Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The McLean County Discography is now available!

For the last several years we've been working hard to document every music recording with connections to Bloomington-Normal and McLean County, Illinois.  This includes musicians and artists that were born in the county as well as those that came to call it home.  The result is a discography of hundreds of records. 

From privately pressed singles to major label hits, the county has produced a surprising number of  releases in a variety of genres.  Rock, pop, R&B, jazz, country and folk are all represented here.

At this time, the discography covers from 1939 to 1990 and is limited to vinyl (and shellac) record releases.  We hope to continue to expand this list to include other formats in the coming months. If you or someone you know from McLean County released a record, particularly before 1991, please get in touch and we can add it to the list. 

For the full list:  McLean County Discography

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Return To The Airwaves!

The Downstate Sounds radio show returns to the air on Thursday April 29th at 8 pm on WESN 88.1 FM in Bloomington, Illinois or listen online using TuneIn. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Ebonies and Midwest Records (Springfield)

Roy Williams, Arlene Williams, Marvin Jackson

Ebonies' Record Climbs on Local Charts 
by Bill Jones ( Illinois State Journal, April 20, 1971 )

The three stand in front of the microphone singing - maybe a little soul, maybe some popular music, a ballad or standards - they're very versatile.  The two guys and one girl are wearing shiny black outfits that look like leather, but actually are a lightweight synthetic.  Arlene's is a jumpsuit.  Marvin and Roy wear belted shirts and pants.  Both guys have red scarves at their necks.

They're the Ebonies, a Springfield group which has been together for nearly three years.  They had a record, "Ebony Soul Step," a couple years ago which hit number 17 on the local charts.  They currently have a record, "You've Got What I Want," which made it to number 12 on local charts.  And they have another recording in the works, a two-part song entitled, "Who Do You Think," a soul song with a rock sound and a religious message.

The Ebonies are Roy Williams, lead singer (second tenor) and choreographer; Arlene Williams (Mrs. Roy Williams), contralto, co-choreographer and song writer; and Marvin Jackson, lead singer (first tenor), musical arranger and song writer.

The three were born and raised in Springfield and are "proud of it."  All sang in such events as school talent shows while in school here.  Marvin and Roy had been together a few years earlier in the Capitol Teens.  Then Roy was in the Dupree's.  Arlene, meanwhile, had been with the Four Sharps and a Natural.  But three years ago the three broke the tradition of all-male or all-female groups and formed their own ensemble with two guys and a girl.

They perform regularly in Springfield as well as occasionally in St. Louis, Indiana and Chicago.  The Ebonies have performed in various places, including night clubs, high school auditoriums and even at weddings.  Their back up group at these gigs is either the Junior Jive Kings or Cold Sweat, a group out of Alton.  Terry Payne, Cold Sweat guitarist, assists the Ebonies in arranging material.  Both groups are also heard on the recordings.

In addition to the two singles already released, the group has about six "in the can" to be released as singles or put together on a "Best of..." album.  The group runs its recording company, Midwest Records, and a music publishing company, Lincoln Land Publishing.  Both are fully-licensed to be in operation.  Midwest recorded the group on a 4-track system.  The companies are financed by the trio, who put earnings from their gigs as well as from their daytime jobs into the recording firm.  Presently the Ebonies are the exclusive talent on the label, but Roy hopes that someday the company could develop into another "Motown" and have several artists recording under the label.

Roy's and Arlene's day jobs are a far cry from their work with the Ebonies.  Arlene works for the Illinois Department of Registration and Education.  Roy works in the central accounting division of the Illinois Department of Finance.  Marvin has been a state worker, too.  He was employed by the Secretary of State's office prior to the shuffle of employees after the death of Paul Powell.

The Ebonies have found that it takes a lot of time, effort and money to put together a good performance - both in person and on record.  But the price tag isn't too high for this talented group of musicians, who look to the future and see bigger and better things ahead.

The Ebonies and Midwest Records discography

  • The Ebonies (w/ Mellow Fellows.. Orchestra) - "Ebony Soul Step" / "He Didn't Want To Lose (His Good Thing)", both songs written by R. Williams, 1968

  • The Ebonies - "You Got What I Want" (R. Williams) / "I'm Not Asking For Much" (M. Jackson), 1971

  • Marvin Jackson - "So Nice (Coming Home to You)" (B. Crutcher & M. Thomas) featuring John Crisp on Hammond organ / Jerry Cook - "Sing A Happy Song" (J. Cook), both songs with vocal background by US For the PEOPLE, 1973/74

The first single was likely recorded at Golden Voice Recording Co. in South Pekin, Illinois.  The second single, as indicated in the article, was recorded using a "4-track sytem."  The Marvin Jackson / Jerry Cook single was recorded at the Country Politan Studios (Illini Records) in Springfield.  

Marvin Jackson 
from a 1995 article by Matthew Dietrich in The State Journal-Register

As a child, Marvin "Sarge" Jackson always knew he was meant for the the stage.  It wasn't until 1956 when, at 13, he knew how he would get there.  That was the year Jackson first heard and saw Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers perform "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."

Like most of his friends who grew up in the John Hays Homes in the 1950s, Jackson spent much of his spare time singing beneath streetlights in the complex's courtyards.  "We'd go from one court to another, singing different songs," Jackson says.  "People would raise their windows and listen and tell you what you needed to do.  That taught us a lot about getting everything just perfect."

But when he saw Lymon and the Teenagers, he saw where doo-wop music was going, and he wanted to go along.  "The other groups, like the Platters, sang really well, but Frankie Lymon had the moves to go with it," Jackson recalls.  "He was the first rock doo-wop."

Jackson put together his own group, The Capital Teens, and tried to capture the energy and precision of the Teenagers.  The Capital Teens refined their act at clubs in Springfield's black entertainment district, at sock hops and on locally produced television shows like "The Pegwill Pete Show" (a sort of local "Howdy Dowdy") and "Teenage Rage."

In segregated Springfield, however, an all-black group could not play in "the levee," the white entertainment district, so Jackson put together an all-white band to back him.  The group, Sarge and the Thunderbirds, attracted attention from Nashville-based Decca Records and headed south to record a series of demos.  The experience did not lead to a hit record, but it taught Jackson some bitter lessons about racial tension.

"In Nashville, I had to stay in a black hotel, and we could only rehearse at night because I couldn't be seen with the white guys," Jackson says.  "But we could play at black and white nightclubs.  I was accepted as an entertainer, but not as a human being."

Nashville's racial atmosphere led to the breakup of that band.  Jackson headed west, eventually landing in the San Francisco area.  There he met an up-and-coming singer named Sylvester Stewart, soon to be better known as Sly Stone.

"I had demos and posters from Nashville, and a drummer friend who knew Sly saw them and thought they looked good," Jackson says.  Stone started booking Jackson's new band and, more importantly, taught him the rules of copyright and music publishing.

When Jackson returned to Springfield a few years later and formed the Ebonies, he also started his own record company, Midwest Records, and publishing unit, Lincoln Land Music.

After a serious car accident driving home from a gig in Quincy during an ice storm in the mid-'70s, Jackson quit traveling and pursued radio work.  Still, music has remained in Jackson's blood, and he is planning a re-release of his songs "So Nice Coming Home To You" and "I've Been Here All the Time" on childhood friend Robert Adams' Brick City Records label.

Music may change, Jackson says, but his early days beneath the streetlights taught him about its purest elements.  "We didn't need prerecorded music and technology," Jackson says, "Our voices were our electricity."

December 19, 1969

May 18, 1970
June 10, 1969

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Keith Knudsen - Phone Interview March 1, 1976

Earlier this year, drummer, singer and songwriter Keith Knudsen was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Doobie Brothers.   

Born in Le Mars, Iowa, Knudsen's family moved to Princeton, Illinois when Keith was in his early teens.  While a student at Princeton High School, Knudsen began his musical career playing in area bands such as the Sir-Vays and the Coachmen.


After high school Knudsen moved to California, performing with several different groups before joining the Doobie Brothers in 1974.

In early 1976, just prior to the release of the Doobie Brothers' album Takin' It To The Streets, Knudsen was back in Princeton visiting his parents and "the old home town."  The local newspaper, the News Tribune, ran the following article:

This led to the following phone interview with local radio personality Don Zukowski on March 1, 1976:

Knudsen remained with the Doobie Brothers until they disbanded in 1982.  Afterwards he formed the country rock band Southern Pacific with fellow Doobie John McFee.     

Knudsen is credited with organizing a one-off Doobies' reunion in 1987 to raise money for the National Veterans Foundation which ultimately led to the group reforming.  Knudsen rejoined the group on a full time basis in 1993.

Knudsen died from pneumonia in 2005 at the age of 56.  He is buried in Princeton, Illinois.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Show #48: Holiday Edition 2020

Jim Easter & The ArtisticsWhere Is Santa ClausCap1962Mattoon / Charleston
Bonnie LouIt's Christmas-Time AgainCandee1958Towanda / Carlock
Tex WilliamsThe Winter SongCapitol1949Ramsey
Lyle MayfieldWinter Wonderland - no label -2008Greenville
June ChristyThe Christmas Song ?1949Decatur
Red Norvo & His OrchestraI've Got My Love To Keep Me WarmBrunswick1937Beardstown
Smiley BurnetteRudolph The Red Nosed ReindeerCapitol1952Summum
Miles DavisBlue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)Columbia1962Alton / East St. Louis
Jim Easter & The ArtisticsWhite ChristmasCap1962Mattoon / Charleston
Carl TrentJingle Bell TruckerGolden Voice?Peoria
Burl IvesWhat A Lucky Boy Am IColumbia1968Hunt City
Marty RobertsLet's Give Santa Claus A ChristmasDome1951Chenoa
Joe DowellChristmas In Ann ArborJourney1973Bloomington
Emil "Farmer" BillChristmas In A BarnGolden Voice1969Peoria
Peetie WheatstrawSanta Claus BluesDecca1935East St. Louis

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Best of Downstate Illinois Garage Rock 1965-1968

Culled from various past shows, we present downstate Illinois' best garage rock from 1965-1968 all in one program. 50 bands. Two hours of mind blowing, fuzzed-out teenage angst from the second half of the sixties.

Meat DeptThis Weeks ChildrenPolar Bear1967Decatur
The War LordsReal Fine LadyThor1966Bloomington
One-Eyed JacksDie TodayLakeside1966Champaign
The VectorsWhat In The WorldAnalysis1965Macomb
The Raindear ArmySubterranean SunsetLedger1967Springfield
The IntrudersShe's MineIT1966Pittsfield
The Mod 4Open Up Your Mind[Fredlo]1968Aledo
The FurnitureI Love It BabyStature1967Galesburg
The CobblestonesI'll Hide My Head In The SandMobie1967Bloomington
Fugitive Five(I Ain't Gonna Give Up) My Way Of LifeCell1966Decatur
Barry Ebling & The InvadersI Can Make It Without YouNorman1967Granite City
The BacardisDon't Sell YourselfMidgard1966Rantoul
Kookie CookWorking ManBig Beat1966Danville
Inner SanctumCan't Make It Without YouThunder1968Virden
Third BoothSound Inc. (I Need Love)Thunder1968Canton
The Four A WhileLow Class ManBig Beat1966Charleston
The JadesYou Have To WalkClark1967Herrin
The Warner BrothersLonely IDunwich1966Peoria
Nickel BagThe WoodsRembrandt1966Carbondale
Dean CarterRebel WomanMilky Way1967Danville
Beggars Opera CoGone From MeGolden Voice1968Farmington
The CliquesSo HardCustom1967Champaign
The VanguardsWhat's Wrong With You- no label -1966Mendota
The CamarosI Need You No MoreCustom1968Petersburg
Dave & The SquiresThe Girl Of My DreamsRadex1965Lena
Lee RustTry, Try To Leave MeRofran1966Bloomington
The IntrudersBringin' Me DownClaremont1966Rockford
The ExplorersBlue Flavored LollipopSandy's1968Quincy
The Wylde HeardStop It GirlPhillips1967Peoria
Five Of A KindeGoodbye GirlGarric1967Quad Cities
The Night PeopleAin't Gonna HappenTuggie1967Olney
Suburban 9 To 5Walk AwayLedger1967Peoria
The RavinsAndySyndicate1967Gibson City
Livin' EndBut I'll LiveKB1968Breese
Kracker-Barrel KomplexDifferent Than MePage1968LaSalle-Peru
The PaegansI Can Only Give You EverythingRampro1967Rockford
The MaraudersWarningHeads1966Granite City
The KomonsCaught In The TrapFeature1966Rockford
The CoachmenDon't Want To Lose HerLedger1967Peoria
The Seeds of ReasonI'm Your True LoveLakeside1966Rockford
Rod & The SatalitesShe CaresIrish1965Quincy
The RegimentMy Soap Won't FloatG & G1967Champaign
The Del-RaysLollipop LadyArch1968Mascoutah
North Bridge CompanyCrying All AloneSand "G"1968Peoria
The StarlitesWait For MeZap1965Danville
The InspirationsBaby Please Come HomeFeature1966Rock Falls / Sterling
The Coming GenerationDown To The CitySummit1968Dwight
Mystery MeatGive Me Your LoveDirector1968Carlinville
The UnknownsModern EraMarlo1966Belleville
The NomaddsDon't Cheat On MeRadex1965Freeport