Friday, September 29, 2006

Warren Haake

Warren Haake sent in this picture from 1951, the year Bobby Thompson hit his famous homer. The teacher was Mrs. Bernice King, and she was enough of a baseball fan to let her class listen to that game. (To see a larger view of faces and names, click on the picture)

Warren and I played ball on the Mack Stephenson Redbirds, a Pony League team in Washington Park in 1953-55. Other team members were Mike Stephenson, Ron Wilson, Gary Oline, Bill Downing, Champ Davis, John Vass, Bob Hamende, and Lee Leonard. (If I left anyone out, please comment below.)

Warren was at SHS with our class but graduated in 1959. He's now in the class directory, e-mail address and all, and he plans to attend the 50th reunion. He and his wife, Gwendolyn Nagle, live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Warren is a retired insurance adjuster and Gwen is a professor of theatre at Western Michigan University.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Reunion in Ventura

In August, Judy and Denny Wollan spent two weeks on the beach at Ventura, CA, where they had a surprise visit from Susan Ervin, Fred Hoffman, Charlie Adams, and Arnold (Sonny) Meyerstein.

Fred, Denny, Charlie, Sonny

Fresh from the Los Angeles wedding of Sonny's daughter, they staged a mini-reunion of the SHS classes of '58 and '59. (Fred, Denny, and Judy are '59)

Sue, Fred, Charlie, and Sonny grew up on or near Park Avenue, just south of Washington Park, and Charlie's house was a popular place to congregate in the Butler School years.

Thanks to Judy Brothers Wollan for the pictures and story. You all look great!

Denny, Sue

Judy, Sue

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Harmony Boys: 5

Charlie as Nashville recording artist, 1968

1996: Charlie works at the office of the Sangamon County Circuit Clerk, managing the phone center and handling calls on legal cases. Over the years he plays with various groups, including the Tom Blasko Trio Plus 2 and 2nd Tyme Around.

1998: He organizes a revival concert of Springfield bands, a 5-hour music marathon captured on video. In 1999 he faces severe liver damage from hepatitis but his general good health permits a successful transplant operation.

2006: Charlie retires to Ashland, but he still makes guest appearances and retains a deep knowledge of rock history—as we learned in the trivia contest at our 45th reunion.

Where are the Harmony Boys today? Ben Harmony has a upholstery business in Springfield and provides music at his church. Ray Dippel works at Bunn-O-Matic and has been slowed by health problems.

Gordon Jones spent his career in insurance and risk management. In the early 1980s he was Arizona State Director of Occupational Safety & Health (OSHA), handling over 20,000 investigations. Now retired, he still owns the drum set he got for Christmas in 1946.

Perhaps we can persuade the Harmony Boys to play at our 50th reunion?

Tom Blasko Trio Plus 2, 1969

Thanks to Charlie Harmony and Gordon Jones for their pictures and memories.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Harmony Boys: 4

Charlie and Ben: Bobbin Records Postcard, 1959

1962: in August the Harmony Boys record a last release: (A) "Lock on the Old Back Door" and (B) "Remember Me." The A side has a Twist beat and the B side is a Stuart Hamblen country tune, rearranged with a bluesy sax solo. To everyone's surprise, "Remember Me" climbs up the Top 40 charts. In 1964 Dean Martin does a version that reaches the top 10.

1963: Charlie serves two years in the Army, based in Alaska, and then rejoins the band, as does Gordon in 1966 before heading for Arizona. Charlie leaves the band in 1967 and Ben continues as The Ben Harmony Combo until the late 1970s.

1967: Charlie takes a job at the McFarland Center in Springfield and works with emotionally disturbed children. He creates a music therapy program and studies in this field at Southern Illinois. In 1973 he takes a course in England on music therapy. He remains at McFarland until 1978.

1969: He signs as a songwriter-artist with Cedarwood Publishing in Nashville, which leads to a 3-year contract with Mercury Records. During that time he releases a single on the JED label: (A) "Never Let Me Go" and (B) "Knock Around Sneakers."

1980: Charlie provides music therapy and programs in woodworking and ceramics at Aid to Retarded Citizens in Springfield. In 1983 he opens a ceramics shop in Ashland, IL, and over the next two decades he writes articles, teaches, and travels widely to demonstrate sculpting and painting techniques. [to be concluded]

Charlie meets Frankie Avalon, 1959

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Harmony Boys: 3

With JA (Jim Austin) at Teenland, 1958

1958: Gordon leaves for college. Bill Waldmire replaces him on drums and Tom Blasko joins on accordion and later key boards. More appearances, one with teen idol Fabian, lead to audition tapes and a contract with Bobbin Records, an R&B label from St. Louis.

1959: on their early records, Ben writes the A sides and Charlie the B sides. The first Bobbin release is (A) "Baby Tonight" and (B) "You Don't Care." The band then plays on "Shower of Stars," a series of live performances with recording artists like Johnny and the Hurricanes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Avalon, and Annette Funicello.

1960: the second Bobbin release is (A) "Don't Be Cold" and (B) "Saturday Night Bop." They make many personal appearances on Hop shows (similar to American Bandstand) in Illinois and Missouri, as offers to buy their contract arrive from record companies.

1961: the band adds a sax player, Jerry Black. Bill Waldmire departs to raise a family and Gary Turley joins on drums. Their early theme song, "Raunchy," is a Bill Justis tune adapted from "Backwoods," a Southern blues riff. [To be continued]

With Jim McKinney, WCVS, 1958

(click links to hear the songs)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Harmony Boys: 2

At Big Earl's Hop, 1958

1956: Gordon Jones and Ray Dippel join the brothers and form the Harmony Boys band. They practice in the Jones living room and soon play at a few square dances. Their early style is country-western, but after Elvis emerges they shift full-time to rock 'n roll.

They put together stage outfits: bright red pants, peppermint socks, white bucks, white shirts, and red ties with a little tinfoil sparkle. For beach dates they wear red swim suits and on formal affairs put on tux shirts, black jackets, and black hats.

1957: they play Teenland, Big Earl's Hop (near the airport), the Jim McKinney radio show and Teenage Rage, a live TV show on channel 20. Other appearances are meetings and dances in Lincoln, Taylorville, and St. Louis. They travel in Ben's 1955 Ford, a light-brown job with bar grille, long tail lights, and on the rear a Harmony Boys plaque.

Their play list covers the top 40 rock hits, thanks to radio DJs like "JA" (Jim Austin), who broadcasts a live show from Teenland. Stations give them recordings; Charlie copies the lyrics and Ben, Ray, and Gordon create arrangements by ear.

1958: at a telethon in the Abe Lincoln Hotel, a "Battle of the Bands" pits The Harmony Boys against Hobie Henson's Red Devils. The match is even until Gordon's drum solo: he jumps up and dances around his white Slingerland drum set, twirling sticks in the air and not missing a beat. This act astonishes the band and brings the house down. [to be continued]

At Jerome Village Hall, 1958

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Harmony Boys: 1

The date is June 14, 1958, the place is Teenland out near the Fair grounds, and here are The Harmony Boys: (left to right) Ray Dippel on lead guitar, Benny Harmony, Charlie Harmony, and Gordon Jones on drums.

In 1956-62, The Harmony Boys lived an American dream by going from obscurity to teen fame, with girl fans screaming in a frenzy and mobbing the band offstage. Into the crowds vanished many a shoelace, along with combs, guitar picks, and drum sticks.

The first rock and roll band in Springfield, for a decade they had record contracts, appearances with rock stars, and songs on the top 40 charts. Thanks to our '58 classmates, Charlie and Gordon, I've assembled in 5 parts this brief history of those golden years.

1950: Ben and Charlie Harmony live on South MacArthur Boulevard and attend West Grand School. They begin singing as The Harmony Brothers at talent shows, annual meetings, and live radio shows in central Illinois. They often parody country-western tunes, with Charlie working as the comedian.

1955: the brothers appear on Uncle Tom's Barn Dance, a show telecast live on Mondays from Decatur. The producer adds a Saturday show featuring rock-and-roll music, and the brothers play as a rock act, backed by local musicians. [to be continued]

Pictures from Gordon Jones & Charlie Harmony
Click on them to enlarge

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Sorry to be missing of late, but I've spent a lot of time in the water. This summer I rediscovered swimming. It happened because a neighbor was away for several months, and she asked me to "watch over" her pool. That meant I could swim there any time, so in the hot days of July I got in the habit of going over afternoons or nights for a dip.

Swimming can get monotonous, so to stay alert I started counting laps. First I did 10, then 20, and before long I reached 50 laps, or a half-mile. Every visit to the pool, I swam a half mile, which dropped from 90 to 70 minutes and seems stuck right there.

I'm not setting any speed limits, and with chronic reflux I have to swim breast or back stroke rather than the crawl. But that's OK, because the crawl always bored me, which is why I lost interest in swimming long ago. How long ago and where did I start? At the old YMCA, on 7th Street? At Memorial Pool on North 9th? In Lake Springfield? (Do you remember?)

Now that summer is past, I continue to swim at a nearby fitness center. That pool is much longer and only 36 laps make a half-mile. The first time up and down those long lanes was a effort, but after a while it got to feel normal.

The water temp this morning was 81 degrees. Outside it was rainy and raw, as Storm Ernesto blew by. I'll go there several times a week from now until next July, when my neighbor's pool may once more beckon.

My point: if you don't like the way you look or feel, try swimming. The Mayo Clinic says it's the best exercise for people over 65, regardless of our condition. It strenghtens joints and muscles, burns fat, tones up flab, and improves cardio and brain function. It's not the Fountain of Youth.....but remember those swimming scenes in Cocoon?

If you want to learn more, visit the US Masters Swimming page, which has information on the benefits of swimming for seniors. And in 2008 I'll see you at Lake Springfield, rain or shine.