When Buddy Holly’s chartered plane crashed into an Iowa cornfield in February 1959, the tragedy set off a chain of developments that led to the flowering of one of the strongest regional rock ‘n’ roll scenes in America. Just four months later, Bobby Vee—Holly’s emergency replacement at the Winter Dance Party concert in Fargo, North Dakota—entered Kay Bank studio in Minneapolis and recorded “Suzie Baby,” the first rock ‘n’ roll hit released on Minneapolis-based Soma records.
Soon, Kay Bank hosted a succession of Minnesota rock bands who recorded local, regional, and national hits for the Soma label, including The Trashmen (“Surfin’ Bird”), the Gestures (“Run, Run, Run”), and the Castaways (“Liar, Liar”).
The formula for success was created partly by Top 40 radio stations KDWB and WDGY that played records by local bands and featured celebrity deejays; it also came in the form of dance halls, ballrooms, and teen clubs like Mr. Lucky’s that catered to young baby boomers.
Join us as we take a trip through the swiftly evolving youth culture of 1960s America, listen to and analyze the records of the time, and discuss the progression of Minnesota’s rock ‘n’ roll styles, from the R&B and rockabilly of pioneers Augie Garcia and Mike Waggoner and the Bops to the Beatles-inspired harmony rock of the Escapades and Stillroven to the thundering power of the Litter and Jokers Wild.
Recommended: Rick Shefchik, Everybody’s Heard about the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ‘n’ Roll in Minnesota (University of Minnesota Press, 2015)
Rick Shefchik is the author of Everybody’s Heard About the Bird. An award-winning reporter and columnist at the Duluth News Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press for three decades, he has written numerous magazine articles and four novels, including the rock ‘n’ roll thriller Rather See You Dead. (And yes, he’s played guitar and sung vocals for several bands.)