West Michigan Mid-Sixties Bands
Recorded in Grand Rapids
A message from Pat (August 2001)
I am living in Cleveland now but am originally from Manistee which is the hometown of Band X (not Ludington as you have listed). I knew most of the members of Band X which evolved into a band called Red Apple Road.
People I knew were:
Jim Toczynski, keyboards
Jay Fortier, bass
Roger Tarczon, guitar
Phil Tarczon, drums
Note: I could have the two Tarczon brothers mixed up in regard to who played what but they were both in the band.
Dan Hansen, lead guitar
Gifford "Bojangles" Jessup, lead vocals.
Interview with Jay Fortier of Band X
GRR: Hello, Jay. Thanks for getting ahold of me. First of all, are you any relation to Jason Fortier, bass player of Kalamazoo's notorious King Tammy? He's a great guy!
Jake, what a coincidence! I have a son named Jason, and he even lived in Kalamazoo a couple of years ago, but he is not the Jason you refer to. He is a guitar player, and lives in Manistee, which is, by the way, where Band X was from. We had a (rather unscrupulous) manager from Ludington, but we were all from the Manistee area. Seems minor, I suppose, but to the locals it is (or at least was) an important distinction.
GRR: I'd love to hear more about Band X. Here's a few questions for you to answer at your convenience:
Jake, I am glad to give you some input, and I hope I don't ramble on too much.
GRR: When did you start?
I started a band in 1964, and after a few personnel and name changes, it became Band X by 1966.
GRR: Who was in the band and what did they play?
There continued to be personnel changes through the years, but for the most part, the band consisted of: Dan Hansen (who passed away in 2000), lead guitar, cornet, flute and vocals; Al Swanson, guitar and vocals; Jim Toczynski, keyboards (mostly piano), saxophone and occasional bass guitar; Bob Doleys, drums and percussion; and myself, bass guitar, guitar, vocals. One of the members who was with us for a while was Edgar Struble, organ, trombone, valve trombone, vocals. He went on to be the musical director for Kenny Rogers from 1978 to 1992, and now lives in L.A., where he writes scores for TV and movies, and still travels back to Nashville occasionally to do studio A&R work for some real heavyweights in the biz. Another of our members was Wayne Waddell, a guitarist, who played for a time with "Elephant's Memory", a New York City band who backed John Lennon on several occasions, including a week-long appearance on "The Mike Douglas Show" and the "Live In Madison Square Garden" concert, clips of which are still seen on VH1, and other places.
GRR: How did you know each other?
Manistee is a small town, and there were not a lot of young musicians around, so we were sort of drawn together by a common goal of having a band. Jim and I went to high school together, and I knew Bob from grade school. We were fortunate to meet Dan, who was really an excellent musician. Then we met Al, and all the pieces were in place.
GRR: How many recordings did you release, and what were they?
We released one 45 rpm single in 1968. It was an independent production on our own label, "S.M.F.". It got some pretty good airplay in a few markets, including GR, Kalamazoo, Flint and Saginaw. Side A was "How Good The Rain", written by our good friend Roger Harcourt, and side B was "Come Back To Me", written by Dan Hansen. We recorded a total of ten songs at Phil Roberts' "Midwestern Sound" studio onWest Leonard Street in Grand Rapids, and a couple more at a studio near Flint. All were originals except our own rendition of "Summertime", which we decided to record because it was one of our more popular stage songs, and because Dan sang it so well and played a great cornet solo on it (I played it at his memorial service). We were working toward release of an album, and had a second single nearly ready for release when a major split happened in the band, and the project was sidetracked, never to be completed. I found out in 1974 from a former booking agent of ours in Flint that we had been scouted by "Bell Records" and "U.S.A. Records" and possibly one other, but our manager rejected them and never told us about it. It seems he had his own twisted agenda, and our goals and aspirations were not necessarily his main objectives. Still a very sore subject for me.We did some more studio stuff a few years later on two albums that Roger Harcourt produced of his material.
GRR: Where did you perform, and did you make much money?
For the first few years we played a lot of school dances and teen dance places in our hometown and surrounding areas. There were a lot of great places (and great owners) that really gave young bands a chance to get out and get some exposure. That is one element that I feel badly about for the kids today. There are not the opportunities for them like we had. Some of the big places were: The Platters, Cadillac; Paul's Place, Manistee; Club Ponytail, Harbor Springs; The Tanz Haus, Traverse City; The Teen Chalet, Gaylord; Daniel's Den, Saginaw; The Factory, Holland; several large roller rinks, like Johnny's, Custer; Shelby Pavilion, Shelby; Muskegon and Grand Haven roller rinks. We hooked up with a booking agent from Grand Rapids, and started playing places around here like The Place and Cannonsburg Ski Lodge. We also got involved as opening act status for several large shows at The Welsh Civic Auditorium in GR and The Windjammer in Kalamazoo. We played one show at the Welsh that headlined "The Box Tops" which also featured two Grand Rapids bands, "The Fredric" and an all-girl group, "The Six Pack". We opened for "The Blues Magoos" and "The Shadows of Knight" at The Windjammer. We later used a couple of booking agents, one from Flint, and one from Fort Wayne, Indiana. They kept us quite busy in the southeastern part of Michigan, and into a five-state swing, mostly playing college gigs. We played bars occasionally, but the bulk of that type of stuff came later. As for the money, we never got rich off of it, that's for sure, but we did alright for young guys trying to keep ourselves in college and pay the bills. We ran it like a business, had a "band fund" for expenses, recording, advertising and stuff, and for a while, we got paid by check from our manager's office.
GRR: When and why did you break up?
Now we get to the big question. We broke up in 1972. We had changed the name to "North Country" in 1971 in a kind of direction shift. There had been several personnel changes by then, and Jim and I were the only originals left. It's hard to say why we broke up, really, other than that there were some personality conflicts that emerged which finally "broke the camel's back", so to speak, and we were all tired of the hassle of trying to please everyone else. (It was the 70's, after all, and there was a lot of altered thinking and perceptions going around). We just sort of went our own ways for a time, all living in different areas. By the mid 70's I was playing occasionally with Al and whoever else happened to be available for a few "pick-up" gigs. That still goes on to this day. Beginning in 1987, the five original members reunited several times for special occasions. We became the ultimate reunion band, playing 20th, 25th, and 30th class reunions for both of the Manistee high schools. Talk about a huge deja vu! Same gymnasiums and cafeterias, many of the same people we had played for so many years before. It was really special, and we are blessed that we were able to do them. It was great fun, and with a few sparse rehearsals we had most of our arrangements, harmonies, and even endings! This continued until Dan's passing in 2000. We have played two more since then, the most recent being in October of 2001, with Roger Harcourt (who had also been a member at one time) on guitar. We are scheduled to do another one this October, Lord willing.
GRR: How did you come up with the name "Band X"?
At the time, a lot of products being sold on TV and everywhere else were always being taste-tested and quality-tested etc. with the (supposedly inferior) brand x...get it? Well, I was always one to appreciate a good pun, and I couldn't resist. I was sitting in class and it just sort of popped into my head. I started to laugh, and I poked Jim and whispered it to him, and he started to laugh, and we were both cracking up over it! Sold!
GRR: Who influenced Band X and what other bands' songs did you cover in your live shows?
As far as influences, we were all over the map. We used a sort of democratic approach, in that everyone brought material that they liked, and thought we could do well when we were doing cover tunes. Later when we started writing, one person would have an idea or main theme, and we would develop it collectively from there. We did covers of popular tunes of the day, and always tried to stay somewhat current. In addition to those, we were drawn to things that were slightly "out of the box", especially album cuts. We liked songs with more of an arrangement than three-chord rockers, although we did those too. We did a lot of harmony stuff, and because we had a couple of horn players, it opened up other areas as well. At one point when we were six-piece, we had three horns in the band as well as two helpers/roadies (Dave Bryan and Steve Winfield) who also both played trombone. We occasionally had five horns on stage, and still a three-piece rhythm section behind them. We liked to string things together into medlies, and were somewhat known for that. There is an interesting reference to this on a website out of Lansing known as http://www.myfirstband.com/firstbandbeast.html apparently our cover of the "Abbey Road" medley made an impression on someone enough that he would mention it today. That makes me feel really good. We also had a medley from "The White Album" that we put together. Long before "Cat Mother and the All-Night Newsboys" did it in the early 70's, we had a "Rock'n'Roll Medley" of classic 50's and early 60's that was about 15 minutes long that would usually wear out the dancers at the end of one of the sets. (We still use it!). Anyway, back to your question. We were (of course), immensely influenced by The Beatles, but we also brought in a lot of other elements, such as (but not limited to): Beach Boys, The Association, Procol Harum, Moody Blues, Doors, Steppenwolf, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Buckinghams, Cryan Shames, Turtles, Grass Roots, Kinks, The Who, Zombies, Faces, Joe Cocker, Rolling Stones, (early on...Monkees, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, Ventures, etc., on and on, ad infinitum). Later, when things got a little heavier, we did some Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton/Cream, Led Zeppelin, etc.
GRR: Any crazy "rock and roll" stories?
Well, there are a few good ones, to be sure, as we were together for quite a long time. Some would be fit to tell, and others may not, you know what I mean. One that would work I'll call "Pharaohs For A Night". Our manager told us we were going to play with "Sam the Sham & The Pharoahs" (of "Wooly Bully" and "Little Red Ridin' Hood" fame). We thought it would be an opening act thing like we had done a few times before. We went to the place to set up in the afternoon. It was in an Armory or something like that, and I think it was in Lapeer, by Flint. We set up our stuff and did a sound check, and we were about to leave to go get something to eat when Sam strolled in (in his turban) with one other guy (a guitar player) and asked if we were "his band" (?). We said no, not that we were aware of. He said he had been told there would be a backup band provided for him. This did not look good. I called the dipshit manager, and he said "I told you that you were going to play with him". I said "yes, but you didn't say we were going to play WITH HIM!!!!". Anyway, since there was no other band lined up, it was us. We had to stay and rehearse with him, and did not get out to eat, as we had to change and open the show. Then we had to back him up as well. He was a real jerk, and was not happy with us (we sort of had attitudes by this time), and we were really goofing off and mimicking his quirky moves and laughing our asses off. Our set by ourselves blew him off the stage. To cap off a perfect night, our guitars ( Fender Stratocaster, Mustang, and Jazz Bass) accidentally got left there that night. The back of the stage had a curtain that came to the floor, and there was about two feet of space to the wall from the curtain. The guitars were all in flat, rectangular cases, and were stacked up by the curtain. In the shuffle of moving the equipment out, they got bumped behind the curtain and no one saw them. The next night when we were setting up in Lansing, it was "hey Dave, where's the guitars?". "I don't know, Steve has them". "Steve, where's the guitars?". "I don't know, Dave has them". Oh-oh! We're in trouble! Luckily, we were able to rent some from Marshall Music (they weren't in the best of shape, and made for a long, tough night). The next day, which was a Sunday, we had to go back to Lapeer and get someone to open up the place for us. Fortunately, they were there. Dave and Steve had been worried beyond belief that they were going to have to replace them. Of course, we hadn't made it very easy for them, either. All in all, it had been a tough weekend.Last updated on May 17, 2004.
In reply to your question in the email: I was 15 when I started the band in 1964. We were all about the same age, so not much more to add to that. All the original members were 15, 16, or 17 when joining, depending on when they joined. Later members were mostly college age, 18, 19, 20. When we first started to play out, none of us had a driver's license, so my Dad and Mom used to drive us to the gigs in Dad's van. They were our biggest fans. We practiced either in our garage or in Bob Doleys' basement. His parents put up with a lot from us, too. God bless them all. All of our parents were very encouraging and supportive.
In addition to the members already named, I would like to list the other members who were in the band, even briefly. This is not a chronological order by any means. They are: Bo Jessop, drums, percussion, vocals; Al Blick, guitar, vocals; Jack Purkiss, guitar, vocals; Joe King, drums; Denny Burr, guitar, vocals; Rod DeWitt, organ, vocals.
I've covered the age thing. As for time frame stuff, the single was released in 1968, as I mentioned. All of our recording sessions were in '68 & '69 for our own stuff. The stuff we did with Roger Harcourt was done at "Midwestern Sound" in 1971 for his album "...and the horse you rode in on..." which was released about '73 or '74. He released "Here: Before My Eyes" in 1980. Some of us did some stuff with him in '79 for that one, but the tracks we worked on were either not included or were recut by studio players in Detroit (at the suggestion of the co-producer). Both albums were on Roger's own "Good Day Records" label.
Regarding the name change to "North Country" in '71, as I mentioned, it was related to a kind of "direction shift" we were attempting. We had some difficulties with the aforementioned dipshit manager, and we needed to move on. Roger was in the band at the time, and had written a song called "North Country Song" (our track contribution to his first album). It was about where we lived and the areas we grew up in and were very attached to, so we decided to try to reflect that in our name (sort of like Chicago, Boston, Alabama, etc.). I think it confused people more than anything, and was probably kind of a back-pedaling step, but we tried it anyway. Some people liked it, some didn't.
Our friend Gary Dunbar had purchased the entire set of equipment from "Midwestern Sound" in the mid 70's and moved it to Cadillac, where he ran "North Country Studios" (the Band X master tapes still reside there). He was part of the grand scheme of recognition for "the other areas" of Michigan, if you know what I mean. Some of the sessions for Roger's second album were done there, and some at "Cinema Sound" in Grand Rapids. The bulk of it was done at a studio in Detroit which was run by Fred Munch, formerly of Grand Rapids.
Roger and I did some stuff with Gary on an album of his called "Lonely Song" (on Gary's "North Country Records") which was released in 1977.
Thanks for the opportunity to relive some of this. I hope we touched someone out there, and they remember us, and what a great time it was around here "way back when". Please feel free to include my email address firstname.lastname@example.org I would love to hear from some of our old friends and other band members we may have encountered along the way.
Peace and God's blessing...