The Original Sensational Showmen

The Original Sensational Showmen
National Guard Armory-Concordia - 1965

Friday, February 27, 2015

Library Ballroom Cou Falls, Iowa

A night club called "The Red Carpet" operated by former NBA basketball player, Guy Sparrow of the New York Knicks, opened its doors around 1962, only to fall upon hard times and closed in 1964. The building stood idle for two years until Ray Scheetz and Al Huntzinger finally found what they were looking for - a building located nine miles south of Cedar Rapids just off Highway 218 in the little incorporated town of Cou Falls. The structure was owned by the Schlesselman family who also operated a well-known restaurant, "The Ranch Supper Club," located across the street. A one-year agreement contract was signed for the lease of the building and a three-month renovation began in the spring of 1966. The renovation included special wallpaper looking like books on a shelf (like what would be found in a public library), gas fireplace, re-sanded dance floor, beautiful bar and four new air conditioning units placed on top of the building. Booths and tables were bought from the well-known Armar Ballroom in Marion that was being torn down to make room for a new mini mall. As booths & tables were being placed inside the building, Huntzinger and Scheetz found hundreds of pieces of old chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the well-used booths and tables. They wondered if the gum was stuck in place when Jan Garber, Stan Kenton, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Miller Lawrence Welk, Benny Goodman or even Spike Jones had played at the Armar Ballroom! They left the gum, knowing this would be an additional musical education piece for the young people who would soon become the new patrons at "The Library". What fun they had with the name "The Library"! Just imagine high school kids as they are walking out the door of their house on a Saturday night saying to their parents, "we're going to The Library!” Their parents must have thought, "what studious children we have brought up!” Open only on Friday & Saturday nights, entertainment consisted of penny beer, free peanuts with shells thrown on the floor and free old time movies - all for $2.00 for "Collegiate Night" held on Friday nights. Saturday nights were Rock ‘N Roll bands like they had never heard before. There were live performances by Tommy James & The Shondells, The Buckinghams, The Fabulous Flippers, Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs, The Zombies, American Breed, Detroit Wheels, The Box Tops, Johnny & The Hurricanes, Pete Klint Quintet, Yellow Balloon, D.J. & The Runaways, Spirit of St. Louis, Cryan' Shames, The Mob, The Fortes, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Rumbles, O'Kaysions"and Rivieras, just to name a few. According to Huntzinger, “our biggest night we had the Box Tops and Dance Mor Ballroom, only three miles down the road, had The Fabulous Flippers. There were 3,000 kids driving back and forth to see these two groups.” He continues, “It was a wonderful four years watching these kids growing up, some in high school, others in college, many stopping in to dance and say Hello or ‘I have graduated and guess what? I no longer have to tell my folks, I'm going to The Library. I just leave my books at home!’”

Melody Hill Ballroom Dubuque, Iowa

The beautiful Melody Mill Ballroom was located outside the city of Dubuque by a mere mile. In 1947, Vince and Vi Schulting purchased the landmark on Highways 52 & 3. It was billed at that time as the largest ballroom in the state of Iowa and was a popular place for music lovers. The Schultings booked the best of the big bands such as Guy Lombardo, Andy Williams, Count Basie, Lawrence Welk and Louis Armstrong to please their hundreds and hundreds of fans. Along came rock and roll so the couple made the decision to continue the format of bringing the bands people were demanding to see but this time with a different sound. Musicians such as the Beach Boys, Brenda Lee, Frankie Avalon, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Gillmer and the Fireballs, Bobbie Vee, Conway Twitty, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Freddy Cannon, Bobby Rydell, the Ventures and many, many more. They also booked country entertainers such as Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson and Web Pearce. Opening bands were needed for these national acts so the Melody Mill provided many Iowa ‘garage bands’ the opportunity to play. Friday and Saturday nights were country or big band nights and Sunday was reserved for rock and roll. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were scheduled to appear at Melody on the night after their appearance in Fargo, ND . Of course the plane crash near Clear Lake tragically halted that tour. This grand ballroom was a memorable place for the entertainers due to the great facility, enthusiastic fans and the warmth of the Schultings. Evidence of this is in two of the letters of recommendation for the ballroom’s induction into the Hall of Fame. The letters were sent by Brenda Lee and one of the Beach Boys. The Melody Mill was sold to Interstate Power Company in 1964. IPC tore down the ballroom so several businesses could be built on that site. Melody Mill Ballroom brought top notch entertainment to the Tri-State area and provided thousands of good memories for more than one generation of music lovers. It takes its rightful place among the best of the Hall of Fame ballrooms in 2009.

Lakewood Ballroom Lake View, Iowa

The Lakewood Ballroom has been a fixture near the shores of Black Hawk Lake in Lake View since 1889 when the area was known as Graves Grove. In 1913 the Lakewood area was developed into an amusement park. From 1913-1946 the amusement park including the ballroom, beer garden, hotel, soda fountain, skating rink and 40 cottages, was owned by Bill Wieland and his brothers. There was also an ice house that stored the ice harvested from the lake during the winter. Speed boats could be rented and ferries from town carried people from the bay in town to Lakewood at one time. The ballroom was known as the ‘Japanese’ ballroom. According to Bill’s daughter Betty Wassom, “the Lakewood had the best hardwood dance floor around. Modern dances were held on Thursdays and Saturdays and old time dances on Tuesdays.” In 1936 a fire destroyed the “Japanese” ballroom. A new dancehall was quickly built and called Swing-Lan. Many of the big bands such as Lawrence Welk and Tiny Little played the ballroom. Lakewood was sold to Fred and Blanche Shaw in 1946. Fire again hit in 1955. Swing-Lan burned so the Shaws converted the skating rink of the amusement park into the new Lakewood Ballroom. Friday nights became teen night and many IRRMA Hall of Fame bands played there such as The Flippers, The Rumbles, The Thunderbolts and The Senders. However the Lakewood would again be destroyed by fire in 1980. Hall of Famer Gary Johnson was so saddened by the loss that he wrote and recorded a song called “The Last Dance at Lakewood .” The property was sold to Darrell Schroeder and Larry Beckman in 1980 and they built the Lakewood as it stands today. It is known for the largest floating dance floor in the state of Iowa . The ballroom not only served up the best music around, but wedding receptions, anniversaries, craft shows, large meetings and proms were held there. Citing slow business, the Lakewood was put up for auction in 1997 and purchased by Orville Bohlmann. It reopened from 2003-2006 under the management of Allen and Sandy Boeckman. It closed again in October of 2006 and is now for sale by Bohlmann.

Star Ballroom Dakota City, Iowa

History of KOMA radio

KOMA was born on Christmas Eve 1922 in Oklahoma City. The southwestern giant was only 15 watts of power under the original call letters KFJF. The station’s original purpose was to rebroadcast the programming of larger eastern stations. In 1932 the call letters were changed to the now internationally known KOMA. The studios were moved at this time, filling the 24th floor of the Oklahoma City Biltmore Hotel; an area they would occupy for over 30 years. KOMA then took on its familiar frequency when the FCC moved all AM radios stations 40 kilocycles up the dial. KOMA-1480 became KOMA-1520 and was operating at 50,000 watts. During the 50’s, television was forcing radio into a period of change. The old radio shows were quickly fading into the past. Something called “Top 40” with “Rock ‘N Roll” music was the latest trend in radio. KOMA became a true ‘rock’ radio station in 1958 when it was purchased by the legendary Storz Broadcasting Co. Storz, owned by Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon, developed the “Top 40” concept of radio and the format system employed by most successful radio stations in the country. The Storz chain of stations also include WDGY-Minneapolis as well as stations in Kansas City, New Orleans, St. Louis and Miami. Throughout the 60s and 70s, KOMA was the favorite of teens all across the western U.S. With the big signal and relatively few rocknroll radio stations across The Plains, it was the main station for the hits. KOMA could be heard on car radios, in homes and everywhere a kid could tune in.Often teens in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa as well as other western states would eager await sunset when the mighty 1520 would come booming through with the newest hits of the day. They would sit in their cars on hilltops, turn it up at parties or fall asleep with the radio next to their beds as they listened to Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Beatles. Soldiers in Viet Nam even reported tuning in KOMA to give them a little feeling of being back home. Led through the 60s by program directors Dean Johnson, Dale Wehba and Perry Murphy, some of the best-remembered deejays spun the hits each day and night. Charlie Tuna, Dale Wehba, Don McGregor, Paul Miller, John David, Chuck Dann, J. Michael Wilson, Johnny Dark, Buddy Scott, John Ravencroft and many others were among those who played the hits from the studios in Moore, Okla. Everyone remembers “Yours Truly KOMA” and the “kissing tone.” This was an era where radio was fun. It was more than just the music. It was a magical blend of personality, jungles, contests and fun mixed with the greatest music that defined the era. These were considered by many to be the best years of radio. And for baby boomers across the Midwest and Western US, KOMA was king. On Sept. 22, 1988, after a few years airing country and big band formats, KOMA returned to the Oldies format under the direction of Program Director Kent Jones. Through the 90s, KOMA hosted the Rock and Roll Reunion events that brought many local bands of the 60s back together for live concerts in front of thousands of fans. In 2004 the station hosted the “KOMA Fan Jam.” Many former deejays returned for the event and the weekend programming was full of memorable recordings from the 60s, serving as a tribute to the KOMA staff and listeners who made the AM station such a legend. The Fan Jam drew a capacity crowd of over 1000 fans to the Westin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. In recent years KOMA has twice been a finalist for the prestigious Marconi Radio Award for Oldies Station of the Year and Medium Market Station of the Year. Today KOMA continues to draw a loyal audience as listeners tune in for fun and memories of those great years when the station was an integral part of their lives while growing up.

Cobblestone Ballroom Storm Lake, Iowa

Laura and Willard Lawrence, along with her brother Jake Figi formed a partnership in December of 1928 to operate a bathhouse and store on the shores of Storm Lake. There wasn’t much for the young people of the area to do in those days so the little store soon became the favorite gathering place for young couples. It was this situation that prompted the partners to build the first Cobblestone Inn. On New Year’s Eve of 1929 the first dance was held in the small hall that accommodated 50 couples. From those humble beginnings the famous Cobblestone Ballroom was born. It could hold upwards of 1500 people for dining and dancing. After Willard’s untimely death in 1936, Laura continued the partnership with Jake. A fire in 1945 completely destroyed everything but the main ballroom. The partners built a new main dining room with several private banquet rooms and a modern kitchen able to handle banquets of 1000 or more. Two years later, Laura’s three sons bought out Figi’s half of the business and joined their mother in operating what became one of the finest dining and dancing spots in the Midwest. They employed 39 people plus extras for special events. During the “Big Band Era” many nationally known bands appeared at the Cobblestone such as: Duke Ellington, Lawrence Welk, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Jan Garber and Big Tiny Little. Laura Lawrence retired from active participation in the business in 1957, turning it over fully to Orville (Shorty) and Willard Junior (J.R. or “Junior”). They became the proprietors just in time for the rock and roll era to arrive. For the Cobblestone, that happened on Sept. 21, 1958 with CYO dances that started with records and turned into regular Sunday night Teen Hops with regional and national bands. That continued until the early 1980s. The ballroom’s datebooks reflect appearances by Myron Lee & the Caddies, Johnny & the Hurricanes, Bobby Vee, Jerry Lee Lewis, Conway Twitty, the Rhythm Aces, the Charades, the Fabulous Flippers, Spider and the Crabs, Dee Jay & the Runaways, The Senders, Red Dogs, Baby and the Rumbles among countless others. J.R. passed away in 1976 and his wife Geraldine (Jerry) took over his duties in the family business. Shorty died on 1987. The Cobblestone closed in November of 1986. The structure still stands and the city of Storm Lake has discussed preserving and possibly restoring the landmark.

Starline Ballroom Carroll, Iowa

Warm Iowa summer evenings on the golden prairie sometimes stir up memories of forgotten youth. For many Western Iowans of the boomer persuasion, they are synonymous with the short but glorious reign of rock and roll at the Starline Ballroom, two miles east of Carroll on U.S. Highway 30. Christopher P. and Blanche Otto purchased the ballroom from Harlan Smouse and other local partners around 1956. His son, William P. Otto and new wife, Regina, moved to Carroll from Omaha that year to operate the ‘family business.’ The Ottos entered the dance business during a transitional era. At some point after the repeal of Prohibition in 1932 and before the explosion of TV in the 50’s, live entertainment embodied by the nationally-known swing bands such as Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Glen Miller and local bands (consisting of moonlighting music teachers and businessmen) was a thriving business. Many Iowa towns had dance halls ranging from glorified roadhouses to full-blown ballrooms such as the Starline. And the Starling was huge. It could hold more than 2,000 people with room for most of the to sit if they chose to do so. The late 1950s and early 1960s saw the rapid rise of a conglomeration of jazz, soul, rhythm and blues and gospel music with a syncopated melody and driving back beat dubbed “Rock and Roll.” It became the music of choice for the “Baby Boomer” generation, whose musical choices were dictated by radio, TV and film. Early appearances at the Starline were made by the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Goldsboro and Billy Joe Royale (“Down in the Boondocks”). Bill Otto had to take over sole operation of the Starline in 1964 when his father, Chris, died tragically in a fall down a staircase. The musical scene became more lucrative for the bands as years progressed but was precarious for the venue owners. Bill strived to book groups on their way to stardom while they were still affordable. Two of the most famous groups that almost played the Starline were Jefferson Airplane and The Doors. Bill had contracts for both in the spring of 1967, but they achieved superstardom with the mega hits “Somebody to Love” and “Light My Fire”, canceling all existing contracts. The Doors’ appearance fee went from a modest $700 to $7,000 in one month, still a bargain but out of the reach for the Carroll area. The big groups that made it to the Starline were commercially oriented bands that still appealed to Midwest audiences. Tommy James and the Shondells made a memorable Thanksgiving stop in 1969 and played to a packed house. One of the best performances was given by Dawn (Knock Three Times) in 1971 before Tony Orlando took over front billing. But the Starline’s bread and butter were two regional bands, the Rumbles from Omaha (Hall of Fame 2001) and the Fabulous Flippers (Hall of Fame 1998). The Flippers appeared with a different lineup each time. The Rumbles had a consistent roster and still tour the Midwest. Another big draw was the Easter Sunday Battle of the Bands. This 12-hour marathon stated at noon, featuring 15 to 20 bands, competing for top honors. Bill and Regina Otto sold the Starline in 1973. It was converted into a bowling alley.

Skyline Ballroom Estherville, Iowa

High on the hill overlooking Estherville, Iowa stood the Skyline Ballroom. It majestically ruled that hill for several decades, but not without adversity. The Skyline had humble beginnings. In 1945, Lloyd Sampson had a vision and talked his wife Sylvia into going along with it. He wanted to buy the Woodley Hatchery and turn it into a ballroom. “Only Lloyd could look at a hatchery and see a ballroom,” she chuckled over 50 years later. They bought it in ’45 and spent many months in remodeling; including the construction of a floating dance floor. They opened the Skyline doors for business in 1946. “It was during the Big Band era,” recalled Mel Loewenberg, the couple’s son-in-law who worked for them. “We sold set ups and food and featured local bands.” The family at one time managed four ballrooms. The Sampsons lived in an upstairs apartment and ran the Skyline six nights a week. “We were closed on Monday nights,” Sylvia remembered. Then rock and roll hit the nation and the Skyline joined in. They booked rock bands through KMOA Radio out of Kansas City through the 1950s and 1960s.“We featured area bands quite a bit,” Loewenberg noted. “I remember Myron Lee and the Caddies, DeeJay and the Runaways, The Rumbles and Dentairs played the Skyline often. When we were cleaning up on Sunday afternoons, the Dentairs and Runaways used to use the ballroom to practice.” For a while Sampson booked bands out of Nashville including one group with green hair, according to Loewenberg. While Sylvia Sampson was taking a nap late in the afternoon on Monday, July 25, 1966, her daughter smelled smoke and woke her. They fled down the backstairs as the Skyline burned due to electrical wiring problems in the ballroom’s kitchen. The building was a total loss, with the exception of a couple of refrigerators passersby helped to rescue. Not only had the Sampsons lost their business, but also all of their personal belongings. Not to be deterred, they rebuilt the Skyline…with no living quarters this time around. “It was our life, our livelihood. Lloyd was a good mixer and friends with everyone,” Sylvia said. “He even made a special booth for a doctor we had because the doctor was too big to fit in our regular booths. On Monday, our only night off, we went to other ballrooms around to see what the competition was doing. But Lloyd never did learn to dance. He was too busy greeting everyone.” The couple sold the ballroom in the spring of 1969. Lloyd Sampson passed away in 1983. The couple raised three children and influenced the lives of hundreds of people by owning a ballroom where friendliness and the latest in musical entertainment gave everyone a place to relax, enjoy good food and dance the night away. The building still stands today. Owned by the Estherville Elks, it continues to host dances, wedding receptions and meetings

Laramar Ballroom Ft Dodge, Iowa

This is another of the "classics" when it comes to Iowa Ballrooms, with the key exception that this famed ballroom is still open and operating. Along with such ballrooms as the Val Air, The Roof Garden, Matters, The Coliseum, and the Danceland, the Laramar'Plamor was a key facility in bringing rock and roll music to Iowa Teens. Such legendary names as Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, the Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Bobby Vee, the Trashmen, Dee Jay & the Runaways, Dale & the Devonaires rocked this historic ballroom.

Col Ballroom Davenport, Iowa

The Col is one of lowa's oldest operating ballrooms having been built in November of 1914 by the late Leo Kerker as a replacement for an earlier wooden ballroom that was destroyed by fire. The original ballroom was known as The Coliseum. In 1991, the ballroom underwent a major renovation that included extensive brick cleaning. The ornate balcony also underwent extensive renovation as well as new carpeting and drapes.The Col is one of lowa's oldest operating ballrooms. In 1991, the ballroom underwent a major renovation that included extensive brick cleaning. The ornate balcony also underwent extensive renovation as well as new carpeting and drapes. The owner of The Col during most of it's historic years was Don Wachel of Davenport. Don has been one of the most highlyregarded professionals in the ballroom industry nationally including being past president of the National Ballrooms Operators Association.(NBOA) Wachel was well schooled in the entertainment business as being a member of the popular band, Sheriff Tom Owens & His Cowboys. Over the years The Col has hosted them all. From Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, and Frank Sinatra, to The Beach Boys, B.B King and even Jimi Hendrix. What is interesting about The Col playing host to the Beach Boys, this 1963 show was their first ever tour out of California traveling in a station wagon, U-Haul trailor and Murry Wilson driving. Now that's Iowa rock and roll history.

Avalon Ballroom, Remsen, Iowa

The Avalon Ballroom of Remsen, Iowa. Remsen's Avalon Ballroom was built in 1937, making it 61 years old, and one of lowa's longest running ballrooms. The building was constructed on the former A.i. Duster parking lots just North of the American Legion. At the time that the building was built, it covered a ground space of 60'X 110' making it one the largest structures of it's kind in western Iowa. Then owners, Jake Raveling & Frederick Phillips set the grand opening for Labor Day of 1937 drawing over 400 dancers. Over the years The Avalon has played host to the likes of Lawrence Welk, The Velaires, Burch Ray & The Walkers, The Astronauts, The Trashmen and The Patch Of Blue with Tommy Bolin, to name just a few. After setting idle for a number of years, The Remsen Jaycees and their Remsen Community Action Club purchased The Avalon and is undertaking a significant remodeling of the ballroom to make it a beautiful, like new, and historic entertainment venue once again.

The Surf Ballroom, Clear Lake, Iowa

The Surf has a fabulous music history from the big bands of the 30's and 40's, to big name rock artists of the 50's through the 90's, the Surf has had them all. The original Surf was built as a wooden frame structure and prospered as one of the most popular ballrooms in the Upper Midwest until an untimely fire caused her demise in 1947. The community of Clear Lake and dancers throughout the Midwest got behind the ownership of the Surf and it was rebuilt at its current location in 1948. In the 30's and 40's in order for a big band to make it's reputation nationally, it had to play the Surf. The likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, The Dorsey's all made regular stops at the Surf. The 1950's saw the dawning of rock and roll and then manager Carrol Anderson was quick to book into the Surf the hottest names in the business. This was the case on February 2, 1959 when Anderson brought in the famed Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper, and Dion. There isn't anyone who doesn't know the rest of the story as the fateful plane crash after the show took the lives of Holly, The Bopper and Valens. During the 50's and 60's the name rock acts kept playing the Surf. Artists such as Link Wray, Sam the Sham, Dion, The Everly Brothers, Jan and Dean, and Conway Twitty all took the stage at the Surf. In the early 70's, the Surf brougt in the likes of Santana, REO Speedwagon and Kansas, quite an impressive line-up. In 1975 the management of the ballroom was taken over by the colorful Darrel Hein, then later by Bruce Christensen. During the 90's the ballroom has undergone significant renovation by it's new owners, the Snyder family of Clear Lake.