in the den at his home at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York.

That day — Friday, Feb. 26, 1971 — he recorded this:

“The Night Before Christmas (A Poem),” Louis Armstrong, 1971, from “The Stash Christmas Album,” 1985. That LP is out of print, but the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) seems to be fairly common.

(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)

There’s no music. Just “Louis Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids … from all over the world … at Christmas time,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.

“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’

“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”

It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo, who was 69 at the time, died a little over four months later, in July 1971.

And now, we’re fulfilling another Christmas wish.

Twelve years ago, when this blog was not even a year old, our new friend Rob in Pennsylvania declared Irma Thomas’ rendition of “O Holy Night” to be “goosebump-inducing stuff.” It still is, and Rob has long since become an old friend, so we cue up this one for Rob every Christmas Eve.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. It’s out of print. It’s also on “MOJO’s Festive Fifteen,” the fine Christmas compilation CD that came with the January 2011 issue of MOJO magazine, if you can find that.

Speaking of Christmas wishes, now that our son is in grad school in Maryland, perhaps we’ll get to meet Rob in real life someday.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2019, Sounds

50 years ago: Underground Sunshine

Underground Sunshine band photo

50 years ago, in 1969, the members of a garage band from Montello, a small town in south-central Wisconsin, went on the ride of their lives.

Early that year, Underground Sunshine was playing teen dances, roadhouses and clubs across the southern half of Wisconsin. Jack’s, along U.S. Highway 12 in Baraboo, was one such place. The Airway Bar in Marshfield was another. The Oconomowoc Teenage Republican Club dance at the Oconomowoc High School gym was another such gig.

But by summer, Underground Sunshine’s cover of the Beatles’ “Birthday” was all over the radio. The rocket was lit.

Wednesday, May 28, 1969

Underground Sunshine signs a recording contract with Mercury Records, which plans to release “Birthday” on its Intrepid label.

Tuesday, June 3, 1969

“Birthday” is released on Intrepid. (The 7-inch, Intrepid 75002, is out of print, as are all of Underground Sunshine’s recordings.)

Here’s the flip side. “All I Want Is You” is an original by band members Berty Koelbl, Frank Koelbl and Rex Rhode, all classmates at Montello High School. It’s clearly influenced by the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me.” There’s also a pleasant enough pop-psych jam in the middle.

Single version, stripped down

LP version with a more polished sound

Thursday, June 26, 1969

Underground Sunshine plays the first park teen dance of the summer at the Vilas Park Shelter in Madison.

Sunday, June 29, 1969

Underground Sunshine plays a midday show — 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. — at the Gimbels store at the Hilldale Shopping Center in Madison. (The top photo is from an ad for that gig.)

The first week of July 1969

Underground Sunshine plays a week-long stand at the Club Sahara, a nightclub on the east side of Green Bay. Warren Gerds, the young entertainment writer for the local paper, the Press-Gazette, profiles the band for the lead item in his column. He also writes a feature story on its light man.

What follows are Gerds’ column lead and excerpts from his feature story on the light man, published two days apart.

Thursday, July 3, 1969

What has happened to the Underground Sunshine is what all young rock and roll groups dream about: Quick success.

Two years ago, the Montello, Wisconsin, band didn’t exist. Come August, it will be pulling in $1,000 a night.

How come? “We’ve got a fabulous manager,” leader Berty Koelbl said during a break at Club Sahara. Berty said [Jon Little of WISM radio (Madison)] considerably changed the fortunes of his group.

“He gave us places to play. He knows a lot of club owners.”

It was also Little who suggested the rock quartet record “Birthday,” a Beatles song. The Underground Sunshine version hasn’t made the Green Bay charts yet, but it’s No. 30 in Milwaukee.

Berty said “Birthday” is helping bolster his band’s pocketbook. “Before ‘Birthday,’ we were getting $150 a night. Soon we’ll be up to $1,000,” he said. The band is getting $800 a week at the Club Sahara because it signed for that figure three months ago, Berty said.

Underground Sunshine’s “Birthday” is also bolstering the Beatles’ till at the rate of two cents a record. That’s the price for rights to the song.

Berty said his group’s version is different from the Beatles’. “First, there’s the organ lead, which the Beatles didn’t use. We also brought the singing up louder.”

Berty said he has qualms about “Birthday.” “People have been hearing another version of the Beatles,” he said. “It’s always better to record your own material.”

That’s what Berty intends to do at the next record cutting session, which will be held in a few weeks. Berty’s composition “Take Me, Break Me,” will be cut then. He also wrote “All I Want Is You,” which is on the flip side of the current record.

It is Berty’s aim to add more original songs so the group can create its own image.

“Right now, we don’t play much original stuff — only two songs. But within a month, we’ll be doing two-hour routines, and probably 90 percent of it will be our own material … except for “Birthday” because that’s what gave us the start.”

Aside from Berty on bass guitar and vocals, the band consists of Berty’s brother, Frank, drums; a relation of manager Jon Little, Janie Little, organ; Rex Rhode, lead guitar; and Bruce Brown, lights.

The idea for the light man came from watching Milwaukee and Chicago groups, Berty said. “I got tired of pushing my foot down on the floor for lights,” he said.

Bruce Brown at the switchboard.Saturday, July 5, 1969

Bruce Brown, 18, operates the unique switchboard for the lighting system.

As sort of visual accompanist, Bruce manipulates light switches to the tempos of rock music. The result of his effort is like watching a miniature, rhythmic, multicolored lightning storm.

Other rock groups have lighting systems, but none quite so complex that they need a special man to run them.

Brown is in charge of $600 worth of electrical equipment. The custom-made switchboard controls the strobe (quick-flashing) and black lights and 16 multicolored lights in four banks.

Two of the four-light banks flank the band, and the other two face it. Brown sits off to one side, behind an amplifier.

“I work with the feeling of the song most of the time,” Brown said. “Sometimes I work with the rhythm of the song, and sometimes I don’t. It depends on the song.”

Brown said he got his job by hanging around the Underground Sunshine players while they were practicing. “They just wanted more lights on them, and I was always around them.”

“They used to practice in the lead guitarist’s basement, and I used to work their lighting system, just to get them in the mood,” Brown said. “It was something to do, rather than be on the street.”

The switchboard was built with the aid of Brown’s father, who is an electrician.

“We all got together and worked out what we wanted. It took an afternoon to do that and two other days to make the switchboard.”

He has been doing his light work for a year.

Saturday, Aug. 2, 1969

Underground Sunshine appears with Dick Clark on ABC’s “American Bandstand,” having flown to Hollywood to tape an appearance earlier in the week. They play “All I Want Is You” and then “Birthday,” of course.

[If the video doesn’t queue up properly, start it at 26:10.]

Underground Sunshine’s main lineup appears on the show. The Koelbl brothers — stage names Berty Kohl and Frank Kohl — are on bass and drums, respectively. Berty is just about to turn 20. Frank is 21. Chris Connors, whose real name was John Dahlberg, plays lead guitar. He’s 22. He’d just joined the band, having auditioned after answering an ad in the Milwaukee Journal. They needed a lead guitarist because Rhode had quit in a dispute over equipment. Jane Little, whose real name was Jane Whirry, plays keyboards. She’s 18 and just out of high school.

“The group was outfitted by The Hub in Madison before their trip to the ABC color studios,” the Capital Times newspaper of Madison reported. The Hub was a clothing store.

That night, Underground Sunshine plays a gig at the Armory in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. After that, the band heads to Chicago for recording sessions.

Saturday, Aug. 9, 1969

KGV Summer Music Festival adIn July, the Green Bay writer reports: “Because of the success of the record, the band has signed a contract to play with the nationally-known Vanilla Fudge in an August concert at Pittsburgh.”

The Shower of Stars show, part of the KGV Summer Music Festival, takes place at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.

Underground Sunshine gets third billing behind Vanilla Fudge and Illusion but is listed ahead of Andy Kim, Joe Jeffrey and “other acts.”

Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1969

Underground Sunshine plays the “Dance of the Summer” at Memorial Hall in Racine.

Saturday, Sept. 6, 1969

Underground Sunshine’s cover of “Birthday” peaks at No. 26 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. It’s a big hit in the late summer of 1969. It reaches No. 2 on the Hit Parade at WLS radio in Chicago in mid-August, but can’t displace the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman.”

Thursday, Sept. 18, 1969

Underground Sunshine’s follow-up single, a cover of Bread’s “Don’t Shut Me Out,” backed with “Take Me, Break Me,” an original, is out this week. It peaks at No. 102.

Here’s that single.

Here’s the LP version of the flip side, 11-plus minutes of jamming, rambling and noodling.

After the single’s release, the group sets out on a tour of the South, then plans to take a little time off.

November 1969

Underground Sunshine releases its only album, “Let There Be Light,” on Intrepid. Only two of its eight songs are originals. On the rest, they cover the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival twice, along with Bread and the Spencer Davis Group. It was recorded at Ter-Mar Recording Studios — more commonly known as Chess Studios — at 2121 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.

Friday-Saturday, Dec. 5-6, 1969

Underground Sunshine is back at Jack’s on Highway 12 in Baraboo.

Tuesday, Dec. 30, 1969

Underground Sunshine plays at a teen dance at the Cow Palace at the Fond du Lac County Fairgrounds Park in Fond du Lac.

The rest of the story

“Birthday” was the only hit for Underground Sunshine, which in late 1969 and sometime in 1970 released two other singles that went nowhere in the charts.

Their third single was an original, “9 to 5 (Ain’t My Bag),” written by Dave Wayne (real name Dave Waehner), who’d replaced Jane Little on keyboards.

The last of their singles was a cover of “Jesus Is Just Alright,” which was covered by the Byrds in 1969 and by the Doobie Brothers in 1972.

The end

Underground Sunshine broke up in 1970. The rocket had flamed out.

Why? When Wisconsin music historian Gary E. Myers interviewed the band members 26 years ago, in 1993, there was no consensus. Money problems, with some making too much and others not enough. Too much weed being smoked. Boy-girl problems, including too many groupies.

Some 20 years after the breakup, the Koelbl brothers and Rhode revived Underground Sunshine for a short time.

“(Underground Sunshine) gave us a lot of opportunities and I had a lot of great experiences. Got to see a lot of the country. Got to see a lot of different things,” Frank Koelbl told Myers in 1993.

“It’s been a very, very good learning experience. Even the way it was done, I would not trade anything for it,” Bert Koelbl told Myers in 1993.

 

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Filed under November 2019, Sounds

It’s all too much

50 years ago, as September turned to October in 1969, Green Bay was waiting for the Beatles.

It had been almost a year since the Beatles’ previous LP, the one they called “The Beatles” and the one everyone else called The White Album.

The Stiller Company, which had long sold records from its music department, in late September promised the “new Beatle LP” and listed a release date of Friday, Oct. 3. But Oct. 3 apparently came and went without that new Beatles record. For the next two weeks, the “new Beatle L.P.” was “coming soon!”

The Beatles’ new record apparently finally arrived in Green Bay sometime in the third week of October 1969, when the Stiller Co. ad listed the new “Beatle L.P.” as being in stock along with new albums from The Band, Tom Jones and, uh, one Laura Nyrol.

The new Beatles record, of course, was “Abbey Road.” Imagine, just imagine, the anticipation for that.

Fast forward 50 years to today. The recently reissued 50th anniversary “Abbey Road” shot up to No. 1 in the UK and to No. 3 here in the States. Apparently quite a bit of anticipation for that, too. Or was that just marketing hype?

I think I’m good with my copy of “Abbey Road,” which I bought used decades ago. (Mine appears to be a pressing from the Capitol Records plant in Jacksonville, Fla., though not a first pressing.)

I don’t want or need any of the seven formats in which it’s been reissued, though I hope my friend Timebomb Tom sells a bunch of them:

  • Super deluxe edition with three CDs and a Blu-Ray, plus a book
  • Double CD set with a second disc of demos and outtakes
  • Single CD with just the stereo remix
  • Triple LP box set with two additional discs of demos and outtakes
  • Single LP with just the stereo remix
  • Single picture disc LP with just the stereo remix
  • Super Deluxe digital audio, with 40 tracks to stream or download in hi-res 96kHz/24 bit audio

Though I have always loved the Beatles and will always love the Beatles …

Though I have a dozen Beatles records (and have sold “Live at the Star-Club” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music, Volumes 1 and 2”) …

Though I have a bunch of wonderful Beatles memorabilia, particularly “Yellow Submarine” stuff, much of it given as gifts …

Though I recently bought rough, loved-to-death $1 copies of six Beatles LPs, including what appears to be a first Jacksonville pressing of “Abbey Road” …

I think I’m good with most everything Beatles now, too.

Janet just smiled when I said that to her the other day.

At some point, you have to say it’s all too much.

… Though I still want to visit Liverpool and London and stroll across the Abbey Road crosswalk some day.

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Filed under October 2019, Sounds