Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Galaxies 'courted national fame'

The Galaxies captured their rock 'n' roll style
in this photograph which depicts, from left, Greg Winn,
Andy Abraham, Bernie Michelli and Danny Sullivan.


Ironwood-based rock 'n' roll group The Galaxies courted national fame when they issued two 45 rpm records fifty years ago.

Their first single was produced by rock star Jimmy Bowen, while the follow-up was issued by a New York City label which had recently placed two songs in the Top Ten.

The group consisted of Greg Winn, lead guitar; Danny Sullivan, lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Andy Abraham, bass; and Bernie Michelli, drums. Winn and Sullivan were classmates at St. Ambrose High School in Ironwood, Abraham hailed from nearby Hurley, Wis., and Michelli, a bit older than the others, lived with his wife in Bessemer.

The Galaxies were managed by local radio personality Dick "Nite Train" Williamson, who occasionally brought national acts to entertain in the western Upper Peninsula.

Dick "Nite Train" Williamson

It was at one of those shows that the Galaxies met Bowen, who had written the 1957 smash hit "Party Doll" with Buddy Knox.

Originally the flip-side to "Party Doll," Bowen had his own hit with "I'm Stickin' With You," which he recorded with the Rhythm Orchids.

Bowen took a shine to the Galaxies, telling them he would produce a single for them at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis.

Seeing an opportunity too good to pass up, the young musicians made the 185-mile trip to one of Minnesota's top independent recording studios, located at 2541 Nicollet Ave.

Owned by Daniel and Amos Heilicher, the company also included the Soma Records label.

Bobby Vee and the Shadows recorded "Suzie Baby," their first hit, at Kay Bank in 1959, while the hit version of "Muleskinner Blues" by the Fendermen was taped there the following year.

For their seven-inch single, the Galaxies waxed two original tunes. "If You Want To Be My Baby" was the A side and "Ad Lib" was the flip.

Singer Sullivan composed the first number, while the latter was an instrumental piece written by guitarist Winn.

Although the group only played as the Galaxies, the 45 credited "If You Want to be My Baby" to Danny and the Galaxies.

The record was issued as Darbo 1595, apparently the only sides to ever appear on the label. The songs were published by "Kooba Publishing," while Darbo was listed as a division of "Kooba Enterprises, Inc."

Although it's estimated only 300 to 500 copies of the disc were manufactured, the Galaxies were now elevated to "recording artists," separating them from ordinary garage bands.

In an advertisement in the Ironwood Daily Globe, the band was pictured under the banner "Home Town Boys Make Good!" Area residents were invited to hear the record over Radio Station WJMS-AM 590 and attend a live afternoon performance at Johnson Music Store by "the Range's first recording group."

The Darbo record earned the Galaxies a gig at the ornate Ironwood Theatre, built in 1928. The movie palace presented two complete band performances at 7 and 9 p. m. along with the thrilling 1959 motion picture "Speed Crazy," starring Brett Halsey. All seats were 75 cents, according to a newspaper advertisement.

Another "teen show" featured the Galaxies "on stage in person" along with two movies: "Frankenstein's Daughter" and "Missile to the Moon," both originally released in 1958.

The Galaxies also played plenty of teen dances. They performed at the Ironwood Memorial Building for a "rock 'n roll dance" with their manager Dick "Nite Train" Williamson acting as emcee.

On August 7, 1959 the band played at the VFW Hall in west Duluth, for a dance dubbed "Fleet Feet Fling II."

While the Galaxies were hot locally, they snagged a recording contract with Carlton Record Corp., founded in 1959. Joe Carlton's company also owned a subsidiary, the Guaranteed label.

During 1959 and 1960, Paul Evans had four hit singles on Guaranteed including the Top Tens "Seven Little Girls in the Back Seat" and "Happy-Go-Lucky-Me."

While the Carlton/Guaranteed operation was run out of New York City, the Galaxies returned to Kay Bank to cut their new songs.

This time out they taped "My Tattle Tale (I'm Gonna Tell My Mommy on You)" and "Love Has Its Ways."

The first song (and the record's A side) was penned by Sullivan and Winn, while the flip was composed by Abraham and Winn. Both tunes were published by Pambill Music.

"My tattle tale is a cute little girl, my tattle tale she puts your heart in a whirl," Sullivan sang, in a voice recalling Elvis Presley.

Winn added a guitar solo reminiscent of rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran, famous for "Summertime Blues," who had died in a car accident in England on April 17, 1960.

"Love Has Its Way" was written with lyrics, but because no one in the band could sing it to their satisfaction, the song was recorded as an instrumental.

Paired as Guaranteed 216, the platter appeared in 1961.

When the second 45 was issued, Johnson Music Store promoted the event with another ad. "The (Gogebic) Range's own Galaxies flew to New York to make this hit record and signed a record contract with Carlton Record Corp., a national and international house of record hits! We're for them, the teenagers are for them.... we all wish them well," the copy boasted.

The ad urged readers to "be the first to hear and buy this new record." The Galaxies made another in person appearance at the store where they autographed copies of the record on request.

Copies of "My Tattle Tale" were enclosed in a sleeve which asked record buyers to join the Paul Evans Fan Club, although the Galaxies had a national fan club of their own.

In a brief news story, the local daily reported that "My Tattle Tale" was in the "top 60 among records in the Milwaukee area."

The newspaper also noted the Galaxies "have been busy lately making personal appearances in Detroit and Milwaukee."

With two 45s to the credit, the Galaxies traveled to Escanaba to perform at a high school "Holiday Ball" on Dec. 29, 1961. An article in the Escanaban school newspaper noted: "The Galaxies are a nationally known orchestra from Ironwood."

While "My Tattle Tale" was pressed in greater quantities than their first single, and had the backing of the New York label, the record did not become a hit beyond Ironwood.

In the following years, the Galaxies' fame dwindled. They played a dance at the White Birch in Bessemer on June 2, 1966 and at Nora's Bar and Red Carpet Lounge in Hurley on July 28, 1967. The band performed a repeat engagement at Nora's, owned by bassist Abraham's mother, on Aug. 27 and 28, 1971.

In Sept., 2010 came the announcement that manager Dick "Nite Train" Williamson had died in a Palm Desert, Calif. hospital, following a serious fall.

The news brought mention of the Galaxies, who courted national attention five decades ago.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I liked this article. My father was Danny Sullivan the lead vocal in the band. My father died in 1970 when I was 5 years old. I enjoy reading about the galaxies although I dont remember my father. I have a large Galaxy collection and would love to share anything I have if someone whats to know more about the Galaxies. Dan Sullivan