The Vulcans. The Missing Lynx. Thor and the Thunder Gods.
Montanans of a certain age might know where this is headed.
Out of Sight. Einstein Intersection. The Frantics and the Fugitives.
“Incredible” is the word Dave Martens uses for the experience he had Thursday morning.
The phone rang at his home on South Sixth Street East in Missoula, and before he knew it a man well into his 80s was at his doorstep bearing compact discs.
On one of them, Larry Faught had burned the studio demo that a Billings teenager wrote and recorded in Faught’s recording studio in the Magic City in 1958. Five years later, an up-and-coming British rock ’n’ roll group named the Beatles was recording its own version of Chan Romero’s “Hippy Hippy Shake.”
“It’s got the bass handclaps, lead guitar and rhythm guitar,” said a delighted Martens. “That and ‘My Little Ruby’ were the first two of Chan’s recordings sent to Del-Fi Records, as far as I can deduce.”
His excitement was palpable. Romero, who lives in California, was the first Latino inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2007. Martens recently interviewed him for his Friday night radio program on KBGA, the University of Montana’s college radio station, although he hasn’t had time to edit the interview down.
The Rising Sounds of Harlowton. The Rotations from Billings. Wayne Silversonic and the Cranus Tones of Missoula.
Martens isn’t 30 yet. Men At Work and Duran Duran flooded the FM airwaves the year he was born. Eight-track tapes were going extinct. The compact disc accompanied Martens through his growing-up years in Havre.
He’s a graduate student at UM and, truth be known, Martens doesn’t have a lot of time to engage in his passion right now. He knows he’s opening new floodgates when he puts out a call on Facebook and, now, the daily newspaper for help in his quest.
Opus III, the TNTs, the Noblemen, the Wild Things.
He seeks recordings, posters, photos or intelligence of or pertaining to garage rock bands of Montana that roamed the state years before he was born – the late ’50s into the 1970s. Actually he welcomes all genres of Montana music, but his starting emphasis is on some of that good ol’ rock ’n’ roll. And make no mistake, there’s some good stuff to be had. Martens is dogged in his search to find the best of it.
“There’s a bunch of real cool records out there. It’s just finding people who have them and getting them to a place where we can do something with them,” he said.
With a gang of supporters from the music business and an ever-growing contact list of old rockers, he’s making remarkable inroads.
“I think my friend Rick Kuschel told him about me about a year and a half ago, and (Martens) called me,” George Crowe said from his home in Pullman, Wash.
Crowe is a lifelong musician who graduated from Missoula Sentinel in 1965, played bass for Yellowstone in the early ’70s after serving as road manager for another Missoula band, Initial Shock, in its San Francisco years of the late ’60s.
“I didn’t think much about the idea at first, but Dave was so nice over the phone,” Crowe said. “Then I started talking to Mojo (Collins) and Brian (Knaff) and it just started growing. I got real impressed with how hard he’s working at it.”
Martens’ Facebook page tells the story. It’s called “Long Time Comin’ – Lost Sounds of the Treasure State.” A recent post includes a 3-minute, 50-second clip of Bob Kovacich and the Renegades of Butte having a go at “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” on KXLF Radio in October 1965. That was four months after those other renegades, the Rolling Stones, released the song to the American public.
One prong of Martens’ master plan is to convince surviving Renegades – Kovacich, band leader Jim Blankenship, founder Cliff Champeau and maybe others – to reunite at the Montana Folk Festival in Butte.
“I told him I’d do it if the rest of them went along with it,” Kovacich said.
Kovacich joined the Renegades in 1961 after a two-year stint in the Army with the 101st Airborne Division. The band remained together into the early ’70s, playing at proms and high school dances, battles of the bands, the Foresters Ball at the University of Montana, and other gigs in Victor, Missoula and Great Falls.
Here’s a 45 with a deep blue label: “Black Crack Twist, Part I” by Johnny Dio and the Astronotes, recorded live at the 3 D Club, Great Falls, Montana.
Those small records with the big holes in the middle seem quaint now, but Martens admits he’s fixated on them.
“For a long time, I just totally discounted 45s,” he said as he picked through a box in which he’s carefully sequestered his prize collection. “It was like, well, they’ve got two songs on them. Why would you want a 45? Then you realize that this is where it’s at as far as finding that stuff.”
If they didn’t record “singles” or even albums on vinyl, bands in the ’60s often translated their music to reel-to-reel tapes. Martens has had some send him old recordings via MP3.
He takes whatever he can beg, borrow or buy to Kuschel’s Missoula studio to transfer to a uniform 21st century format.
“It’s a learning process, and in particular when you have multiple formats,” Martens said. “Getting all that source material in one location and then having it mastered is going to be a process.”
Julius Preite. Peter and the Wolves. The Three Young Men.
“The Vulcans could play any song the Ventures ever recorded, and they could play ’em just like the record – only better,” Michael Purington wrote in December 1977.
Purington, who started the Lost Highway Band three years earlier, was a kid watching the Missoula rock ’n’ roll scene grow up with him in the ’60s.
He wrote about the genesis in his popular “Montana Music” column for the Missoulian, and Martens considers the column a treasure in itself.
“But then somebody was trying to tell you there was a band around called Mojo’s Mark IV that could eat the Vulcans for breakfast and you gotta see ’em, man, they got long hair just like the Stones!” Purington wrote.
Turns out the Vulcans’ lead guitarist, George Wallace, was in Mojo’s Mark IV. Purington described him as “that one blonde guy who played lead on the Fender Jazzmaster and wore that Elvis sneer like he had a patent pending on it.”
The Vulcans and Mojo’s Mark IV begat the Chosen Few, made up of UM students Brian Knaff and William “Mojo” Collins of Glasgow; Rick Richter of Havre; Rocky Liebl of Cut Bank, and Wallace and Steve Garr of Missoula.
The Chosen Few became Initial Shock.
“Then you knew you did gotta go see ’em,” Purington wrote. “The first thing that knocked you out was Mojo. Skinny silver-blonde demon blowin’ harp like a firestorm, riveting electric 12-string licks into your brain. Right at home singin’ everything from the Byrds to Muddy Waters.
“The bass player was rooted to the stage; he played like a jackhammer on stun – Steve Garr. The drummer was crazy and sometimes he screamed a song and it almost sounded like he’s singing – Brian Knaff.”
Next thing you knew, Purington said, Initial Shock was in San Francisco. They opened for Steppenwolf at the Fillmore West in 1968 and playing shows in the Cow Palace and the Avalon Ballrom with the likes of Canned Heat, Pink Floyd and Iron Butterfly.
Prophecy. Sawbuck. Wylie Gustafson, the “yodeling fool,” and – the Talk?
Martens is a tall drink of water who’ll become a speech language pathologist when he finishes school. Besides his radio show, he plays drums and pedal steel guitar for a couple of diverse local bands, and has ties to lots of others.
A year and a half ago an uncle gave him an Initial Shock 45 to listen to. It was recorded in 1967 on the BFD label, one of only two singles the group made. The A side was titled “You Been A Long Time Comin’” (hence the title Martens has attached to his project).
Martens was fascinated.
“I really absolutely love that kind of music, but I really like history, too – Montana history in particular,” he said. “To have a rock scene at all in such a rural area in the early ’60s I think is pretty unique.”
He jumped on the Internet “to see what else was out there.” A new world opened up.
One of his earliest contacts was Knaff, the crazed drummer for Initial Shock who started the entertainment management program at UM. Knaff and partner Doug Brown have parlayed the Good Music Agency they founded in Missoula in the ’70s into a diverse Las Vegas-based business called Talent Buyers Network, billed online as “the largest out source of casino showroom entertainment in the country.”
Like Crowe, Knaff has become a big supporter of Martens and his dream. So has “Mojo” Collins, now a legendary folk and blues artist and preservationist living in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Indeed, a number of the old Montana rockers are on board. Crowe loaned Martens a batch of old Vulcans tapes, recorded live at the Kalispell armory and other venues.
“Dave drove over here (to Pullman) and picked them up and drove home the same day,” he marveled.
Bruce Weldele, who played bass for the Vulcans in Missoula, donated $400 to pay for reel-to-reel transfers of the Vulcans, Initial Shock, the Swingin’ Pendulums and other bands. Martens has friends at record stores around the state keeping an eye out for Treasure State treasures.
Maybe over Christmas break Martens will have time to winnow down his selections to, say, 20 for a compilation album. The Missoula Roots Festival is by invitation, but one of Martens’ dreams to get the guys from Initial Shock together to perform there one of these summers.
He has a sense that he’s tapped only the tip of things, the outermost grooves of a spinning treasure trove of 45s, psychedelic posters and reel-to-reel basement tapes.
“I’d like to do a compilation of all Montana garage bands that I can find,” Martens said. “The one problem I’ve come across is not knowing when to stop, because there’s so many stones unturned. I’ve only talked to basically just the musicians that I know exist.”