West Michigan Mid-Sixties Bands
From May 2006.
This is Kevin Ryan, an original founding member and bass player of The Undecided and The Winfield Scott Band. I ran across your website about Michigan bands and thought you might be interested in another band that hailed from Grand Rapids in the 1960's. As I started to answer your questions I wasnít sure if anyone would remember us. As I taxed my memory as well as some of the other members, I contacted another reader of this forum and he remembered the band. We are quite flattered that someone would remember us from all those years ago.
Can you tell me the names and instruments of all of the members of the Undecided and what high schools you all went to?
The earliest members included myself, Dan Gerke, Brett Jelens and Dave (canít remember his last name), but this configuration never played outside of the basement or garage. After Brett and Dave left, the classic Undecided lineup was Dan Gerke on Ludwig black oyster pearl drums, rhythm guitarist Joel Koetje on a Gibson ES-330, lead guitarist Marc Larson on a Gibson Firebird, and myself on a Gibson EB-3 bass. Marc played through a Sunn amp, Joel played through a blond Fender Showman and I used a blackface Fender Bassman. Bob Reister joined as the Vox Continental or Jaguar keyboard player in mid-1968 and played through a Vox Essex bass amp. Before he got the Vox keyboard we even hauled around his Hammond B3. Dan and I went to Catholic Central, Bob went to Ottawa, Marc went to East Grand Rapids and Joel went to East Christian.
When did you get together? And when did you break up? Why?
The band originally got together in late 1967 or early 1968 after I met Dan at Catholic Central so we were both about 14 or 15. Soon after I met Joel at his Dadís restaurant, Capís. He joined and then I met Marc through a mutual friend Kirk Zillmer who was a very talented guitarist. Later, Bob joined and he was my neighbor on Osceola Street. I moved to Connecticut with my family in the summer of 1969 and Joel switched to bass but the band only lasted about another year or so and broke up in late 1970 or early 1971.
What were the songs on your record? Who wrote them? What label?
We recorded our first and only record as The Winfield Scott Band in late 1968 or early 1969. We recorded "Donít Let the Sun Catch You Crying" b/w "Shaking All Over". They were both cover songs and were released on our own label, Zymotic. There was a misprint on the first batch and they are labeled Symotic. Joel sang lead on Crying and I sang lead on Shaking.
Who paid for recording your single? How much did it cost? How long did it take? Where did you record it?
We paid the $80 for the recording and records ourselves. It was recorded at Midwestern Sound Studios at 444 W. Leonard across from Lannings. The engineer was Denny Cuson. Marc remembered Denny wanted to get out of there for some reason so he hurried us along and we were very nervous. It took about two hours. I have two original Zymotic records left. After the record was pressed, we went to WLAV and WGRD to see if they would play our record. In those days you could actually do that. Joel, Dan and I dressed up in our sport coats and dickies and went to the studios and asked to speak with the DJís. We were very naive and to our surprise we got in, they liked us and the record ,and it got air play in Grand Rapids. Iíll never forget when I heard it on the radio at my girlfriends house. It was awesome.
What songs did you guys play at shows? Who were your favorite artists? Were there any other West Michigan bands that you liked?
Our set lists were constantly changing but I remember many of the songs we played and a typical set list would include Wipeout (Dan was a great drummer), Psychotic Reaction, Little Latin Lupe Lu, Purple Haze, Fire, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, Wild Thing, Love Is All Around Us by the Troggs, Gloria, Elvis songs (Dan loved him), White Room, Sunshine of Your Love, Light My Fire and Hello, I Love You by the Doors, Magic Carpet Ride, The Pusher by Steppenwolf and a few songs by the MC5. We loved The Beatles and the Byrds and also were very inspired by another Michigan band, The Frost, and played a few of their songs as well. We also admired the Soulbenders/ Phlegethon and aspired to be like them.
We played many JC (Junior College - $50 and all the beer we could drink) parties, the Grand Haven Ballroom, at Herpolsheimers and many high school dances. We entered two battle of the bands and won one and came in second in the other - only because I insisted on performing a song we had already done. I think we would have won otherwise.
What are the members doing now? Are you in touch with anybody?
Both Marc and I are still active in music. Since he also lives in Denver I called him and he filled in a few memories. I started another band The Nacho Men in 1980 when I moved to Denver and we have been playing for 27 years. Marc, is a pro guitarist, and plays for several bands in town. Joel lives in Hawaii where he builds custom homes and no longer plays professionally. Bob owns a recording studio, I think in Grand Rapids, and the last I knew Dan was working in transportation and still drumming in Grand Rapids but I lost touch with him.
Did you record anything other than the one single?
I believe we may have had some live recordings but Dan would be the only one to have them now. He told me at one time he had a treasure trove of memorabilia. We did write some jam tunes but nothing of real merit.
Any good "rock and roll" stories?
Yes, I have a great story. At Central Christian High School we played and the kids were not allowed to dance and we just could not understand that. We kicked the show off with Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf and we kept inciting them to dance which they did. Well, the school had hired security to ensure they would not dance. The principal kept asking us not to play "that music" and suddenly security was beating the kids back with billy clubs. Very unreal in the era of peace and love. Needless to say we were not asked back.
We also opened for the Royal Guardsman at the Ionia County Fair which we had to qualify for. Danís mother insisted we open with Wipeout which was one of our great songs, however, we had a very cheap Bogen PA and could barely be heard in the stands.
When did you change your name from the Undecided to The Winfield Scott Band? Why?
The band went through a few names in this order - The Undecided, The Happy Company ( a few weeks), Cinnabar (one week) and finally The Winfield Scott Band, which we all laughingly referred to as The Windshield Spot Band. If anyone remembers us it would probably be as The Undecided or Winfield Scott.
The band changed names because we were merely trying to run with the times. Having started as a 4-piece ensemble in (sort of) matching outfits, the new sounding 5-piece band was running smack dab into psychedelia and we wanted a name the captured that feel as well as the times. We got the name Winfield Scott out of a history book.
For anyone interested, I am planning on taking our one vinyl record and transferring it to CD so it will be available. Also, if anyone knows the whereabouts of Dan Gerke or Bob Reister please have them contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks for making me remember about one of the greatest times in my life.