Monday, January 29, 2024

Bill Keen And The Tradewinds (Bloomington-Normal)

Bill Keen and The Tradewinds were a Bloomington-Normal quintet that included three Illinois State University students.  Members of the group were:

Bill Keen, 19, of Urbana, a music major at ISNU and vocalist for the group
Jerry King, 18, of 910 S. Summit, Bloomington, an ISNU student, guitar
Jim Griner, 19, of Cheneyville, another ISNU student, bongos
Don Abbott, 35, 523 N. Main, Bloomington, organist at the Hi-Do-Ho
Neal Kenny, 22, of Louisville, KY, the drummer

In the summer of 1961 the group released a single on Lesley Records out of Louisville, Kentucky.  An article in the Daily Pantagraph from August 6, 1961 mentions that their record was the first on the new label.

The a-side, "Summer in the Lowlands," was a ballad written by Keen (which was actually a stage name used by Lawrence William Ostema Jr.).



The flip side contained a rock n' roll number, "Don't Call Me," which was written by Al Jones of Bloomington (616 S. Clinton).  According to the Pantagraph, Jones, who was not a member of the group, "has been writing music for about eight years and said he got most of his inspiration for tunes while working in the noisy Eureka Williams plant where he's a machine operator."

Curiously, the article mentions that the Kentucky label, Lesley Records, would be opening a talent office at 614 S. Clinton in Bloomington (next door to Jones) in the near future.   

It is unclear whether or not that office ever opened but at least one other group from central Illinois, Mike Brewer and the Galaxies from Champaign-Urbana, recorded for the label.   Also, between 1961 and 1962, Lesley Records had a bowling team in the Bloomington area.

As for Keen and Tradewinds, their record was reviewed in the September 11, 1961 issue of Billboard magazine with the ballad, "Summer In The Lowlands," receiving three stars or "moderate sales potential."

The group however does not appear to have lasted very long.  Ostema dropped "Keen" and performed under his own name in the years that followed.
 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Bill Warren And The Country Wildcats (Tiskilwa)

Bill Warren and the Country Wildcats from Tiskilwa, Illinois.     The group, also known as the Tiskilwa Wildcats, recorded just one single in 1960 for Fire Records.

The a-side, "Heart Stepping Stones," was written by Warren.  The b-side, an instrumental track called "Redwing Bongo," was arranged by Warren and the group.  Both songs were published by Poll-Bart Music of Glendale, CA which appears to have been the publishing company of country singer-songwriter Billy Barton.

The Fire record label, which was also based in California, appears to have been closely associated with Barton as well.  All of the known singles on the label have some connection to him including two released by Barton himself.

In a March 30, 1960 article in the Wyoming (IL) Post Herald, Warren's single is mentioned as being released by B & B Enterprises.  Again, this suggests a possible connection with Barton.

How exactly Warren and the Wildcats ended up being in business with Barton is however still a mystery.  Curiously, another north-central Illinois group, the Nite-Caps from LaSalle, also released a single on Fire Records around the same time. Their single was produced by Barton.

As for Warren and the Wildcats, they performed in and around Bureau County and western Illinois throughout the first half of the 1960s.  For several years in a row the group provided the entertainment at the "Annual Kentucky Reunion & Picnic" held in Wyanet, Illinois. 

If you have any more info, photos or memories of Bill Warren and the Country Wildcats please reach out to us at: downstatesounds@gmail.com