Thursday, February 22, 2007
The Story Of The Fabulous Silver Tones
THE STORY OF THE FABULOUS SILVER TONES
Everybody has a story. Some stories are fiction. Some stories are actual fact. This is the story of The Fabulous Silver Tones. It is a story of fact as recalled by several of those who knew them, living there in the suburbs of Kansas, just across the state line from Kansas City, Missouri. The story begins in the late 1950's with two teenage boys, who lived in the same Johnson County, Kansas neighborhood. These boys were friends and they both liked music. One of them sort of played the trombone, the other one liked to sing. They both had good musical ears, extra good, in fact. Now as fate would have it, on Friday nights these two boys would go to the local movie house, The Fairway Theater, in Fairway, Kansas. Many of their peers went there too, as Friday night was ‘teen night.’ One night in particular the movie was "Rock Pretty Baby" a California beach ‘Rock & Roll’ movie. It starred John Saxon, who was a minor heart throb in those days, and a young newcomer, crooner Sal Mineo. The movie was full of lively music and song. Everybody in the audience got real excited and moved to the beat of the music. All the girls swooned. After the movie, the two boys followed their friends down the street to Allen’s Drive Inn to get something to eat, and it was there, watching the curbhops, that they decided to start a Rock & Roll Rhythm & Blues band. This was an interesting decision as neither of these boys really knew how to play anything or even had useable instruments. One of the boy’s father, who thought it was just a passing fancy, volunteered to rent guitars for three months so the boys could take lessons. They went to the Toon Shop in Prairie Village, Kansas, rented two guitars, signed up for classes and took lessons. They both learned quickly, practicing and practicing, filling all of their spare time with learning as many different songs as they could. Another of their friends played piano and practiced with them. Soon they had become quite good and had developed a pretty good repertoire. It wasn’t long before the boys were at the Sears and Roebucks store on The Country Club Plaza over in Kansas City looking at all the guitars. The Sears brand of guitar was made by Nathan Daniel’s company, Danelectro, and was called the ‘Silvertone’. After discussing it with their parents, the boys each bought one. They began taking their instruments to school with them and practicing on the stage of the multi-purpose room after class. Other students would come in and listen to them practice. One day a fellow classmate came in carrying a gold colored Kay guitar. He got up on the stage with them and started playing. He played a bunch of chords and most of one whole song. The other two boys were impressed with his skill and asked him if he wanted to be the lead guitar player in their band. He said, "OK". Now they were three. They still needed a drummer, and also name. So what could they call themselves? The HonkyTonks they thought. No, that was to country. They needed a name with some flash, like the shinny chrome name on the guitars they had bought . Wow, now that sounded just to fabulous to pass up. So now they had a name. They would call themselves The Silver Tones, though they accidently called it two words instead of one. The word Fabulous got added to their name after they began performing, and someone called them that. As best as anyone can remember their very first actual performance was in the spring of 1959 at the ninth grade talent show at their school, Indian Hills Junior High School in Prairie Village, Kansas. Original band members included Frank Plas, who played lead guitar, Rich Stoy, playing back up guitar, and Roger Calkins, playing rhythm guitar and singing. Mike Meyers played the piano and a drummer named Dale Price sat in with them.
They were all in the ninth grade and headed for high school the next year. Mike’s parents disapproved of the other boys hairstyles and their long duck tails and made him drop out of the group. ( Mike later was in another popular local group known as The Fab Four.) Dale was a good drummer, but the fit wasn’t just right. An eighth grade classmate, Paul Schlapper, rode to school on the bus with Roger and admired his playing. Paul decided to put together another group for this same talent show. One of Paul’s classmates, Mike Weakley, was the drummer for this group. Mike was a fabulous drummer, one who made you want to move to the beat of the music. Rich, Roger and Frank began going by the school auditorium in the mornings to watch Mike play when this group practiced. They were also in the Talent Show audience when this group performed. After the performance, Mike went to the restroom and Rich and Roger followed him. Mike thought they were going to beat him up. They approached him from behind, each tapping one of his shoulders at the same time. Instead of trouble, they told him they were starting a Rock and Roll band and would like him to audition to be their drummer. Mike was thrilled that the older boys liked him and he nailed the job as their permanent drummer. Now they were complete: Roger, Frank, Rich, and Mike. The four of them began to practice and then practice some more. This was the beginning ‘The Fabulous Silver Tones’. When school let out that summer they all discovered a place for teenagers called Barry's Barn. This run down old dairy barn was located on a farm just north of Olathe, Kansas at about 119th street on what was then New 50 Highway, (now I-35). It was out in the country, about fifteen miles from their homes. On weekends Mr. Barry would sit on the steps to the hayloft in the barn and collect fifty cents from all those who entered. The crowd seemed to grow every week. Mr. Barry had an agreement with a young man named Larry Emmitt, who had a band called The Sliders. The Slider’s played in the hayloft of Mr. Barry’s barn every weekend and the boys from Indian Hills Junior High School spent a lot of time there listening to, and learning from this great group. When Rich saw The Slider’s bass player Buddy Ross play, he was intrigued by the sound and traded his guitar for a bass. (Bud Ross went on to play in several other bands before founding Kustom Electronics, makers of amplifiers and other electronic equipment.) On at least one occasion, The Sliders let the boys take the stage, use their instruments, and play a song or two. It wasn’t long before The Fabulous Silver Tones were good competition for Larry Emmitt and The Sliders. (The Sliders, it should be noted, are remembered to this day as the very first of the original popular Rock & Roll bands of the Kansas City area, with The Fabulous Silver Tones right behind them). Barry’s Barn began attracting lots of kids. Enough, in fact, that Mr. Barry hired off-duty sheriffs deputies as chaperones. One of these deputies was Ed Bowers. Mr. Bowers thought the teen town in a barn was a great idea. In fact it was such a good idea, that in May of 1960, he and his brother-in-law, Mike Weaver, leased another old barn to open their own place. It was just west of 95th & Metcalf in Overland Park, Kansas. It was huge - much larger than any other teen place around. They completely renovated this old barn and made it a very clean, very nice place especially for teenagers. The upstairs dance floor measured 45' X 100' and the downstairs had dining, billiards and pin ball machines. They called their place The Soc Hop. As Mr. Bowers had worked at Mr. Barrys barn, he had gotten to know many of the patrons there, including the boys in the band from Indian Hills Junior High, who, coincidently, he had met previously when he had worked off duty as a chaperone at the Fairway Theater.
When Mr. Bowers announced that he was going open his own place, he invited Roger to stop by to see the place. Roger and friends showed up three weeks before The Soc Hop opened, brought their guitars and gear with them and played for Mr. Bowers. That was the beginning of a wonderful business relationship. The Fabulous Silver Tones became The Soc Hop’s regular Saturday night band, playing there sometimes two or three nights a week. The band developed very quickly, playing around town at other places as well, like at some of the local high school proms, or the Indian Hills Country Club. They also played at other Kansas City locales like The Promenade Ball Room, The Prom Coke Bar, The Chicken Coop, The Combo Club, The Flamingo Lounge and occasionally, even at Barry’s Barn. There were numerous other popular places in those days, whose names are too numerous to mention. But if it was a popular place, The Fabulous Silver Tones probably played there. There was, however, no place else that came even remotely close to the mystique of The Soc Hop. It was truly a one of a kind place. It was the home of The Silver Tones. It has been said that The Soc Hop made The Silver Tones and The Silver Tones made The Soc Hop. That is a fact, if there ever was one. Someone always has to be the leader, make the decisions, be in charge. Roger was The Silver Tones leader. He was glue who held it all together. He was the business manager and the one who set up most of their jobs, scheduled their rehearsals, figured out the music. He had a huge record collection, which he added to daily. He would listen to a record several times, then write down the lyrics, the melody and the chord progressions, and arrange the music to fit for Frank and Rich. He also wrote some of the music the band played. Frank Plas also wrote a number of pieces, including one titled 'West Coast Walk'. When The Silver Tones recorded it on acetate at Damon Studios in Kansas City, they renamed it ‘ Midnight Thunder ’ with the sound of thunder added at the beginning. ‘ Louise, Louise’ was also recorded at Damon Studios in 1960 barely a year after the band formed. It was pressed on the same 45 as ‘Midnight Thunder’. On July 8, 1960 ‘Midnight Thunder’ B/W ‘Louise, Louise’ hit #7 on Kansas City’s KUDL Radio Top 38 Chart. The next week it was listed as ‘Midnight Thunder ‘ only and hit #4. Midnight Thunder BW/ Louise, Louise received a 4 bullet rating from Billboard magazine – unheard of in that era by a bunch of mostly 16 yr old, non-union kids from Johnson County, Kansas. Their music was so good that old man Vic Damon recorded their first cut in the middle of the night to give them a chance. Remember, those were strong union days and the Silver Tones were not union! Vic took a BIG chance. One that paid off with two singles in KUDL’s Top Ten.That very first recording session also produced at least two other tracks. There was another instrumental called 'Pay Toilet ' and then a vocal of Slim Harpo's 'King Bee' which was great. Roger wrote’ Louise, Louise ‘ in about 10 minutes the day before the recording session and it just sounded good so it was used vs ‘King Bee’. The Fabulous Silver Tones next record was ‘Dimples’, a take-off of a John Lee Hooker tune, with ‘Wee Wee Hours’ on the flip side. It was recorded at Midwest Studios in 1961 and released the same year. The KUDL chart shows’ Dimples’ going to #8. Then in either early in1962 ‘Hey Sally Mae’ was recorded in Lawrence, Kansas with a remote system out doors. It was backed with ‘Stranger in Paradise’. Obviously Mr. Damon was 'the man' as far as quality recording is concerned because his recording of ‘Louise, Louise ‘ handled Roger’s voice the best by far. Roger had the spirit but he needed some reverb to fill out his voice when recorded. All of the Silver Tones records were on the ‘West Coast’ label. Four teenagers became local celebrities, at least in the minds of the areas other teens. Mike Weakley was considered the very best of band drummers in the Midwest. Actually he is the drummer who started the flat ride cymbal side hit that just roared and filled in all the holes. It made the Silver Tones sound so big. And when it came to playing the bass, nobody around could play like Rich Stoy. He had a keen ear, and never missed a lick. Frank Plas could play the guitar like no one else except maybe the big time pros. And Roger Calkins was, without a doubt, the areas most charismatic young entertainer. He had a knack for taking many of the old classics and putting them to the wonderful Silver Tones back beat. He not only had an incredible memory but he really knew how to work a room. He would mingle with the crowd during the breaks and get to know the fans by name and what their favorite songs were. Then during the next set he would play their requests and dedicate the song to them. It was not uncommon to hear him call out people’s name when they entered the room or change the words of a song to use a fan’s name. He truly made people feel a part of the whole experience. Not only that, he was a showman extraordinaire. Only someone with Roger’s extraordinary enthusiasm would think of going to the local premium threads store, Matlaw’s Clothiers, purchasing a custom made suit, and then having silver sequins sown onto it. During a performance he would step back into the dressing room while the rest of the band played, put on this suit, then return to the stage with a flash, right on cue from the band, at just the right moment in whatever song they were playing. He would jump up and down and spin all around under the colored lights. He was, indeed, a real sparkler. Only the likes of Liberace had so much flash appeal. Years later, someone said they thought Roger was the inspiration for those revolving disco balls that hung from the ceiling in so many dance halls. During those years in the early 1960's The Fabulous Silver Tones were the biggest draw around. Wherever they played, that is where everybody went. It was not uncommon, on a good Saturday night at The Soc Hop, for The Fabulous Silver Tones to draw between twelve to fifteen hundred teenagers. There were many wannabe bands, but nobody even came close to being as loved as they were. The Fabulous Silver Tones played together for over three and a half years. But like they say, nothing lasts forever. And sometimes, that’s to bad. Roger Calkins left the Silver Tones in early 1963 to go on a very successful national tour, which he did for a number of months. After Roger left the Silver Tones, Frank managed them and they continued with the same great sound and featured vocalists like Little Jimmy Griffin and Priscilla Bowman until their demise a few years later. When Roger returned to Kansas City, he collaborated with brothers Bill and Danny Organ and formed his second band, The Holidays. For the next few years they played at many of the same venues as The Silver Tones. Both bands dissolved during the mid 1960's. . Few people would have guessed, way back then, that a little over forty years later, The Fabulous Silver Tones would be inducted into The Kansas Music Hall Of Fame, but that is just what happened on January 13th, 2007.
So where are they now?
Roger made another road trip to San Francisco in 1966. He took some of Bud Ross’ Kustom amplifiers with him. When he got to there, he asked the cabby where the kids went to listen to music? The cabby told him "The Fillmore." So, he went there and took his equipment with him. That night two of the bands performing were The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. Both Jerry Garcia and the lead guitar player with Jefferson Airplane liked one of Roger’s amps which they called a ‘freak box’, but Roger only had one of these with him.. So they flipped a coin on stage and Jefferson Airplane won. Jerry Garcia asked Roger if he would send him one when he got back to Kansas City. Roger said he would and did so shortly thereafter when he returned to K.C. He then did a stint at Fort Polk, Louisiana for basic training in the Army National Guard. One day when his unit was on an exercise out in the boondocks, he was called to the field training office for a long distance phone call.. It was Jerry Garcia. Jerry said, "Private Calkins, this is Jerry Garcia in San Francisco...we want another’ freak box’." Roger replied, "I am getting out of basic training soon and I am coming to San Francisco so I can open my first music store." Jerry said, "We are going to L.A. to record our first album." Roger said he would take the southern route and take a ‘box’ with him. When he pulled into the motel in L.A., here came The Grateful Dead. Their road manager gave Roger $195, who then went on to San Francisco where he opened Roger Calkins Music Company.Roger became the first west coast distributor of Kustom Amps. He engineered the agreement that allowed Creedence Clearwater Revival to use Kustom equipment on their tours. Everybody bought their equipment from Roger. The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane, The Hoo Doo Rhythm Devils, Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band, etc, etc, etc, it doesn't end. At his pinnacle Roger operated a half a dozen stores in northern California. He is now retired and still living in the Bay area. Frank Plas, was and still is, simply one of the best in the business. He can still share the stage with the best of the best. If you type his name into Google along with keywords like `guitar player' or Fabulous Silver Tones you'll find testimonials from major players as to Frank being an inspiration in their career. For example Dave Pettison of Gamma and many other groups mention learning guitar and spending endless hours of pleasure watching Frank Plas just lay back and play. The man is a real treat. He is currently in the process of reinventing The Fabulous New Silvertones and will be playing at local clubs in the Kansas City area. Both he and Rich Stoy still live in Johnson County, Kansas. Rich Stoy was probably the most solid and unheralded bass player ever. He became involved in the industrial equipment industry many years ago, but he still loves music. Recently, he joined with Frank for a jam session, and without question, the man still has it.Michael Weakley, changed his surname to Fortune and abbreviated his middle name Quenten to Quint, becoming Quint Fortune. In the mid 1960s he moved to California and was an original member of The Electric Prunes. He recorded with them as recently as 2000. He currently lives in southern California and is heavily involved in the entertainment industry.The Fabulous Silver Tones still have recordings featured on compilation CDs sold ALL OVER THE WORLD, from the Netherlands to Los Angeles! Ron Hodgen/West leader of The Chesmannn and founder of ‘Missouri" once commented that the two best live concerts he ever saw were `The Who' and `The Fabulous Silver Tones'. Now what could be better said than that?
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Wasn't the old Siver Spur Country Club at 87th and I-35 used as the Soc Hop and then the Barn south of the Country Club?
I used to work for Roger in 1968...swept the floors in the City location and became asst mgr of the Berkeley store. We had the highest sales of all the stors...cause of my displays...LOL! Hope you are well Roger!!
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