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New: Rare Northern Lights Photos
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Mystery Men of Rock & Roll
By Aaron Mintz
Update: April, 2002
Allan Orkins Deceased, March 16, 2002
Click Here for News Article File
"BUST OUT" rated among the Top Seventy Rock and Pop Instruments.
Author Steve Otfinoski, in his book "The Golden Age of Rock Instrumentals."
has selected The Busters recording of "Bust Out" as one of the all time classics (1955-66).
The book is available from Billboard Books, 1515 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
NORTHERN LIGHTS, "The Complete Collection 1956-1963".
All rockin' tunes: instrumentals (with that Champs sound), vintage vocals and great
work on the sax. Contact: Jack Baker, 104 Old Village Road, Shelburne, MA 01370
On "Rock and Roll Memory Time" on WHAI in Greenfield, Massachussetts, I
devote one show every
year to the recording artists of Massachusetts. Along with hitmakers like
Freddie Cannon and
the G Clefs, lesser known acts like the Leaders and Susan Capone are
spotlighted. The Busters,
one hit wonders, are always played on this show though I never knew exactly
which part of the
state they were from. Though their Bust Out was a national Top 25
hit in 1963, they
have not been identified in major reference books such as Norm N. Nite's
Rock On or the
Joel Whitburn series. This past year I finally discovered the Busters are
my own backyard!
Though Massachussets is a small state, the western section has always been
seen as a different
world. In contrast to the metropolitan Boston area with its city ills and
western Massachusetts is quite rural, framed by the beautiful Berkshire
Springfield, a manageable hub city. There was a very lively rock and roll
scene here in the
late 1950s. Disc jockeys Bud Stone, Phil D., and Jack Frost on stations
WHYN and WSPR gave
the Springfield area a well-deserved reputation as the city where hits
happened first. Bands
had plenty of places to play, from Jolly's cafe in Holyoke, Massachusetts,
to the Quonset Hut
Don Rondo was the most successful recording artist from the Springfield
area. A pop stylist, his
semi-rocker White Silver Sands went Top 10 in 1957. Springfield's
large black population
supported a thriving doo-wop scene that included recordings by the
Dreamtones, Mint Juleps,
and Heartspinners, which became local hits. Joe Therrien, Jr., from Indian
Orchard recorded in a
wild rockabilly style on Brunswick and other labels. These sides are still
coveted today by
record collectors worldwide.
North of Springfield is a more rural area including towns like Northampton,
Greenfield. Known as the Pioneer Valley, it is home to many colleges
including Smith, Amherst,
and the state university known fondly as UMASS. The Busters came from this
Pioneer Valley located
along the banks of the Connecticut River. Their story is finally going to
be told after
twenty-five years of anonymity.
"I grew up listening to country music, but when Chuck Berry sang
Maybelline, that was it
for me! I was totally hooked on rock and roll." - Jack Baker, bass player
for the Busters.
Jack Baker now operates the Barrett & Baker retail stores in downtown
Greenfield. As he tells the
story of his rock and roll days, his wide smile tells you they were the
best days of his life.
In 1957 Baker began playing rhythm guitar in a band called Midnight Rockers
formed by John Kowecki
on lead guitar, John Kosic on bass, and Don Gates Jr. on drums. The band
played mostly three
chord rockers with Kowecki and Kosic doing the vocals on Elvis and Bill
Haley numbers. By 1958,
the band was called the Sapphires and had two additional members, Alan
Orkins on lead guitar
and Richard Knower on tenor sacophone.
"There is no question Bust Out came out of a song the Sapphires did
Alan Orkins had the original idea, but we all added to it." - Don Gates
Jr., drummer for the
Alan Orkins was from Brattleboro, Vermont, a twenty-five minute ride from
Greenfield. He was
an older and more experienced musician and taught everyone in the band how
to play better.
With Knower on tenor sax and Kosic on slap back stand-up bass, the group
had an interesting
country rock sound and began to do more original material. Don Gates Sr.
was the group's
manager and pushed the band to become more professional. Gates Sr. had been
a Big Band leader in
the 1940s and bought the band new equipment and attire to wear while
performing. The Sapphires
performed between movies like Alan Freed's Rock Rock Rock, at the
in Greenfield, and felt they were getting as good as the bands they saw on
In early 1959, Orkins left the band only to return later. The Sapphires
became the Northern
Lights, with the addition of John Chappel, a veteran of country bands who
had attended the
New England Conservatory of Music. Chappel became the group's lead guitar
player and the
Northern Lights were soon the most popular band in Western Massachusetts.
From Fraternity parties
at UMASS to the Pleasure Beach Ballroom in New London, Connecticut, the
Northern lights were
gaining quite a following. They were spotlighted on local TV shows and soon
Don Gates Sr. felt
they were ready to record. He financed a session at Bell Sound in New York
City for $600.
The first version of Typhoid was recorded there and although primitive, it
still had the Bust
Out feel to it. Three other tunes were done including Black Out
which later became the
B-side of Bust Out Though these sides weren't released, a station in
Keene, New Hampshire,
played the acetate of Typhoid to excellent response. By late 1959 though,
the personnel changes
that were to plague the Northern Lights began. Kosic, Kowecki, and Gates
left the band for
various reasons. New members were added and others left over the next few
years with Baker,
now on electric bass, being the one constant figure.
By spring 1960, the Northern lights, still riding the crest of their local
their first album. Parts of it were recorded in Somers, Connecticut. At the
Columbia studios in New
York City, the version of Bust Out that became a hit was recorded,
but it was still called
Typhoid. Alan Orkins was back playing lead guitar with John Chappel
moving to rhythm alongside
new member Freddie Cole on second guitar. Al Marczyk played the hot tenor
sax part while
Baker held down the rhythm section with new drummer, Fran Parda.
"The Northern lights were way ahead of their time. We were all excellent
musicians and wrote
a lot of our material. It wasn't until the Beatles came along that this
procedure for a rock and roll band" - Fran Parda, drummer for the
Fran Parda grew up in Northampton where the new rocking sounds of Bill
Haley and Buddy Holly
caught his ear. By the time he joined the Northern Lights, he was an
whose solo on Typhoid was a key element to its success. All the
members of the Northern
Lights helped on the final arrangement of Bust Out and perhaps all
deserve some writing
The album made in Somers, Connecticut, sold very well locally. Baker had
become the business
leader of the group and wasn't satisfied with local success. He pushed the
band to record again
in late 1962 at Bell Sound in New York City. Personnel continued to change
and by this time
Bob Rider and Fran Smith on guitar, Phil Maddern on trumpet, and George
Leh, a blind vocalist,
had come and gone.
"It's got it in the grooves, man; that's a hit! - Harry Finfer.
Harry Finfer was an important record man working out of Philadelphia,
with Dick Clark in the Arlen and Jamie Labels, Finfer lost his partners
after the payola scandals
of 1959 made Clark give up his involvement. Finfer was still active in all
phases of the record
industry and was the archetypical 1950s independent record man. Called the
"Old Fox," Harry
was known for his style and flair and had an ear for hits. When an employee
at Bell Sound got
finfer to listen to the tapes of the Northern Lights, Finfer kept coming
back to Typhoid
as an instrumental with hit potential. Though the golden age of the rock
instrumental was just about
over in 1963, Typhoid was exceptional. It rocked from beginning to
end taking no time at
all to build. Because of this instant excitement, it was the perfect song
for jocks to play as
the lead in to the news on Top 40 radio.
Finfer heard all this and wanted the song released on his own Arlen label.
He bought the rights
to it form the employee at Bell Sound who claimed to own those rights.
Thinking the title was ill
chosen, Finfer released the master as Bust Out in the summer of 1963
and put the Busters
as the group simply because it fit! He didn't know who had actually done
the song and didn't
care, since he thought he had bought the rights lock, stock and barrel. The
went to his own company and a fictitious name, Dave Benjamin was put down
as the song's writer.
Finfer felt if the song became a hit, he could get a bunch of musicians
together in a hurry
to be the Busters for the appearances that would then come.
Bust Out broke out as a hit recording in late August, 1963. WKNR in
Detroit, WKBW Buffalo,
and WBZ Boston gave it heavy airplay. The song entered the Billboard chart
on September 7, 1963.
"Jack Baker and I were cruising in my dad's car listening to the
bossest station around:
WLS, 50,000 clear watts from Chicago. When our song Typhoid came on
for the first time,
we got so excited we pulled over to the side of the road, dancing, and
screaming. When the dee jay said it
was Bust Out by the Busters, the joy ended and the questioning
began. How the hell did
that happen?" - Fran Parda.
Jack Baker and Don Gates Sr. immediately went to New York City and met
there with Harry Finfer.
Finfer knew the Northern Lights certainly had grounds for litigation as
their record was stolen out
from under them. He also knew how excited Jack Baker was to have a hit
record and was able
to cut a deal. Finfer's publishing company would retain the rights to
In return, the Northern Lights would get performance royalties for every
copy of the record sold.
The real publisher of Bust Out or Typhoid would get
publishing rights on all
future releases by the Busters.
An oral agreement was also reached between Baker and Finfer regarding the
Busters. Baker was to
go back to Massachusetts and get a band together to tour and record as the
The only members of the Northern lights who wanted to undertake a national
tour were Baker and
Parda. They looked around the area for musicians good enough for this task.
Richard Eriksen, from
Greenfield, was a Jerry Lee Lewis- style pianist who had played in local
bands. He was so good
Baker wanted him in the Busters even though Bust Out did not have a
piano on it. Someone
was still needed to handle the fast guitar licks of the original. Dick
LaFrenier had played
with the Invaders and was good enough, but LaFrenier was still in high
"I went right into Dick's English class. It was September 1963, so school
was just starting.
I told him we had a slot saved for him the the Busters. He got right up,
left school that day,
and never did return" - Fran Parda.
Chuck Bentley from Springfield became one touring sax player; the other was
Hartley E. Hermanson III,
known as Tink, from Owaso, Michigan.
"Tink had been stationed at Westover Air Force Base. We heard he was AWOL,
but we never really
asked him" - Richard Eriksen.
This new Busters group began to rehearse so they could go on tour as their
hit climbed the
chart. Don Seat was hired as the new manager. Seat had many national
connections and he
represented Conway Twitty, so the Busters were in good company. Seat came
to Northampton to
audition the band and decided they were ready to tour. Meanwhile, Bust
Out finished its
climb in Billboard, peaking at No. 25 in October 1963.
When the Busters said goodbye to family and friends in the fall of 1963,
they had no idea how
grueling life on the road would be. They were unsophisticated kids from the
Western Massachusetts and would never be the same again. Their suitcases
and instruments were
loaded into two automobiles and a U-Haul, leaving little room for
As the busters began their travels, they immediately saw that their one hit
record gave them
little drawing power. The group became what was known then as a "show
band," able to duplicate
all the hits of the day with great excitement and showmanship. The Busters
choreographed dance steps and stage patter needed in the adult venues they
The circuit included clubs in Boston's Combat Zone, the Peppermint Lounge
in New York City and
nightspots in America's heartland, such as the Oasis Club in Muncie,
At times, the Busters hooked up with shows aimed at the teenage audience.
They toured with such
stars as Dion, Roy Orbison, and Leslie Gore, as well as other one-hit
wonders like Don and
Juan, then riding the crest of their hit, What's Your Name?
The Busters made an appearance on what was the mecca for rock and roll
Bandstand" on ABC television. Dick Clark had been playing their record
regularly and the
Busters were invited to Bandstand on October 26, 1963.
"We taped our appearance two weeks earlier, so we got to watch ourselves on
TV. Luckily we just
pantomined the song as it was played in the background. You couldn't really
tell how nervous
we were until Clark began to ask his questions" - Richard Eriksen.
The Busters had not prepared for even the minimal interview ClarK did with
his guests at the
time. When Clark asked the group where they were from, LaFrenier replied
nervously that they
came from "Chicopee, Northampton, Springfield." Finally Clark pinned them
down as being
from western Massachusetts so viewers could have some reference point to
where they lived.
The Busters were true one-hit wonders of rock, as the follow-up records
after Bust Out
"We wanted to do a vocal as our follow-up, but the record companies wanted
no singing by us.
They kept saying, 'You gotta keep putting out that Bust Out type
sound' - Jack Baker
The Busters were kids and wanted to trust the wisdom of the record company
even though their
vocals were well-polished and sounded great. A surfing-type instrumental
was chosen as the
follow-up record, All American Surfer. It still sounds good today in
songs like Wipe Out, then hitting it big on the charts. The record
and subsequent records also went nowhere.
The Busters toured extensively through December 1963 when the winds of
change began to blow.
We heard Love Me Do by the Beatles in late 1963 and knew it was all
over for our sound.
the British were coming, but Jack Baker and Fran Parda were '50s types and
didn't want to change.
The Busters never did make the transition to a '60s-style Beatles band" -
Baker wanted to keep the Busters going on his own terms, but the rest of
the group was lonesome
for the Pioneer Valley and wanted to go home. Baker recruited a totally new
rehearsed them, and they stayed on the road as the Busters until the summer
"The Busters never made much money, though everyone thought we were rolling
high in dough.
We got advances on our royalties all the time to pay for hotels, food and
expenses. I never minded because I got an education in life that you can't
buy with money" -
Jack Baker liked the music business so much he stayed in it behind the
scenes. As a booking agent
working with Don Seat, Baker was involved with Conway Twitty just before
Twitty turned to country
music in the mid-1960s. Baker was also behind the scenes of some of Harry
Finfer's projects. When
Finfer secured the rights to the original master of J. Frank Wilson's
Last Kiss for his
Tamara label, Baker was a firm believer in its potential. He promoted the
record all over New
England, where it first broke out as a hit in the summer of 1964. Baker
also produced later
recordings by the Fenderman and the Green Men whose green hair and rockin'
style made them
east coast sensations around 1964. He presently owns a recording studio in
Masschusetts, where he still produces records and radio commercials.
Richard Eriksen also remained in the music business and plays with local
band, their Solid Gold Cadillacs. He has played in many other bands the
last twenty-five years
including the Trophies. This band's cover of Walking the Dog became
a hit on the east
coast in 1964 on the Nork label. The band hired jack Baker to promote the
record and Baker was
able to get it heavy airplay.
Richard LaFrenier ended up playing in other popular New England bands, the
Bold and Clean
Living. He now works as a dee jay doing weddings and parties. John Chappel
is a musician in the
Kansas City area where the John Chappel Band remains quite popular. Don
Gates Jr. has
passed down his talents to his daughter Cheri Gates, who has recorded and
toured over the last
few years. She has even done some of Don's old songs.
The Busters never achieved any lasting fame and somehow have remained a
mystery to record
collectors and rock and roll lovers for twenty-five years.
Yet, Bust Out is a record that lives on as one of the classic
instrumentals of the early
1960s. It is available as a 45 on Collectables and has been booted on a
number of recent collectors
albums. One listen to it, even today, and you may get an instant charge of
the rocking and
bopping all-out energy of the Pioneer Valley's own hitmakers, the
Bust Out/Astronauts - Arlen 735
All American Surfer/Pine Tree Hop - Arlen 740
Heartaches/Torrid Zone - Arlen 745
The Northern Lights
College Hop(LP) - Patt 101
All Alone/Summertime - Patt 058
Fred Cole and the Northern Lights
Please Love Me Now/Swirl - Patt 059
Walking the dog/Something Else - Nork 79907
Baby Doesn't Live Here Anymore/Everywhere I Go - Kapp 714
Leave My Girl Alone/The Queen - Kapp 750
Bold (LP) - ABC 705
E-mail Jack Baker - firstname.lastname@example.org
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