Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Oldies - Action Woman by The Litter and The Electras

Get ready for a Battle-of-the-Bands! We're going to let a couple of Minnesota garage rock groups from the 1960's play the same song for you, then you get to decide which one is better. You can also have fun trying to figure out which of these bands recorded the song first.

First up, from Ely, Minnesota, less than ten miles from the Canadian border, surrounded by national forests and several of Minnesota's famous 10,000 lakes, here are The Electras:


The Electras started at Ely Memorial High School in 1961 by a couple of new kids in town named Bill Bulinski and his younger brother Earl who had both been playing guitar for about four years and wanted to start a band. Bill put a help-wanted ad in the school newspaper looking for a bass player. A kid named Gary Omerza answered the ad first, but he didn't play bass. Instead, he was an accordion player! Nevertheless, he was invited to join. After adding upright bass player Fred Godec they started rehearsing. Their first gig was at John's Bar where they snuck in some uptempo songs between the polkas and waltzes. But they lost that job when a local priest didn't like the idea of teenagers hanging around in a bar.

Bill played lead guitar while brother Earl handled rhythm. They added Len Erickson on the drums, and a female singer named Kaye Spalj, and started practicing some songs by the Ventures, with Kaye singing some Brenda Lee tunes. In 1962, the group played in the cafeteria on Halloween at the John F. Kennedy Junior High School. The band evolved over the next few years. Jerry Fink replaced Len on the drums. In 1965, Tim Elfving joined as the band's lead singer. They hired a manager, Chuck Novak, and talked Gary into learning the Farfisa organ to replace his accordion so they could do some cool songs by Paul Revere And The Raiders and The Animals.

The band was ready to cut their first record. Chuck went to the Dove Recording Studio in St. Louis Park (on the west side of Minneapolis) to see Warren Kendrick, a local record producer and songwriter. Warren loved their sound and started writing some songs for them. They had their first local hit with a song called 'Bout My Love that briefly charted at #39 in Minneapolis on the WDGY Radio Top 40. Warren signed them to his own Scotty label and cut another record called This Week's Children which climbed to #12 on WDGY. They followed this up with Dirty Old Man which became a bigger hit around Minnesota and sold over 5000 copies in the area. But the end came quickly when Bill got drafted. In July 1966, he was in the Army and their manager, Chuck Novak, joined the Navy. They were both replaced by Harvey Korkk from Ely who booked the band and picked up the lead guitar.

Warren Kendrick started shopping around for a national distribution deal with a major record label. He rejected several offers because he wanted to retain publishing rights for the songs. Finally, he made a deal with Columbia Records. It was looking good for The Elektras from Ely, until they ran into more trouble. It turns out there was a prep school band from Aurora, Colorado called The Elektras who pressed 500 copies of a vanity album in 1961. That band, by the way, featured future Presidential candidate John Kerry on bass. For some reason, this prompted Warren to change the band's name to Twas Brillig without even telling them. In February 1967, Columbia released Dirty Old Man and This Week's Children by Twas Brillig on Date 1550, a subsidiary label. But the company didn't put much effort into promoting the record. When lead singer Tim Elfving got drafted, Columbia lost interest in the band and The Electras, aka Twas Brillig, were done.

Here is Action Woman by The Electras on Scotty 6720 from 1967:



This song was written by Warren Kendrick, the producer who took The Electras under his wing, published their first records on his own Scotty label, and got them signed with Columbia/Date. Warren was a high school math teacher in Minneapolis who got into the music business in 1965 when he and some friends cut a novelty record called Beer Bust Blues as The Scotsmen. Warren issued that record on his Scotty label and started looking for other bands to record. He was a creative musician who loved to mess around with the traditional chord progressions, which is quite apparent on this track in particular.


Warren also recorded a band from the Minneapolis area (Robbinsdale) called The Litter, featuring Jim Kane on bass and moog moog synthesizer, Tom Murray on drums, Dan Rinaldi on guitar and vocals, Bill Strandlof on lead guitar, and Denny Waite on organ and vocals. The Litter recorded Action Woman in January 1967.

Here's Action Woman by The Litter on Scotty 6710 from 1967:



The Litter made several singles and albums which sold well in the Minneapolis area, but never really broke out nationally. Warren Kendrick created a subsidiary label called Warick to issue some of their records. He continued recording, writing songs, and producing records into the early 1970's. He sold his four-track recording studio in 1971 and moved to Omaha where he became a computer technician and teacher.

So, which band wins? That's up to you to decide. That's the fun part of listening to these old records! You want more? All you have to do is fire up your Internet browser and listen to MusicMaster Oldies on Live365. It's also available on several Internet radios (I use a Logitech clock radio in my bedroom and kitchen, and a CC WiFi Radio from the C. Crane company at my office), as well as TiVo DVR and the Roku Internet TV receiver.

I'll leave you today with a little bit of fun stuff. Here's Beer Bust Blues by The Scotsmen from Minneapolis (featuring Warren Kendrick) on Scotty 1803 from 1965!



See you tomorrow!

3 comments:

  1. Both fantastic versions of a great tune but I'll give the edge to The Litter, the guitars just light it up.

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  2. That lead singer of The Scotsmen sure do sound like Il Duce of The Mentors.
    Maybe??? Take off his hood & check.

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    1. El Duce was the now-deceased Eldon Hoke from Seattle. The Scotsmen from Minneapolis featured Warren Kendrick on this track. But, yeah, they both great screamers.

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