Hall showcases Hays' music tradition
By DEB BISEL
Special to The Hays Daily News
LAWRENCE -- There was something about Hays in the 1960s that produced musicians thick as wheat stalks.
Don Wierman was among them and recalled there were 17 bands touring out of Hays at one time: The Fabulous Flippers, the Blue Things, the Apostles, and on and on. Another, Gary Cooley, said Hays was similar to a cocoon, spared from many of the issues in bigger cities but with a population large and diverse enough to foster creativity.
Dennis Higgins compared that time as a mini-Renaissance, with so much creativity and competition.
"There were little pockets of bands," Higgins said. "We knew each other and listened to each other, picked up on each other's ideas."
They were kids, really just kids. Mike Kelley already was a professional musician at age 15 when he played guitar with the Playmates. Kelley just had bought the latest album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when his group became concerned about potential copyright issues with Hugh Hefner.
"We'll make it the Playmate Blues Band," Kelley said. "The fact that we didn't play blues was beside the point."
But the blues would have a tremendous influence on him and the band.
"I was listening to the Rolling Stones," Kelley said. "The man who taught me how to play guitar told me to find out who wrote those songs and buy their albums. So I did, and I discovered Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker -- all those old blues songs that the Rolling Stones had covered."
Higgins sought inspiration in the alleys behind establishments he was too young to enter, such as the Golden Key Lounge. He is not exactly sure what kind of music they were playing inside the Golden Key because he could not hear that well -- maybe rockabilly or country -- but he could hear the beat and the bass. He would go to the Dark Horse Inn and sit in the alley listening to Mike Finnigan or the Blue Things.
"Every now and then, the back door would open," Higgins said, "and I would slip inside and hope I wouldn't get caught since I was underage."
Mention of the Dark Horse brings back fond memories for music promoter Jim Reardon. Working for John Brown, founder of Mid-Continent Entertainment, Reardon started the Dark Horse Inn and had to borrow the $150 to put in the till to make change. Just a few shows paid that back, and Reardon worked his way through Kansas State University and Washburn law school booking bands.
"It was the best live music venue west of Lawrence," he said. "Spider and the Crabs, the Young Raiders, it was great. But it wasn't just the bands, it was the people in Hays. They supported the music. We never had a problem drawing a crowd. Kids would drive 60 or 70 miles to hear a good band, and we eventually had bands auditioning to perform there. We had bands on Monday nights. Finnigan would play a Monday night gig, and we would pack the place. Nobody else was even opening on Mondays.
"The Tempests were the most reliable band we had," Reardon said. "They were young kids, but they would not miss an opportunity to play. Maybe a blizzard would keep them from getting there. I mean, they were so young, they had to have a college kid drive their car.
"They have often said, 'We were so lucky to have you promote us,' but I was lucky to have them. It was a great ride. I didn't have any talent, but I recognized a good thing and was blessed to be a part of it."
It was Reardon who Kelley recognized at the Kansas Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night in Lawrence.
"He kept us on the road for three years," Kelley said. "And I will always be profoundly grateful."
Due to illness or distance, Kelley was the only member of the Playmate Blues Band able to attend the ceremony. Gary Cooley sent an email Kelley shared. Also inducted with the group were Bill Seibel and Richard Bisterfeldt.
Hays and Ellis County were well-represented at the event, and dozens of loyal fans made the trek to share the induction of the Tempests.