|Vince and the Premiers|
|Bennett, Jerry - Guitar|
|Emmanuel, Vince - Drums|
|Holtz, Gerald - Bass|
|Keys, Calvin - Guitar|
|McDaniels, LaMar - Guitar|
|Monastero, Joe - Saxophone|
|Rich, Herbie - Keyboard, Saxophone|
|Sammons, Jerry - Bass/Vocals|
|Uecker, David - Guitar|
|Walker, Louie - Guitar/Bass|
|Wright, Hoshal - Bass|
|Vince & the Premiers were the first integrated group to come to prominence in Omaha, Nebraska, which formed in the early 1960’s.
The nucleus from the very beginning of this great group started with Vince Emmanuel, who had quite a musical reputation with the locals, and Herbie Rich who headed up The Seven Wonders. Vince had two compelling components in his mystical personality with the local pop scene: One, they had never seen or heard such torrid drumming, and the second was that he had so much energy, they thought he must be from another planet. He played drums on a popular local record, “The Itch” by Carl Cherry, released in 1959. When Carl Cherry and his Cherry Flips performed live, the audience went wild.
Meantime, The Seven Wonders were a local act home grown in the North Side of Omaha and each time they appeared the audience grew, and multiplied. Their performances at the Offbeat Club & The Carter Lake Club were legendary. The word got around that anybody that knew anybody MUST catch this act. After performing for three years, it was time to pare down the group to five pieces, and play for other kinds of audiences, for example Creighton University’s events. That group was called The Marquees, not to be confused with the Mar-Keys from Memphis, Tennessee.
Vince had long wanted to play the kind of music he really loved, namely, rhythm and blues, period. All of the players he knew and played with had either a ‘top-heavy hard rock & roll emphasis, or a too tinny, nasal rockabilly sound. Also, as often and hard as they tried, Little Richard tunes always sounded more like Pat Boone. He knew that the only way to get down to that feeling he needed was to find some musicians from North Omaha.
Having his popularity, Vince decided that he would take a gamble. His gamble was that if it worked out, this could possibly afford him the luxury of performing the music he really loved. Vince put a call to Herbie Rich - to consider possibly putting their best energies together to form a great band together. Herbie was well known by that point as a musical genius, and he liked Vince’s idea.
They started with four pieces: Emmanuel on drums, Herbie Rich on organ, Louie Walker on upright bass and LaMar McDaniels on guitar. Their first appearance was at the Royal Grove Ballroom at Peony Park with a stunning performance. But they needed the power of an electric bass to get the sound Vince was looking for.
That brought Billy Rich into the picture on bass. Herb would bring his younger brother Billy to the club, who had been playing with The Marquees. He made an instant hit with Vince and the entire group. Billy had a double-neck guitar, with bass on the bottom and a guitar neck at the top, and from the front, it looked bigger than he was! But there was another obstacle: Herb and Billy’s father would not agree to have Billy work six nights a week. After all, Billy was only 12 years old at that time!
Bring into the picture Jerry Sammons, a fine singer and excellent electric bass player. Vince also made a bold decision to work in the segregated white clubs of Omaha, with an integrated band. Would the patrons roll with this? No one had ever tried in the past. But it worked -- in a big way! They became a sensational hit. This early integration effort has now become part of Omaha, Nebraska history
Their home base was 10th and Pacific, with two competing clubs. They packed LuJo’s six nights of every week. When there was any problem with the owner, all they had to do was to move one block east to 9th & Pacific, where they were immediately hired at Buff’s.
In 1962 one Sunday evening, not playing at LuJo’s; they played a one-nighter at the Off-Beat Club across town at 24th and Lake. On that occasion, they invited Bobby Jones to sing and play bass. After a short time later, Jones was asked to join the Premiers. And at that same time, Harold “Stemsy” Hunter joined forces, making the band five pieces, and shortly The Premiers held forth at Buff’s for nearly a year.
The band made to move to Mickey’s, at that time an upscale jazz club in the center of downtown Omaha. They played six nights every week, and a Sunday afternoon ‘jam session’. It wasn’t like the jam sessions at jazz clubs like Paul Allen’s Showcase – Mickey’s was more like a battle of the bands. Among those who came to play included Dani and Roulettes from Kansas City, the mighty Luther & the Night Riders, Henry Peters and his Imperials, The Quidons from Grand Island, and others. Those were some glorious days indeed!!
In 1964, Herbie Rich left the band and Henry (Hank) Redd replaced him on tenor sax. Later in that year Bobby Jones and Henry Redd left the band. Dave Uecker took over on bass, and Joe Monastero joined on tenor sax.
The Premiers were primarily a local band, but they took it to the road for few seasons. They performed regularly at Robbie’s Happy Corner in Lincoln, NE for a year and after returning to Omaha briefly, made a terrific stand at Rosemary’s in Kansas City, in an attempt at the ‘big time’.
This club was known as ‘neutral zone’ for all races – as at that time, Kansas City was racially divided - all except Rosemary’s. Rosemary’s was a social melting pot and a club where every persuasion was represented. It was a safe haven for the widely diverse crowd packing the lounge to hear The Premiers.
While The Premiers were the house band at Rosemary’s, often Rosemary would bring in the national touring artists. The Premiers had the pleasure of backing the touring stars of the day; such as Gene ‘Duke of Earl’ Chandler, Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, The Drifters, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Knox, Chuck Berry and The Coasters - probably one of the funniest groups of all times. The Impressions, The Drifters, Chuck Berry and The Coasters are now ALL inductees in the National Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Sad to say, but this was the end of The Premiers per se, as Vince left the group in Kansas City to play with Jerry Wood & the Jukes. That left the reins to Joe Monastero, who renamed the group The Stragglers. The Stragglers traveled throughout the United States, playing clubs coast to coast before returning to Omaha in the late 1960’s.
But before putting a cap on this story, several other outstanding musicians played with The Premiers during those years and need to be mentioned. Some of these included: on bass, there was Hoshal Wright and Gerald Holtz. And on guitar; two legends: Calvin Keys (2007 Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Recipient) and Jerry Bennett. Jerry passed away early in life, but he and his brother Wayne Bennett (Bobby “Blue” Bland) were two of greatest guitar players ever.
The Premiers produced a number of local musicians that later became quite well known on the national music scene, including Herbie Rich (The Electric Flag and Buddy Miles Express), Stemsy Hunter (The Electric Flag, Buddy Miles), LaMar McDaniels (Bill Doggett), Vince Emmanuel (Jerry Wood), Bobby Jones (Hollywood Argyles, Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Aorta), Hoshel Wright (The Electric Flag, Buddy Miles), Hank Redd ( Little Willie John, Charles Brown, Stevie Wonder, writer for Deniece Williams), among others.
Omaha contributed a great number of world-class musicians, not only as members of bands but as writers, conductors, arrangers and great bandleaders, and Vince & The Premiers were one of the best.