Chan Romero is pleased with a new double-album (yes, vinyl!) compilation of early Montana rock ‘n’ roll.
Romero has the first song on “Long Time Comin’—Lost Sounds from the Treasure State,” a 27-song collection painstakingly assembled by Dave Martens, a 32-year-old Havre resident. The album covers the period 1958-1969 and features bands from across the state.
“He did a really nice job putting it together,” Romero said. “It has been a long time.”
Romero is the Billings singer-songwriter, now living in California, whose first hit, “Hippy Hippy Shake,” was regularly played by the Beatles in their early years, and later recorded by them for the BBC. Later still, when it was covered by the Swinging Blue Jeans in 1963, it became a No. 2 hit in the United Kingdom.
Martens not only made “Hippy Hippy Shake” the first song in this collection—he tracked down the original demo tape of the song, a version that Romero himself had not heard in decades.
Martens said Romero told him that his music had caught the ear of a local disc jockey named Don Redfield, who arranged to have “Hippy Hippy Shake” recorded by Larry Faught, a square-dance caller who had a small recording studio in the basement of his Clark Avenue home.
Redfield used that demo to play “Hippy Hippy Shake” over the phone for Bob Keane, president of Del-Fi Records. Martens asked Romero if Faught was still around and Romero replied, “This guy was old when he recorded us.”
But Faught still lives in Billings and Martens found him, and Faught still had that reel-to-reel demo, which now appears on vinyl for the first time.
“I was really surprised he found Larry,” Romero said.
Another Billings contribution on “Long Time Comin’” is a song by Kostas Lazarides, who would later become, for a time, one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville. But in 1966 he was Chan Romero’s paperboy, and he talked Romero into giving him guitar and songwriting lessons.
Kostas, the single name by which he became known, recorded his first songs in Faught’s basement in 1966, with Romero backing him on guitar. In the liner notes, Kostas said he wrote the “moronic” song on the flip side. The A side, which is on “Long Time Comin,’” was “Something We Call Love,” written by Romero.
Kostas said the record changed his life, and it put some money in his pocket: he was selling dozens of the 45s out of his locker at Senior High School every morning.
An introduction to the liner notes was written by Michael Purington, of Missoula, the lead singer for the Lost Highway Band, a memorable country-rock (and blues and bluegrass) outfit that was popular in the ’70s.
Purington tells of how a great ’60s band in Missoula called the Vulcans morphed into Mojo’s Mark IV, which morphed into the Initial Shock, and how that band, wildly popular as it was, was suddenly gone. And then came reports that the Initial Shock had opened for Steppenwolf at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
Purington was a senior at Sentinel High School in 1968 when the Initial shock made its triumphal return to play the University Center Ballroom, where the band “played so authentically and so right that there was no room for criticism, pro or con.”
The roots of this project go back to the radio station at the University of Montana-Northern, where Martens worked as a DJ after high school. He later worked at KBGA, an independent station on the campus of UM in Missoula. KBGA had a great collection of local music, but nothing from earlier than 1996, when the station was started.
Martens wondered how much earlier Montana rock ‘n’ roll was still available, and he slowly started to gather a few gems. A community volunteer at the station had a couple of Montana-made 45s, including one by a Butte band, the Renegades. And Martens’ uncle had a 45 from his college days—a recording by the Initial Shock.
In 2011, Martens got serious about the project and enlisted the help of several friends. Once word got out about what they were looking for—and especially after they put up a Facebook page for the project—lots of old records started coming in over the transom.
Also, he said, “I made, I would say, a million phone calls.”
Other bands featured on the compilation include the Wanderers, the Fugitives and the Frantics, all from Billings; Thor and the Thundergods and the Night Raiders, from Helena; and the Missing Lynx, from Great Falls.
The full package consists of two LPs, a CD and the 12-page brochure of liner notes. It is available online and so far at three record stores in Missoula. Martens said he also sold about 25 copies at the album release party at the Triple Dog Brewing Co. in Havre earlier this month. Martens, a speech pathologist in Havre schools, is a part-time bartender at the brewery.
He hopes to put out additional compilations from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and he would love to produce a collection of songs from Faught’s extensive collection of studio recordings.
He’d also like to release a rare find from radio station KOJM in Havre. He said his parents are friends with the owner of the station, who showed him “a box of tapes that are so old the labels and things have fallen off.” Among those recordings is a 1957 interview with Elvis Presley that has never been aired. The king of rock ‘n’ roll was on a railroad tour of the Northwest when he did the quick interview in Havre, Martens said.
Romero has high hopes for Martens’ first project.
“It should do pretty fair because they’re all Montana artists,” he said. “And it’s an important part of Montana’s music history.”
For more information, go to the project’s Facebook page.