Tag Archives: 1970

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

Over 12 years, a musical education

When this blog debuted 12 years ago this week, I knew plenty about Peter Tork and I knew nothing about Harvey Scales.

Fellow music bloggers hepped me to Harvey Scales, who was an underappreciated Wisconsin treasure. He’s well known to soul enthusiasts and to those who saw him 50 years ago on a Midwest circuit of clubs, college rathskellers, frat houses, roadhouses and beer bars. He died on Feb. 11. He was 77, maybe 78. When I posted word of his death in a couple of local history Facebook groups, the memories poured in from that long-gone scene:

“I remember being at the teen beer bar, Jack’s Point Bar on the Beach Road, Twistin’ Harvey singing and standing on the tabletops while twistin’ a white towel over his head. He was very good and got the place rockin’!” … “Threw me his sweaty shirt!” … “Twistin’ Harv was legendary and always drew a big crowd. They were so much fun!” … “First good R&B band I had ever heard. They really opened my eyes to a complete different style of music.” … “Twistin’ Harvey and the Seven Sounds blew my mind in the late ’60’s at some outdoor event in Appleton.”

I’m too young to have seen Harvey Scales in his prime, but I was fortunate to see latter-day versions of Harvey Scales and the Seven Sounds at a small outdoor show in 2010 and then in a steamy tent on the Fourth of July in 2013. Kinda felt like I was seeing one of the last of the soul and R&B revues.

Peter Tork’s passing on Feb. 21 was not unexpected. He also was 77. When Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz announced the most recent Monkees tour, I immediately got the sense that Tork sat it out because he didn’t feel up to touring. Whether that’s so, only those closest to him know.

“I have in general made no secret of the fact that all these recent years of Monkees-related projects, as fun as they’ve been, have taken up a lot of my time and energy,” Tork said a year ago, preferring to work on a blues record instead. “So, I’m shifting gears for now, but I wish the boys well.”

I’ve loved the Monkees since I was a kid in the ’60s. Truth be told, I don’t write about them enough. Wish I still had my Monkees cards and my Monkeemobile model. I still vividly remember the day my Monkeemobile’s roof got smooshed beyond repair. However, we still have all the records.

We were fortunate to see the Monkees in three different settings, in three wonderful shows. We started with Davy Jones solo in 2010, then the Davy-Micky-Peter lineup in 2011, then the Mike-Micky-Peter lineup in 2014. That’s Peter playing the red guitar at right in the latter show. Each time we saw Peter, he was the coolest, most relaxed guy on the stage.

When this blog debuted 12 years ago this week, I knew nothing about Mongo Santamaria, either.

It wasn’t all that long ago that my friend Larry Grogan — the proprietor of the mighty Funky 16 Corners blog and the host of WFMU’s “Testify!” — hepped me to him, too. Still exploring, still learning.

The record you see below is one recently found while digging and recently ripped on the turntable that sits just to my right in AM, Then FM world headquarters.

“I Thank You,” Mongo Santamaria, from “All Strung Out,” 1970.

Thanks for reading all these years, everyone, and thanks for hepping me to cool music like this. More to come!

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Filed under February 2019, Sounds

A revelation, a toast and a wish

Christmas begins like this.

An 11-year-old Michael Jackson will forever convey to me the excitement of Christmas morning. That Christmas songs could sound like this was a revelation to this 13-year-old kid in 1970.

“One more time, yeah! Santa Claus is comin’ to town. Oh, yeah!”

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, 1970, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973.

Christmas continues with a toast.

“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.

Christmas concludes with a 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 last year.

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2018, Sounds

Downstairs at Prange’s

Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you get catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.

So it is with this photo, posted earlier this month by the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center to its Facebook page. It carried this four-word caption: “Record department. H.C. Prange.”

When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.

The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was the place where you came to ponder the mighty LP.

This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.

I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.

— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.

Neil Diamond’s “Tap Root Manuscript,” released in November 1970. I also was 13 and had been listening to AM Top 40 radio almost non-stop all that year.

— Isaac Hayes’ “Shaft” soundtrack, released in July 1971.

Wings’ “Wild Life,” released in December 1971.

Then there’s this.

When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.

So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.

Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.

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Filed under November 2018, Sounds

A mea culpa for Aretha

2016 was a rough year. Before February was over, David Bowie had died, as had Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Otis Clay and Glenn Frey, among others.

So I put together a series of posts intended to show appreciation for some music greats while they were still with us: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner. Then I followed up with a post listing four more performers to be appreciated while they were still with us.

In none of those posts was there a mention of Aretha Franklin, who also was still with us at the time, and who certainly was worthy of appreciation. Now that she’s gone, I feel bad that I didn’t properly appreciate her tremendous talent.

In the wake of Aretha’s passing, Sirius XM turned its Soul Town channel into an Aretha Franklin tribute channel. For the past 11 days, it’s been all Aretha, all the time. I’ve heard deep cuts that go well beyond any of my few Aretha records.

After 11 days of Aretha, I’m exhausted. She has worn me out.

Ike and Tina proclaimed “We nevah, evah, do nothing nice and easy.”

Well, Aretha nevah, evah, did anything nice and easy, either.

Aretha testified! Aretha brought forth that gale force of a gospel voice in song after song, in style after style, in decade after decade. Aretha was relentless.

After 11 days of Aretha, I find myself in the same place as my friend Greg, who wrote this over at Echoes in the Wind on the day after she died.

“So why do I feel I have I so little to say? Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out.” 

I’ll try. Here is my testimony.

I first heard Aretha testify in the late ’60s, perhaps while listening to WLS radio out of Chicago as we drove around southern Wisconsin with our older cousins during the summer.

Perhaps I first saw Aretha testify while watching a variety show, the kind my dad loved. I would have been 10, 11, maybe 13. Was it two nights after Christmas 1967, when Aretha sang “Respect” on “The Kraft Music Hall” with Woody Allen as the host? Was it Saturday night, Nov. 2, 1968, when Aretha appeared on “The Hollywood Palace” with Sammy Davis Jr. delivering a most memorable introduction? Was it Friday night, Oct. 9, 1970, when Aretha sang “I Say A Little Prayer” on “The Tom Jones Show” and duetted with Tom?

“Spanish Harlem” was the first Aretha song I came to know well. I was 14 when that came out in the late summer of 1971, a year I spent glued to my AM radio, listening to WOKY radio out of Milwaukee.

Then Aretha fell off my radar until I was in my 20s. I dug her in “The Blues Brothers” in 1980 — as did everyone else — and then she roared back onto the charts in 1985. I loved Eurythmics, so of course I loved Aretha’s duet with Annie Lennox on “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

About that time, I bought “Aretha’s Gold,” a greatest-hits comp from 1969, the stuff I knew from radio and TV. For probably 20 years, that was the only Aretha record I had. Then I sold it and started collecting and exploring some of her great LPs on Atlantic. Those are my records at the top of this mea culpa.

And now, Aretha testifies.

“Son Of A Preacher Man” and “The Weight,” Aretha Franklin, from “This Girl’s In Love With You,” 1970. Duane Allman plays guitar on “The Weight.”

 

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Filed under August 2018, Sounds

The three always under the tree

Christmas Day is here!

It’s been a nice morning, and I hope it’s been one for you, too.

These three songs always make my Christmas.

An 11-year-old Michael Jackson will forever convey the excitement of Christmas morning. That Christmas songs could sound like this was a revelation to 13-year-old me.

“One more time, yeah! Santa Claus is comin’ to town. Oh, yeah!”

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, 1970, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. Also available digitally.

A holiday toast!

“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. Also available digitally.

A Christmas 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 this year, that is. Found this while record digging. Delighted to have it.

It’s also available digitally, of course.

Merry Christmas, mein friends!

Enjoy your holidays, everyone!

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2017, Uncategorized

Celebrating some timeless joys

After a hiatus of many years, I’m collecting baseball cards again. But only a certain kind of card.

These cards. The 2017 Topps Heritage cards, which are based on the 1968 Topps card design. That year, 1968, was when an 11-year-old kid in Wisconsin really got into collecting cards for the first time.

Some of the players in the 2017 set are new to me, but there’s a wonderfully comforting feeling to being introduced to them in such a familiar way. I’m enjoying it.

It’s the same feeling I get when I play basketball, just shooting hoops by myself. Been doing that since I was about 11, too. I step onto that court and the years just seem to fall away.

Likewise record digging. There’s something wonderfully comforting about an experience that’s essentially the same today as it was in the earliest ’70s in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Flash back to 1970, and there is 13-year-old me carefully examining the 45s in the record department in the basement of Prange’s department store or in the rack near the checkout at the Evans variety store. Then I’d look through the LPs, which seemed unattainable, far beyond my allowance.

One of my earliest 45s was “American Woman” by the Guess Who on that great orange RCA label. The flip side, “No Sugar Tonight,” turned out to be the Guess Who’s next single. You know that version, but here are two less-heard covers. They come via fellow bloggers, which is another of the joys of record digging, getting tipped to things you might not otherwise hear.

“No Sugar Tonight,” the Shirelles, from “Happy and In Love,” 1971, also on RCA. Thank you to Vincent the Soul Chef for this. Once a blogger, Vincent now serves up his Fufu Stew on Mixcloud. It’s from a fine mix called “Records Are Like Chocolate … The Revenge!”

“No Sugar Tonight,” Steel Wool, from the single on White Whale Records, 1970. Steel Wool is one of the aliases used by singer and drummer Buddy Randell, who’d left the Knickerbockers that year. Thank you to Andrew, the proprietor over at Armagideon Time, for this. It’s from one of his anniversary mixes.

Postscript: My rediscovery of baseball cards brings with it one age-old problem. I’ve bought about 100 cards, yet have gotten only one Brewers player so far. Seems like it’s the hunt for Cookie Rojas all over again.

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Filed under April 2017, Sounds