Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rob Kirk story ended tragically

Rob Kirk, standing at center, posed with
the Henchmen VI for this photograph. In 1967, Kirk
recorded a 45 rpm single for Cuca Records, but the
record did not become a hit.


Gary Alan Kerkes was a Sault Ste. Marie resident with musical aspirations.

With the goal of rock stardom, he took the stage name Rob Kirk, a tag fans might more readily remember.

An early attempt by Kirk to record a 45 rpm single was unsuccessful.

In the summer of 1966, he made plans to tape a song on a 4-track recorder owned by an airman at nearby Kincheloe Air Force Base.

However, two musicians who were to back-up Kirk decided they didn't like the song and the recording fell through.

Then in June, 1967 the singer, guitarist and songwriter tried again to add a seven-inch record to his resume.

This time, Kirk traveled from his eastern Upper Peninsula home to Sauk City, Wis., an eight-hour journey.

There Kirk met Jim Kirchstein, owner of Cuca Records which incorporated a recording studio and music publishing company.

Kirchstein had opened his studio in 1959 and enjoyed an early hit single with "Mule Skinner Blues" by the Fendermen.

Kirk came to Cuca (pronounced Koo-ka) armed with a pair of original compositions: "Girl Talk" and "Summer Winds."

With Kirchstein doing the engineering, each song was recorded, instrumental backing first, followed by the vocal track.

"Are you telling the truth? Are you telling lies? I'm gonna find out if you're naughty or nice," Kirk sang to open "Girl Talk," apparently about gossip among the fairer sex.

For the second song, Kirchstein turned on the tape machine again for Kirk's lead vocals.

"Summer winds are softly blowing, so gently through her hair. There can be no mistaking this thing called love we share."

Kirk's haunting vocals are preceded by a lengthy guitar and drums intro.

With his two originals committed to tape, Kirk returned home to await delivery of his order of 45s.

Kirk received his shipment not long after.

The 45s carried Cuca's logo depicting a figure in a sombrero taking a siesta.

The seven-inch disc carried the catalog number 6761 and was credited to Rob Kirk and the Word.

A silver star indicated to disc jockeys that "Girl Talk" was side one. The song clocked in at 2:10 while the flipside was just over three minutes long.

Both songs were published through BMI by Kirchstein Publishing Co. and given consecutive identification numbers.

Kirchstein Publishing Co., located in Mount Horeb, Wis. also registered another Rob Kirk composition called "Running Back to Me." It's unknown whether that song was demoed or recorded.

With vinyl product in hand, Kirk was able to send promotional copies to radio stations and and booking agents as well as sell copies at his gigs.

Kirk was a contemporary to other Sault Ste. Marie bands of the era, including Renaissance Fair and the Executives.

Both of those bands also cut 45 rpm singles, but chose Marquette's Princeton label rather than faraway Cuca.

It is believed Kirk performed often in Ontario, Canada but also played Upper Peninsula based shows, some with Ontonagon's Henchmen VI.

The Henchmen VI also utilized Cuca, recording "All of the Day" and "Is Love Real" there just three months before Kirk's session.

A color promotional photograph exists showing Kirk with the Henchmen VI.

Henchmen VI rhythm guitarist Joe DeHut recalled a number of dates the two acts played together where they would alternative songs.

The Ontonagon sextet also recorded with Kirk, but nothing was released due to a monetary dispute, DeHut added.

Although "Girl Talk" is highly regarded by garage band collectors today, the song did not become the hit Kirk hoped it would.

Ten years after his 45 was released Kirk moved to California with companion Lucene Carter, leaving his wife and children in the U. P.

In 1983, Kirk was shot to death in Murrieta, south of Riverside.

On Aug. 15, 1985 the Anchorage Daily News reported details of the case under the headline "Mother, son face murder charge."

The newspaper reported the arrest of Gar Cartier, 31, in Fairbanks, and Lucene Cartier, 53, in Lake Elsinore, Cal.

"According to an investigator with the Riverside County Sheriff's office in California, the Cartiers are accused of soliciting the murder of Gary Kerkes, 40."

The newspaper said a third person, Damon Paulson, was also arrested in connection with the death.

While Kirk met an tragic end, his music survives.

On compact disc, the "Girl Talk" is included on More Fun Records' "Michigan Mayhem! Vol. 2" as well as Sundazed Music's "Garage Beat '66, Vol. 4: I'm in Need." The liner notes to "Michigan Mayhem" claim that some copies of the original "Girl Talk" were issued with the song credited to "Bob" Kirk.

Since the original vinyl single was pressed in a quantity of probably only a few hundred copies it very difficult to find today.

In the last five years, I've only seen the record surface on eBay one time, in November, 2009.

I won that auction for $62.56 and got to hear "Summer Winds," which does appear on compact disc, for the first time.

The seller was Gary E. Myers, a musician and historian who has written two books on the 1950s-60s Wisconsin music scene: "Do You Hear That Beat" and "On That Wisconsin Beat."

Myers did considerable research on the Kirk/Kerkes case for his second tome, including interviews with Riverside County Assistant District Attorney John Ruiz.

In his book, Myers reports Lucene Cartier was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Gar Cartier pleaded no contest to being an accessory after the fact and that Paulson was killed in a traffic accident. Another implicated man, Marlin Orr, was in prison on another charge.

Myers wrote to Mrs. Cartier several times, but didn't get a response. The author checked into visiting her once, since California's Chino Women's Prison is only about an hour from where he lives, but that didn't happen.

Kirk, meanwhile, has not been forgotten.

He was nominated in 2008 for Michigan Rock and Roll Legends, an on-line Hall of Fame operated by Bay City resident Gary "Dr. J." Johnson.

Record collectors still search for his 1967 single, knowing Rob Kirk's story ended, not with music stardom, but tragedy.

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