Did I Mention We Got in the Iowa Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame?

September 11th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

As promised, here’s a look at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction weekend at Arnold’s Park, Iowa, perched on the banks of Lake Okoboji. (The photo accompanying this update, however, was taken at Fruitland Fun Days on September 8.) This is mostly about the rock side of my purported talents, so feel free to bail if you have no interest.

Labor Day weekend at Arnold’s Park – and the area surrounding it – is frantic with end-of-summer vacationing, and the traffic that accompanies it. The trip north was both dull and eventful, because Barb and I discovered (on an endless farmland drive best described as a green wasteland) that the credit card we had recently had to cancel and replace got our cell phone service cut off, and at one point got us locked out of our hotel room.

That was the downside. The upside was a weekend that celebrated rock ‘n’ roll, specifically the Iowa variety. The members of Crusin’ all went their own way with their respective families, in this vacation wonderland, but came together for the various band activities. The Sunday morning sound check was not ideal – each group had very limited time, and in truth that led to some problems with monitors that evening. But with a dozen bands performing, that was perhaps to be expected.

In the afternoon a formal induction ceremony was held in a beautiful high school auditorium, and I represented the band with a brief speech, off-the-cuff as usual, which led to me forgetting at first to acknowledge former band member (and Daybreakers founding member) Dennis Maxwell, who only came from Arizona. Sallie Bunn accepted a plaque for her late husband, Chuck – also a member of both Crusin’ and the Daybreakers – and Brian’s brother Jim, who was our guitarist for over a decade, also picked up his award. Other members of the band (there have been fifteen or sixteen of us, over the 43 years) who couldn’t attend should be getting their plaques by mail in a few weeks.

The big event is the Sunday night induction concert, starting at 6 pm and going past midnight, and we had a spot that was at once terrific and terrible – terrific in that we had the ten o’clock slot, which is prime time, and terrible in that we had to follow an All-Star band with some top talent in it…Megadeth bassist David Ellefson sat in for a couple of tunes, for example. The All-Star Band even played two songs that were on our 25-minute set list – “Wild Nights” and “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.”

Now here is where my ridiculous ego comes into play. As we stood waiting in a sort of doorless green room just off stage, I started smiling when both songs were performed…because I knew we did them better. They did another song from our regular list, and I wished we had played that as well.

Understand that in the garage band scene of the mid-60s – at least in my corner of the world – the combos were like street gangs. We were all scrounging after a small number of gigs (sock hops, proms, house parties), and we hated the other bands. Fist fights were not uncommon. There was nothing we liked better than pimping out another group. When we opened for the Strawberry Alarm Clock in the late ‘60s, an Iowa City band that we despised closed their set with a limp “Crossroads” – so we opened with our own blistering version. Once when a promoter stiffed us opening for the Kingsmen – saying we were lucky to be opening for a famous band, then instructing us not to play any Kingsmen songs – we opened with “Louie Louie.” (We also played “Money,” which we weren’t getting, though it was what we wanted.)

Meanwhile, back at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert…

The trouble with All-Star Bands is they are under-rehearsed and they are cluttered with talent. I have no idea how many people were on stage, but there were three lead guitar players alone. And Crusin’ might be a garage band from Muscatine, Iowa, but by God we are a band.

And that was one of the big pleasures of that night. We at least held our own among a dozen bands, some of whom were really, really good and none of whom stunk up the place. I felt we killed, and so did the rest of the guys, but we may be deluded. That’s okay.

Because last summer, after our very talented guitarist Jim Van Winkle left us, and we had to replace him and come up with three sets of material in about a two-week period, we weren’t really a band. Veteran local musician Bill Anson came on board, just to temporarily help us. But he found out how much fun this group is to be in, and he decided to stick around. We are glad and grateful he did.

Crusin’ had a busy summer – busier than I intended – and most of our gigs were outside in awful weather. Just sucky, humid, shitty weather. And we are not kids anymore. I began talking about making this my last summer of gigs, with the Hall of Fame concert my send-off. We discussed limiting performances to two hours (not the standard three and hell no to four hours) if we did come back.

But what happened at the Hall of Fame concert was that we came together as a band. A real band. Any time you change a member in a four-piece configuration, it’s a new band, and it takes a while to gel (and sometimes you just congeal). I knew we had the makings, because Bill Anson is a strong singer with a very different voice and style from mine, which immediately gave us a boost. As for guitar playing, I’ve liked Bill’s work from day one; but he stands in two big shadows.

First, his brother Dave is a fairly legendary guitarist around here. Second, Jim Van Winkle – his immediate predecessor – is something of a genius with guitar. But guess what? At the induction concert – actually after the sound check – I had three people individually come up and comment on how great our guitar player is. “Where did you find that guy? Wow!” That kind of thing.

Another factor was my purchase this year of a new Vox keyboard to go with my Hammond-style Nord. A Vox keyboard hasn’t been produced in decades, but Korg recently put one out. The authentic ‘60s sound of it got me some great comments at the concert. And it, too, makes us a different band.

So maybe we killed, maybe we didn’t.

But we were, in a way, born. If not to be wild, exactly, wild enough to come back for another summer of this insanity…probably with a CD of new original material.

A word about the venue. We were playing at the Roof Garden, one of the Midwest’s most famous ballrooms. Among those who played there were the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Guess Who, the Shangri-Las, the Yardbirds, and Bobby Darin. We played to a capacity crowd of 1000. The building (the second in the venue’s history) is being torn down by the time you read this. We performed at the last event prior to the building of a new facility with the old Roof Garden name.

I can almost hear my old bandmate Paul Thomas saying, “We’ve closed down bigger joints….”

* * *

So originally I was supposed to be at Bouchercon in Florida this weekend. But Barb and I decided with the long Labor Day weekend, which included not only the musical responsibilities but a very long drive going and returning, that setting out more or less immediately on another big trip was just nothing we could face. Much as I wanted to see my friends and fellow authors (not mutually exclusive categories), I decided against it. Worst part was not being there to promote Scarface and the Untouchable.

But I am so glad we cancelled.

Why? On our return to Muscatine on Labor Day evening, we discovered our basement was flooded and half of the electricity in our house was out. The latter included the washer and drier, and the TV (cable box fried), though the refrigerator was running (neither of us had the energy to catch it).

We spent all day Tuesday dealing with an electrician, getting electricity back around 5 pm, and the rest of the week was taken up with dealing with our sopped basement.

Miraculously, I had – after years of putting it off – recently turned the hoarder’s nightmare that the basement’s library area had become, bringing in new and additional bookcases and thoroughly sorting and downsizing. So very few books or magazines were destroyed. And the band room had few instruments or amps on the floor, since Crusin’ had been on the road when two torrential rainstorms hit Muscatine.

Today (Sunday the 9th as I write this) we have the basement dried out enough to bring the carpet cleaners in on Thursday.

We would have had to leave for Florida and the Bouchercon on last Thursday morning. Our Tuesday and Wednesday were nightmarish enough, let alone factoring in getting ready for another major trip.

* * *

As the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers’ outgoing president (in the sense of leaving, not being bubbly), I sat for an interview with new president, Jonathan Maberry. You can read it here.

The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog has used a piece from me about Mickey Spillane’s 100th.

The Seattle Times gave Scarface and the Untouchable a terrific review. (They don’t like it if you’re blocking ads, though.)

Finally, since this update started out with Crusin’ (and Bouchercon), we’ll finish the same way. Jerry’s House of Everything mentions Crusin’ doing “Incense Peppermints” (by Strawberry Alarm Clock – their second mention this column!) in 2011 at the St. Louis Bouchercon.

Sadly, this was bass player Chuck Bunn’s last gig – he passed away two weeks later. Jerry’s You Tube link didn’t work for me, so here it is again (in a clip put together by the great Eugene George).

M.A.C.

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