“They showed countless Minnesota musicians that four guys from flyover land could become stars.”
So writes Rick Shefchik in the prologue to his adulatory new book, “Everybody’s Heard About the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ’n’ Roll in Minnesota.”
In that particular passage, the longtime Pioneer Press reporter and columnist is referring to “Surfin’ Bird” hitmakers the Trashmen, who are the centerpiece of his 350-page chronicle of local rock pioneers. However, Shefchik also spreads the love to many other bands of that era that weren’t as successful but were as worthy of making it out of flyover land — from forerunners Augie Garcia and Mike Waggoner & the Bops to the Underbeats, Castaways, Gestures, Rave-Ons, Litter and Dave Brady & the Stars.
Just like “Surfin’ Bird” and the other songs of that era, the best word that could be used to describe Shefchik’s book is simply “fun.” It captures the youthfulness and overriding naiveté of rock’s infancy. Here are eight standout stories that reflect that spirit.
1. Augie Garcia owned 32 pairs of Bermuda shorts. “He was a little bit of a character,” Mike Waggoner is quoted on Garcia, the West St. Paul native who returned home from the Korean War to land Minnesota’s first hit rock ’n’ roll record, 1958’s “Hi Yo Silver.” Garcia donned those goofy shorts as a signature look and needed 32 pairs because, as Shefchik recounts, his band played two shows a night, five nights a week, at the River Road Club in Mendota.
2. “Elston Gunnn” was not fired by Bobby Vee. As is well-known in Bob Dylan lore, a teenage Robert Zimmerman played two shows under his three-n alias with Fargo-reared “Suzie Baby” hitmaker Vee and his band, the Shadows, in 1959. It’s agreed he wasn’t very good, but that’s not why he was let go. “Equipment issues” is how Shefchik glibly refers to the fact that Zimmerman didn’t actually own a piano.
3. Only one band stunk that legendary night in 1964 at Danceland. “When we played, everybody got up and danced. When they played, everybody sat down and had a Coke.” So remembers Waggoner & the Bops bassist Butch Maness of the night they shared a bill with the Rolling Stones on June 12, 1964, at Big Reggie’s Danceland in Excelsior, an account substantiated by many other attendees — including Mick Jagger last summer at TCF Bank Stadium.
4. The Trashmen dealt with a lot of trashed crowds. Right after “Surfin’ Bird” became a hit, the band was often hit on and/or just hit when they played to heavily drinking crowds at such outlets as the Showboat Ballroom outside Luverne, Minn., or Woodley’s Country Dam near Amery, Wis. “The girls would be smiling and winking at you,” guitarist Tony Andreason remembers, “and the guys were waiting for you at the end of the night.”
5. Marriage didn’t exactly suit the matching-suited rock stars at first. Trashmen guitarist Dal Winslow says in the book that he and the late Steve Wahrer both married young to avoid getting drafted: “That didn’t last very long.” Andreason, who had already served, was supposed to be married but called it off when his bride-to-be wouldn’t put off the big date to accommodate his tour dates. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” the book recounts him saying.
6. A questionable “knock-knock” undermined the Underbeats. Revered locally – “probably the best band that came out of Minneapolis in the ’60s,” says Andreason of the competing Trashmen — the beret-headed Beatles-y quartet may have missed its chance at a national hit with “Little Romance” in 1965 because of a drumbeat sexual innuendo that got the song banned from radio. The lyrics don’t exactly shock by today’s music standards, though: “A little romance from a girl like you / A little romance, a little [knock knock], too.” Says bandleader Jim Johnson, “We got a raw deal.”
7. The Castaways’ Denny Craswell had the coolest school permission slip ever. The drummer was still a senior at Richfield High School when the group’s 1965 single “Liar, Liar” became a hit and a West Coast tour was booked. “A couple of us band members went to talk to the principal to see if we could get him out,” keyboardist Jim Donna recalls. The book goes on to recount scenes of Craswell doing homework beside the then-gestating Mamas & the Papas at the Hollywood Landmark Motel and performing at the Cow Palace alongside Sonny and Cher and the Byrds.
8. The Electras were the original Woodersons. The Ely band’s 1966 regional hit “Dirty Old Man” — eventually released by Columbia Records — was inspired by a comment by songwriter and producer Warren Kendrick that sounded eerily like Matthew McConaughey’s oft-quoted “Dazed and Confused” character. “I’d been working with all these 15-year-olds in the restaurant,” Kendrick recalls. “Every year you’re one year older, and they’re still 15.” In the end, the record was mostly bought up by teenage girls, Shefchik notes.