50 years ago today, on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 1971, this long, tall ad in the Green Bay Press-Gazette proclaimed that “The Record Event Of The Year” was happening at Woolworth’s.
For just $3.68, you could get any one of these three record albums by Rare Earth. (That’s $24.62 in 2021 dollars, and some new records go for that these days, so not much has changed for record buyers in 50 years.)
In the newspaper business, this was known as a co-op ad. In this case, the record company — the Rare Earth label — ponied up the money to hype its records via an ad from Woolworth’s. The label may have paid for part of the ad or all of the ad. Fairly common stuff.
Even though Rare Earth was mostly a singles band as September 1971 began, and even though free-form FM radio was in its infancy, the ad hyped some of Rare Earth’s popular long jams.
“#1 One World contains the hit single ‘I Just Want To Celebrate’ and a seven-minute version of the incredibly funky ‘What’d I Say.'”
This was the newest Rare Earth album featured in the ad. “One World” had come out three months earlier, at the beginning of the summer of 1971. It eventually went gold, but didn’t chart as high as the other two albums hyped here, peaking at No. 28 on the Billboard 200.
“#2 Get Ready contains the full 21 minute version of the hit ‘GET READY.'”
“Get Ready” had been released two years earlier, in July 1969, went platinum and reached No. 12 on the Billboard 200. “What’d I Say,” of course, was a Ray Charles cover.
“Get Ready,” the single, also appeared in slightly different form on “Dreams/Answers,” Rare Earth’s obscure debut album from 1968. I wrote about that record last year. Rarest Earth, you might say.
“#3 Ecology contains the complete 10 minute version of the hit ‘(I Know) I’M LOSING YOU.'”
“Ecology” had been released in the winter of 1970, so it was a year and a half old. It went gold and reached No. 15 on the Billboard 200. “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” of course, is a Temptations cover.
Rare Earth’s next record? The mighty “Rare Earth In Concert,” a double LP released in December 1971. It features LONGER versions of everything here except “What’d I Say.” Whether the studio version or the live version, all were free-form FM radio staples in the ’70s. I dug them then and I dig them now.
Our story so far: In February 1970, the Stiller’s Top Ten singles chart suddenly disappeared from the Green Bay Press-Gazette after running in the paper every Friday for almost five years.
The Stiller Co. had sold records in downtown Green Bay for years. It was the place to go digging for 45s and LPs, a place where performers made in-store appearances, a place from which local radio stations did shows and remotes.
But the Stiller family, which had run the store since the turn of the century, was retiring. New owners were taking over. New owners with new ideas.
May 21, 1970 — a week shy of five years since the first appearance of the Stiller’s Top Ten chart — saw this offer from “Green Bay’s moving and grooving house of music!”
July 14, 1970 — The Stiller Co. was blowing out “really bad” 45s — a grab bag of 10 for a dime — at the summer sidewalk bazaar in downtown Green Bay.
Sept. 8, 1970 — “Every record must be sold.” The closeout begins.
Oct. 11, 1970 — The final closeout, slashing prices on LPs to $2.
A month later, as the store marked its 72nd anniversary, the records were gone.
“A new sound department has opened, replacing the former record department,” the Press-Gazette reported on Nov. 8, 1970. “The department will feature sound equipment and components for stereos, radios and tape recorders.”
Two years later to the day — Nov. 8, 1972 — the new owners of The Stiller Co. filed for bankruptcy.
They blamed their predicament on having lost business to suburban shopping centers, on having too many people on the payroll, on high overhead and on “creditors that were too easy on the firm.”
Before the year was out, in the days just before and after Christmas 1972, everything in the store was sold at a bankruptcy auction.
If you want it, here it is, come and get it But you’d better hurry ’cause it’s goin’ fast
Which, fittingly, was the last song on the last Stiller’s Top Ten chart.
“Come And Get It,” Badfinger, from “Magic Christian Music,” 1970.
50 years ago last night, on Tuesday, March 10, 1970, The Association played a show at the old Brown County Arena in Green Bay. I posted that music history tidbit to our local Facebook history groups last night.
Which led my friend Kim to ask …
“No idea if it’s true or not, but I had heard many years ago that the original James Gang with Joe Walsh was the opening act at this show. AND that the illustrious Mr. Walsh got arrested at the Midway Motor Lodge for possession of pot. After all these years, can anyone confirm or deny this story for me?”
Well, now. Can’t resist that one. It is mostly true.
The James Gang did not open for The Association at the Arena that night. However, the James Gang was on a bill with the Youngbloods at the Arena roughly 6 months later, on Friday, Sept. 18, 1970.
And, yes, Joe Walsh, 22, of Kent, Ohio, was busted for possession of marijuana after the Brown County Sheriff’s Department raided his room at the Holiday Inn on Friday, Sept. 18, 1970. He was freed on a $500 bond so the James Gang could begin a month-long tour of the UK three weeks later.
Joe Walsh — thereafter referred to as “Joseph F. Walsh” in the Green Bay paper’s court stories — apparently never returned to Green Bay to face the music.
On Monday, Nov. 2, 1970, Walsh missed his arraignment date. That day, the James Gang was off between shows in Dania, Florida, and Atlanta.
Four days later, on Friday, Nov. 6, 1970, Walsh was arraigned, represented by two attorneys from Milwaukee. That day, the James Gang played two shows at the Westbury Music Fair in Jericho, N.Y.
In late April 1971, Walsh’s lawyers were still arguing their case. Walsh’s case was continued to May 20, but there’s no further mention of it in the Green Bay paper. That day, the James Gang was off between shows in New York and Cincinnati.
Three local college students — a 19-year-old man, a 19-year-old woman and an 18-year-old woman — also were charged with possession in the wake of the bust at the Holiday Inn. Their cases were dismissed.
My guess, having covered the courts in the late ’70s: Either Joe Walsh’s case also was dismissed or the judge simply forfeited Walsh’s $500 bond and called it a day. $500 was a lot of money back then — $3,300 in today’s dollars.
Now, about that Youngbloods/James Gang show. According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, it was a …
Melanie, the pop-folk singer, was to have been the headliner. She canceled. She was said to have had “a bronchial ailment.”
So the Youngbloods took her place. They rehearsed on stage, then started the show, playing first. “The Youngbloods were plagued by electronic breakdowns, feedback and tuning troubles,” my friend Warren Gerds wrote in the next day’s paper. That, and the Arena’s poor acoustics swallowed up their sound.
Then the James Gang came on stage.
“The James Gang is a head band. Upon finding that out, about 100 listeners headed for the door. Others left in a steady, strong trickle,” Warren wrote. “The James Gang had no problems with acoustics because they overpowered the arena’s echoing traits.”
At the time, the James Gang was still touring behind its 1969 debut LP, “Yer’ Album.” Here’s a cut that “head band” may or may not have played that night in Green Bay, clearing the house on a night when only 500 people came out to a show in a 5,000-seat venue.
“Funk #48,” the James Gang, from “Yer’ Album,” 1969, which I saw while record digging not too long ago. All three band members — Joe Walsh, bass player Tom Kriss and drummer Jim Fox — are credited as co-writers.
This is the only James Gang LP on which Kriss plays. Dale Peters took his place for the next record, “James Gang Rides Again.” On which, of course, “Funk #49” was the first cut.
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.
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.
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
In 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.
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.
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.