(this post is second in a series saluting the estimable BILL AXELROD)
CROSSOVER came together from the ashes of two White Bear Lake-area bands: Watersign, which included Enrique Toussaint (bass), Dan Fashing (drums), Greg McNeely (keyboards), Tim Moeller (guitar), Rick Odell (sax– pre-Lamont Cranston), & John Elms (vocals, ex- Copperhead) and City, which featured Jimmy Lawrence (vocals & congas), and Bill Axelrod (tenor sax & percussion– post Fabulous Flippers). Watersign were regular performers at The Sunset Bar in White Bear Lake and The Dugout in Willernie. City played throughout the Twin Cities area & Groucho’s at Hwy 61 & 2nd Avenue in White Bear Lake.
Members of Crossover throughout their history included:
Josh Weaver (bass)
Ron Lundquist (drums)
Josh Weaver (bass)
Dave Sletten (sax)
Ricky Washington (drums)
Johnny Hodges (vocals)
Bruce Jackson (keyboards)
Paul Johnson (bass)
Lee Blaske (keyboards)
Jim Barringer (guitar)
Head to the Sky
Pioneers of jazz fusion with a stage entirely covered in congas & other percussion, Crossover was one of the first jazz fusion groups to play The C Sharp Jazz Room at The Oz Night Club & Disco in Downtown St Paul. They played at Taste Show Lounge & Chicago Bar in Minneapolis, and at the 617 Bar in White Bear Lake too, kicking off the start of jazz fusion music there.
The self-titled LP on Atomic Theory Records (c 1985 1002) is Greg, Johnny, and other Twin Cities musicians along with some stellar L.A. studio musicians, including Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. (You can buy a vintage brand new sealed unopened unplayed copy of this sought-after wax right here.)
Civil Defense bio courtesy of Mike Reiter. It is also included in Civil Defense CD “Propaganda vs. Civil Defense” (buy it here).
In the early 80’s, Prince was beginning to make a dent nationally, but if you were a punk rocker in the Midwest, you had no reason to think of a “career” in music. So you played like you had nothing to lose. And at places such as The Longhorn, The Seventh Street Entry, and Goofy’s Upper Deck, plenty of young bands did. Those bands included: Husker Du, The Replacements, Loud Fast Rules (later Soul Asylum), Rifle Sport, and a young band from the East Side of Saint Paul, Civil Defense.
Civil Defense began in 1982 as a three-piece featuring Dale Schuster on guitar and vocals, Vinnie Karshnia on bass and vocals, and Mike Reiter on drums. After honing their sound for a few months in Mike’s basement, they played mostly parties and rented halls. They first appeared under the name “Propaganda.” Soon, they played the legendary “Upper Deck,” appearing with many of the local and touring punk bands of the time. Three songs from one of those performances (billed as Propaganda) appeared on the cassette-only release “Kitten Compilation.” It would later be re-issued on CD in 1999 by Reflex Records.
Later that year they would add Scott Grubich on guitar and vocals, and make their debut at The Seventh Street Entry as “Civil Defense.” The band’s sound was compared to The Buzzcocks and Radio Birdman. However, songwriter Dale’s prime influences were The Kinks and The Beatles.
In March of ‘83 they headed into Blackberry Way Studio in Minneapolis, the site of The Replacements early recordings, to produce what would become the “Gun Control EP.”
Due to the usual circumstances, the band would dissolve in ‘84. Dale and Vince would work together for a number of years. Dale still records under “The Throwbacks.” Scott would move to L.A. and join a band with skateboard legend Tony Alva, and then move to Australia for a time.
Mike would join The Dig with Ed Ackerson. He would go on to play in The Mighty Mofos, The 27 Various, and many others, including an appearance with Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker. Mike is still performing and recording, and is currently appearing with The Mood Swings on Susstones Records.
Thanx to my homeiz for allowing me to post this. Civil Defense were not only a favorite of mine, but they changed my life.
So, I opened a record store in White Bear Lake, and with that comes the “regulars”. Our first real regular is Bill Axelrod, former tenor sax player for The Fabulous Flippers during the 1970s years. The Lawrence, Kansas-based Fabulous Flippers are a legendary ‘horn-show-soul’ band that literally brought the funk to the cornfields, and regularly played from Oklahoma to Canada, L.A. to Illinois.
Bill shared with me some astounding photos, music, & stuff to show you. Hats off to Bill for passing this stuff on, I sure hope he can make a wild movie, because he sure has a good plot with all of the stories he’s told me.
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.
I’ve wanted to post this for a very long time. Drew Miller, the man who makes computer dreams come true, today found this set of photos taken about ten years ago. I had been setting aside the defaced albums that I had found while collecting records, intending to document them someday somehow. Along comes blog culture and retirement, and viola! I am so glad that Drew is organized enough to find these when inspired to do so. THANK YOU (AGAIN), DREW MILLER! I have literally hundreds more to present, so we are back at someday, at least we now have the somehow. Thanx to Don Bailey for hilarious submissions, too.
Note: sometimes the defacing job itself is subtle, but it can be verrrry effective this way.
Hats off to Ron Rooks, ex-owner of The Music Exchange record store in Kansas City. Ron was certainly larger than life; he dreamed of publishing a coffee table book of his defaced album cover collection. He had some doozies himself. Thanx Ron for the idea.
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.
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