The Original Sensational Showmen

The Original Sensational Showmen
National Guard Armory-Concordia - 1965

Friday, February 27, 2015

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.

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