GoJohnnyGo Feature #3: ……. Jan North and THE NORTH SISTERS

19 Sep

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!

Getting Started:

“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

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“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.


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“Lonely Moonlight”


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“I’ll Never be Sorry”


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“Sittin’ and Thinking”


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“Paper Heart”


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“I’m a Trucker’s Baby”


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“Locked in My Heart”


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“Plant One On Me, Baby”


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“Many Moons Ago”


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“Just for Tonight”


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“You’re Over There”


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“Danger”


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“You Walk Away”


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“I’m a Woman”


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“So Wrong”


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“Chips Fall (Where they May)”


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“You Walk Away (#2)”

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11 Responses to “GoJohnnyGo Feature #3: ……. Jan North and THE NORTH SISTERS”

  1. pat helberg September 23, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    HI JAN AND PATTI

    YOU TWO WERE GREAT PERFORMERS!! BILL AND I JUST LISTENED TO BOTH
    OF YOU. – KATE SENT US ALL YOUR RECORDS AND PICTURES. SO GLAD
    TO GET THEM AND LISTEN TO YOUR MUSIC.
    KATE’S SISTER, PAT AND BILL
    LOTS OF LOVE !!

  2. John October 4, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Great classic country music. Somehow I’d never heard of them before.

  3. Derik October 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks Johnny for a great post. I wonder if they have any anecdotes about Chuck Carson? I’ve found all of his Mn records now and have them on my blog.

    Interesting information about Texas Bill Strength too. Didn’t know he owned a record store.

    Also, I think Patti’s last name was Weegman? They weren’t really sisters were they? I wonder if Jan spoke with Wanda Jackson when she played at the State Fair in Sept. Wanda reminisced about the Flame Cafe in her performance.

    -Derik

  4. Ron Oikari November 6, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    Yes, Patti’s last name was Weegman. I think her husband worked on a radio station. My mom played lead guitar for the group. I have an old tape recording of the group playing a promotional show at a car dealership, I think given to mom by Patti’s husband. This is the first chance I have had to hear the 45s…what a treat! Mom left the group when she and my dad moved to Alaska in January 1959…

    • Derik December 12, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

      Ron,
      I’d love to hear that car dealership tape, and put it on my blog. Any chance? Email me at sllblogspot@gmail.com

  5. Very interesting tribute, just saw the Chips fall record on eBay, and as a collector of pre 1965 sister group items, it made me very curious. I love it when people try to keep the past alive as much as possible, and share their knowledge on the internet. In this interesting article, very scarce items have been nicely brought together. I wish people from all over the world would do the same with every US/UK/Aussie… sister group, especially the somewhat forgotten ones, those that never made it, those that changed a number of times their name, those that only had local success. A kind of “World Wide Sister Group Data Bank” wth easy access and no stupid or irritating ads and with a relaxing and easy to understand lay out. I’d surely contribute ! Thanks for this North Sisters tribute, well done !

    • gojohnnygo February 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

      Ben,

      Perhaps you should do it!

      -Johnny

  6. David Van Cleve June 14, 2016 at 10:55 am #

    I greatly appreciated the history in this entry, Johnny K.

    I’ve got a 45 of the North Sisters around here with the finest handwritten inscription I’ve seen in a while. And another one on “Flame Records”, too. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Women’s History Month: Minnesota’s early musical pioneers | Local Current Blog | The Current from Minnesota Public Radio - March 6, 2015

    […] Jan and Patti North ended up recording 13 different singles throughout the 1950s and ’60s, including the two listed above, and you can learn more about their history and hear more of their music on record collector John Kass’s website GoJohnnyGo. […]

  2. Music History Spotlight: Ardis Wells and the Rhythm Ranch Gals | Local Current Blog | The Current from Minnesota Public Radio - January 7, 2016

    […] trio The Andrews Sisters, as well as Jan North and Patti Williams, who later performed as the North Sisters for decades. All together, they were a force to be reckoned with as the Midwest’s first […]

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