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Mystery Men of Rock & Roll
The Busters

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 practically from 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 sprawling suburbs, western Massachusetts is quite rural, framed by the beautiful Berkshire Mountains with 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 in Amherst.

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, Amherst, and 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 called Typhoid. Alan Orkins had the original idea, but we all added to it." - Don Gates Jr., drummer for the Sapphires.

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 Victoria Theater in Greenfield, and felt they were getting as good as the bands they saw on the screen.

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 popularity, recorded 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 became standard procedure for a rock and roll band" - Fran Parda, drummer for the Busters.

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 accomplished drummer 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 credits.

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, Pennsylvania. Partners 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 publishing rights 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 Bust Out. 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 Busters.

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 school.

"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 backwoods of 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 comfort.

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 developed choreographed dance steps and stage patter needed in the adult venues they played.

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, Indiana.

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 acts, "American 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 flopped commercially.

"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 keeping with songs like Wipe Out, then hitting it big on the charts. The record flopped miserably, 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" - Richard Eriksen.

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 group, rehearsed them, and they stayed on the road as the Busters until the summer of 1964.

"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 other traveling expenses. I never minded because I got an education in life that you can't buy with money" - Jack Baker.

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 Shelburne, Masschusetts, where he still produces records and radio commercials.

Richard Eriksen also remained in the music business and plays with local '50s-'60s revival 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 Busters!

The Busters
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

The Trophies
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

The Bold
Bold (LP) - ABC 705

E-mail Jack Baker - bprproductions@yahoo.com

1997-2004  Rockabilly Hall of Fame