|King Hep Fish|
|Spider and the Crabs|
|Marc V, The - Bass (1964 - 1967)|
|Smoke Ring, The|
|Devastating Dinks, The|
The date was late August of 1971. I was happily employed in Robert Orr’s great band Isaac based out of Emporia, Kansas. I got a call from an old friend and former band mate, drummer Danny Keller. He wanted me to drop whatever I was doing and come up to Norfolk, Nebraska to join him and guitarist Keith Goins in revamping the legendary Nebraska band The Smoke Ring. Since the early 60’s, The Smoke Ring had been one of the top bands in the Mid West and had a huge following. Joining the group was a no-brainer, especially since I was able to convince my current band mates Robert Orr (Hammond B-3), and Larry Stewart (trumpet and any instrument that has strings, keys, or mouthpiece) to also come join the group. Completing the group were Colin Keefe (lead vocals/trumpet) and Mike Ragatz (trombone).
I still remember jamming that first time at King’s Ballroom. You could just feel the energy, and we knew right away that we had something special. We went on the road after just three days of rehearsals. One big advantage we had was that we all liked the same music, and we could all play it. Between gigs, we pretty well had it made for a bunch of musicians. Joe Hupp (owner/manager of the band) let us live in the “haunted” King’s Ballroom - complete with a giant stage to practice on, beer, burgers, foosball, and a topless bar in back. What more could any guy want?
I don’t know what it is about bands - but the grass always seems greener some place else. Apparently, that place for us was Tennessee. We’d been playing all over Nebraska, Kansas, and South Dakota - then finally made it down to Nashville. While there, we were totally knocked out by a young ultra talented singer/guitar player from Montgomery, Alabama named Tommy Shaw. After a brief meeting, we hired Tommy and his friend Brian O’Malley (roadie) on the spot. A short time later, Mike Ragatz had to leave the group and was replaced by another band mate from Isaac, Bob “Chaz” Baker (trombone, flute, keyboards). By March or April of 1972, we had pretty much changed locations - to the Deep South. We were no longer The Smoke Ring.
In May of 1972 we did some recording in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and from those sessions the M.S. Funk name was born. We got connected with Jerry Lee Lewis and his management company, “National Artists’ Attractions” out of Memphis. Working almost every night, we were now playing in Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Georgia. Some of our favorite gigs included Uncle Sams in Atlanta, Electric Circus in Nashville, Castaways in Chattanooga, Shula’s in Niles, Michigan, and Crazy Horse in Birmingham – where I almost died!
The band got really tight, and I’m sure we were one of the most exciting “live” groups on the road at that time. By summer of 1973, we had all moved to Chicago where we quickly developed a great following. Some of our favorite Chicago gigs included Castaways, Yellow Brick Road, Haymakers, B’Ginnings, and our very favorite the Rush Up. Even when not playing, we loved to hang out at the Rush Up. I can still picture Chaz along with any other M.S. Funkster cleaning up at foosball till the wee hours of the morning. And I can still picture my Chicago room-mate Jimmy Eiden tending bar. You never knew who might be in the crowd on any given night. We met and partied with The Kinks, Todd Rungren, Frank Zappa & The Mothers, Uriah Heep, Jeff Beck Group and others at the Rush Up.
For the next couple of years we went through one manager after another. It was frustrating knowing what we had, and not being able to land a good record deal, despite having about three albums worth of good original material. Life on the road finally began to take its toll, and we started to have some personnel changes. In the fall of 1973, Danny Keller left and was replaced by Ides of March drummer Mike Borch.
By mid September of 1974, we became a five piece group consisting of Tommy Shaw on lead guitar & vocals, Robert Orr on Hammond B3 & vocals, Chaz Baker on key boards & vocals, Mike Borch on drums, and me on bass. The road crew consisted of Brian “Bomar” O’Malley, Tom “Paco” Palo, and Paul O’Neil. Tommy Shaw was still cranking out good new tunes and the band continued on as strong as ever. However, by July of 1975 we finally reached our breaking point. We were tired of our continuing management struggles, tired of never landing a big record deal, and generally burned out on the entire business. After all we’d been through, and despite still being a great band, we disbanded after playing our last gig on July 19, 1975.
End of story? Not quite. “Never-say-die” Robert Orr and I put together yet another version of M.S. Funk. The new group had Robert on keyboards, me on bass, original drummer Danny Keller, lead vocalist Fergie Fredericksen (who later played in LeRoux, Toto, and currently World Class Rockers). We also added Chicago band veterans Richie Meyer on guitar, and front man/vocalist Bobby Piatt. Our Road Crew at the time was “Stretch”, R. J., Dave Geho and Jeff Larsen.
Though short lived, this was a great group and we had a lot of fun together. M.S. Funk played its final gig at Huey’s in Chicago on February 7, 1976. One month later, my son Cory was born and playing in rock bands was no longer the priority in my life.
Looking back, I can’t help but laugh to myself at some of the wild and crazy times we had on the road. There were countless funny M.S. Funk stories. Every day was a new adventure, and somebody was always into something. Along the way we got to play with a lot of other great bands such as White Trash, The Doobie Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, Blue Oyster Cult, Mitch Ryder, The Flock, Mike Quatro Jam Band, Cactus, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chase, Dr. Hook, Madura, Goose Creek Symphony, Rufus, Kracker, Head East, and many others.
I’m thankful that Paul Love liked us well enough to record a lot of our shows, which has now enabled us to release a three-disc CD. Hopefully, all our old friends will enjoy hearing the M.S. Funk songs again, and maybe we’ll add a few new fans as well.
These days, my wife Beth and I live in Manhattan, Kansas where I own & operate an Insurance Business and a Christmas tree farm. I still play bass, and I’m ready to go back out on the road with M.S. Funk whenever.
If Keith Richards can do it, so can we!
During the summer of 1964 after graduating from Manhattan (KS) High School, I had just gotten into the bass guitar. Local “bass-ace” Bruce Brown showed me all his great licks and sold me my first couple of basses. I wish I still had them today! A couple of friends, Ron Pauli and Terry Greenough decided to start up a rock band, The Marc V. The members of the band were Terry Greenough on lead guitar, Ron Pauli with rhythm guitar & vocals, Bim Bigsby lead vocals, Al Hanson on drums, and me on bass guitar. Our Manager was Jon McManis. We later added Barry McCoy on keyboards, along with Terry Moore on trumpet, and Steve Piland on sax.
The Marc V became a very good band and had a large local following around central Kansas. We played everything from James Brown to The Beatles. The group managed to stay together for over two years, which was a long life for bands back in those days. A couple of our favorite local gigs were J.D.’s and Me & Ed’s, both in Manhattan.
After The Marc V broke up in late 1967, Barry McCoy moved to L.A. and played first with the Knickerbockers and then Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. I was able to hook up with The Kopi Katz - one of John Brown’s (Mid Continent Entertainment) newest bands. Other members of The Kopi Katz included Bill Hollingworth on lead guitar, Dave Taylor on trombone, Bill Beard on sax, Mike Morrand on drums, Darrel “Louie” Lewis on alto sax & lead vocals, Joe Ruddick on trumpet, Bob Clausen on Hammond B-3 & Vocals, and me on bass.
Shortly after I joined the group, Mike left to join The Flippers. He was replaced by future M.S. Funkster Danny Keller, who already had the reputation as one of the Midwest’s best drummers. The Road Manager was James Boardman. This was truly an “all star” band, and like M.S. Funk had members from both Kansas and Nebraska. As good as The Kopi Katz were however, we only stayed together for a few months. Shortly after Joe Ruddick joined The Flippers we all went our separate ways.
John Brown got me moved up to Hastings, Nebraska in 1968 to play in one of his hardest working groups, Spider and the Crabs. This was a really tight band that played all over the Mid West, as heard on KOMA radio. My favorite gig was The Red Dog Inn in Lawrence, Kansas.
The group had a great cast of characters. My best friend in the group, Steve “Spider” Einsel on Guitar, Bob “Mouse” Meyerhoffer on lead Vocals, Warren Gitt on Sax, Dick Rasmussen on trumpet, Jim McMillin on drums (replaced by Randy Heinrick), Rich Messenger on keyboards (replaced by great B-3 player Ronn Bumgarner from Lincoln). Road Manager for Spider and the Crabs was John McMillin.
This group broke up after a year, as everyone was heading off for different colleges in different parts of the country. For me, it was back to Kansas State University in Manhattan. There I joined a couple of my old band-mates, Bill Hollingworth and Al Hanson in one of the best bands in Kansas - The Devastating Dinks based out of Salina, Kansas.
The Dinks were a group of truly gifted musicians. Our home base was The Lamplighter Club in Salina, Kansas. The line up for The Devastating Dinks was guitar player Bill Hollingworth of Kopi Katz, and drummer, “the late great” Al Hanson of The Marc V, along with Keith Lockett as lead singer, Tom Olsen on trumpet & vocals, Dennis Franz on B-3 (now with King Midas & the Mufflers), Butch Clark playing sax, and me on bass. Butch Clark moved away and was replaced by John Bolton, who would later go on to play with the group Kansas, and then Proto-Kaw.
After the Dinks broke up in late 1969, I began a year long stint with the legendary Kansas City blues singer Michael “Spanky” Landis. Spanky was currently playing in the Minnesota based group King Hep Fish. One highlight I remember with King Hep Fish was one night when Stevie Ray Vaughan came up and jammed with us at a club in Lawton, Oklahoma. He must have been about 16 years old at the time. We talked about that jam for a long time afterwards, and years later realized that we had played with a true music legend. After finishing the King Hep Fish tour, Spanky and I moved to Kansas City to form a new band - Barnstorm.
Barnstorm members were Ken Sturkey on B-3 & vocals, Sammy Garrett on drums & vocals, Mike Ryder on lead guitar, Spanky Landis on lead vocals, and me on bass. These were both great groups, and I could write an entire chapter about all the crazy times spent with Spanky Landis. He was like James Brown and Joe Cocker all rolled into one. If you ever saw him live, you’d never forget him. Barnstorm had a good following around the Kansas City area. We also had a lot of fun playing Aspen, Colorado.
Somehow, I managed to graduate from K-State in 1970 while playing in all these different bands. There is still a research team at K-State probing the records to try to figure out how this could have happened.
After Barnstorm broke up, I rejoined my old friend Bill Hollingworth. Big “H” was another guy I could write an entire chapter about. He was definitely one of the most unique guys I ever worked with. Bill was a great guitar player, stuck some place between The Ventures and Wes Montgomery. I feel very fortunate to have played along side him in four different bands. We were always trying to put various groups together. One group even recorded a demo album, but ended abruptly when our sax player was murdered in a club in Topeka, Kansas. Luckily our old band mate Dave Taylor, who was now booking bands, hooked Bill & me up with the band Isaac from Emporia, Kansas.
Robert Orr was in the process of reorganizing his band Isaac. Bill Hollingworth and I were invited to join the group. The band included Robert Orr on keyboards, Larry Stewart on trumpet, Chas Baker on trombone, Gary Lichnecker on sax & lead vocals, Cliff Wise on drums, Hollingworth on lead guitar, and me on bass. Isaac was another great group. How bad could we have been--- with four future Funkster’s on board. Our favorite gig was The Store in Emporia, Kansas. Isaac stayed together until August of 1971 when The Smoke Ring called. The rest is M.S.Funk history.
Thanks to the Late Great Paul Love for recording live M.S. Funk gigs, and for keeping the tapes for all these years.
A final “thank you” to M.S. Funksters: Colin, Larry, & Robert for their tireless efforts in making the CD project a reality, and to Jim Peterik for allowing the use of his recording studio.