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Blue Collar Presents (Some Of) The Classic Midwest Party Bands!
By Mick Polich - 08/09/2008 - 10:24 AM EDT

The Classic Rock Midwest Party Bands – has there ever been any reason not to raise your plastic cup of Schlitz high in the band and say, ”Hellllllll YEAH!!!!”???????

Well… of course, if you’re not into that sort of thing…..

But, why NOT, Children Of The Corn Belt States??? Head East, Styx, Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Grand Funk, Iggy Pop, MC5, Alice Cooper, REO Speedwagon,  Nazareth (WHAAATT?? You include those FOREIGNERS?? Yeah, just remember slow dancing at the junior high rec nights to “Love Hurts”, so hey, I’ll give a passport and legal citizenship for that one!), plus all the triple AAA music teams that toured thru our fair area – gotta give props where props is due!!

Yeah, I’ve got a couple of stories on a few of these groups  - it’s a good time (once we get past the hangover memories…). Big fun  and formative years there….

So… let’s review just a couple of good ol’ Midwest (or inspired by the partying habits of Midwest youth back in my day) bands, shall we?

From Des Moines, let’s just “Head East” (too obvious with the corn here, but hey, like my hero Mel Brooks, no joke is too low…): really, one, two-hit wonders from the early 1970’s. “Never Been Any Reason” was a straight forward rock song that commanded the charts – if this song does nothing except conjure up imagery of shag-carpeted vans, Tall Boys, jean shorts cutting off your circulation at the hips, and seeds and stems, then, so be it, people. Already dripping with sweat and trying to keep your cool while being a Disco King at the high school prom, Head East threw you under the bus and left you on the center  line, music wise. Hey – plus, they were one of us: straight out of Illinois, south and central. “Never Been Any Reason” propelled them into Trival Pursuit Rock  ‘70’s History: pristine harmony and lead vocals, a driving rhythm track, over-the-top Moog synth lines, and yes – more COWBELL than you could ever imagine!

Kansas was another band that stormed out of the Midwest back in the 1970’s – progressive - rock heavy, the band built a rep before hitting with “Carry On Wayward Son” (can’t imagine how that song got on to be a hit – of course, FM radio back then could break some left field stuff into the market). I saw them on the “Monolith” tour back in 1979 – great show, very tight ensemble work – for what they did, the musicianship was there. Kansas exemplified the ‘progressive’ in the progressive rock staple at that time – a lot of elements at play with rock, classical, jazz, folk, and blues leanings. I would hit the first Kansas albums ( the debut, plus “Leftoverture”), then go to “Point Of Know Return” and “Monolith”.

Alice Cooper – yeah, he was outta Phoenix, but the boy did some time in Detroit, so we get to call him our own : before Marilyn Manson, before KISS, even before G’War (look those cats up if you dare…), there was our old buddy Alice. At a time period that was almost sheer freedom for me  - junior high – Alice was the essential soundtrack to growing up, and getting into that skin that’s called puberty. Early Alice is essential ( pre-rehab) – a heavy dose of humor in those early numbers. “Under My Wheels”, “Elected”, “School’s Out” – good rock with dark humor.  Just get the “Greatest Hits” package from Rhino. Did you know that Alice is a hell of a golfer? Wouldn’t have put two and two together on that one….

REO Speedwagon – before they lapsed into Sappville, PEO could kick out the jams. Their live album is a primer for rock energy (plus, “Flying Turkey Trot” – you wouldn’t hear some COASTAL band playing THAT! Pure jam genius!). Played the entire live album during my YMCA summer camp work tenure (kept me going when I would screw up things in the camp kitchen…).  You can Cliff Notes REO before they went to Sapp-Heaven on their first series of albums up thru the live stuff  - the debut album up to the live album. Might be available on iTunes(yeah, “Ridin’ The Storm Out” became a bar band staple to play back in the late 1970’s into the 1980’s.).

Ted Nugent – “Uncle Ted”, my, my, my. I think the first time I ever heard some really SERIOUS swearing in concert was seeing Ted Nugent live. It was like an art form –utterly amazing what came out of that boy’s mouth for word selection. The first “Ted Nugent” album was always a favorite, then the hits just kept coming for him for awhile. Times were different then – people just wanted to smoke up, drink their Pabst, and boogie – no serious introspection thru music, or ‘navel gazers’. And good ol’ Ted helped with the soundtrack. Check out “Ted Nugent” and “Cat Scratch Fever” for primers.

And to put a coda here, I would like to give a shout-out to a forgotten band from Otho, Ia., the Hawks. The Hawks spun thru a two-record deal back in the early 1980’s with Columbia Records – the first album was brilliant, skinny-tie, Midwest power-pop rock. The second album, “30 Seconds Over Otho”, though excellent, had the dreaded ‘sophomore jinx’ put upon it, and failed to show the CBS execs why the Hawks’ contract should be renewed, thus ending a brief light for a band that shown thru excellent songs and musicianship. At the time, I had written Kirk Kaufman, one of the founders of the group – he had a recording studio called New West Minst’r Sound near Fort Dodge, Ia. – a letter stating dreams and intentions of becoming a songwriter/performer/recording engineer. He had typed back a very gracious letter, the usual stuff, hang in there kid, go to recording engineer school, yadda, yes, yadda, thank you, Mr. Kaufman, sir. Inspiring, nonetheless – yes, I did go to ‘recording engineer school’: actually, it was United Electronics Institute in West Des Moines you learned about electronics, NOT recording (but that was the big ad push – “Hey kids! Learn skills for a career as a RECORDING  ENGINEER!!” That was the qualifier word – ‘skills’ –didn’t SAY they didn’t have a studio on site; they would teach you the skills, though, then you’re on your own, padre.…). Well, I barely made it through the school – got a diploma for the year degree – then, I proceeded to supplement my day gig as a janitor by playing in bands at night. Fast forward a few years – 1979,1980 – I’m playing with a band called “Benson” – cool guys, fun, good musicianship and vocals, mostly covers. We’re getting set up to play a dance at Iowa State University – the sound engineer is going to EQ the room, so he slaps on this ‘advanced copy’ of a tape of an upcoming release by……the Hawks! WOW – I’ll never forget it –this cool power pop stuff just covers the hall in sound – these guys are from Iowa, and they’re on Columbia Records?? I was a proud of them as I was of the Iowa Hawkeye football program getting turned around after years of pie-in-the-face humility in the Big Ten! I ended up working on Hawks guitarist Dave Steen’s Strat (letting him borrowing my ’66 Strat) as my connection-to-the-near-famous, in the mid-1980’s. But this was a beloved band that is still working in some capacity today (Kirk still has the studio, I believe, and still gigs out with Dave and fellow Hawks alum, bassist Frank Wiewel.)

Oh…I almost forgot someone!

Grand Funk – ah yes, there was a populist group: critics hated ‘em, we loved ‘em! I think the term “Neanderthal Rock” was thrown at them at one point. My dad wouldn’t let me go to see the Funk down at the old KRNT Theatre (“too weird”) with Danny Smith (which I’m convinced to this day is the reason Danny continued to beat me up on the playground at All Saints Catholic School  - just kiddin’, big literary license there…wait, no really, TONS of psychological impairment, damage, years of therapy… ok., yes, now I’m LYING my way outta that statement…). Speaking of elementary school, Grand Funk helped me thru that stretch of being the Wimpiest Kid In The Class (yeah, with 7th grade looming, and the prospects of me ever getting a starting position on the powerhouse DSM Dowling Catholic team dimming, it was either liberate Baghdad or get the hell out. So, I got the hell out…).

I know, I know, we’ve missed a few – I’m trying to edit myself more, so you all can jog your collective memories and see what you can come up with. Quite frankly, those are days that are “been there, done that” for me, but some fond memories pop up, even if I don’t care to revisit them. If one wanted to see the next stages of Americanized blues boogie in pop music, that was the place and time. So if you care to check out some of the survivors, such as granddaddies Aerosmith, the Party Band / Boogie Era is from which they did come! A lot of fun to visit – don’t stay too long (we need ya back here)!

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