Lynch, Nebraska – Lead Guitar and Vocals
Dave began taking guitar lessons in January 1954 at Bellsen’s in St Paul, MN. The store was operated by Al Bellsen and his wife near Seven Corners. In time, Al proved to be the uncle to Louie Bellsen, the famous drummer, who married Pearl Bailey. During my time there, Al used to say, “that nephew of mine ….all he wants to do is play drums.” As most of us know, Louie went on to become a famous drummer, and played with the Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band which we have all enjoyed.
Dave’s first paying gig was New Year’s Eve ending 1955 and bringing in 1956. The band members were his dad, Art, on drums and trumpet, EuGene Dario on accordion, and a sax man who shook my hand after the gig started in appreciation for my being there. In those days, the musician’s union was very strong; and Gene was worried that in the event a union rep would walk in, the band would be reprimanded. You see, although Gene, Art, and the sax man were in the Union and I, as a 14 year old kid, was not in the union at that time. So, Gene told my dad, Art, that should the Union walk in that he, Art, should take the responsibility.
In junior high, now called middle school, I played the upright sting bass as well as the guitar. “As most musicians know, the string bass is tuned just like a guitar although the first four stings, except that the bass is an octave lower.” Roger Van Horn, an accordion player, my age, and I ran around St. Paul and played with the help of his parents during this time also. Roger became a notable Twin City accordionist making several appearances at well-known places such as Schlief’s Little City.
In high school, including grades 10, 11, and 12, the high school band director handed me a bass drum which I played throughout high school. It required my presence at football and basketball games as well as other special functions. “After all you couldn’t march down the football field playing a guitar.”
While in high school, Vavro Music, in South St. Paul, asked me to play the guitar on an album which included songs from book one of the Basic Guitar Course. On these albums, (three in a packet), were musical instructions on accordion and piano as well. “Sonny” Zarich, who worked at Vavro Music played the accordion and piano parts which were required to compile the three album packet. “Sonny” went on in later years to play piano for Engelbert Humperdink. Additionally, while in high school, I became vice president of the high school band and president of the band in my senior year. And together with cohorts (including Bob Altman) we played noon time at the gym and at assemblies for the student body. Butch Behrens, during 11th grade English turned to me!!! And said: “what are you worried about? You’re the hit of the school.”
At age 18, I completed K-12 school. We now then began the adult years. I enrolled in classes at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis; and two years later earned my Associates in Arts (AA) Degree. While at the Univ of MN I played bass drum in the ROTC marching band, and had the privilege of meeting and playing guitar with Tom Prin. Tom went on to be a regionally famous piano player, who can still be heard these days on television sets with the topics “Beautiful Instrumentals.” Tom’s dad, Toby Prin, in the 1950’s, had the famous children’s show every afternoon on WCCO television.
In 1961, I went on to the University of SD and subsequently earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts in 1964. While at USD I was in the South Dakota University Jazz Band headed by Gary Thomas. Also in those days, I worked with Carl Mann and his big band out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Mike Day and his Orchestra out of Sioux City, Iowa. Also, in those years I met and was in a Rock and Roll Band “The Sonics” which was headed up by my good friend, Gary Gibson. In addition, I had the enjoyable experience of playing on the river boat “The Far West” near Gavins Point which provided nightly cruises on the Missouri River next to Yankton. On the boat I worked with the Boehmer sisters, Arlene and Janice, who in their own right went on to enjoy music celebrity status in the Siouxland area. Also on the boat from the Colony was a well-known country singer, Joe Wertz. While at USD I completed advanced ROTC and entered the US Army in May 1964 as a 2nd Lieutenant (M.O.S. 71542, Airborne Infantry).
During my time in the U.S. Army and primarily at Fort Carson, Colorado, the officers wives enjoyed having me play my guitar at the Officer’s Club, I directed the Brigade Choir, and met a George Jones prodigy named Duane, who had weekend work at the Silver Saddle Club in Pueblo. I stayed there until my discharge from active duty in 1966. My Commission was Infantry and I was Airbourne, but my E.T.S (2 May 66) was before the Vietnam War heated up; and it was those men and women that came after me, that went to Southeast Asia representing the United States so admirably.
A Master’s Degree was later earned at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana in 1970. Throughout the college years music courses taken included: music appreciation, music history, music theory, and guitar. My thesis, however, was “An Investigation into the Costs of Water Pollution Control, which deviated from music, to be sure; but the one hundred seventeen page thesis was well worth the effort.
I really didn’t start taking the guitar seriously until I was 32, when I found that the corporate world didn’t want to hire me anymore because of my artistic personality. However, at the encouragement by my Advisor at USD, I pursued insurance as an early career. Through my efforts, I did manage to compile five insurance licenses including an Adjuster’s License, and a Correspondence Course in General Insurance from the Insurance Institute of America.
In 1973, when I ran out of places to get a “real” job, I had the privilege of giving guitar lessons at Buddy Rein’s Music Store in Brooklyn Park, MN. During the late summer of 1973 while participating in the Thursday night jam sessions at BillyBud’s on Washington Avenue in Minneapolis, under Freddie Haas, Ray Boyles a country western senior “groupie”, told me that Johnny White up in Fargo needed a guitar player. I went home and called Johnny White from Minneapolis where I lived at the time, and Johnny expressed an interest in hiring me. He emphasized however, that he didn’t want any drunks, queers, or pill pushers! The famous Johnny White found a great deal of success with his recordings of “Two Old Maids.”
During my years with Johnny White, we played in Canada; and on one Saturday evening loading night at the Town Pump, a woman came up to the bandstand with rosy cheeks and a big smile on her face. And she said “thank you Johnny, thank you.” Johnny replied “every time I screw the legs off this steel guitar, I will think of you.”
The 70’s, in addition to the Johnny White Show included appearances with Rose Wilie, Billy Hines, and Mel and Cookie Lockwood. While at the famous Flame café, in Minneapolis, with Mel and Cookie, I played for 317 nights in a row which included the Saturday afternoon jam sessions. After that lengthy time I took a break and subsequently found myself going to California with Johnny White. In California, I worked at the Little Nashville Club with Johnny, and taught guitar at ABC music in Burbank. The Little Nashville Club was in North Hollywood; and stars would periodically stop by. One time a smaller black man got up on stage and stood next to me during a Sunday jam. He said, “gimme a G”, I gave him the “G” chord and the first words of his mouth were “Only you can make the this change in me.” He was from the famous band, The Platters.
Throughout the late 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s most of my musical endeavors originated in Fargo, North Dakota.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Teamster’s Hall or Union for allowing me to participate in and later manage the Saturday afternoon jam sessions. As a result of my working there, my two oldest boys, Randy and Darrel, received scholarship money while attending Moorhead State University. I also want to show appreciation to Gary Bockness, Roger Kling, and Tony Ochoa who made that to happen.
I also owe appreciation to Ron Kerber and others, including management at the VFW, in Fargo North Dakota for allowing me to work there for 4 ½ years in the Thursday night jam sessions.
While in Fargo, recordings were made with Loraine and Her Band, featuring Lloyd Correll, Vonney and Harold Anderson (a gospel record for her mother), Andreas Royervick, a well-known Norwegian accordion player (a classical cut), and Blue Moon with Arden Lemley.
As a point of interest, Doc Shamus of Fergus Falls added a banjo effect to one of his recordings. The recording went to number 11 in the nation on the Independent Label. The banjo was my suggestion, although it was played by a man named Tom from South Carolina.
Beginning in 1984, Connie Lee (Stich) had me aboard, including a TV appearance on RFD at Sandstone, MN. I owe a special appreciation to Connie for allowing me to participate in her endeavors for twenty one years. During our time together, Connie opened for George Jones, Merle Haggard, the Belamy Brothers, John Connely, Marty Stewart, Ronnie Millsap, Connie Smith, and Ray Price. We also performed alongside Sherwin Linton and Marvin Rainwater.
While in Fargo, I had the privilege of playing at Pontoppidan Lutheran Church from 1990-2004 on radio and TV. Playing in church came as a surprise to me but became a worthwhile endeavor.
As a footnote, I enjoyed working with Dave Dudley in Fargo during 1985 and 1986. When I first met Dave Dudley, we had a 10 minute conversation about what we were going to play. He jumped onstage and after three songs, over the microphone he said to the people (a roomful of truck drivers and their wives) “the lead guitar player isn’t supposed to be better than the star.” With me at the jam session was Denny Gordon, Pam Stevens (with a low alto voice), and Mike Crystal who played drums and harmonica. Needless to say Dave Dudley had a good time and was a big hit.
As a footnote to my years in Fargo, I had the opportunity to work with Frankie Yankovich at the Hi-Ten Steakhouse in West Fargo. At the end of the week after standing behind the “Polka King, “which was my privilege, he paid us. And when he paid us, he said, “hang on to your money boys; I’ve had two ex-wives and they both cleaned me out.” I owe Bob Becker for this one, who led for many years, Bob Becker and the Poor Boys, in Fargo.
Lest we not forget the infamous “Mars” Case, a steel guitarist of the greatest vintage, with whom a recording at Rick’s Bar was used as a theme by KFGO Radio for years. A band that he worked for was called “The Nighthawks”. Mars also worked with Mel Tillis when they teamed up in Japan while in the service. Mars and I worked several gigs with the Harvey Lane Band in Fargo and also with the Nighthawks spearheaded by “Homer” Morrison and Larry Kjelland (what a team).
Additionally, good times were had by all, especially those who participated in the Thursday night jam sessions at United Teachers of Music owned by Harvey Lane and patronized by all the “jammer.” Through the United Teachers I was introduced to Cullen Wahl who provided many playing opportunities for me with his four-piece band including Gordy Erickson and Harley Kastet. I was called upon on two occasions to provide guitar lessons at United Teachers, and to this day regard the start as part of a higher regarded support system during those years.
In 2005, I moved to Lynch, Nebraska. I teamed up with Gary Gibson from my earlier days in South Dakota in Vermillion. Since moving to the SD/NE region I have had the privilege to be a part of the Outback Band run by Laurie Larsen. Also it has been my privilege to work with Elaine Peacock, Howard and Jan Grimm (the people who made it possible for me to move to Lynch, NE and establish a residence). Terry James, out of Meadow Grove, NE, Gary Gibson and the Bumble Bees, and Kevin McLouth and his Jazz ensemble out of Tyndall, SD.
I want to pay homage for the support over the years. I have appreciated the privileges and confidence in my talents: The Johansen Sisters (with recording and assisting on their first commercial CD), Sharon Allen, Roy King, Norm DaSize, Fred Koupal, Ron Mortinson, and Jan Grosz; additional support came from Maylissa Marshall,; her dad – husband – and their group especially when we opened for Ricky Van Shelton at the “Hill” in Wagner, SD in 2004. An additional list of supporters who have supported me along the way to the greatest extent include: Linda Gibson, an understanding wife to her musically ambitious husband, Gary; Wayne and Wendy Longtin, (LeMars, Iowa) who have always been encouraging and considerate (since 1973); Jim Denny and his wife, Leslie, who proved to me that you could stay in the “middle of the road” and still play music profitably; Marguerite’s Music for letting me run unscathed on their “accounts receivable” for 16 years; Don Roberts from KFGO radio, Fargo ND, for absorbing my late night visits hoping to get something played, and for the visits to Nashville; Dick Van Hale (from the Board of Directors in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Musician’s Union, Local 30-73) who sponsored my induction to the Union in 1973, (I finally joined and am now a lifetime member having paid dues for more than 35 years); Mom and Dad, who NEVER discouraged me from playing and who wouldn’t have dreamed of throwing an uncased guitar in a snow bank or “banging a guitar” on a pool table causing customers to turn their heads! A hobby was turned into a career and many were surprised. I can still hear my Dad’s words “hang onto your music.” Thanks to all the people who have demonstrated appreciation and support of all my valued endeavors in music and throughout life.
Dave is also currently on staff at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Bristow Nebraska, playing guitar there since July 2005 and is also a member of the American Legion Post 76 in Bristow NE.
Big band experiences have been made possible by Phil and Friends, which have included reading and musical competence requiring a greater degree. Almost two years ago, the Boys and Girls Clubs out of Wagner, SD hired me to teach guitar. Wagner is on a Reservation, of course, and by taking on this responsibility I was asked to work with youngsters. When taking on this type of responsibility, you have to go through a background check. I actually passed it. The opportunity keeps me young.
Gaylon Trones put together a band called SugarFoot which won the contest at the North Dakota State Fair in 1983 for being the best band there. The prize was $500; and we used it for a trip to Nashville. The trip was thoroughly enjoyable. Other state fair appearances included South Dakota and Nebraska, giving credit for any particular gig to the band leader at the time. The casinos are too numerous to name really; but I would like to add the Sioux Empire Fair in Sioux Falls, SD, and the Red River Valley Fair in Fargo. Let us not forget the HostFest in Minot, ND where I had the privilege of backing up Bud McGregor in the fall of 1989. Lastly, Andreas Royervick, and I were featured at the Folkarama in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada in the late 1980’s.
My boys, Randy, Darrel, and David enjoyed a favorable upbringing under their mother’s direction and my contributions. They have gone on to be successful in their own right; and at this time I have five grandchildren which is a joy in itself.
For most people music is an important part of the educational process and a lot can be learned through individual participation in countless forms.
P.S. I would like to thank Wini & the girls from the South Dakota Country Music Hall of Fame for making this award possible.