The following interview was published in R.P.M #4 back in February/March, 1984, pages 14 - 18. I have received permission from David Walters, author of Children of Nuggets, to use this interview here.
John Lubinskas (a.k.a. Uncle John or Big John) passed away on Sunday, March 26, 2000 at the age of 56. There are rumors circulating that the Fenton master tapes are still in storage in Niles, Michigan. There are other rumors that Uncle John never actually possessed the master tapes at all.
Dave Walters Interviews John Lubinskas about Fenton Records
Among the many collectable independent labels of the sixties, Fenton Records, ranks high on the want lists of many collectors of
"Garage Band" music. The label was started sometime during the early sixties, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by Dave Kalmbach. The vast majority of records
released by Fenton, during its heyday, fall into the category of
"Garage Band" rock. Because so many young American bands formed in the afterglow of the
"British Invasion," it isn't surprising to find this phenomenon in Grand Rapids, Michigan's second largest city.
Recently Dave Walter (Old Weird Dave) spoke with both John Lubinskas the new owner of the Fenton label, who is also the proprietor of the Grand Old Country Record store in Grand Rapids, and Ray Hummel, who recorded for Fenton as solo artist and with the group the JuJus. As we go to press, John Lubinskas is negotiating with a German record company to re-release the Fenton masters on a compilation to be called
"The Best Of Fenton."
- Dennis Loren
Dave Walters: How did you get involved with Fenton Records?
John Lubinskas: My sister was in a band called Ruth Ann and the Invictas. So I have always been interested in these local groups. Later
on I found out about record collectors.
D: How did you come to acquire the Fenton tapes?
J: I started to put a book together, and I wanted to find out what happened to the old groups and where they are today, if they put out any records, and where they put them out. Every road seemed to lead back to Great Lakes Recording Studio. So I came up with the idea that I would go look up Great Lakes, but they were out of business. So I hired a private investigator to hunt up
the guy. I tracked him down and picked up what was left of it: master tapes, rights, and the Fenton name. I did the same with Midwest Records.
D: Do you know what happened to Dave Kalmbach, the former owner of Fenton?
J: He's a recluse, and not much has been heard from him in the last few years.
D: Where did Fenton start?
J: As far as I can trace it, it started out in Dave's basement, then moved to the old Our Theatre in downtown Grand Rapids.
D: Why were there so many good groups from the Grand Rapids area and on Fenton?
J: When all these kids were young they all wanted to put out a record. They wanted to get their bands going and get known. Fenton, or Great Lakes, as it was known in those days, was the only place to record in this area, and recording costs were reasonable. Now Fenton is to Grand Rapids what the Sun label is to Memphis, Tennessee.
D: Do you know what the missing numbers in the discography are? Were they ever issued?
J: I don't know that. I can tell you some of the stuff that went on, but there are a lot of missing links. Dave Kalmbach owned it, and Great Lakes studio, Dave had no organization, no system whatsoever. Everything was done on a helter skelter basis. There were three or four different styles of labels - they all said Fenton but they were all different. He started one style, then went to another and another, then back to one of the older ones. There was nothing constant about it. You know, when Capitol or somebody like that puts out a label, it basically stays that way for a long time, until they do switch, but they don't go back. But Dave did. The color of the labels was never the same. This discography is what we know came out on the Fenton label. They had other labels like Cope, Buy-It, Great Lakes, and a few others.
It would take hours and hours to go through and find out everything that is on these master tapes. I'm only going by what is written on the boxes.
D: Do you know which of the Fenton records had picture sleeves?
J: Yes, Ray Hummel, and the last one that Ed Buchanon put out, which doesn't have a photo of the group on it.
D: Thank you for your time.
J: I just wish I could provide more if the early history, but only Dave Kalmbach can do that and he is not in a position to talk.
Last updated on May 24, 2004.
I have a James Dean on the Congo 45 rpm record with sleeve. Would you know the approximate value of it?
If John owned all of the tapes and rights and had a P.I.track all this info. Why wouldn't he know that the recording studio was in Sparta Mi. not Grand Rapids. When Dave left his Basement and located in Sparta with his partner Bruce Smith it stayed there untill it closed. I understand a person in Saginaw owns and has hese tapes. I spoke with him a few years ago.
my cousin was a member of the group the Penetrators from traverse city. they cut one single on fenton label #992 cross the river of love. i need the recording date , band member names and any other info i can get. please help if you can. thanx john wicksall- traverse city
CRAIG CLARKE IS RIGHT. THE STUDIO WAS IN SPARTA. I RECORDED THERE OFTEN WHEN I WAS IN THE 4-U& HIM.OUR KEYBOARD PLAYER, PAT COOPER, WAS ALSO A PARTNER IN THE STUDIO. I'LL NEVER FORGET WATCHING THE SOUND OF MUSIC REEL BY REEL WHEN THEY HAD TO UP GRADE THE MOVIE SOUNDSYSTEM.WE DID A SESSION AFTER PLAYING AT WESTGATE WITH BUSTER MATHIS TO PROMOTE HIS UP COMING FIGHT WITH ALI / CLAY. IT WAS " CHAIN GANG " HEY TO CRAIG- SEE YA BOB REILLY
The studio was first in a theater on Plainfield then a theater at Leonard and Alpine then the Sparta theater. Uncle John was right.When the Sparta theater was torn down 10 or 15 years ago many records were found in the basement.
I was a silent partner. I remember the info from the basement of Dave's house to the Hour Theater to the Sparta Theater. My job was to pay the people that worked at the Hour Theater. Also, paid Charlie Cortwright, etc. I had to let Ringold Theatrics come in and take all the equipment when Dave left.
I was a studio musician and recorder with many bands. When Crow recorded I played guitar and/or bass. I, also, played with the 4U & Him. I played bass with Dave & the Shadows, then moved to guitar with them. Hi Bob! I'm still kickin' with the Mick & Boots Band.
Any friends of David Kalmbach from the old days. Wish to send him well wishes please forward to me. Currently David is dealing with MS and is moving into the last stages. I would like to read him letters from people from his past which he talks about all the time. His love of Grand Rapids, music, family, friends etc etc. are repeated over and over.
When I left the Legends (a Holland band), I joined The Plymouth Rock Crowd out of Kalamazoo, who had just lost their keyboard player. This was a tight, professional group that shunned all that was bubble-gum rock, and one reason for my leaving my old group. I produced a recording session with PRC in Sparta, and recorded "Love's Gone Bad" (Holland-Dozier-Holland), and a song I wrote myself, "In the Mourn". We managed to leave the studio with a copy of the session, but when we got around to ordering records on the Fenton label, the studio had shut down. Have since lost the only copy of that session, and had been wondering ever since where those masters ended up. If anyone has new info, or has actually heard these songs on any of the masters, would certainly be interested in getting the songs on CD, even now, nearly 4 decades later! -- Ray V. email@example.com -- By the way, Ray Hummell, yes it's me, the guy who backed you on the piano on "Gentle Rain". Lets get in touch!
Dear Bob (Reilly);
Please ask Bob Vogel to drop me a line if you see him. I went to church with him as a teenager and he let me play in a band with him for a couple years in the mid seventies. What an honor! I know you don't know me but pass the word on as a favor,please?
I am an old high school buddy of Dave's and would like to contact him again please call 248 819 1531
I grew up in EGR and used to have a copy of "Blue Down / Hereafter" by Dave and the Shadows but lost it. I have been looking for these tunes for years. If anyone knows how I might get these tunes please email me and let me know.
Also, I remember seeing Pete Murveen (sp?) & The Kingtones at my high school. I believe they had some records out. Any chance any of those records might be available?
Thanks so much.
John Lubinskas, a.k.a. Uncle Johnnie! From what I've been told by several people who are in the know that you take what "Uncle Johnnie" says with a grain of salt! Owned Fenton? Don't think so! No one really owned it as it was just an idea, not ever a real record company. By the way, Lubinskas sister did sing in a band. It was actually called "The Invictas with Ruth Ann", not "Ruth Ann & The Invictas! Minor issue I know but important to do away with "urban myth" type inaccuracies about the local 60's rock scene, and it always bugged me to hear it said wrong like that.
In 1965 you would take your band's tape and money to the rear of a storefront on Division in downtown Sparta. They would then place the order for your records with the "American Record Co." pressing plant in Owosso, MI. The plant would put whatever label name you wanted on the product. The Fenton name was the most requested one. That wonderful factory burned to the ground in a massive fire on October 29, 1972. So sad! In 2002 I went to the corner where the plant once stood and poked around. Found some surviving burnt remnants of old 45's at the edge of the foundation! Some pieces still had some readable print on them. (Sigh!)
Son of a bitch! I grew up in Sparta and had no idea anything cool had ever happened there. I was miserable the whole time! There was no movie theater in Sparta, I lived there from 1978 - 1993. Where was it supposed to be? Like, what's the address? My mother still lives in the area, next time I'm visiting I'll do a drive-by, and maybe a little burglary.
i started collecting acoustic 78s about 5 yrs ago and in the process started a bunch of what i thought were off-beat 45 labels..at the time i didnt know gr [where i live] had such a history of garage bands.[if that title fits]i eventually found a beatup fenton 2134[one side has a skip]and a musitone jm 102 in that hard to read gold label.. plus many other what i thought were odd..i even met some of musicians in the old bands,at the record show at the[raddison?] interesting history..firstname.lastname@example.org
This message is for Cynthia, York, PA.
I knew David for a number of years. I was the original Bass Player for Dave and the Shadows and did much of the work on the Christmas Album and Faith 7.
I you or anyone know how to contact David, the information would be much appreciated.
Possibly the confusion about the Invicta's name is the way WGRD advertised them. I have an off the air recording from May 15, 1963 of WGRD radio, for a record hop at the old Dodge Ball Room , that calls the group, "Ruth Ann and the Invictas". Thanks to WGRD's mistake, helped start the 'myth??
Tom Olejniczak on March 20, 2007 12:26 AM Post: It was actually called "The Invictas with Ruth Ann", not "Ruth Ann & The Invictas! Minor issue I know but important to do away with "urban myth" type inaccuracies about the local 60's rock scene, and it always bugged me to hear it said wrong like that.
Hey T,T,D, I have a question for you about that record hop recording, can you e-mail me at ju88puh9-klo9p Thank you very much. Matt.
That complete address is email@example.com sorry I omitted the last part.
I sent a MP3 of the commericial to Matt. Enjoy! If I could upload it here, I would:-)
for T.T.D...yes, you were right about the name, but only on the label. We released two different records, and they both DID read The Invictas with RuthAnn, on our own Mavis label, but much to the chagrin of a couple of the guys in the band, everywhere we played, we were always introduced and were known as RuthAnn and the Invictas. Most promotional-type things like marquees, radio blurbs, write-ups, etc, were usually handled that way, too. Like it or not, in those days, the lead singer got top billing. When we were offered, and subsequently signed, a recording contract with a company out of Detroit purported to be a subsidary of Liberty Records, Lochmoor Music Corp, under the "Deery" label, the group's name had to be changed due to an existing "other band" by the "Invictas" name. The bright yellow label of the re-recorded "Lonely Footsteps / Little Angel" read Ruth Anne and The Footsteps. (Don't know why they added a space and an "e" on Ann, but they did.) We were signed under separate contracts, one for the band, one for me.
By the way....I just found out about this. My grandson Googled "RuthAnn & the Invictas" just for fun, and found this ! What a nice surprise !
I have 2 copys of the Ruth Anne & The Foosteps - Lonely Footsteps/Little Angel 45 on Derry 103 it was a tough one to find i can assure you
Back in the time,Iwas in a band that recorded in Sparta. I can,t rememeber the name of the group, but the song was " THE GIRL I LOVED".
I had a original copy,but it got lost when I was in Viet Nam.
Was woundering if you have a copy?
To Dick Bursley, In 1965 The Kingtones put out a 45 rpm record The Girl I Love on the reverse side was A Love I Had on the Drummond Label. I am not sure if Bruce Snoap would still have a 45 of that song for sale, But I am sure he has a CD with that cut on it for sale. You can find his phone number in the Grand Rapids Phone Book or E-Mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Olejniczak. I haven't seen you in a long time man. Do you still have that massive record collection and old tube radio collection you had from your teens? I heard you sold your FM radio station in Allegan? I've been trying to get a hold of you for years, then happened in here. This web site is really cool, as it brings so many together from that bye gone era. I still keep in touch with many band members from back then. I worked as a bartender in many of GR's bars way back in the 60's and 70's. And Coral Gables in Saugatuck & GR. Tom was always researching everything that had to do with music & DJing and was always through. Like his post in here on March 20, 2007, his sharp memory holds. Heck, I forgot some of the girls names that I dated back then. lol. Tom e-mail me if you read this post. ( email@example.com ) Doug Taylor
I grew up in Rockford i remember them as Ruth Anne and the Footsteps. We had them play at our Ramshack a cpl of times. I did some Roadie work for my best friends sister boyfriend's band . The Nomads later Black Watch from Ceder Springs .
If you need to reach me please drop me a line on my email.
Love to hear from you!
Ray Hummel III
It has been years since I left Grand Rapids. Would love to hear from you. If you wish to contact me please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Hummel III /The Ju Ju's/The Legends/The Traffic Jams/Etc. Fenton Records/Renegade Records/etc. I would love to contact my old manager Jim Geeting. Do you know where he is? Also you love to hear from the Ju Ju's/The Legends/and other dear old friends.
Hi, I used to work at Fenton. I love music, basically I am now out of work with alot of old records, what do I do with them
Hi Parker, remember you from E. High school, e-mail me at email@example.com.
If you still have "Faith 7" by Dave and the Shadows, I'd love to hear from you. I met up with them at the Our Theater while a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids during the early '60s. We all went over to the theater and they jammed for us, including Dave on his Gretsch guitar and another band member playing the pipe organ. It was great!
Just wondering if this would be the same Dave Kalmbach who was chief engineer at Flite three sound in Baltimore during the mid seventies. I haven't seen nor heard from him since he owned the Marrietta Theater in Marrietta Pa. He engineered and produced my band Tumbleweed at that time and I think of him often when listening to my archival dubs. Is David still with us and if so how is he doing ? Thanks, David Bollinger
Gil King and I were good friends when he was with the Kingtones - actually started by Gil and/or a cousin. I sang with Pete Mervenne for a short while until Gil left them and went with the Eschelons. I then went with Gil and sang and recorded with them. Ruth Ann, do you remember me? I sang with you on that record 'Little Angel' that I think Gil wrote specifically for you - but no one but you, me and Gil King knew that. Glad that song went well for you.
At one time Dave was selling some of the Fenton labeled recordings on E-Bay. Could try that! Some great bands back when! Eschelons still going strong and great as ever!
I was in a group that cut a 45 when fenton was in sparta. How can I get a copy of the record?
The group I was in that did THE GIRL I LOVED,was written by Ty Reminga.
HEY GUYS, BOB REILLY HERE FROM COMMON PEOPLE. JUST HEARD ABOUT THIS SIGHT. I'M IN NASHVILLE TN. NOW AND I COULDN'T RESIST SAYING HEY TO ALL THE GUYS. HEY!!! BOB
Hogmaw email me at firstname.lastname@example.org I have some info.
Does anyone know Ty Reminga?
Living in North Muskegon since 1991.Recorded at great Lakes in Sparta in 1968. Wrote and recorded " The Girl I Loved". Dick Bursley played Bass at that session and after for short period before we broke-up.
Good to hear from you Dick,Call me anytime I still have a copy of our dynamic hit "The Girl I Loved" with the flip side instrumental influenced by the Ventures and probably sounding too much like them. Played in groups along the way for weddings and other functions but geared down long while back. Our drummer Allen DeBoer is still in Gr and also know of most of the other members. Call me and I will get you copy! Ty Reminga 231-7448118
Hello all! I am an original member of The Chentelles that recorded Be My Queen/Time(2132 on Fenton) on Thursday, January 19,1967 in Sparta, Michigan, which was 3 weeks before my 17th birthday. I am co-writer of BMQ with Bill Dalton, Jr., bass player and the one who does the scream on BMQ. BMQ can also be found on the Back From The Grave Series on Crypt Records, #1 Vol.1 and Vol.3 that I am aware of. I read on the reviews for Vol.3 that Tim Warren, the founder of Crypt Records is paying royalties to the bands on this series. Can anyone else who is on the BFTG series verify this? I would also like to say hello to Dave Kalmbach if he is still with us and hopefully can remember me and/or The Chentelles. Does anyone know who produced Scream Loud, The Fenton Story? I am trying to get in touch with them to correct some GROSS errors about BMQ. I am also looking for the original Fenton 45 #2132 Be My Queen/Time which I lost long ago. Sad fact about this record-it says Adems/Dalton on the label for BMQ. (my name is spelled Adams) Thanks for any help and my e-mail address is SirScream67@gmail.com.
Fenton Records was started in Sparta not Grand Rapids. It was in the old Sparta movie house. He moved from his basement to Sparta and it stayed until late 60's when it closed.