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They were the Impeccable More-Tishans, a showy teenage rock and roll band that drew crowds of kids at ballrooms, bowling alleys, roller rinks and dance clubs. They recorded a hit song that was heard on radio stations in five states. They drove a hearse to their gigs. They played at least 500 concerts and dances in five years. Then, in 1968, they walked away from it all.
"I think we went as far as we possibly could," said bass guitar player Hugh Kraemer. "As I look back on my life I think that was a mistake. It was a huge popular time for guitars, the Beatles, rockabilly. It was a huge new time for rock and roll."
Now they're trifling with it again.
Today only Kraemer and the band's singer and rhythm guitarist, Chris Nelson, survive from the original More-Tishans. Lead guitar player Tom Cafferty has died, as has drummer Roy "Pinky" Herschleb. So have their replacements, Dick Schreier and Dan Munson.
They would be remembered for packed houses wherever they played and "(I've Got) Nowhere to Run," a regional radio hit. But like hundreds of other 1960s rock and roll garage bands, the More-Tishans drifted onto the littered road of music history.
The comeback of the fabled band is nothing short of remarkable, said Scott Schell, a Stillwater music historian.
"They set the bar for everybody else," said Schell, author of "Garage Sounds: Bringing Down the House," a book about Stillwater's many garage bands. "They had a manager and a gimmick and the good music. These guys, their summer job was playing music. They paid for their college educations. They ran their band like a business. It just totally baffles me how these four guys who had all this talent and were quite successful to some degree, that they could just walk away from it."
Now playing in halls and clubs in Washington County and once again drawing crowds, the new More-Tishans look different -- it's been four decades, folks -- but they play all the old songs and still advertise their dances with promotional signs on a hearse.
"It's something I never thought I would do again," said Nelson, who joined with Kraemer and two other fellow Stillwater High School sophomores in 1963 to put together a sound that rocked venues sometimes five nights a week. They played through their college years at the University of Minnesota and Hamline University and several other campuses, sometimes luring 1,000 people to a single dance.
The new More-Tishans, Nelson said, haven't tried to become what they were then even though the music sounds much the same.
"It's different. You're not looking at the girls anymore off the stage. A lot of people would say [in the 1960s] that was the only reason to have a band, to pick up chicks," said Nelson, now a 65-year-old grandfather. He met his wife, Kate, 45 years ago when he was waiting for an elevator with his arms full of music equipment.
"It was really a special time," Nelson said of those early years. "It was the greatest job in the world."
The Impeccable More-Tishans were one of the better-known bands in a Twin Cities music scene that eventually included hundreds mimicking the excitement of the British Invasion. Names like High Rising Tremadons, Poore Boys, He-Toos, Stomping Underbeats, Trashmen, Marvelous Marauders, Keith Zellar and the Starliners and Gregory Dee and the Avantis appeared on concert posters all over Minnesota.
"All of a sudden there were lots of bands and lots of people emulating bands. They were picking up guitars and forming bands in unprecedented numbers," Kraemer said.
"We started out as a high school band," Nelson said. "That's how I got asked to be in the band. I could dance and was from Bayport. They wanted to expand their horizons beyond Stillwater."
Despite the band's play on words, the hearses and photographs taken in cemeteries, the name came from the Latin word Tishan, which means music. They had a manager, James "Doc" Lee, a chiropractor who owned a music store in Hudson and who drove the boys to their gigs before they had driver's licenses.
Lee helped them manage their earnings so well that they eventually owned three hearses. Once the hearses became too costly to repair they paid cash for a new Ford station wagon to haul their gear.
"We played probably every Legion club in the Upper Midwest," Nelson said.
The More-Tishans' disappearance from the music scene seemed permanent until they found out in 2008 that they would be inducted into the Mid-America Music Hall of Fame. At first Kraemer didn't see the potential in it.
"I said, 'It's about time, there are only two of us left,' " he said. Neither he nor Nelson made a band by themselves, and they hadn't played guitar much since 1968, that tumultuous year that saw the war in Vietnam escalate and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated.
Then Schell offered his band, "North Shore Grease," to perform with Kraemer and Nelson at the induction. When they found out that their fans from so long ago were hungry to hear the More-Tishans again, a new band emerged with much the old flavor.
Nelson's sister, Nancy Rowland, was recruited as a lead singer. Craig Hansen, a college writing professor, plays lead guitar. Ben Rosene, an attorney, plays drums. And Schell -- who remembers riding his bicycle down the street to get a glimpse of the original More-Tishans in their hearse -- now plays rhythm guitar for them.
"This is like a dream come true," said Schell, who recently retired from Stillwater's public works department.
After the original band dissolved, Kraemer worked for a music production company and then started a farm fencing business in Zumbro Falls, Minn. Nelson owned Pawnee's Bowling Lanes and Bar in Bayport.
Now the More-Tishans play about four times a year, knowing times have changed but the passion for 1960s music remains. They play about 45 songs in three sets with the expectation that the old folks (and young ones too) will hit the dance floor once again.
"It's such a rush getting on a stage with an audience," Nelson said. "There's nothing like it."
Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037 Twitter: @stribgiles