Tuesday, March 22, 2011

New Oldies - Vilas Craig - Walkin' Down The Avenue



Today's New Oldie sample comes out of Wisconsin from a guy named Vilas Craig.  This was his eighth single, and his second on the Cuca label.  It was released on Fan Jr. 4792 in 1962, and copies of it sell for as much as $500 today. I've owned several copies of this record personally, one of which was in brand new condition. If you have one, consider yourself very lucky!  Fortunately, you can find the song on several Teener compilation CD's now.




Vilas Craig was born on a farm in Richland Center, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1938.  While attending high school, he learned to play the coronet and started a country music band called The Kollege Kings. Like so many kids back in the mid-1950's, he was a huge fan of Elvis Presley. As a result, a little rock and roll crept into his early work, even though the kids he played for in Wisconsin were not accustomed to the new sound yet!  In fact, he often had to guarantee that his band could play polkas in order to get gigs in the area.

Vilas has often claimed to be the first rock and roll act from Wisconsin, but most people now believe that The White Caps with Johnny Edwards beat him to the punch with their release of Rock 'N' Roll Saddles in 1957 (a subject of an early blog post of mine). If not the first, he was almost certainly the second.  They recorded and released their first two original songs, Spring Fever and My One My Only Love in April 1959 on Rif 1148. These tracks were cut at Kay Bank Studios in Minneapolis on the same day when a cat named Robert Velline was recording his debut record, Suzie Baby.  You know him as Bobby Vee!

In 1960, Vilas renamed his band Vilas Craig And The Vi-Counts and released a few more singles. While appearing at The Shuffle Inn in Madison in 1962, he got the band in to see Skip Nelson of Fan Jr. Records to record a demo session.  During a break, he played his own composition, Little Brown Eyes, and it sounded like a hit.  That was probably his only shot at breaking out nationwide. The song got lots of airplay on local Wisconsin stations, along with more distant stations like KAAY in Little Rock and KOMA in Oklahoma City, thanks to a deejay friend named Jay O'Day who moved from a madison station to KOMA and took a copy of the record with him. Even so, none of his singles ever made it on to the national charts. It made it to #2 in Oklahoma City, but the Fan Jr. folks were not set up to handle national distribution. Vilas tried to find a distributor in Oklahoma, but never managed to find one.

Many musicians who passed through Vilas Craig's band over the years, including Keith Knudsen, one of the twin drummers for the Doobie Brothers in the 1970's.

These days, Vilas Craig spends his winters in Florida, moving to Wisconsin or Wyoming during the summer months. His son, Timothy Craig, fronts his own band based in Nashville.

2 comments:

  1. I know Vilas' first piano player. In fact, he's known me my entire life. http://steveprestegard.com/the-rock-of-wisconsin/

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  2. I am a 70 year old woman and watched Vilas Craig and the Vi-Counts wherever I could in the WI Dells and Portage area. I remember his band playing up-stairs in the Wi Dells fire station. It was a thrilling time of my life and I will never forget it.

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