The North Sisters, Jan & Patti, were Minnesota’s all-time greatest country music duo. A prolific pair, the duo recorded thirteen 7-inch 45RPM singles (eight that I’ve heard), and performed for decades starting in the late 1950s. They chose to forego national touring to stay right here in Minnesota and the surrounding region, and made their base at The Flame Café on 16th & Nicollet in Minneapolis (where Greatapes is now) as did many other Minnesota country acts. Jan & Patti were earlier part of Ardis Wells’ Rhythm Ranch Girls, considered by many to be the first all-female country band where the instruments were all played by women- and all of them sang too.
I recently talked to Jan North (nee Northrop, nee Sherman) over some Mama’s Pizza on Rice Street in St Paul along with her grandson Jon Sherman.
Jan worked with many country music superstars, and even toured the region with a few. Here is a short list of some of the names that came up during our pizza dinner: Wanda Jackson (“a good friend”), Roy Drusky (“helped record the North Sisters’ second single on Decca subsidiary Briar Records”), Hank Garland ( “a really great guitar player”), Floyd Cramer (“he played on our recordings a few years before his own success”), Owen Bradley, Porter Wagoner, George Jones (“we toured the Midwest with George”), Chet Atkins, Loretta Lynn, Little Jimmie Dickens, Hank Thompson, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Reed, Tex Ritter, Sherwin Linton, Marvin Rainwater, Ardis Wells, Texas Bill Strength and Jim Wells.
It’s so great to learn all about the country music scene here in the Twin Cities from back in the 50s, 60s, & 70s. Thanks to Jon Sherman for introducing us. Most of all, thanks to Minnesota Country Music legend JAN NORTH!
“I knew that I wanted to perform music since I was four years old. I went to Alexander Ramsey High School in Roseville, and was in the first sophomore class there. I grew up in Little Canada, and I still live there.”
“I always went under the name Jan North. Northrop seemed too long, and when I joined Ardis Wells in The Rhythm Ranch Girls, I used the name Jan North. Patti & I sang a lot of duets, and when Marvin Rainwater heard the harmonies that we had, he took a dub down to Jim Vienneau, A&R man for MGM. We went to Nashville, and while we were discussing contracts and percentages, he suggested the name The North Sisters. There hadn’t been a country sister duo since The Davis Sisters. We said ‘That’s fine, we don’t care, all we want to do is record’.”
Recording in Nashville and Minneapolis:
“We recorded in The Owen Bradley Studio in Nashville. In Minneapolis, George Garrett recorded the singles on Twin Town, and he came in the studio with us. We cut records in Minneapolis at Kay Bank Studio (26th & Nicollet), and we recorded at Sound 80 Studios (27th Av & 25th Street) later on.”
Ardis Wells and The Flame Cafe:
“I met Patti at The Flame when we were in The Rhythm Ranch Girls, she was already part of the group when I joined. Patti was also a good songwriter. I had been on the road previously with another girl, and we were booked by Consolidated Artists Agency out of Milwaukee, We played from the Northern peninsula of Michigan all the way down to Miami Beach, Florida. I got lonely for my family and tired of the road, so I came back home. Mr. Torp of Torp’s Music Store (also on Rice Street in St Paul) was a friend of my parents; he said country singer Ardis Wells was looking for a lead musician who could sing. I wasn’t 21, so we went over and met with her and Mr. Perkins who owned The Flame and they said ‘We don’t care if she’s not 21 as long as she doesn’t drink, we’ll take care of her, don’t worry about it’.”
“Ardis was a professional woman wrestler in the 1950s, and used to ride the elephants in the circus for a long time. She has pictures of her life all over the walls of her place now- a virtual museum. We had six girls at one time in The Rhythm Ranch Girls with Ardis. Fern Dale, the great banjo player, had worked with The Andrews Sisters in the vaudeville days. Guitarist Marcy & I still get together with Ardis, she’s 95 years old now. Marcy still plays really well.”
“Sometimes we get together with Jimmy Jenson. Ardis had a hit record with “The Roly poly Polka”. Ardis’ husband was Jim Wells, he had a group The Dakota Round Up, a big group in the back room of The Flame. The floor would rise up with the push of a button and become a stage. Ardis Wells and The Rhythm Ranch Girls worked the front lounge of The Flame, our stage was up high above the bottles (see photos). Ardis would perform a trapeze act in The Flame while we sang, but the City Of Minneapolis shut that down because it was too dangerous. The Flame was the home of the $3.25 16-ounce steak. I still have their menus!”
Texas Bill Strength
“I knew Bill very well. He recorded for Capitol Records & Sun Records; he was a good friend of mine. He worked at KEVE Radio out in Golden Valley, and also booked all of the talent and was also the MC in the back room of The Flame. Bill also had a record store on the corner of 10th & Marquette downtown Minneapolis. He had a huge guitar on the awning like at Ernest Tubb’s store in Nashville. Bill did live remote broadcasts on Saturday afternoons from the record store on the radio, featuring the acts that were playing at The Flame that week. He also had a TV show on Channel 9 (I think), which was very successful. He had a good thing going.”
The North Sisters performed at The Ozark Opry in Osage Beach, Missouri, and Jan also worked with a group called The Texas Play Girls in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
Bassist Paul Tobako recently shed some light on this enigmatic record. Paul and drummer Tim Flaherty were both from Brooklyn Center, the other band members were from various parts of town. Roxx were based on a farm on the east side of the Twin Cities metropolitan area for awhile, some members lived there from time to time. Paul claims he auditioned for the band there, when there was three feet of snow on the ground. The farm was “run down, but still nice enough”. They played quite a bit in Canada, traveling Highway 1 all the way from Thunder Bay to Edmonton. During a residency in St Louis, the band stayed in a condominium-like complex, and the songs for ‘Get Your Roxx Off’ were written in the pool room there. The band eventually got a vehicle for transport, a used Old Dutch Potato Chips delivery truck.
Thanks to Paul for giving me the go-ahead to present this stuff. Paul and Tim put out a CD in the early 1990s under the name Coldfire, here is some to check out on YouTube.
It was after psychedelic rock, but it was before punk. We’re talking LPs that came out from 1970 into the early 1980s. Hair Metal records are not included here. PLEASE comment if you have additions and more info. Thanks.
Jimmy AllenThe Ticket LP 1978 Centerpiece Records 2525 AllianceThrow Money LP 1978 Zino Records 38493 Atlantisself-titled LP 1972 Tektra Records Blegen and SayerClassical Cartoon Music 1974 Aardvark Records 6093 Bluebyrdself-titled LP BluebyrdSweet ThoughtsLP MT-1501 Both Barrels BandAin’t About to Change LP 1981 Orttel Bros. Pub. 8108×16 CainPound of Flesh LP 1975 ASI Records 204 CainStinger 1977 ASI Records 214 ChalisOne Small Chance LP Ellen Abby Records 25389 Cloverself-titled LP 1970 CPO 247 The Bo Conrad Spit BandThe Bo Conrad Spit Band Artronics 1090 CrowCrow LP 1969 Amaret Records 5002 CrowCrow by Crow LP 1970 Amaret Records 5006 CrowMosaic LP 1971 Amaret Records 5009 CrowThe Best of Crow LP Amaret Records 5012 CrowDave Waggoner DBA Crow LP 1972 Amaret Records 5012 CrowOn the Run LP 1983 Peak Records 15002 Daisy Dillman Bandself-titled LP 1978 United Artists Records 838 Debb Johnsonself-titled LP 1971 Monolith 7025 Dillman BandLovin’ The Night Away LP RCA Records 3909
Damin Eih and Brother ALKNever Mind LP 1973 Demelot Records 7310 Fairchildself-titled LP 1978 Flight Records 1706 FairchildShadowland LP 1982 ITB Records Fairchildself-titled LP 1985 Gold Mountain Records 5043 Ed FissingerLight Years Away LP 1977 Friendship Productions 32093 Ed FissingerLunar Blues LP 1982 Evergreen Center Productions 32093
. GarrickHardcore/Soft Touch LP 1980 AandR 807-16 Ghostdanceself-titled LP Root River Records 999 GoldbergMisty Flats LP 1974 MY Records 005
. Bill GreenwoodFrom the Inside Out LP Son Songs Records 630-8 Bill GreenwoodTime of Seasons LP no label 850 Gypsyself-titled 2-LP set 1970 Metromedia Records 1031… reissued 1979 by Cognito Records 6 GypsyIn the Garden Lp 1971 Metromedia Records 1044 GypsyAntithesis LP 1972 RCA Records 4775 GypsyUnlock the Gates LP 1972 RCA Records 0093 GypsyThe James Walsh Gypsy Band LP 1978 RCA Records 2914 Hall & DanielsonGentlemen of Leisure LP 1977 Flight Records 5001 Billy HallquistPersephone LP Orion Records S-80-462-2823 Billy HallquistTravelin’ LP 1976 Mill City Records MCR 7501 Jeff HarringtonQuiet Corner LP 1975 Programme Records 2402 Jean Hart and Friends The Open Door LP Sound 80 Records 873-3822 Highwayself-titled LP no label Danny Holienself-titled LP 1971 Tumbleweed 102 Hoopsnakesself-titled LP 1988 no label 43113 Hushself-titled LP 1978 ASI Records 218 JuddRhythm and Space 1977 ASI Records 215 The Judd GroupSecond Thoughts 1978 ASI Records 219 Steven KallestadHidden in a Way LP 1974 Avixiva 002 Lonnie KnightFamily in the Wind LP 1974 Symposium 2004 Papa John Kolstad and Soupy MiltonMill City Blues LP 1971 Logos Records 4001 Papa John Kolstad and Wildman Mike TurkBeans Taste Fine LP 1975 Fretless 114 Leo Kottke12 String Blues LP 1969 Oblivion 1 Leo KottkeCircle ‘Round the Sun LP Symposium 2001 Lamont Cranston Bandself-titled LP 1976 Shadow Records 3346 Lamont Cranston BandSpecials Lit LP 1977 Shadow Records 3348 Lamont Cranston BandEl Cee Notes LP 1978 Waterhouse 6 Lamont Cranston BandUp from the Alley LP 1980 Waterhouse Records 10… also released in Canada on Attic Records 1092 Lamont Cranston BandShakedown LP 1982 Waterhouse Records 15…reissued by RCA Records 4313….also released in Canada on Attic Records Lamont Cranston BandTiger in Your Tank LP 1988 Cold Wind Records 8808 Lightningself-titled LP 1971 PIP 6807 LightningThe Lost Studio Album / 1969 LP 1996 American Sound Records 1003 Loadstoneself-titled LP 1974 LRA Records 101 Dale MentenI Really Wanted to Make a Movie LP 1975 MCA 2151 Minnesodaself-titled LP 1972 Capitol Records 11102 Morning StarMessage from the Throne LP no label Tom NehlsI Always Catch the Third Second of a Yellow Light LP 1973 no label Kevin OdegardSilver Lining LP 1975 ASI 209 Kevin OdegardKevin Odegard LP 1971 Woof Records 4 Reynold PhilipsekBridge 9086 LP 1977 Sound 80 Records S80-1421S Reynold PhilipsekDeepwater LP 1977 White Pine Records S80-1522 Podiptoself-titled LP GRT Records 30002 PodiptoHomemade LP 1973 Minnesota Green 7304 Ralph Tells Dirty Stories Saloon Styles/t Ralphie Records 5340 RoxxGet Your Roxx Off LP Sit On It And Spin Records 1392 Sailor Sailor LP 1972 Shaw-Allen-ShawSouth Fork Crow River LP Grand Liberty Phonograph Company 1001 SkogieThere’s a String Attached to Almost Everything We Do LP 1973 General Records 2653 SolenoidAlmost Tender LP 1977 Rufert Records 1016 (two diff covers- one has a photo of a woman’s face, the other is a drawing of a train by Electric Fetus legend Brant Schuessler) SolenoidFriends in High Places LP 1978 Rufert Records (promo only) Sorry MuthasGreatest Hits Vol. 3 LP 1971 Symposium Records 2002 Dave Stanowski and FriendsMystic Shuffle LP 1979 Strut Nut Records T KailSomewhere, Sometime 1980 Jade Records 8001 This OnenessSurprize LP 1975 Oz Records Thundertreeself-titled LP 1970 Roulette Records 42038 Travelin’ Bandself-titled LP 1973 Little Crow 24-12 Whiskey Riverself-titled LP 1981 Lutie Street Records 103080 Whiskey Riverself-titled LP 1978 Northland Records 32533 White Lightningself-titled LP 1996 American Sound 1002 White Wingself-titled LP 1976 ASI Records 212 WhitestoneWhitestone LP 1975 Sound 80 Records 644-3414S Whole WheatAll the Balloons LP 1977 Uptown 10001 WillowWillow LP 1977 White Noise Records S80-1446 Jim Woerhle and Michael YonkersBorders of My Mind 1974 MY Records 004 Michael Yonkers BandMicrominiature Love LP 2003 De Stijl Records 029…reissued 2011 Sub Pop Records 508 Michael YonkersGrimwood 1974 MY Records 001 Michael YonkersGoody Sunball 1974 MY Records 002…reissued 2010 on Secret Seven Records 002 Michael YonkersMichael Lee Yonkers 1974 MY Records 003 Michael YonkersThy Will be Done 1976 MY Records 006 Michael YonkersLovely Gold LP 2010 Drag City/Galactic Zoo Dossier/MY Records 428/004/004 Zinkself-titled LP 1982 no label 40037
various artists Live at The Extemp LP 1975 Extempore Productions 1001
Thanks to the Acid Archives book and Tom Tourville’s Minnesota Rocked book for inspiration. When Acid Archives was online, I spent an evening searching the word ‘Minnesota’ and ‘MN’ on the listings, and wrote a list of the records. That list was lost along with my stolen wallet two years ago, and I miss that list more than anything else inside the wallet.
GJG is certainly the best place to buy a ton of records. We have 470,000 of them, and have been selling 'em for 29 years. GJG is also a blog: I like lo-fi analog sound (cassettes and vinyl, please) and lo-rez/highly-pixelated/blurry photographs of (mainly) Minnesota music and its related ephemera.
A word about the audio clips posted on this blog: ABSOLUTELY NO sound editing is used. No level boosting, no de-clicking, no 'cleaning up', no sweetening, no mastering. You can do that yourself if you like- we're trying to give you the actual sound from the item provided- warts and all.
TURN IT UP if you want to!
I ask that you please make comments if you have info to add here- this is a resource for all of us. THANK YOU