Thursday, February 07, 2008

High school dances reflected era

The Rebels featured guest vocalist Greg Curran during a 1968 Halloween dance at Escanaba High School


Everybody remembers going to high school dances like Homecoming, Halloween, Sadie Hawkins and the Senior Ball.

For me, I recall seeing many of the area's most popular rock bands-- the student handbook called them "orchestras"-- perform at dances when I was completing my secondary education. I also saw a few obscure ones and missed a couple, too.

As a ninth grader at Escanaba Area Public High School in 1965, I attended the homecoming dance, held Oct. 2, in the commons area. Entertainment for the event was provided by Beat Incorporated, a pioneering rock 'n' roll band from Escanaba which included bassist Hank Mroczkowski; lead guitarist Corky Mroczkowski; drummer Jim Lewis and keyboardist Bruce Douglas. Admission was 50 cents or $1 for couples. Dancing took place from 8:30- 11:30.

Just a freshman that school year, I didn't attend the formal Holiday Ball or Senior Ball, although both featured terrific bands.

The Bossmen, from Saginaw, appeared at an Escanaba High School dance in 1965

Held at Marco's Stardust Lounge in downtown Escanaba on Dec. 28, 1965, the Holiday Ball was highlighted by the boss sound of Saginaw's Bossmen, led by guitarist and vocalist Dick Wagner, who went on to record three LPs as a founding member of The Frost. Mark Farner, who later formed Grand Funk Railroad, also joined the Bossmen about this time. Theme for the 9-12 dance was "Far Away Places."

"Holiday in Venice' was the theme for the Senior Ball, held at the commons on April 30, 1966. One of the Upper Peninsula's best bands, the Henchmen VI, provided the entertainment for the evening from inside a specially constructed gondola. The Rogues were originally scheduled to play, but broke-up a few weeks prior to the event.

As a sophomore, I attended the annual Halloween dance which featured the music of the Livings Ends of Escanaba, while the special attraction for the Sadie Hawkins dance on Feb. 23, 1967 was a combo called Psychedelic Circuit. On April 29, 1967, graduation candidates were treated to the dance stylings of John Evil and the Spirits at their Senior Ball. The band was formed when Beat Inc. added vocalist John Bergquist to their line-up.

Escanaba's Riot Squad played a dance in the commons area during the early fall of 1967, just as I was beginning my junior year. The event, called "What-cha-ma-call-it," raised funds for the yearbook which had lapsed publication a number of years earlier. The young band included lead singer Greg Curran; guitarist Brendan Williams; drummer Dan Curran; bassist Bob Anzalone; and rhythm guitarist Jim Joque.

Sponsored by the Library Society, the Homecoming dance was held Oct. 21, 1967, with music provided by Lovin' Kind. Lasting 8- 11, the event packed students into the commons area.

Yet another dance was held there on Nov. 11, 1967, sponsored by the staff of the Escanaban, the school's student newspaper. The young journalists were raising money to send Christmas packages to area soldiers in Vietnam in an project called "Operation Appreciation." Music for the event was provided by the Ultra Sonics of Escanaba. The group included Tim Mulvaney, drums; Dick Peterson, guitar; Kim Erickson, bass; Matt Gadnis, organ; and Mickey Van Effen, lead singer.

The Riot Squad returned to the commons on Dec. 23, 1967, for "Holly Hop," sponsored by the high school bookkeeping department, which was raising funds for new adding machines.

The Holiday Ball, meanwhile, was held at the Terrace on Dec. 27, 1967, with a theme of "Silver Bells." Couples danced to the music of Just Us from Appleton, Wis. I didn't go, but there were plenty more dances in the future.

Esky's corridors buzzed with excitement when word spread about a battle of the bands scheduled for March 2, 1968. The competition pitted the Riot Squad against their biggest rivals, the Prophets of Doom. Also from Escanaba, PoD consisted of Jim Nelson, drums; Calvin Rose, bass; Dave Watchorn, lead guitar; Jim Smith, organ; and Mike Steede, rhythm guitar.

A flyer distributed at the time promised a "showdown... without truce or interruption." The handout contended: "The battle is the result of much provocation from both groups. In the last few weeks, the maneuvers have been quite extensive and it is expected that the battle will be one of the most remembered to go down in history. Both groups will be using secret weapons that they have been developing in recent weeks. Public opinion is divided as both group are well represented amongst the classes of both area high schools. Both groups are evenly matched and the battle should be quite interesting to see."

But, because battle of the bands competitions were so prevalent at the time, it's not entirely clear which band won this particular one.

Dances during my junior year ended with the Senior Ball, held at the Terrace on May 11, 1968, featuring Iron Gate from Rockford, Illinois. I didn't go.

One of the first activities of senior year was the Homecoming dance, held from 8- 11 on Oct. 12, 1968. About 400 people attended the event which featured the Prophets of Doom. The Library Society collected $394 for its coffers by sponsoring the gathering.

A Halloween dance on Oct. 30, 1968 was "livened by music of the Rebels," according to an article in the Escanaban. What the story didn't say was that the band had a bit of a problem that night. Singer Ron Derouin had been expelled and school officials won't allow him to perform. Rebels guitarist Mitch Jensen says Greg Curran, vocalist for the Riot Squad, was recruited to fill in for the missing Derouin. In true show business fashion, the Rebels completed the evening with a line-up of Curran, Jensen, bassist Dave Berndt, drummer Dan Ducheny and keyboard player Dale Stannard.

Next up, came the Holiday Ball, which took place at the Terrace on Dec. 27, 1968 with the theme, "A Christmas Carol." I didn't go and was especially disappointed when classmates told me what a fantastic job the Ravelles did entertaining the crowd. The Iron Mountain based group was one of the first to spotlight a female lead singer, in this case, Carmella Altobelli. The band had cut several 45 rpm singles at the time.

I didn't miss the next dance, which was a fund-raiser for March of Dimes. Held at Esky commons, Riot Squad played before 500 students for three hours in what was billed as a 'MOD' dance. The event raised $320 for the charity.

Another local group, Three Days and a Night, was the attraction for the Valentines dance, held from 8-11 on Feb. 15, 1969. The band included Kim Erickson, guitar; Al Gossan, drums; Dick Peterson, lead guitar; and Tim Mulvaney, bass. Admission was $1.

The final dance during my last year in high school, the Senior Ball, with the theme "Cherish," was held from 9- 11 on May 10, 1969. The Head Hunters from Appleton entertained 143 couples during the evening at Esky commons. It was the biggest event of the school year and the administration authorized that $40 be spent on decorations, rather than the usual $25. This time I overcame my fear of formal events, got a date and went.

Better late than never, right?

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