Wednesday, December 17, 2008

TV aided careers of U. P. bands

A WLUC-TV6 camera operator, at left, captured a
performance by Ontonagon's Henchmen VI rock band during
a March of Dimes Telethon circa 1967.


While many people may remember seeing their favorite rock acts on Dick Clark's nationally-broadcast American Bandstand television program during the 1960s, Upper Peninsula bands also used TV to further their careers during the same period.

Escanaba-based Prophets of Doom and the Riot Squad increased their exposure in northern Michigan by performing on a telethon aired by WLUC-TV Channel 6 in Marquette, as did other rock bands, including the Henchmen VI, from the Copper Country.

Television publicity wasn't limited to the U. P., either. Iron Mountain's Ravelles performed on a Minnesota station, while the Excels, headquartered in Marquette, appeared on a pair of popular rock 'n' roll TV programs.

Prophets of Doom and the Riot Squad appeared live on the March of Dimes Telethon on Sunday, Jan. 29, 1967. Part of a national charity drive, the event actually started at 10 o'clock the previous evening.

"Back then, being on television was like being a celebrity," recalled Jim Joque, rhythm guitarist and founding member of the Riot Squad.

The band, including drummer Dan Curran, bassist Bob Anzalone, lead guitarist Brendan Williams and Greg Curran on keyboards and vocals, was slated for a 2:50 p.m. performance.

"I remember being excited yet anxious about being on television. To my knowledge, none of us had been on TV. This was a first time experience for us," Joque said.

"I really don't remember the songs we played. It may have only been one or two numbers," Joque recalled.

"My parents and siblings all supported our band and my music involvement. I recall that when I returned home, they were all excited and talked about our appearance. Friends of the band and our manager, Gene Smiltneck, were excited about it as well."

Joque added: "I do recall heading out the back door of the studio and walking right into one of the Green Bay Packers who was appearing on the telethon as well."

The newly-crowned world championship Packers also played into the appearance of the newly-formed Prophets of Doom, who telethon organizers had scheduled to begin their set at 8:20 that morning.

"I talked the band into signing up for the telethon as soon as we knew a half dozen songs," said lead guitarist and singer Dave Watchorn. "I played on the telethon with my first band and I knew that it was the best way to get some bookings."

The band had been together for a few months and knew about 25 songs, although the newest member, keyboardist Jim Smith, was familiar with only eight. In fact, the group was so new that the telethon performance would be their first public appearance. "We practiced those eight songs over and over for our debut," Watchorn recalled.

The group traveling to the Negaunee television studio also included drummer Jim Nelson, guitarist Mike Steede and bassist Calvin Rose.

Expecting just to play two songs, the Prophets of Doom ended up performing all eight of the tunes they practiced. With the phones ringing off the hook, they were then asked to do another number for a donation of $50. The pledger wanted to see the "Packers' 'Golden Girl' dance with a certain person and one of the Packers dance with one of the telethon staff," Watchorn remembered.

The group performed the tune with Smith feigning his keyboard parts because he didn't know the song. Nobody seemed the wiser, including the cameraman who focused on the organ player, much to the band's amusement, Watchorn added.

While fledgling rock groups were eager to appear on television, the presence of local acts on such programs also increased the number of viewers from various communities around the U. P. This fact was not lost on WLUC-TV which even bought newspaper advertisements to promote the March of Dimes program.

Dozens of music groups appeared on the telethon over the years, including the Henchmen VI. Based in Ontonagon, the group gained notoriety by recording a 45 rpm single of original material for Cuca Records of Sauk City, WI. The Henchmen VI may have performed "Is Love Real?" and "All Of The Day" during a telethon appearance, circa 1967. A short performance clip of the group is contained on the WLUC-TV documentary, "Lights, Camera, Action," celebrating the station's 50th anniversary. Featuring songwriter Scott Heinske on lead guitar and vocals, the Henchmen VI also included Joe DeHut (rhythm guitar), Bob Durant (drums), Art Moilenen (bass), Jay Jackson (drums) and Jeff Jackson (tambourine).

Iron Mountain's Ravelles found themselves on television after cutting a single for Illinois-based Mobie Records in 1968. "Psychedelic Movement" climbed to No. 13 in Fargo, N. D.and earned the band a booking there on Nov. 22. The next day the band played their hit on Teen Beat '69, a program which aired at noon Saturdays on KCMT-TV Channel 7 in Alexandria, Minn. Lead singer Carmella Altobelli had a cold but still did a great job singing, said rhythm guitarist John Richtig. Other members of the Ravelles included Tom Lucas (lead guitar), Ray Broullire (bass), Rand Alquist (drums), and brother Brian Alquist (keyboards).

The Excels, a popular Marquette-based group with five 45 rpm singles to their credit, performed on a pair of significant television programs during their career.

Robin Seymour

Drummer Steve Contardi recalled the Excels promoted their first single on Robin Seymour's Swingin' Time program on CKLW-TV in Windsor, Ontario. The Excels lip-synched "Gonna Make You Mine, Girl," written by vocalist Clark Sullivan, on the show which featured 50 to 75 local kids demonstrating the latest dances. Other members of the Excels at this time were Terry Quirk (guitar), Ken Forrest (keyboards) and Carl Holm (bass).

Spanky and Our Gang, noteworthy for "Sunday Will Never Be The Same," performed on the same episode. Similar to American Bandstand, Swingin' Time was broadcast six days a week and spotlighted such acts as the Supremes, Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger and the MC5.

An additional television appearance came in Cleveland when the Excels were featured on an early rock 'n' roll variety show called Upbeat which originated on ABC affiliate WESW-TV. Hosted by Don Webster, Upbeat included a live audience and was syndicated to 100 television stations at its peak, including outlets in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Dallas.

Webster's program featured regional groups such as the GTO's, James Gang and Outsiders, but also showcased dozens of top acts including the Beatles, Otis Redding and Simon & Garfunkel. The show even had "go-go girls" when that fad was popular.

Whether on a local, regional or national level, rock 'n' roll and television developed a symbiotic relationship in the 1960s which continues to today.

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