Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wisconsin bands impacted U. P.

The Robbs were successful recording artists
in the mid-west, including the Upper Peninsula, but
never enjoyed a nationally-ranked hit single.


Wisconsin rock bands, such as the Robbs and Love Society, held influence in the Upper Peninsula during the late 1960s.

Milwaukee's Robbs, and Love Society, from Plymouth, earned radio airplay and enjoyed retail record sales propelling their appearance at widely-attended teen dances.

Although neither group placed a 45 rpm single on the national Billboard Hot 100 chart, their popularity can be traced through regional sales rankings compiled at the time.

Veteran Escanaba musician Greg Curran recently found a cache of weekly charts he picked up at area record outlets from Sept. 12, 1966 through Jan. 31, 1972.

Printed by Record City, 5600 W. North Ave., Milwaukee, the 1966 issues are titled "The New Mid-Western 40 Plus 40 Official Record Guide."

At a glance, music fans could see the region's top 80 songs, including a hit of the week, up & comers; and the coveted No. 1.

The guide was available as a customer hand-out at record retailers around the mid-west, including the Upper Peninsula. Curran could examine the report each week to look for songs his band, the Riot Squad, might want to add to their set list.

By January, 1967 the publication was renamed "Hot Happenings Record Guide" and listed "Bittersweet" by the Robbs in the No. 4 position. The Robbs comprised David Donaldson (guitar and vocals), brother Robert (organ), brother George (sax) and Craig Krampf (drums). For the sake of the band, they were named Dee, Bruce, Joe and Craig Robb.

Recorded for Mercury Records, "Bittersweet" was written and produced by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri. The third single released by the group, "Bittersweet" remained on "Hot Happenings" into April.

The Robbs quickly followed with "Rapid Transit"/"Cynthia Loves It," the hit of the week while ranked at No. 16 on May 1, 1967. The double-sided smash loomed large at No. 2 on May 29, edged out of the top spot by Engelbert Humperdinck's "Release Me."

When "Girl Girls" only made a slight showing in the fall, Mercury dropped the Robbs. Still, they returned in the spring of 1968 with "I Don't Want To Discuss It" on Atlantic Records. The record barely cracked the top half of "Hot Happenings" at No. 38 on May 27, 1968. A successor, "Changin' Winds," also failed to impress the record-buying public.

The Robbs didn't get a nationally-charting record, but they did draw the attention of Dick Clark, who hired them as house band on the television show "Where The Action Is."

As Upper Peninsula fans embraced the Robbs, Escanaba promoter Gene Smiltneck signed them to perform at a teen dance at Teamsters Hall, 900 1st Ave. S. Smiltneck remembered a large and enthusiastic crowd, but his biggest attraction turned out to be Love Society.

Smiltneck estimated Love Society attracted 900 young fans to a dance held circa June, 1969.

Love Society was comprised of Dave Steffen (lead guitar), Mike Holdridge (organ), Keith Abler (rhythm guitar), Steve Gilles (bass) and Mike Dellger (drums).

They recorded a version of "Do You Wanna Dance," originally a No. 5 hit for Bobby Freeman in 1958. Appearing a Scepter Records, the single was backed by a Steffen-Dellger composition entitled "Without You."

"Do You Wanna Dance" was marked as an up & comer at No. 76 when it debuted on the "Hot Happenings" dated July 8, 1968. Mid-west sales pushed the song up each week until it peaked at No. 21 on Sept. 23, 1968.

Love Society's next single was "Tobacco Road," written by J. D. Loudermilk. The song had been a career-maker in 1964 for the Nashville Teens, actually a British group. The Love Society take on "Tobacco Road" first entered the "Hot Happenings" chart at No. 67 on Dec. 23, 1968.

During its stay on the chart, "Tobacco Road" was also ranked with the flipside, "Drops of Rain," another Steffen-Dellger original. The double-sided hit made No. 22 on Feb. 3, 1969 and may have risen further since some of the weekly "Hot Happenings" from this period are missing.

About the time Love Society performed in Escanaba, "Let's Pretend" was released on the Target label. The record stalled at No. 41, according to the "Hot Happenings" dated July 14 and 21, 1969.

Other Wisconsin bands also snagged airplay and retail record sales in the Upper Peninsula.

Thee Prophets, from Milwaukee, made an impression in the mid-west with "Playgirl." Comprised of lead singer Brian Lake, Jim Anderson, Dave Leslie and Chris Michaels, Thee Prophets recorded for the Kapp imprint.

"Playgirl" registered No. 21 on the March 24, 1969 mid-western record guide and sparked enough interest around the country to get into Billboard's national ranking at No. 49.

The Unchained Mynds, meanwhile, never made the Billboard Hot 100, despite nearly topping the mid-western "Hot Happenings" chart with "We Can't Go On This Way."

Hailing from LaCrosse, the group was comprised of Randy Purdy (keyboards), Wayne Bentzen (guitar), Clare Troyanek (bass) and Dan Hansen (drums).

Originally a Top Ten regional hit for Boston's Teddy and the Pandas, the Unchained Mynds' version of "We Can't Go On This Way" was recorded for the independent Transaction label. Produced by Lindy Shannon, the 45's B side featured a bluesy take on Wayne Cochran's "Going Back to Miami."

"We Can't Go On This Way," was listed at No. 2 on the "Hot Happenings" chart for April 21, 1969, behind "Hair" by the Cowsills. The Unchained Mynds cooled, then surged again. On May 26, 1969 they were in second place again, kept out of the top position by the Beatles' twin smash, "Get Back"/"Don't Let Me Down."

On the other hand, Underground Sunshine borrowed a Beatles song to record. The Montello, Wisconsin, group saw promise in "Birthday," which opened side three of the "White Album."

Underground Sunshine was comprised of Egbert Kohl (bass and vocal), Frank Kohl (drums), Chris Connors (guitar) and Jane Little (keyboards).

Their recording of "Birthday," on Intrepid Records was listed on the regional level at No. 16 on Sept. 1, 1969. The 45 generated enough interest beyond the mid-west to get a No. 26 position on the Billboard Hot 100.

Thee Prophets, Unchained Mynds and Underground Sunshine made an impact in the U. P. with radio airplay and record sales, while the Robbs and Love Society added live performances to the mix.

These bands provided a welcome provincial flavor to the rock 'n' roll of the period, usually cast on a national level.

Thanks to the 107 "Hot Happenings" record guides collected by Greg Curran, we now have a more accurate glimpse into the late 1960s music scene, when regional and local hits were still possible.


Anonymous said...

I don't know who originally recorded "We Can't Go On This Way" but it is on a Guess Who album "BORN IN CANADA" from 1969.

Anonymous said...

You can hear many of these bands at

Anonymous said...

Teddy and the Pandas had a huge local hit and just missed the top 100( 103) 5 weeks in Aug-Sept 66' in Billboard one of my favorite songs from 66' Ed

Anonymous said...

Ooops that was with We Can't Go On This Way