Thursday, January 10, 2008

Singles by U. P. bands coveted

The Henchmen VI


The western Upper Peninsula contributed to the burgeoning music scene of the 1960s with singles which are coveted today.

I've discovered just how highly desired these items are after picking-up recordings by three U. P. bands recently.

My collection has been bolstered with tracks by the Henchmen VI from Ontonagon, the Vigilantes, another Copper Country group; and Danny and the Galaxies, who called the Ironwood area home.

If you're wanting to add vintage U. P. recordings to your stash, the giant internet auction site Ebay is one place to start.

I went there to look for a 45 rpm single by Danny and the Galaxies, a popular western U. P. attraction in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Heroes in Ironwood, Johnson's Music Store proudly displayed a framed black and white photograph of the group performing at their business in about 1959.
Danny and the Galaxies

Fronted by lead singer Danny Sullivan, the rockabilly group traveled to Minneapolis to record "If You Want To Be My Baby," a Sullivan original, and "Ad Lib," an instrumental penned by lead guitarist Greg Winn. Put to tape at Kay Bank Studio, the songs appeared on the Darbo imprint which was listed as a division of Kooba Enterprises. Sullivan demonstrated a vocal style between Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly on his song, while the second tune, without vocals, was shown as being performed by just the Galaxies. The record, catalog #1595, also featured bassist Andy Abraham and Bernie Michelli, a drummer from Bessemer.

Surprisingly, I discovered a copy of their original 45 being auctioned on Ebay, but I wasn't the only interested party. After 15 bids, the prized 45 sold for $339. I was shocked, not because I didn't win, but because the piece of old vinyl sold for so much.

Not long after, however, I found a compilation LP called "Minnesota Rock-A-Billy-Rock, Vol. 3," which sold at a much more modest price, but still contained both tunes.
The Vigilantes

My bidding on a "surf" 45 by the Vigilantes had a different result, however. The single being auctioned was recorded at Cuca Studio in Sauk City, Wis. and appeared on the custom HerMi label. The top side, credited to V. Scerny, was called "Warm Wind," while the flip was an original band composition titled "Caterpillar Crawl." Both songs were instrumentals, with the A side showcasing guitar and drum solos while its companion included an outstanding sax workout.

For a "mere" $96.66, I was able to sneak by another bidder at the last second and take home this bit of rare plastic. I had never paid that much for a 45 and probably never will again.

But, I told myself that only a few hundred copies of this rare single, released in 1962, were pressed. And, because it's listed as #0001, it is the first and probably the only release on the obscure HerMi imprint.

By the way, the Vigilantes originated with Jim Brogan, who still lives in the Ontonagon area. Another band member was Greg Kobe, now playing keys and sax for the lower Michigan-based band Voo Doo Doctors. The Vigilantes also included the late Lloyd Hugo of L'Anse, Don Hermanson, Don Heikkila and Jay Mihelich.

The "rare" tag is also squarely affixed to the single released in March, 1967 by the Henchmen VI, which apparently included the Roman numerals in its moniker to distinguish it from other groups with similar names. This rock 'n' roll combo, including Scott Heinske (vocals and lead guitar), Joe DeHut (rhythm guitar), Bob Durant (bass), Art Moinlenen (organ), Jay Jackson (drums), and Jeff Jackson (tambourine), traveled to the Cuca Studio in early 1967 to make their claim to fame.

They taped Heinske's compositions, "Is Love Real" and "All of the Day." The first track featured a garagey guitar break while the second number had a Byrds-influenced feel, not uncommon for the period.

After the recording session, the band returned to Ontonagon and waited for their shipment of 45s to arrive from the label's pressing plant, 250 miles away. But, their anticipation was spoiled when the young men opened the shipment to find that half the 500 records they ordered were damaged in transport.

Despite that bad luck, the Henchmen VI were town favorites in tiny Ontonagon. They practiced at the local fire hall and played all the local venues. The popular group performed at parties in White Pine and at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood.

Rob Kirk (in red) and the Henchmen VI

One of their most memorable dates was opening for the pop group the Left Banke, famous for the song "Walk Away, Renee." They also played with Rob Kirk and the Word, from Sault Ste. Marie, another act which recorded for Wisconsin's venerable Cuca label. Several promotional photos of the Henchmen VI exist, including one of the band posing with Kirk. The Sault resident released a single titled "Girl Talk" in June, 1967.

As the Vietnam War dragged on, however, luck ran out for the Henchmen VI as Uncle Sam and the draft broke up the group. DeHut, who now plays mostly Christian rock, is the only member of the group still living in the Ontonagon area. Sadly, Heinske died in the late 1990s.

Today, the Henchmen VI single, Cuca 6731, is nearly impossible to find. I've never even seen a photograph of the label and it isn't on Ebay for any price.

Remarkably, the group's recordings have appeared on several CD compilations of garage band music, including the "Cuca Records Story, Vol. 3," and "Michigan Mayhem, Vol. 2." It might be impossible to get the Ontonagon band's original 45, but anyone can enjoy their music in the digital format as part of those collections.

Now, you know why I continue to covet those old U. P. singles.

Scans of Henchmen VI 45 label courtesy of
Robert Jarod Steckmeyer.

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