By STEVE SEYMOUR
Enterprising mid-western rock bands toured the region in the second half of the 1960s hoping to expand their fame to a national level.
Escanaba saw appearances by the Boys Next Door from Indianapolis, Indiana; the American Breed from Cicero, Illinois; and the Unbelievable Uglies from Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
Those groups, along others, entertained young people at popular teen dances at the local Teamsters Hall sponsored by promoter Gene Smiltneck, beginning in 1966.
While they electrified local teenagers with their show, the Unbelievable Uglies were well-known throughout the upper midwest for their outrageous stage act.
Their appearances were centered around Dave Hoffman, known on-stage as Winston Fink, one of the group's founders, who sang and played upright bass. Other members were Dave Prentiss (guitar), Gregory J. Paul (lead guitar), Bob Eveslage (keyboards and vocals), Mike Shannon (drums), Alan St. Pierre (lead vocals) and Paul Lidstrom.
Beginning in 1964, the group released about a dozen 45 rpm singles on a variety of labels, including Music Masters, Cardinal and Soma.
Regional success led to a contract with major label Liberty Records where Bobby Vee produced their single "Sorry," which was backed with "Get Straight," on a 1967 single. The follow-up record paired "Spiderman" with the uniquely titled "My Research into the Soul of Psychedelic Sound."
With a growing reputation for no-holds-barred live shows, the Unbelievable Uglies were booked as the opening act for the Who in Fargo, North Dakota, Bobby Vee's home town.
The show, held at City Auditorium on Nov. 21, 1967, drew national attention when Fargo's mayor claimed the musicians incited a "teenage riot." The city administration exaggerated the situation, banning the group from performing in Fargo again. The order, however, was quickly lifted and the Unbelievable Uglies performed in the North Dakota city on many more occasions.
Their show in Escanaba was a wild one, said Greg Curran, a long-time local musician and then a member of the Riot Squad rock band. Curran recalled one member of the Unbelievable Uglies constantly bashing himself over the head with an aluminum garbage can as part of their act.
Recognizing a long-running comedy prop, the Uglies also made use of a rubber chicken named Hershel, much to the amusement of the Upper Peninsula crowd.
The Boys Next Door made an impression on Curran because he was a big fan of the Beach Boys, too.
Originating in Indianapolis, the Boys Next Door were comprised of Steve Drybread (bass and vocals), Jim Koss (drums), Steve Lester (guitar and lead vocals), Skeet Bushor (keyboards) and James Adams (guitar and vocals).
Called the "Beach Boys of the Midwest" by some, the Boys Next Door emulated the sound and appearance of their heroes. During their Escanaba appearance, the Boys Next Door even wore pinstripe shirts like the ones favored by the Beach Boys.
The group issued three 45 rpm singles in the 1965-66 period for the Soma, Cameo and Bad labels.
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Bobby Goldsboro produced and wrote some songs for the Boys Next Door, although they penned much of their own material.
Signed to Atco, a division of Atlantic Records in New York, the Boys Next Door released "Mandy" in 1966 and "Begone Girl" in 1967
A third Atco single was aimed at the holiday market. "The Wildest Christmas" was composed by Lester and Bushor, while "Christmas Kiss" was the work of Koss. The Christmas entry didn't make the national charts, but Curran thought enough of the record to keep it in his collection for over four decades.
The Boys Next Door opened for many stars of the period, including the Beach Boys, before they disbanded in late 1967.
Comprised of Gary Loizzo (guitar and lead vocals), Al Ciner (rhythm guitar), Chuck Colbert (bass), Kevin Murphy (keyboards) and Lee Graziano (drums and trumpet), the American Breed became an "overnight sensation."
Midwest fans first paid attention to the group in the summer of 1967 when they issued a psychedelic single called "Step Out of Your Mind." on the Acta label. The song peaked at No. 35, according to the July 17, 1967 edition of the "Hot Happenings Record Guide," printed by Record City in Milwaukee. The American Breed returned with "Don't Forget About Me," but the song stalled at No. 79 on Aug. 21 and 28, 1967.
Thankfully, the band didn't give up, because "Bend Me, Shape Me," their huge hit, came next. Record City's "New Mid-Western 40 plus 40" put the song at No. 2 on Jan. 2, 1968.
"Bend Me, Shape Me," was actually a cover song, first recorded by an all-girl band called Shape. Then, England's Amen Corner introduced the song to the British charts.
Composed by Scott English and Larry Weiss, "Bend Me, Shape Me," was produced by Bill Traut.
With a smash single on their hands, the group rushed to Acta Records in Hollywood for a ten-day stay to assemble an album. The 11-track long-player included "Bend Me, Shape Me," "Mindrocker," and "Green Light," which turned out to be their next single.
With appearances all over the country, the American Breed became known for their showmanship. A radio station gig in Louisville, Kentucky drew 40,000 supporters.
Their dance/show in Escanaba drew a smaller crowd, of course, but those young people were just as enthused to hear the group's brassy brand of rock 'n' roll.
The Unbelievable Uglies, Boys Next Door and American Breed generated fans with exciting recordings and live shows.
While the exact dates these three midwestern bands appeared in Escanaba have been obscured by time, other details of their careers remain intact, illustrating the vibrancy of the regional rock 'n' roll scene at the time.