Monday, March 27, 2023

Bob Kuban and the In-men, Our Local Band


The St. Louis area spawned many famous musicians, most notably Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner and more recently Michael McDonald, who graduated from McClure High School, in Florissant, Mo. I had already graduated from McClure before he entered high school, so I'm sorry to say, I didn't know him. In North St. Louis in the mid '60s the local band that made the big-time was Bob Kuban and the In-Men. If you've heard of them, you are either familiar with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's one hit wonder list or you’re from the St. Louis area or you have an incredible amount of rock and roll trivia rambling around in your brain. I'm guilty of all three.

Bob Kuban was the drummer and band leader of the In-Men. On Friday nights during the summer, his band would play at Jackson Park, a relatively small park in Berkeley, a north St. Louis suburb. Jackson Park hosted a variety of local bands during the hot St. Louis summer nights. In the summers of 1964 and 1965, my friends and I would go back and forth between Jackson Park and the local YMCA where there was usually a band playing as well. But when Bob Kuban and the In-Men were playing at Jackson Park, we tried not to miss it. It was a first-rate band.

The Beatles and the British bands were taking over America at that time and they were the major influence on popular music. Bob Kuban's band was not your typical band of the era. It had more in common with the earlier rhythm and blues bands of Ike Turner, Wilson Picket and James Brown. In an interview, Kuban states that Ike Turner was a big influence on him and his formation of the band. As a footnote, in 1951 before Tina joined him, Ike Turner's band was called The Kings of Rhythm. They recorded a song called Rocket 88 which some believe was the very first rock and roll song.

Bob Kuban had an eight-piece band with horns, drums and keyboard, which was played by Greg Hoeltzel, who lived in my neighborhood. The lead singer was Walter Scott, who had a great voice for that style of music. During those two summers we listened to our local band, knowing they were a cut above the other local groups, playing in their unique St. Louis style. This was several years before Chicago, originally called (Chicago Transit Authority) and Blood Sweat and Tears would bring the big band sound back to popular music. In 1966 Bob Kuban and the In-Men hit it big with The Cheater. The song was all over the radio for months. That year we watched our local guys on national TV, but their run was short lived. They had only a few other songs that got national play, Teaser, and a cover of a Beatles song Drive My Car. I also remember hearing a song called Jerkin' Time and the Bat Man Theme on the radio as well, but they may have just been popular locally.

Walter Scott left the band shortly after The Cheater's popularity to pursue a solo career. He never had another hit song, but in his repertoire, he sang (Look out for The Cheater) over and over again in a variety of performance venues. In 1983, when Bob Kuban was trying to get the original band back together for a reunion concert, he discovered that Walter Scott was missing. Scott was found 4 years later floating face down in a cistern with his ankles, knees and wrists bound. He had been shot through the heart from the back. In one of life's ironic turns, it was discovered that his murderers were his “cheater” wife and her "cheater" boyfriend. There was a Forensic Files TV show about it, as well as a book written titled The Cheaters: The Walter Scott Murder by Scottie Piesmeyer.

I don’t know if Bob Kuban still has his band. He would be in his 80s today. I read that not too long ago, the Bob Kuban Brass played a summer evening gig at Jackson Park and invited all the fans to come out for old time's sake. I would have liked to have been there. I live out west and haven't been back to St. Louis since 2002. But I still have memories of those hot summer evenings in the '60s at Jackson Park, listening to our local band that made the big-time.

Here's a link to The Cheater

(131) The Cheater (Remastered) - YouTube


The Birth of Motown

In 1957 Barry Gordy went to an audition with Jackie Wilson’s manager to hear a local group called the Matadors. Their lead singer was a 17-year-old Smokey Robinson. At the time, Gordy was writing and producing songs in Detroit for artists on a variety of record labels, most famously Wilson’s hit song Lonely Teardrops. Wilson’s manager declined to sign the Matadors, but Gordy saw potential in the young singer and his group. Gordy discovered that Smokey already had hundreds of songs written in a notebook and Gordy helped him craft the best ones. 

Gordy wanted to start his own independent music label and Smokey had the passion and creative talent to help make it happen. So, Gordy made Smokey his vice president and together they formed Motown records. They bought a photographic studio in Detroit and converted the downstairs into a recording studio and business office. Gordy lived upstairs. He called the house, Hitsville USA and that’s exactly what came out of it, hit after hit. 

In 1960 they had their first million selling record, Shop Around written by Smokey and performed by “Smokey (Bill) Robinson and the Miracles”(changed from Matadors). Between 1961 and 1971, Motown had 110 top ten hits from their all-black artists, which included: the Miracles, the Marvelettes(who had Motown’s first #1 hit on the pop charts with Please Mr. Postman), the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, and Martha and the Vandellas.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Elders of Green Valley, The Silent Generation


View from our patio

Katie and I moved back to Arizona, but this time as snowbirds, splitting our time between Washington and Green Valley. We were in our sixties when we lived here before and the folks of the WWII Generation were the elders in this community of people 55 years and up. The youngest of that generation would now be 97 years old, so there are not many left, and those who are, don’t get out a lot. The Silent Generation, those people born between 1928 and 1945, was the dominant group, while Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, were the youngsters.

Now Boomers are the dominant group, the youngest is 59 and the oldest 77. The evidence of this Boomer take-over is everywhere. Walking the desert trails, I’m occasionally flashed the two-finger peace sign by another walker. It always takes me by surprise and I usually just give a normal wave. Many men still display their “freak flags”, with tiny thin pony tails or facial hair. The other day, I was standing in line at the grocery store and the elderly woman in front of me had long straight white hair and was wearing a colorful skirt down to her ankles. She reeked of patchouli oil, which transported me mentally back to the Oregon Country Fair in the 70s, where the dominant smells were patchouli and cannabis. We’ve attended three different music venues since we’ve been here and all the music was 50s and early 60s rock & roll.

The youngest Boomers have more in common with Gen-Xers. They were too young to remember Watergate and when the boys came of military age, the draft had already ended, so, unless they lost a loved one, the Vietnam War had little impact on their lives. The oldest Gen-Xer would be 58 and they are beginning to show up here as well. I see them holding hands, walking with a spring in their step, newly retired, hopeful, bright-eyed and bushytailed.  

The Silent Generation(SG), also referred to as Traditionalists, are the elders now. They were children during the Great Depression and the end of WWII. Couples during this time were not having a lot of babies, so they are a comparatively small generation.  As children they were strictly managed by their parents (seen but not heard) as opposed to the later more promiscuous Boomers and Gen-X children. Radio was their dominant form of entertainment. Women entered the workforce in record numbers and unions became strong and dominant in the work place. SGs inherited the values of their parents-- conformity, hard work, religiosity and early marriage. But times were changing and for the first time in American history, divorce became legal and more culturally accepted, so this generation has the highest divorce rate in US history. Communism was on the rise in the world and Joseph McCarthy attempted to root out communist leaning individuals in all walks of life. SGs made up the majority of soldiers in the Korean War. Because of these national events, this generation is described as being conservative and cautious.

And yet, this cautious and conservative generation had a rebellious undercurrent that erupted in the 1950s.  In the 1953 movie “The Wild One”, Marlon Brando’s character, the biker gang leader, was asked by another character, “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”, and he replied “What have you got?”. The 1955 movie “Rebel Without a Cause”, starring James Dean, captured the alienation, angst and confusion felt by teenage SGs. From this generation sprung the civil rights movement, which later morphed into the 60s peace movement and protests against the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King and John Lewis were SGs. The Beatniks were a 50s phenomenon, a counter-culture movement whose expression was seen in literature, art and music. They laid the foundation for the Hippies of the 60s.  

The “Beat Generation” or “Beatniks” were anti-establishment and anti-materialism. Their music was jazz by musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and their writers were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gary Snyder among others. They embraced eastern philosophy and adopted the lifestyle of the “Lost Generation” writers and French existentialists of the 20s. Some dressed in black tight outfits, horned rimmed glasses and berets and they gathered in coffee houses and listened to poetry readings or acoustic music with accompanying bongos.  My introduction to Beatniks as a child was the Maynard G. Krebs character on the TV show “The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis”, played by Bob Denver. Later I read Kerouac’s book “On the Road”. In Greenwich Village, the coffee house scene transformed in the early 60s into the folk revival movement of Silent Generation musicians like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Eric Andersen, Tom Rush, Tim Harden, and Leonard Cohen as well as John Sebastian(The Lovin Spoonful), Roger Mcguinn(The Byrds) and Cass Elliot(Mamas and the Papas).

Ken Kesey, an SG, was a direct bridge between the Beatniks and the Hippies. In 1964, he and the Merry Pranksters drove a psychedelically painted 1939 International Harvester school bus they named “Further”, across the country, smoking marijuana and dropping LSD. They stopped in small towns and visited with (or more like intimidated) the locals along the way. Neal Cassady, who Kerouac’s side kick character was based on in “On the Road”, was one of the Merry Pranksters. The “trip” was immortalized in Tom Wolf’s book “The Electric Cool-aid Acid Test”.

All the early rock & rollers were from the Silent Generation, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Ricky Nelson. All are dead now. Don Everly just died in 2021.

I was surprised to learn that even the second wave of rock & roll in the 60s was launched by a bunch of Silent Generation artists--the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jerry Garcia, Surf Music inventor Dick Dale, as well as the Beach Boys(except the youngest of the Wilson brothers Carl was a Boomer) and Jan and Dean.   

Even though rock & roll was invented and carried on by individuals of the Silent Generation, it was the Boomers who made up the majority of the audience and claimed the music as their own. By the time of the British invasion in 1964, most of the SGs were married and working at their jobs, too busy to pay much attention to the music. But the hordes of Boomers just coming of age, latched on to the music and it became the sound track of our lives.