Wednesday, May 28, 2008

CDs carry vintage U. P. tunes

The Green Beans, who recorded in California in 1966,
included two members from the Upper Peninsula.


A number of vintage rock songs recorded by Upper Peninsula bands have appeared on compact disc, although you might never know it.

While interest in the garage band sound of the 1960s has meant these tunes have received digital treatment, most such re-issues don't recognize the U. P.'s contribution to those recordings.

Take the Rhythm Rockers, for instance. Their 1962 recording, "Bad News," was included on a compilation titled "Rockin' In Wisconsin" on Britian's Ace Records in 2006. It's a catchy little number, lasting all of two minutes and 17 seconds.

Although the accompanying booklet contains some informative liner notes about most of the artists, it includes just a single paragraph about the Rhythm Rockers. Mostly, those two sentences confess that the label didn't know the names of the band members or anything at all about the record, which was taped at Cuca Studios in Sauk City, Wis. Just so you know, the Rhythm Rockers, based in the Copper Country community of Alston, included brothers Dick and John Patana, Mike Kadletz and Larry Sabourne. They're not to be confused with another group with the same name which recorded for Fenton Records of Grand Rapids.

The Excels, based in Marquette, didn't fare much better when their song, "It Isn't So," came out on CD in 2004. The group of Northern Michigan University students banded together in 1964 and cut a series of five 45 rpm records for the Carla label. They toured extensively, appeared on stage with many "name" groups and performed on several high-profile rock 'n' roll television programs of the era.

The Arf! Arf! label, headquartered in Middleborough, Mass., included the Excels' track on a various artists disc titled "Sigh Cry Die." Unfortunately, the liner notes only reproduce the single's record label and offer no other information about the group. But, to let you know, the song was cut during the band's first recording session in lower Michigan, along with "Run Girl Run." The songs, written by band members Terry Quirk and Clark Sullivan, were witheld by the label, finally being released as the band's last single.

"Michigan Mayhem, Vol. 2," contains two tracks by Upper Peninsula groups and a slight improvement in the liners. Amongst the 29 songs on this compact disc are "Girl Talk" by Rob Kirk and the Word and "Is Love Real?" by the Henchmen VI. The notes correctly state that Kirk's hometown is Sault Ste. Marie and claim that some copies of his 45 were issued with the song credited to "Bob" Kirk. In actuality, not much is known about Kirk, who was murdered in 1983. Music researchers today are still trying to locate any member of his band.

This CD's liner notes state that original copies of the 45 rpm single by the Henchmen VI are difficult to find because many of the discs were damaged in shipment. The band was based in Ontonagon, but the liner notes completely butcher the spelling of that tiny Upper Peninsula community.

The Henchmen's track, and the flipside, "All of the Day," appear on a CD called "Garagemental: The Cuca Records Story, Vol. 2." Both songs were composed by lead vocalist Scott Heinski.

With 26 tracks, the collection also includes four songs recorded by Joey Gee and the Come-Ons, led by Iron Mountain native Joe Giannunzio. This CD, released on the Ace label in 2006, contains rather thorough information on both U. P. groups. The disc contains "She's Mean" and "Till The End of Time," both written by singer Giannunzio. Two cover songs, "Jenny, Jenny" and "Little Latin Lupe Lu," are also included in the package. Neither of those energy-filled work-outs had been previously released.

Several CDs are available with songs featuring the guitar playing of Menominee's Gerry Cain. "Back From the Grave, Vol. 8" includes the 1960s punk classic "Can't Tame Me" by Cain's group, the Benders. This CD's liner notes are praiseworthy and even contain a photo of the Benders on stage.

Cain followed up that immortal two minutes of noise with another hard-hitting 45 by his group, Why Four. A set titled "Essential Pebbles Collection, Vol. 2," contains his original tune, "Hard Life" and a cover of the Buddy Holly classic "Not Fade Away," also waxed by the Rolling Stones. The liner notes apologize for the lack of information.

CD's containing vintage tracks recorded by U. P. rock bands are certainly worth owning, but not necessarily easy come by. "In Wyrd," the legendary song recorded by Sault Ste. Marie's Renaissance Fair, has been re-issued on a CD called "Psychedelic Experience, Vol. 3," by a record company in Sweden. Reportedly, only 1,000 copies of the compilation were pressed, making it extremely hard to find today.

"Rosanna" by the Capreez, included the saxophone work
of Greg Kobe from the Upper Peninsula community of L'Anse.

Collectors may be interested in several other CDs which include 1960s tracks by groups which featured members from the U. P. "Michigan Memories, Vol. 1," contains "Rosanna," by the Capreez, a Detroit outfit which included L'Anse's Greg Kobe on saxophone. The track was a hit in southeastern Michigan in the summer of 1966, getting airplay on WKNR and WXYZ. The song also made some commotion in the U. P. because Kobe had been a member of the Vigilantes, based in the Copper Country.

About the same time, a couple of musicians with U. P. ties were making their presence felt in southern California. Drummer John Truckey of Sault Ste. Marie and lead guitarist Dick Allen of L'Anse were members of a quartet based in Green Bay which decided to try their luck in Los Angeles. They dubbed themselves the Green Beans and dyed their hair an eye-catching emerald color to drive the point home.

The gimmick worked. They soon signed a recording contract with Mike Curb. With Curb producing, the band recorded two singles which appeared in 1966. "Friction"/"Superstition" was issued on the Mercury label, while "Who Needs You"/"Knock on My Door" came out on Tower. The "A" sides of the two singles are included on the compact disc "Pebbles: Southern California 1," which was released by Archive International Productions.

About this time, Curb also produced and co-wrote "Blues Theme," a hit for Davie Allan and the Arrows from the film "The Wild Angels," starring Peter Fonda.

Curb became president of MGM Records in 1969 and was elected lieutenant governor of California in 1978. The Green Beans, meanwhile, faded into rock 'n' roll history, although their songs remain available on compact disc for everyone to enjoy.

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