Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Final column brings series to end


Artist Rex Rubenzer drew this caricature
of music columnist Steve Seymour for a book cover.


By STEVE SEYMOUR

After six years, this will be my final weekly music column in the Daily Press.

Although I've enjoyed writing the 307 entries in this series, it's time for me to move on to new endeavors.

I couldn't have guessed how receptive readers would be when former Daily Press editor Rick Rudden invited me to write a regular piece for the newspaper's ""That's Entertainment" section in July, 2005.

Like me, Rudden was a graduate of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. We had known each other from the time I worked at the Daily Press while Rudden was a student.

Rudden figured a column would be a chance to combine my fondness for writing with my love of music.

In fact, rock 'n' roll music grabbed my attention as a teenager about the same time I become interested in journalism. I worked on a number of high school and college newspapers and magazines.

By the time Rudden and I talked about a column, 25 years had passed since my time in the local newspaper's editorial department.

Beyond that I'd worked in public relations for the Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress before opening the Record Rack with my wife Sue in 1985.

From the beginning my column took a nostalgic look at Michigan's stars, local musicians and beloved international rock legends, all from a personal, Upper Peninsula perspective.

Early columns dealt with the Woodtick Music Festival, Ted Nugent's show at the U. P. State Fair and the passing of local bluesman Jim "Smiley" Lewis.

The first person to comment on my debut column was Escanaba musician and raconteur Mike Bastian. He struck up a conversation with me about the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and we've been friends ever since.

As time went by, readers stopped me on the street to compliment me. I got phone calls and even a few fan letters.

In the summer of 2007, fellow Escanaba High School graduate Tim Mulvaney suggested I compile my columns into a book.

When a few other people recommended the same thing I commissioned a caricature from Milwaukee artist Rex Rubenzer for the cover and told myself there would be no turning back.

"Rock 'n' Roll Graffiti" was published that fall, with the help of my niece Jackie Hughes who provided the computer expertise the project required.

The book was printed by Instant Publisher, the short-run publishing division of Funcraft Publishing Co., based in Collierville, Tenn.

It was quite a thrill for me when folks who bought the book asked me to autograph it for them.

"Keep rockin'," I wrote before signing my name on the title page. The words seemed quite appropriate for a book containing a large measure of nostalgia, I thought.

My column was also published on the Internet at rocknrollgraffiti.com, giving it exposure beyond the U. P.

Thanks to unlimited space, the cyberspace version of my column contained more photographs than the printed one. In addition, the blog contains the complete series and can be accessed at any time by computer.

Over the years, the blog site was received about 125,000 hits and hundreds of emails.

One shocker of an email came from Cheryl Brewster of Tennessee in response to a column I published in early 2009 titled "Cars, engines inspire recordings."

The story mentioned my Grand-Uncle Johnny Seymour who drove in the Indianapolis 500 six times, after racing Indian motorcycles in the 1910s and 1920s. Born in Escanaba, he died on Feb. 27, 1958 in South Bend, Ind. at the age of 61 after competing around the world.

Ms. Brewster informed me that Uncle Johnny was her grandfather and that her family had been searching for relatives for years. Thanks to that column I now have relatives I didn't know existed.

During the last six years I've met many fine folks during the process of writing a weekly column.

With over 300 installments, I covered a lot of material including a considerable amount of original research.

I'm most proud of presenting information about the thriving garage band scene based in the U. P. during the 1960s, not previously acknowledged. Although Michigan's rock 'n' roll history concentrates on the southeastern part of the state, groups from north of the Mackinac Bridge issued a number of strong 45 rpm singles and generated considerable fan interest.

Those groups included the Excels and French Church from Marquette, Riot Squad and Prophets of Doom from Escanaba, Rob Kirk and the Word and Renaissance Fair from Sault Ste. Marie, the Henchmen VI and Vigilantes from Ontonagon, as well as Joey Gee and the Bluetones and Ravelles from Iron Mountain. Menominee had the Why Four and Infinite Blue, Alston had the Rhythm Rockers, Kingsford boasted Lexington Project, Ironwood contributed Danny and the Galaxies, Houghton touted Kinetic Energy and Negaunee cheered the Fastells.

In addition to writing about bands from the U. P., I have attempted to collect and preserve their vinyl recordings. Visitors to my website can listen to 88 songs performed by 30 different northern Michigan performers. Most of the music originated from rare 1960s era 45 rpm singles issued on independent labels. Many pressings were limited to 1,000 copies or less, making some regional singles hard to find today.

The U. P. has an outstanding musical heritage and we have every right to be proud of it.

One of my most-read columns, "Goose Lake Festival reassessed" was published on July 26, 2007. Up to that point very little information was available on the Internet about the Goose Lake Festival which took place near Jackson in August, 1970. The event, which attracted 200,000 young people, has been referred to as "Michigan's Woodstock." Some 81 people have added their personal memories of the festival to my blog entry.

I guess if I jogged a musical memory for you or put a smile on your face, then my column was a success.

While I will no longer write a column on a weekly basis, I do plan to update my website from time to time, so be sure to check in occasionally.

I had hoped to have a second book out by this time, but printing costs are expensive so only time will tell if that will happen.

In the meantime, Sue and I thank you for your support over the last six years and encourage you to keep rockin'. We'll do the same.
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4 comments:

Joe Accardi said...

Steve, Thanks for the many stories of Michigan bands and music. I recall corresponding with you about the Ravelles some time back when doing research for my book, Beloit's Club Pop House. Thanks for the plug in one of your columns. But mostly, thanks again for your wonderful contributions to this important slice of musical Americana. ~Joe Accardi

MopTopMike said...

Great work, Steve.
As a fellow researcher always in perpetual quest to get the fact correct, I hope you will keep up the effort on the blog!

Fr. Darryl Pepin said...

Steve, I have enjoyed reading your columns on the internet. Many of them brought back some good memories. I especially enjoyed your column on the "guitar Mass" and your wedding (which I did.) Thanks for your hard work at preserving a very important part of UP history! Someday, I'd like to purchase your book. God bless! Father Darryl Pepin - Ironwood, MI

Pure African Mango said...

It's so refreshing to find articles like the ones you post on your site. Very informative reading.