Friday, November 24, 2023

RoFran Enterprises (Urbana)

RoFran Enterprises was a recording studio and record label owned and operated by Roger Francisco in Urbana, Illinois from 1965 to 1973.

Over the course of those nine years, the studio produced roughly 120 singles, EPs and albums combined, with almost all of them pressed in very small quantities.  The majority of the musicians found on those releases were from downstate Illinois or associated with the University of Illinois in some way.

In the late 1960's, the Champaign-Urbana music scene was exploding with talent.   Blytham Ltd, a local booking agency led by Bob Nutt and Irving Azoff, represented nearly every major rock and pop group in downstate Illinois and was quickly making Champaign-Urbana the music hub of the Midwest.   

RoFran Enterprises was in prime position to be the go-to studio for the burgeoning scene and yet that never happened exactly.  RoFran instead operated on the periphery, producing far more school and church recordings than rock albums.     

While the studio eventually became closely associated with the U of I folk scene centered around the Red Herring coffee house, RoFran appears to have had little overlap with the larger rock scene happening in the area.  That is, if we only look at the records that were released.

The studio's log book (above) however offers an alternative view.  One that demonstrates the full scope of the studio's operation.  Not only does it provide a complete (?) list of the official releases (pages 2-5) but it reveals dozens of sessions by area rock groups, most of which never saw any type of release or pressing.

This includes "lost" sessions by REO Speedwagon, Finchley Boys, One-Eyed Jacks, Head East and Arlie Neaville.  Other lesser known Champaign bands such as Feathertrain, Bluesweed, Uncle Meat and Backstreet all recorded there.  In fact, Irving Azoff and Bob Nutt  appear to have used the studio regularly to record demos of the many downstate groups in their stable.   These sessions represent only the tip of the iceberg.

RoFran Enterprises, these days, is probably best known amongst hardcore record collectors for a handful of difficult-to-find 45s.  Now, with the help of this log book, hopefully a more complete story can start to be told.

Roger Francisco was born in Decatur and grew up in Springfield, Illinois. He moved to Urbana in the 1950's to pursue a degree in electrical engineering at the Univerity of Illinois and eventually worked at the Magnavox plant in Urbana.  Francisco was also a musician and audio engineer who, in 1964, had spent time in a Nashville studio playing bass with Mike Brewer and the Galaxies.  

Inspired by what he saw in Nashville, Francisco built a modest recording studio on the lower level of his bi-level home at 5 Rainbow Court in Urbana.  There he began recording local groups as well as jingles and commercials for area businesses.

By the end of the first year of operation, RoFran had released several 45s on the RoFran label including singles by the Intruders, the Rogues, the Impalas and Lee Rust.  In addition, RoFran also produced a number of  LPs with most of the early albums being remote recordings of area choirs and school bands.

Francisco's own group, the Prodigies aka Sound Studio One, recorded and released a total of four singles during this early period as well.  Most of the members in the group would help serve as the studio's house band.    This included: Fredrick "Bill" Steffen III on drums,  J. Gordon Wilson on keyboards and Howie Smith on saxophone.   At the time, Smith was also a member of the University of Illinois Jazz Band.

Another important addition to the RoFran family was guitarist Al Ierardi.  Ierardi recorded his own single at RoFran in December of 1966.  He would go on to work at the studio as a session player as well as a staff artist and a producer.  Ierardi is credited with writing the 1967 Ravins' b-side "I Had A Feeling" recorded at RoFran as well as designing the album jacket for one of  J. Gordon Wilson's albums. 

According to the October 21, 1967 issue of Billboard magazine, "RoFran Enterprises in Urbana. III., is expanding its operation and has moved into new offices at the Masonic Temple Building, 115 West Main Street, Urbana. President Roger Francisco, whose record releases are distributed by M -S Distributors in Chicago. says the firm is expanding its pop music production under a&r man Howard A. Smith."

RoFran's expanded services included arranging, composing and song publishing.  In late 1966, Francisco is credited with helping write, arrange and produce a single with the Lindsey Triplets (aka ABC Triplets) from nearby Philo.

While the music operation was growing, the advertising side of the business took off as well.  Francisco, who had been doing radio jingles and commercials from the very beginning, listed his business in the local yellow pages under the heading of "Advertising Agencies."  

Soon the business was taking on ad work beyond just radio jingles.  In early 1967 RoFran was hired to do all of the advertising for the local MacDonald's including newspaper ads, radio spots and even personal appearances.   As a result, saxophonist and a&r man Howie Smith also served as Ronald MacDonald for many years in the Champaign-Urbana area.

By early 1967, the studio had for the most part stopped using "RoFran" as a label name and instead used "A Custom Product of RoFran Enterprises" or simple Custom on the label.  Often the artist would choose their own label name such as Psychedelic, Star, Shades, Soul, Syndicate, Golden and Folksound.
As the label names suggest, a wide variety of music was being captured at the studio in the late 1960s.  Country artist Marvin Lee recorded an album and at least one single at RoFran.  The studio also recorded a number of Champaign-area soul and gospel groups including Count Demon, Leroy Knox and the Gaypoppers, the Soul Brothers, the Golden Star Singers and the Holy Zyrnes.  Jazz trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater would record and release a single in 1968.

The studio also attrached bands from nearby communities such as the Shades of Blue and the Keepers (both from Danville), The Quarternotes (Rantoul), The Ravins (Gibson City), The Cameros (Petersburg) and Howie Thayer (an Illinois State University student originally from La Moille in north-central Illinois).

The "lost" sessions from 1966-1969 include a who's-who of Blytham artists:  One-Eyed Jacks, Finchley Boys, The Regiment, Seeds of Doubt and Somebody Groovy.   Multiple sessions are simply listed under Blytham, Bob Nutt or Irv Azoff.   Other bands that made demos at the studio during this period include The Bacardis, The Chandras, Fat Daddy Five, Reel Blues and Arlie Neaville.

By the late 1960's, RoFran became closely connected with multi-instrumentalist Jim Cuomo and his avant-garde group, Spoils of War.  So much so that Roger Francisco and Al Ierardi both performed and recorded with the group.  

In 1969, Spoils of War released a 7" EP containing two nine-minute pieces that combined psychedelic songs with electronic textures.  According to an interview in It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine, Cuomo said a 1,000 copies were pressed at the time.  Cuomo would record another EP under his own name the next year.

By 1970, the records being released by RoFran started to be pressed by Century Custom Recording Service.   In a 1970 Daily Illini article, RoFran Enterprises was mentioned as being a subsidiary of Century Records.

Around that same time, the RoFran studio moved out of Francisco's basement and into a new location at the corner of Race and Washington (117 W. Washington) in Urbana.  

By October of 1970, neighbors of the new location filed a petition against the studio.  They claimed that "loud sounds and vibrations come from the studio until 2 or 3 am, making it difficult for them to sleep."  An article in the Daily Illini mentions that police had been called 15 or 20 times.  Francisco's wife was quoted in the paper saying the real issue was that the neighbors didn't like "long hairs."

Blytham Ltd continued to use the studio to record demos at this time, undoubtedly contributing to the "noise" and "long hair" complaints.  This included sessions by REO Speedwagon, Bluesweed, Feathertrain, Backstreet, Esquires, Uncle Meat and Sunday.  A few of these recordings still exist and have been archived by the University of Illinois at the Sousa Archives

It was around this same time that RoFran began to produce a series of live albums from the Red Herring Folk Festival, several of which contain early recordings of Dan Fogelberg.  Another performer, Peter Berkow, soon joined RoFran Enterprises as an engineer.   A Daily Illini article comments that Berkow had practically moved into the studio.

Francisco and Berkow also began working with a group of folk musicians from that same scene on a concept album / band that would eventually be known as The Ship, a Contemporary Folk Music Journey.  Both Francisco and Berkow would become managers of the group and recorded a demo of the concept piece in the Fall of 1971.

The group eventually signed with Elektra Records and recorded the album with producer Gary Usher at the label's studios in Los Angeles.  The group however was unhappy with certain "special effects" added by Usher and flew Francisco out to Los Angeles to help remix the album.   Released in October of 1972, the final version of the album contains Francisco's mix.

The Ship was one of the last big projects of RoFran.   Some of the lost sessions from 1971-1973 include Mackinaw Valley Boys, All Star Frogs, Heavy Duty, US Kids, Hound Dog Moses, One-Eyed Jacks, and The Guild.  Unreleased sessions by Head East and Sunday from December 1972 are preserved at the Sousa Archives.  

In 1973, Francisco sold the studio to Al Ierardi who renamed it the Tape Factory.  Over the next decade, Francisco went on to work as an engineer at two other Champaign-Urbana studios: Silver Dollar and Creative Audio.   

As if that wasn't enough, Francisco had a long and fascinating career beyond recording studios.  For some, Francisco is best known as the voice of the FitnessGram PACER test.  For a recent interview (Aug 2023) with Francisco see the WKIO Homegrown podcast.

Special thanks to Al and Carla Ierardi for preserving and sharing the RoFran Enterprises studio ledger.

For a more concise list of 45s released by the studio see our RoFran Records discography.   A playlist of RoFran records is coming soon.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Beck Brothers on Mid West Records (Colchester)

The Beck Brothers Band from Western Illinois has to be one of the longest-lasting musical acts in the state.  Spanning multi-generations and lasting nearly eight decades, the group is still active today in the Macomb area.  

Here we are going to focus strictly on the two singles the original brothers released in 1959 and 1960 on Mid West Records. 

Melvin and Ralph Beck from Colchester, Illinois began playing music at a very young age.  Along with their father Cecil and other relatives, the boys started out by performing on Sunday afternoons in their hometown.

By the late 1950s the brothers were performing at dance halls, supper clubs, county fairs and taverns across western Illinois and eastern Iowa.  They even performed on local television   The group would sometimes be billed in those days as the Beck Brothers Orchestra or Beck Bros Quartet.

Other than Ralph and Melvin, additional band members from this era have not been identified.  Although, at least one advertisement from 1961 mentions the group being joined by "Swinging" Tommy Rogers on the sax.  A few years later, according to ads, live shows featured Tom Powers on the saxophone.

Both of the group's early singles were part of the Starday Custom Series.   There is no information as to where the recordings were made but it is likely that the brothers had them done locally and send them off to Starday Records.   In exchange for all the publishing rights and few hundred dollars, Starday would press a few hundred copies for the Beck Brothers to sell or give away as promotion.  

While Starday's custom pressed records generally featured country and rockabilly music, the Beck Brothers' singles do not fit nicely into either category.  

The label name, Mid West Records, was likely chosen by the Beck Brothers.   Their hometown was misspelled as Colechester on the label of their first single.

"Screamin' Mamie" was written by Melvin Beck.  The flipside, "I'll Love You For A Lifetime," was written by Ralph Beck.  The single was pressed in 1959.

The second single, "Just Like You," was written by Melvin and released in 1960.  The song was backed with an instrumental, "Big Rocker," credited to both brothers.

Melvin Beck passed away in 1996.  His obituary mentions that he worked for Leo Fender and Fender Guitars in California around the time the company was founded.

Ralph Beck passed away in 2018.   He had been a member of the Beck Brothers Band for 70 years.

If you have any more info, photos or memories of this early incarnation of the Beck Brothers Band please reach out to us at:

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Tempos (LaSalle County)

The Tempos from the Streator-Ottawa area in LaSalle County, Illinois.  The group recorded one single in 1962 at the Fredlo Recording Studios in Davenport, IA.   

The A-side, “Twistin’ The Blues,” was a cover of Carl Perkins' 1956 song "Boppin' The Blues."  The Tempos however changed some of the lyrics to include a reference to Chubby Checker.

The B-side, "Only One," was written by the group's leader, Ed Bundy.  Other members of the group in 1961 included Rudy Alvarado, Fred Cisneros, Gus Anderson, Bob Norris.

By 1964, the group consisted of Ed Bundy (guitar), Dick Ister (guitar), Frankie Little (sax) and Dave Dettore (drums).   

Ed Bundy and Frankie Little (Raging Storms) would later join the Castaways, who were also from the area.  Bob Norris would join Angleo's Angels and was in several area bands in the years that followed, including Chicago Sweeps, Kronic Flux and Freedom.



Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Rooks - The 1967 Recordings

This website is dedicated primarily to music and musicians from Illinois outside of Chicagoland, however, earlier in the year we made an exception for a 60's group from Chicago, The Rooks. This is an addendum to that earlier post.

In 1967, The Rooks were searching for a new sound.   The band's original singer and rhythm guitarist had left the group.  Their single for Mercury Records the year before had failed to make much of an impact and they had been unceremoniously dropped from the label.   

Still, the group continued to perform regularly around Chicago.  In fact, they had one of their biggest performances that summer at the World Teenage Show held at Navy Pier. 

In August of 1967, The Rooks went back into a Chicagoland recording studio.   Perhaps as a rehearsal for their new singer or simply to produce a demo to help land gigs, the band recorded three cover tunes in a single session.  The music was never released and the tape all but forgotten.

By 1968, the band began to move away from the protopunk garage sounds of the early single.  Tom Engel and John Brian Szmagalski, the two newest members, would become the group's chief songwriters and lead them into a heavier, more psychedelic sound.

The lost session from 1967 remains the bridge between the Mercury single and the later singles on Jo-Way and Twinight.  Here we present all three demo recordings in their entirety for the very first time:


The Tale Of The Tape

The reel of 1/4" tape containing these three songs was preserved through the decades by Jerry Young, the group's manager at the time.  Between 1966 and 1968, Young and his talent agency, Crestmark Productions, managed The Rooks along with several other Chicago-area bands. 
In 1967, Young was also a staff member at the newly-launched Psyche Pscene, a Chicago-based music magazine aimed at the area's "young set."    

Later that same year, Young opened a teen night club in the Northwest suburbs called The Spectrum.   The club, formerly known as The Batcave, was located at 6684 N. Oliphant in Edison Park.

Several of the bands on the bill during the opening few weeks were managed by Young, including The Rooks.   The club was short-lived however, largely due to the poor reputation of its predecessor.

Jerry Young shown here shaking hands with Tommy James
Before the end of '67, The Rooks decided to change management.  Young eventually left Chicago a few years later and with it, his life in the music world.  

Gone but not totally forgotten... most of the photos and audio related to The Rooks and the 60's Chicago scene found on this website come directly from Young's personal archive.

Young also happens to be my dad.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Golden Voice - Live! Sunday, October 8, 2023



Sunday, October 8, 2023 | 2 p.m. - 6 p.m. | A museum-wide event!

Inspired by the Golden Voice wall, a promised gift of Jerry and Mary Ann Milam, who operated the Golden Voice studio in South Pekin and produced local and national artists in rock, folk, psychedelic, country, R&B and gospel music. Golden Voice, which launched the careers of some of the most indelible talents of American music, including Dan Fogelberg, is remembered at the Peoria Riverfront Museum through an awe-inspiring wall of records, some silver, some gold, and some platinum!

Golden Voice LIVE will feature three sets of live music, coordinated by local business owner, Craig Moore of Younger Than Yesterday. Local radio personalities will be spinning real vinyl records, and there will be plenty of chances for a photo op in front of the Golden Voice wall!

Special appearances by speakers John Morris, Jerry Milam and Steve Gibson. John is the President and CEO of the Peoria Riverfront Museum, and will be discussing the NEW Golden Voice Fund. Jerry Milam is the owner and operator of Golden Voice studios, and will speak on the development of the studio, the great talents that have emerged, and the fund that will keep performance in Peoria, and at the Peoria Riverfront Museum. 

Special guest Steve Gibson was an early full-time Golden Voice session guitarist, working with the studio from the age of 15. Now, he is a retired former music director of the Country Music Awards and the Grand Ole Opry. with 14,000 Nashville sessions (est. 42,000 tracks), and a 2014 inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

Set 1 | Golden Voice in the 60's

Including hits from Suburban 9 to 5, The Shags, the Coachmen, Brillo and The Firebirds and Carl Trent ("Caterpillar Man" 1970)

Set 2 | Golden Voice in the 70's 

Enjoy classics from some of the most prolific artists on the Golden Voice wall, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Starcastle!

Set 3 | Golden Voice and the Dan Fogelberg Foundation Tribute Band

Eric Mills with be performing four out of five songs from Fogelberg's Captured Angel album, accompanied by band: Sheldon Felich, Jay Hennessy, Eric Mills and Tim Harr.

Adults- $15
Members- $10

222 SW Washington Street
Peoria, IL  61602
Phone: 309-686-7000

Monday, July 31, 2023

Jones Band / Fortran (Streator)

The Jones Band formed around 1970 in Streator, Illinois.  It wouldn't be until 1976 however that the group would self-release their only single containing two original tunes: "20 Years (All Alone)" and "What We Always Wanted."

These songs are some of the earliest known recordings of the group's lead singer Kevin Chalfant and the only officially released tracks from a popular north-central Illinois band that was together for more than a decade.

In addition to Chalfant, other members of the group included Kurt Benckendorf (guitar), Stan Rapp (keyboards), John Chorak (drums) and Randy Wargo (bass).  Sometime in 1975 or 1976, Jerry Gingery of Ottawa, Illinois replaced Wargo.  With the addition of Gingery, the group's lineup would remain the same until 1982.

The single was recorded at Universal Recording Corp. in Chicago sometime in early 1975.   According to an article in the Streator Daily Times-Press from January 2, 1975, the band had a session scheduled in Chicago for that day and the next with the hope of recording four songs.

Both songs that ended up on the 45 were eventually mixed at Golden Voice Recording Co. in South Pekin, Illinois and engineered by Terry Jamison.   

The single was released in late 1976 but not on any label; instead it was self-released and self-distributed.  As a result, it is unclear how many copies were pressed at the time or if it was available anywhere outside of central Illinois.  

One thing is for certain, the record was widely available from various grocery stores and cheese shops in Streator in January 1977:
By this point Jones Band already had a strong local following around the Streator area and were regulars at the Red Lion in Bloomington in 1976.   They were also playing around the state and throughout the Midwest.

While performing in Ohio in the summer of 1977, the group was joined on stage by Ruby Starr, best known for her singing on Black Oak Arkansas' "Jim Dandy."

By September 1977, Starr had joined the group for a series of dates across the United States and Canada.   Together they opened for Rick Derringer, Head East, Brownsville Station, Cheap Trick, Foreigner and Black Oak Arkansas.

By November of 1977 the group began working on an album.  According to the Streator Daily Times-Press, the group had recorded four songs in Peoria which were written by guitarist Kurt Benckendorf.  The songs were being produced and mixed by George Tutko, a Streator native, back in California where Tutko was working as a recording engineer.

The four song titles mentioned:  "All In The Show," "Piece of the Rock," "Sweet Heather," and "Scotland Yard."

A number of other songs written by Chalfant and Benckendorf were copyrighted around the same time as well:  "Revelations," "Randy, My Friend," "On and On," "Reelin' Feelin'," "Eyes of Affection," "Sweet Earth Mother," "For One Night," and "Life Is A Natural."

Several more songs by the band were copyrighted in 1978:  "Blow Down," "When Will You Ever Learn?" and "Not Easy."   The album however never materialized.

By 1979 the group had parted ways with Ruby Starr and changed their name to Fortran.   

The group, despite the changes, were still hoping to make an album.  An article from 1980 states, "As the Jones Band, the group has done several demonstration records, but as Fortran they'd like to do an album for good record company."

In 1981 the group even announced plans to sign a recording contract with a major label soon and said they had been working with George Tutko to refine their sound.

It was not to be however.  In 1982, Chalfant left the group and joined the Los Angeles-based band 707, a group that Tutko was producing at the time.

Fortran continued on with a new singer, Mike Husler, who had previously been with the Slink Rand Group.  Husler however was replaced by Bob Barr of Marseilles, Illinois in 1985.  Fortran stayed together for just a couple more years, changing singers a few more times along the way.

As for Kevin Chalfant, he has performed and recorded with a number of groups over the last several decades, most notably The Storm which produced several hit singles and included former members of Journey.

Of the Jones Band / Fortran years, despite more than a dozen original songs being written and likely recorded, no album was ever released.  The only document of the band we are left with is this early single:

Monday, July 24, 2023

Bearded Clam (Springfield)

Bearded Clam from Springfield,  Illinois released just one single on Golden Voice in 1970.  The group had been playing together for a couple years and were previously known as Dean and the Sinisters.

Band members included lead singer and drummer Dean Huston,  his younger brother Dave Huston on bass, Wayne Castor on lead guitar, Rich Egizii on organ, Corwin Bentley on rhythm guitar and Gene Bennett on vocals.

At the time of the recording several of the band members were students at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield.   Most of the group was from Springfield originally, except Egizii who was from neighboring Riverton and Bennett from nearby New Berlin.

The single was recorded at Golden Voice Recording Company in South Pekin, Illinois.   Both songs were original compositions.   According to an article in the Illinois State Journal, there were one thousand copies pressed.

"Please Don't Leave Me Blue" was written by Bennett who also sang lead on the track.   Huston and Caster are also credited on the single.

The flip side "I Wish I Could Be Here" was written by Bob Lloyd with lead vocals by Dean Huston.  Lloyd was a member of The Holidays, another Springfield group.

The group was still performing around the Springfield area as of March of 1972:

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The Session (Carbondale)

The Session, one of the first nationally televised music programs to feature up-and-coming artists, was filmed and produced by WSIU-TV (Channel 8) in Carbondale, Illinois. 

The half-hour show aired weekly on PBS stations across the country between 1971 and 1973.

It featured primarily rock, jazz and folk groups from downstate Illinois.  On occasion the show presented new artists from around the country, including a young "Piano Man" from New York.

The Session was the brainchild of Bruce Scafe, WSIU's television producer at the time.  Scafe was an Aurora, Illinois native that held a bachelor's degree in music and a master's in radio-television from the University of Illinois.  Before being hired at WSIU in 1970, Scafe played trumpet for two years in Les Elgart's band.  The Session was a natural marriage of Scafe's two main interests.

Between August 1971 and August 1972, Scafe directed and produced 67 shows in the series.  All of the camera and audio crew were students at Southern Illinois University.   Hosts of the show included London Branch and David Langdon. 

Initially the program was broadcast in Carbondale and re-shown on public television networks around the Midwest.  By early 1973, PBS picked 17 programs to broadcast nationally.  Before they aired however, Scafe left WSIU for a television job in Texas.

When asked about the show in 1973 for a syndicated article promoting the program, Scafe said, "We only had two cameras available.   It would have looked great if we had three.  I look at the program now and I find a lot that's lacking."  He added, "But we did the best we could and I think we actually pulled off miracles with the equipment we had."  

A year later Scafe went on to help create another music show for public television, now the longest-running music program in television history, Austin City Limits.

The Session - Performers (with original listing info):

The Session featured a number of rock, jazz and folk groups from the burgeoning music scenes of Champaign-Urbana:

  • REO Speedwagon
  • Head East - "who make use of their Moog-Synthesizer"
  • Mike Murphy & The One Eyed Jacks   - "play rock and roll"
  • The Finchley Boys - "a rock group perform with an electric violin"
  • The All Star Frogs 
  • Coalkitchen
  • Sunday - "group combines hard rock and jazz music"
  • The Ship - "a performance of the folk-rock opera"
  • Rocky Maffit - "composer-lyricist-singer-guitarist"
  • James Barton & Friends - "sing his original folk songs"
  • Ron Bridgewater Quartet - "perform 'Naima' and 'Arman,' characterizes its music as the black man's experience through jazz"
As well as rock and jazz musicians from the St. Louis / Metro East area:
  • Jake Jones - "a rock band whose instruments include a mellotron"
  • Ed Jenny - "sings excerpts from his three rock operas"
  • Spoonriver Band - "combining rock 'n' roll and soul"
  • Magna Crunch - "a six man rock band that blends rock and jazz with choreography and unique musical instruments"
  • Oliver Lake & Black Artist Group (BAG)
  • St. Louis Jazz Quartet
Occasionally the show featured up-and-coming national / international acts:
  • Billy Joel & Friends - "play 'Captain Jack' and other songs"
  • Brownsville Station - "from Ann Arbor, Michigan"
  • Ray Burton & Gino Cunico - "Australian folk rock duo"
  • Fanny - "all girl rock quartet"
Others musicians and groups featured:
  • Frank Bellino - "plays the viola d'amore"
  • London Branch Quartet 
  • Don Brown & The Ozark Mountain Trio
  • Olive Brown - "blues singer"
  • The Country Sounds
  • Rich Crandall Trio - "a contemporary jazz-rock group"
  • Don Crawford - "performs his own music, who is adept at six and 12-string guitars"
  • Dub Crouch, Norman Ford and the Bluegrass Rounders - "group from St. Louis has been playing together for 15 years"
  • Diamond Rio
  • David Earl - "composer-singer peforms his own work.  Puts his poetry to music"
  • Ron Elliston Trio - "all three (Fred Atwood, bass; Chuck Braugham, drums; and Ron Elliston on piano) are members of the renowned University of Illinois Jazz Band"
  • Equinox
  • Gand Family Singers - "Bob Gand and his daughter Gale and son Gary are joined by Joan Berstein in a performance of traditional American folk songs"
  • Gerry Grossman - "rock singer, composer and guitarist performs "When She Smiled" and others"
  • The Group - "a small jazz trio"
  • John Hicks Quartet - "jazz pianist"
  • Vince Huffman Quartet
  • The Illinois Quartet - "works by Will Gay Bottje"
  • The Jazz Progressions
  • Corey Jones - "guitarist plays folk-rock and bluegrass"
  • Oliver Lake & His Black Artist Group
  • Dalphene McAdory - "sings in a small nightclub atmosphere"
  • Oldfield, Branch & Company - "jazz trios"
  • Kay Pace & The Inspirational Wonders - "gospel singers from Freewill Baptist Church, Carbondale"
  • Bob Rembke - "folk-rock guitarist and comedian presents his own works and some by Bob Dylan"
  • The Riverfront Ragtimers - "features Jean Kittrel on piano, Don Frantz on banjo and Don Summers on tuba"
  • The Singing Sphinx - "combine with barbershoppers from Herrin, Illinois"
  • SIU Baroque Ensemble - "performs Bach, Handel"
  • SIU Faculty Brass Quintet
  • Stanton, Sullivan & Riley - "freedom and intense involvement are the cornerstone of this group, a folk trio from Carbondale, Illinois"
Very little footage of this series is in circulation although the American Archive of Public Broadcasting appears to have tapes of most of the programs in their collection.  A few shows however can be found on YouTube:





Saturday, June 17, 2023

Frankie Gem, Ted Ramirez & The Crystals (Galesburg)

In early 1961, 26-year-old singer Frank Hilligoss aka Frankie Gem of Galesburg, Illinois released his first single, "Return To Me," on the USA label.  The record is perhaps most notable however for the instrumental on the flip side, "Crystal Rock," performed by Gem's backing band at the time - The Crystals.

The Crystals' band leader was guitarist Ted Ramirez (pictured second from left), who was also from Galesburg.  Ramirez is credited with writing "Crystal Rock." (His last name spelled Rameriz on the record).

Other members of the group included Jim Sward on drums, Jim Ponce on bass, Joe Padilla on guitar and Ed Padilla on sax, piano and bongos.  Gem is shown on the far right.   Dick Hendrickson (not in photo) was an earlier drummer for the group and may have played on the  record.

Ramirez and The Crystals formed around 1960.  They performed in and around Galesburg in 1961 as Gem's backing band and on their own.

A few months after the single on USA, Frankie Gem recorded and released another single, this time on Ardore Records out of Chicago.  According to an article in the Galesburg Register-Mail, Gem recorded the single "in cooperation with a Chicago orchestra."

The single included "Without A Girl," a tune written by Gem and  Larry Hilligoss, along with a cover of "My Love."   

The Crystals, it appears, were no longer playing or recording with Gem.   They did continue to perform on their own around Galesburg until late 1962.

As for Frankie Gem, he continued to sing and perform around Galesburg for the next several decades, recording at least two more singles along the way.  

For many years Gem was backed by another Galesburg group called The Avenue Chasers aka The Chasers.  The main members of the group included Don Bitts on bass, Frank Mangieri on accordion and Bill Ballard on drums.  Other area musicians appear to have sat in or joined them at different times, including Ted Ramirez on at least one occasion.

In 1967, Frank Gem & The Chasers recorded a cover of Leiber & Stoller's "Loving You" at the Fredlo Recording Studios in Davenport, IA.  The single was released on Le Mann Records.  The b-side, credited only to The Chasers, was a version of the instrumental "A Taste of Honey."

In 1968, details of a collaboration between Gem and a Chicago songwriter were mentioned in Billboard magazine: 

Barbara Ruth reports that her Italian-flavored tune "Sofia Mia" is to be recorded by a Galesburg, Ill. (her home town), group called Frank Gem and the Chasers on either Hickory or Dot.  

It is unclear whether that recording was ever produced.  In 1971 however, Gem recorded a single for Nashville-based Action Records.    This included two songs written by Gem and Larry Hilligoss, "Foolish Love" and "Come In Blysville."

By the mid-1970's, Gem was performing the lounge and supper clubs of Galesburg as the Frankie Gem Trio.   By the 1980's he dropped Gem and was often billed under his given name.

Frank Hilligoss passed away in 2020.  According to his obituary, "he never gave up on his music and continued singing his entire life, bringing joy to all those who listened."

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Barn (Peoria)

In the early 1970's, concert promoters Bill Love of Love, Inc and Jay Goldberg, then owner of Budget Tapes & Records in Peoria, organized a series of rock concerts at the Barn (9201 N. Galena Rd., Route 29) just north of Peoria, Illinois.  These shows featured some of the top touring rock bands of the era along with various local groups.  Nearly two dozen shows have been identified over a one year period but there were likely several more.   

We need your help documenting this short-lived but important venue in central Illinois' rock history!  If you attended a show at the Barn in '71-'72 and can add to the list of shows or just have a story to tell we'd love to hear it.  Also, if you have any photos, posters, flyers or recordings of any kind we'd love to see and hear them.  Please reach out to us at: 

  • Jun 4, 1971 Bloodrock
  • Jun 19, 1971 Spirit
  • Jul 9, 1971 The Byrds, Sunday, Godzilla
  • Jul 16, 1971 Edgar Winter's White Trash, Morning Morning, All Star Frogs
  • Jul 23, 1971 Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station
  • Aug 14, 1971 Crow, Fanny, Podipto
  • Aug 21, 1971 Teagarden & Van Winkle (Bob Seger), Brownsville Station
  • Aug 27, 1971 Sugarloaf, Remedy, Morning Morning
  • Sep 4, 1971 Black Oak Arkansas, The Mackinaw Valley Boys
  • Sep 11, 1971 Mason Profitt, Wilderness Road
  • Sep 22, 1971 Alice Cooper, Mike Quatro Jam Band
  • Nov 9, 1971 Ted Nugent and The Amboy Dukes, Savage Grace
  • Dec 31, 1971 Edgar Winter's White Trash

  • Jan 23, 1972 Uriah Heep
  • Feb 20, 1972 Allman Brothers, REO Speedwagon
  • Feb 25, 1972 James Gang, Point Blank
  • Mar 10, 1972 King Crimson, Black Oak Arkansas, Sweathog
  • Mar 17, 1972 Ajax Maggot, Mannish Boy
  • Mar 24, 1972 Mike Quatro Jam Band, Finchley Boys
  • Mar 31, 1972 Saylor, Smack Water Rye
  • Apr 8, 1972 Cactus, Bloodrock, Pot Liquor
  • Apr 20, 1972 Ten Years After  (CANCELLED?)
  • May 7, 1972 Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • May 13, 1972 Fleetwood Mac, McKendree Spring, Ashton Gardner & Dyke
An incomplete live recording of the King Crimson set from March 10, 1972 has been released by the band in several different formats over the years.  One track from the set, "Peoria" aka "Groon Peoria," was included on the band's 1972 live album Earthbound.   

In 2011, King Crimson officially released more of their set digitally (seven tracks total though several are incomplete) and again in 2017 on CD & Blu-Ray audio as part of their Sailors' Tails box set.

A bootleg recording of the Alice Cooper show from July 23, 1971 can be found on YouTube.

Special thanks to Bill Risoli for sharing these images. 

REVIEWS & ADS (click image to enlarge)

Located seven miles north of Peoria, the Barn was build in 1937 and was originally known as Riverview Stables.  At the time it was one of the best showplaces for horses in central Illinois and was once home to the Peoria Riding Club.   In 1949 it was bought by Max Baty who renamed it Baty's Barn.  In addition to horse shows, the venue hosted farm auctions, hog and cattle sales as well as tractor, boat and RV shows.  

By September of 1954, Baty had replaced the arena floor with concrete and started to hold dances and benefit concerts.   Here are some of the shows we were able to identify from 1954-1967:
  • Sep 10, 1954 Leo Lukehart & His Band w/ Barbara Waldron
  • Sep 11, 1954 Bill Reardon & His Rambling Playboy Entertainers
  • Sep 17, 1954 Joe Evanick & His Orchestra w/ Sharon Evans
  • Sep 26, 1954 Leo Lukeheart & His Band
  • Nov 12, 1954 The Rhythm Rascals w/ Dusty Rhoads
  • Nov 20, 1954 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Nov 27, 1954 The Rhythm Rascals w/ Dusty Rhoads
  • Dec 18, 1954 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Jan 22, 1955 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Jan 30, 1955 Shep Fields and His Rippling Rhythm
  • Feb 5, 1955 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Feb 12, 1955 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Feb 15, 1955 Buddy Moreno & His Orchestra
  • Feb 16, 1955 Leo Peeper & His Orchestra w/ Judy Martin, Penny Kunard and Jackie Jay
  • Feb 22, 1955 Eddy Howard & His Orchestra
  • Mar 12, 1955 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Mar 19, 1955 Ted Lewis, His Orchestra & Revue
  • Mar 26, 1955 Rudy James & His Orchestra
  • Apr 8, 1955 Jimmy Palmer & His Orchestra w/ Julio Maro
  • Apr 17, 1955 WPEO Barn Party: Oklahoma Wrangers, Tommy Sosebee, Buddy Wright and Viola Trussley
  • Apr 23, 1955 Art Mooney & His Band
  • Apr 24, 1955 WPEO Barn Party: Oklahoma Wrangers, Tommy Sosebee, Buddy Wright and Viola Trussley
  • Apr 30, 1955 Jerry Mercer with David Carroll & His Orchestra
  • May 13, 1955 Sammy Kaye & His Orchestra
  • May 14, 1955 WPEO Barn Party: Oklahoma Wrangers, Tommy Sosebee, Buddy Wright
  • May 21, 1955 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • May 28, 1955 Eddy Howard & His Orchestra
  • Jun 3, 1955 Oklahoma Wranglers, Kay Clark, Tommy Sosebee
  • Jun 4, 1955 Johnnie Kaye & His Orchestra
  • Jul 9, 1955 Pee Wee Hunt & His Band
  • Jul 23, 1955 Webb Pierce w/ His Wondering Boys, Red Sovine, Peach Seed Jones
  • Jul 30, 1955 Ray Anthony & His Orchestra
  • Aug 6, 1955 Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys
  • Aug 13, 1955 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Aug 18, 1955 Billy May Orchestra
  • Aug 27, 1955 Leo Lukehart & His Orchestra
  • Sep 2, 1955 The Crew Cuts
  • Sep 10, 1955 Pat Boone, Ernie Rudy & His Choral Recording Orchestra
  • Sep 17, 1955 Jan Garber & His Orchestra
  • Sep 23, 1955 The Commanders w/ Eddie Grady
  • Sep 24, 1955 Harry Cool w/ Freeddy Stevens Orchestra
  • Sep 30, 1955 Night Beat Record Hop w/ DJ Johnnie Coy
  • Oct 1, 1955 Ralph Marterie & His Downbeat Orchestra
  • Oct 8, 1955 Buddy Moreno & His Orchestra
  • Oct 23, 1955 Blue Barron & Orchestra
  • Nov 4, 1955 Wayne King & Orchestra
  • Nov 12, 1955 Jimmy Palmer & His Orchestra
  • Nov 26, 1955 Freddy Barnes & His Orchestra
  • Dec 10, 1955 Eddy Howard & His Orchestra
  • Dec 18, 1955 Les Elgart & Orchestra w/ Don Forbes
  • Dec 31, 1955 Freddy Barnes & His Orchestra
  • Jan 21, 1956 The Crew Cuts, Bill Hardesty Orchestra
  • Feb 4, 1956 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Mar 3, 1956 Jimmy Palmer & His Orchestra
  • Mar 24, 1956 The Hilltoppers w/ Jimmy Sacca, Bill Hardesty Orchestra
  • Apr 21, 1956 Freddie Barnes & His Orchestra
  • Apr 28, 1956 Ted Weems & His Orchestra
  • May 19, 1956 Bill Viehmeyer & His Orchestra
  • Jun 9, 1956 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Jun 23, 1956 Eddy Howard & His Orchestra
  • Jun 30, 1956 Buddy Moreno & His Orchestra
  • Jul 28, 1956 Ted Weems & His Orchestra, Phyllis Powell
  • Sep 2, 1956 Ray Anthony & His Orchestra  (CANCELLED)
  • Sep 8, 1956 Ray Pearl & His Musical Gems
  • Sep 22, 1956 The Four Aces
  • Sep 29, 1956 Dick Jurgen's Orchestra (CANCELLED)
  • Oct 6, 1956 Chuck Foster & His Orchestra
  • Oct 20, 1956 Bill Wimberly & His Country Rhythm Boys
  • Oct 21, 1956 Dixieland Jam Session
  • Oct 29, 1956 Chuck Willis & Roy Gaines
  • Dec 31, 1956 The Crew Cuts, Tommy Allen & His Orchestra
  • Jan 18, 1957 WIRL Night Beat w/ DJ Johnny Coy, Freddie Stevens Orchestra
  • Jan 19, 1957 Fred Dale & His Orchestra
  • Feb 1, 1957 WIRL Night Beat w/ DJ Johnny Coy, Cary Robards Jr. & His Orchestra
  • Feb 2, 1957 Chuck Foster & His Orchestra
  • Feb 23, 1957 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Mar 17, 1957 The Hilltoppers, Jimmy Featherstone & His Orchestra
  • May 21, 1957 WSM Grand Ole Opry: Marty Robbins, Louvin Brothers, Lee Emerson, Smiley & Kitty with Rita Faye, George McCormick and the Teardrops
  • May 25, 1957 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Aug 20, 1957 Hank Thompson & His Brazos Valley Boys, Wanda Jackson, Joe Carson, Buddy Wright
  • Oct 19, 1957 Fats Brown & His Rhythm Ramblers
  • Nov 9, 1957 Eddy Howard & His Orchestra
  • Dec 31, 1957 Bill Viehmeyer & His Orchestra
  • Apr 11, 1958 Spring Swing Teen Dance:  DJ Wayne West, Joe Kilton & Band, The Rockin' R's
  • Apr 26, 1958 Chuck Foster & His Orchestra
  • May 24, 1958 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Jun 8, 1958 Hank Locklin, Jimmy Louis, Buddy Wright, Carl Trantham
  • Sep 27, 1958 The Rockin' R's, Clover Club Trio
  • Oct 5, 1958 Don Reid
  • Dec 31, 1958 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • May 16, 1959 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Dec 31, 1959 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Apr 2, 1960 Bill Carver's Orchestra
  • May 14, 1960 Walt Coughlin's Band
  • May 20, 1960 WSM Grand Ole Opry: Kitty Wells, Marvin Rainwater, Bobby Helms, Johhny & Jack, Bill Phillips, Tennessee Mountain Boys, Webb Pierce
  • May 21, 1960 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • May 28, 1960 Zeke Sanders & His Orchestra
  • Aug 28, 1960 Bill Carver's Orchestra
  • Nov 12, 1960 Ralph Marterie & His Orchestra
  • Dec 31, 1960 Paul Wireman & His Orchestra, w/ Carol Jackson
  • May 6, 1961 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Sep 9, 1961 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Dec 31, 1961 Paul Wireman & His Orchestra
  • Feb 3, 1962 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • May 26, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Jun 2, 1962 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Jun 16, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Sep 15, 1962 Ray Price & Band
  • Sep 22, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Sep 29, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Oct 13, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Nov 10, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Nov 24, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Dec 8, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Dec 23, 1962 Booker T. & The MGs (CANCELLED)
  • Dec 31, 1962 Biddie Biddison's Orchestra
  • Nov 15, 1963 Ralph Flanagan & His Orchestra
  • Jun 13, 1964 Freddie Stevens' Orchestra
  • Jan 23, 1965 Jackie Wilson & His Upsetters
  • Aug 28, 1965 Seven Sounds, Lee Brown, Miss Joanne Baker & The Harvey Scales Revue
  • Sep 8, 1967 Tiny Hill & His Orchestra
  • Sep 23,1967 Bud Sherman & His Orchestra
  • Sep 29, 1967 Bill Hardesty & His Orchestra
  • Oct 7, 1967 Gary Newton Orchestra
Exact dates for other shows from the 1960's such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, and Ike & Tina Turner  have not yet been identified.

In 1962, Max Baty passed away and the Barn was sold to E.T. Biddison who renamed it the Riverview Ballroom.  The number of musical events at the venue declined greatly in the years that followed. One notable dance in particular, sponsored by the Challengers Club of Peoria, had disastrous results.    

When Booker T. & The MGs failed to show up for their performance on December 22, 1962 a riot ensued.   A crowd of 400 angry customers began breaking windows and plumbing fixtures.   The police responded in force with shotguns and tear gas resulting in at least one patron being treated for a head injury.    

In 1967 the Barn was sold again and remained Donovan's Ballroom.  Other than a few dances that year music did not return to the Barn until the rock shows of 1971 and 1972.   

After 1972, music at the location seems to have stopped for good.  Around 1990, the Barn returned to its original purpose, a place for horse shows and auctions.   It is currently the Heart of Illinois Arena.

This story was updated on 5/26/23.