Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Garage Bands I Have Known!

A still from the new film Not Fade Away
The new movie Not Fade Away jogs my memory back to 1964 when the band The Rooks first took the stage in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  I haven't seen Not Fade Away yet--it's only playing in downtown Chicago-- but from what I've seen online, I lived that movie's story.

A couple of suburban kids decide to form a group.  They do.  The band prospers, but egos get in the way.  The band breaks up, and the musicians move to different bands and begin anew.  From 1964-1968 that was my scenario.  In fact I lived it many, many times!

So this morning when I received a "Happy New Year" wish on Facebook from former bandmate Hamilton "Tip" Hale, I was transported back to December 31, 1965, when Tip and I, along with John Baldwin, Mark Smith, and Jamie Pennebaker played at Mickey Cox's raucous New Year's Eve party on South Walkup Street in Crystal Lake.  We were the garage band called Aristotle and the Aminal Crackers, and we rocked the world that night!

I wish every New Year's Eve could be like 1965's.  Seventeen years old.  No responsibility.  Running wild and playing rock 'n roll music every blankin' day of the week.

How did I get in a garage band anyway?

Flash back further to the fall of 1964 and the delicatessen on Virginia St. in Crystal Lake, just across the street from Blanche Moan's grill.  Steve Brown worked there manning the snack counter, and I used to hang out at "the del" just so I could get away from my old man who was constantly on my ass about everything--hair, work, shitty grades, and not helping out around the house.  "The del" was only a couple of blocks away from home, and it became a place of refuge for me.  I was there all the time!

Brown, who was in the class ahead of me and who played the drums, started talking to me one day about forming a rock band.  He had already approached Mike Walkup and Tim McPike, who were both in the Class of '67, a year behind me, about playing with him.

Steve was sitting behind the yellow formica counter and started talking about his rock 'n roll plans.

"Rona, can you play guitar?" Steve asked me.

"No, but I took piano lessons in fifth and sixth grades," I told him.

"What?  You're kidding!" he said.  "Can you play the electric organ?"

"I'm not sure.  It's just like the piano isn't it?"

"Wow!  Two guitars, drums, and an organ.  That would be great!"  Steve jumped up and started excitedly pacing back and forth behind the counter.

"But I haven't played regularly in years, Steve," I told him.  "I do have a piano at home though."

"Go home and practice, and I'll bring Walkup and McPike over in a few days and we'll listen to you," Steve said.

When Brown, McPike, and Walkup came over to my parents' house to hear me, I played them "Rockin' Robin" on the piano, and they immediately asked me to join their new band, The Rooks.

My Danelectro amp.

A few weeks later, I found myself in Walkup's basement with a crappy organ that I was able to talk my parents into buying me at the music store at Meadowdale Shopping Center.  The store technician had installed microphone pick-ups in the organ, but I couldn't jack the sound up high enough to compete with the guitars because the organ would feed back through my used Danelectro amplifier.  It was a mess!

In another two weeks The Rooks played their first job at Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin, where Steve's sister went to school.  Then we were asked to play a dance in the lower gym in at Crystal Lake Community High School.  But my organ was still a problem because nobody could hear it.

My Farfisa Combo Compact
Brown, Walkup, and McPike were going to kick me out of the band unless I got a new organ.  About this time, in early 1965, Paul Revere and the Raiders had released the songs "Steppin' Out" and "Just Like Me," and the Raiders were all over television.  Paul Revere played a bright, candy apple red Farfisa Combo Compact electric organ.  So did Sam of Sam the Sham and the Pharaoahs, the group that did "Wooly Bully." The Medowdale music store had one in stock for $700.00.  Big money in late spring of 1965!  In fact, $5,100 in 2013 dollars!
Sam the Sham playing the candy apple red Farfisa organ.

Believe it or not, I was able to persuade my mother and father (mostly my mom--she was the musician in the family) to buy the Farfisa for me on credit. 

I can still see the bright red Farfisa sitting in Brown's basement the very first time I set it up in late spring of '65.  All of the sudden, I had become a valuable commodity in the band.  We had a great time playing together too!  Donna Brown's eight grade graduation party, the eighth grade dance at Lundahl Jr. High, Candy Kirchberg's birthday party behind the cart shack at Crystal Lake Country Club.  The gigs just kept on coming.

However, the Rooks broke up mid summer of '65 because I left to join the best band in Crystal Lake, The Jades, which was made up of Dick Lockwood, Gary Burhmann, Al Sherwood, and Mike Wienke.  The Jades played all over the county, including Vern Seaquist's famous summer party in Lakewood at Gate 21 in August of 1965.

But those guys in the Jades all got drafted that fall so that was the end of that band.  I still had another year of high school. 

The Remains:  From L-R:  Mark Smith, John Baldwin, Tim McPike, Jim Wyman, and "Tip" Hale (March 1966).
In fall of 1965, I joined Aristotle and the Aminal Crackers, which consisted of Tip Hale, Jamie Pennebaker, Mark Smith, and John Baldwin.  Baldwin and I had played Babe Ruth League baseball together.  Hale's and my mom's families were early settlers in the county, so my mom knew Tip's dad.  And Jamie Pennebaker was my neighbor on Eagle St.  We had grown up together!  Smith is another story for another day--he became a serial killer!

Jamie's mom worked nights at the Pinemoor, a neighborhood bar and pizza joint, so the band could practice, play cards, and drink beer to our hearts' content at Jamie's house without any adult interference.  Rubber Soul by the Beatles had just been released, and I remember sitting at the kitchen table playing cards and listening to "Norwegian Wood."  Aristotle and the Aminal Crackers were pretty darn good too!  Sometime that winter, Pennebaker was out of the band and Tim McPike, who I had played with in the Rooks, was in.  I don't remember how or why Jamie Pennebaker was replaced.  Aristotle and the Animal Crackers now became The Remains.

Vox Buckingham amplifier
I never made any money playing for the Remains because all the amps and the P.A. were bought on credit by Mark Smith's mom so all the money from the gigs went to pay off the interest on the loan.  I had a sweet Vox Buckingham amplifier, but had to give it back to Smith when the band broke up the summer of 1966.

Sears Silvertone amp.  Crosby, Stills, and Nash still were using one the last time I saw them in 2007.
I replaced the Buckingham with  a Silvertone amp from Sears that I got second-hand from a guy I worked with at the Terra Cotta plant.  My time in Crystal Lake was up, however, as I was off to Western Illinois University.  It was time for college!

I left my Farfisa and my amp at home when I traipsed off to WIU.  The break-up of the Remains had left a sour taste in my mouth because I had played my ass off and had made zero money.  But I was still playing music in my spare time.

I didn't know it then, but I am very caffeine-sensitive.  Every night I would drink a Coke before bed and then be unable to sleep.  So I would grab my music books and go downstairs to the Ravine Room in Lincoln-Washington Towers (Lincoln was my dorm) and play the piano at two in the morning.

There was normally no one down there, but one night these two hippy-type guys came over to the piano and started firing requests at me.  I played them all!  The two guys were Ed Fischer and Paul Cooler, who had been members of the band The Vectors during the previous school year.  Fischer and Cooler were both sophomores at WIU; I was a freshman.

The Shadows of Knight:  Joe Kelley is center in the back.
Joe Kelley, who played with the Shadows of Knight on their hit record "Gloria" had been in the Vectors the previous year at WIU with Fischer and Cooler along with Roger Vail and Buzzy Graham (townies from Macomb) so when Fischer and Cooler told me they wanted me to help them form a band, I agreed on the spot. The Shadows of Knight were legendary in the northwest suburbs, and getting the chance to play with guys who played with Joe Kelley was a lot closer to the big time than I had ever been.

I headed back to Crystal Lake that weekend with Charlie Schott in his '49 Ford, got my Farfisa and my amp, and joined the band at WIU called The Remaining Few.  Cooler was lead guitar, Fischer sang and played drums, and Buzzy Graham played the bass.

The Remaining Few, playing at a Saturday night dance in the Corbin-Olson cafeteria at Western Illinois University--fall of 1966. L-R: Jim "Rona" Wyman (organ), Ed Fischer (drums), Buzz Graham (bass), Paul Cooler (lead guitar).

 When I say the money began rolling in, I'm not exaggerating.  We played gigs every Friday and Saturday night.  Dances at the union, frat parties, high school proms and post-proms--you name it, we played it!  I was able to pay a lot of my college expenses with money I made from playing in The Remaining Few. 

The Remaining Few's first gig was at the Teen-a-Go-Go in the small town of Blandinsville, about a half-hour north of Macomb.  Buzzy Graham's girlfriend, Bev Cookson, got us the gig, and a bunch of my buddies from Crystal Lake, including Craig Knaack and Danny Treptow, came up to see us play.  Treptow had played in a competing band in high school back in Crystal Lake.

Well, the local Blandinsville girls started to dig on the college boys and began asking them to dance.  The local boys from Blandinsville objected to their girls dancing with the college boys so a big fight broke out.  We were playing "Stepping Stone" by the Monkees when the fur started flying.  Blandinsville had one cop, and he arrived to break up the fight and threw the college boys out.

The Remaining Few evolved as Buzzy was replaced by Bob Palazoa, and John "Bobo" Rosemond took over as lead singer.  Bobo, like Mark Smith, is famous today.  He is a noted child psychologist who has appeared on 60 Minutes.

The Remaining Few on the steps of Grote Hall, Western Illinois University, March 1967.  L to R:  Jim (Rona) Wyman (organ), Bob Palazoa (Zoa) (bass guitar), Paul Cooler (lead guitar), John (Bobo) Rosemond (vocals), Ed Fischer (drums) (Courier Photo by Kay Chin).
The Remaining Few played two gigs that are somewhat famous in western Illinois rock 'n roll histroy.  First, we replaced the Buckinghams as the featured band at the University Union Winter Concert in January 1967.  The Buckinghams couldn't get out of Chicago because of the famous blizzard.  I can remember seeing kids dancing for what seemed like miles as we played on that cold winter night in the University Union's Grand Ballroom.

Second, The Remaining Few opened for Saturday's Children and the Shadows of Knight in a concert at Robert Morris College in Carthage in May of 1967.  Cooler and Fischer had a happy reunion with Joe Kelley that night, and we partied long and hard with the two bands.  Both the Shadows of Knight and Saturday's Children came out of the Cellar, the most famous Chicago teen dance club in northwest suburban Arlington Heights.

Cooler and Palazoa left WIU, Fischer got married, and in the fall of 1967, I began playing with Roger Vail, who had been in the Vectors with Fischer, Cooler, and Graham.  This is my Roccoco Period in Garage Band annals.  There were just three of us in the band, Vail was the main guy, and we played the Showboat Strip Club as the house band--not a very happy time.

But during the summer of '67 I did reunite with Tim McPike, who was playing in a great band from McHenry.  We even had a chance to cut a record, but I headed back to college trying to avoid the draft.

Terry Cox
Other then jamming once in a while, my music career ended in 1968.  But I still remember giving Terry Cox, Mickey Cox's sister, a soul kiss at midnight on December 31, 1965.  That kiss wouldn't have happened without me being in a garage band.

And that kiss is a good memory to recall on January 2, 2013.  A very good memory!


  1. Wow Rona I remember Micky Cox's party too.
    When we played together the band was called Aristotle and the Aminal Crackers. Because of copyrights Animal was intentionally misspelled. They were a New York band Tip had seen. I left because you guys wanted me to play bass and you were talking about trading in your gear for new Vox stuff. I already had a Fender Jazzmaster guitar and a Bandmaster amp. That's when Tim joined and Tip switched to bass and you guys became the Remains.
    Ironically I joined the Pack with Mike Walkup in the summer of 66 as a bass player. We sucked but worked a lot at high schools in Boone and Dekalb counties. We were union and made scale, lots of money in those days.
    Anyway those sure were good times.

  2. Jamie, I fixed the posting to reflect Aristotle and the Aminal Crackers. I hope we can get together and jam soon. Rona

  3. I still think we need to come back as The Remains of The Remains or the Crumbs of the Aminal Crackers. We would look good with our gray hair. Rona, you bring back some fond memories.

  4. Wonderful memories of The Cellar but even more so of New Place. Great bands and friends!

  5. Bev Cookson ChenaultFebruary 9, 2013 at 2:10 AM

    It's the middle of the night and insomnia has struck again. I was browsing and got to wondering whatever happened to Brillo and the Firebirds, believe it or not. So I Googled it. Anyway, long story short, it lead to me to wondering whatever happened to Roger Vail, and lo and behold, it popped up. The Vectors, the Remaining Few, Fischer, Cooler, and Rona. Seems like a million years ago. How about a little "My Generation"? Loved you guys doing that song! Great band, great memories, even for a silly high school kid.

    1. Hey, Bev,
      Glad you are still out there. I remember having dinner in Blandinsville with your whole family before we played. If you want to e-mail me, I'm at
      Hope to hear from you.
      "Hope I die before I get old!"

  6. It's me, Ace. For some reason this site never lets me post as anything but Anomonous....

    Wow, this band history really takes me back.

    I remember seeing you play with most of those bands - and that's something, considering that most of that time span is somewhat hazy.

    "Hope I die before I get old!" Well I sure missed that - I never thought I'd make it to 21, but here I am 65.

  7. Rona,

    Those are great stories! The only bands I remember hearing at CLCHS were The Bleach Boys (Bill Gronow and some other guys, all wearing bleach blond wigs and singing surf songs in 1965) and The Burgundys(Burgundies?) (Craig Knaack, Jack Odell and others). Those were the days!

    I feel funny posting this right after Curt (Ace) Esser's posting of February 15, 2013, considering you and I were both at his memorial service yesterday. I really enjoyed looking at the album full of pictures of him playing his guitar in his younger years. Take care and keep on rockin'!

  8. Roger Vail AKA Dr. Longhair playing in 2 bands out of Princeville, Il Jan 2015
    rlv100@ Lives in Wyoming Il