Pearl Handle

Lost and Found: The Case of the Missing Album

50 years ago guitarist/vocalist George Milspaugh, guitarist Dan Hurc, bass player Mickey Gentile and drummer Dean Aliotta got together to play at a Halloween barn party in rural Waterman, Illinois back in 1974. That was the birth of Pearl Handle. After honing their chops at colleges and in clubs for a few years, they headed to Nashville to record an album. But before it could get released, the label and studio went out of business. A few years later, to everyone in the band’s surprise, while a friend was thumbing through cassette tapes at a truck stop, what did he find? A Pearl Handle tape! How did this happen?

Emerging in the ‘70s, Pearl Handle set themselves apart from most of the other club bands who were trying to be the next rock stars with their Southern rock/outlaw country influences that proved popular. Dressed in blue jeans and cowboy boots, and George in his wide-brimmed western hat, you’d think they were from Texas, not Chicago.

               Milspaugh started gigging in bands back in high school. He sowed his roots in the Kiwis, Captain Soul and Cox’s Army. Hurc and Aliotta, had already teamed in Hoona with Dean’s brother Ted. Gentile had just returned home after his college years at Southern Illinois University. Hurc, who had started out on bass, had moved over to guitar giving Pearl Handle dual guitar lead capabilities, especially important when they covered the Southern rock sounds of the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

               On stage, Milspaugh fronted the band. His large physical presence with a gruff appearance while swigging down some Jack Daniels reminiscent of a roadhouse rowdy, he had a personality that you would never want to get into a bar fight with him, but if you were with someone else, he would be the first to back you up. His piercing, vibrato-soaked, in your face vocals; dynamic slide guitar chops and limber, high-kicking stage antics were the driving force of the band.

               After six years sharpening their stage presence opening for Journey and Van Halen and building a repertoire of original material, it was time to head into the studio and cut an album.

               “We got an offer from Sunbird Records,” remembers Milspaugh in an interview with Sweet Home Music. “We sent them a demo of our songs and that’s what started the whole session.”

They would head to Nashville. Working with producer Nelson Larkin of Sunbird Records, and famed country studio engineer Ron “Snake” Reynolds, they were armed with a set of originals along with a couple of songs offered up by their producer. The tracks were cut, mostly one-take sessions. They didn’t get finished before the band had to head back on the road.

“We were told we would return to finish everything in a couple weeks,” according to Milspaugh. But then, “We never heard from the studio after we returned to Chicago,” only to find out Sunbird went out of business and the band was not able to recover the tapes.

“We never heard another thing about those recordings until three or four years later. A friend of mine had called and he had just returned from a trip to Nashville. He told me he was in a record store checking out cassettes in the bargain bin, and he saw the Pearl Handle ‘Brylen’ tape.”

No one in the band had any idea. Apparently, Brylen Records, a small independent Nashville label, had gained access to the Sunbird tapes and released a seven-song album Pearl Handle (Brylen 4420) in 1982 (That “bootlegged” album now fetches $60+ in collector circles).

The trail for the Pearl Handle band seemed to end there. Disappointed after the loss of their record, and the band worn down from the years on the road, it was time to take a break.

Milspaugh would just take a break, working jobs as a bouncer and bartender at Lincoln Avenue bars. Gentile and Hurc continued on as the rhythm section for Dirt’s Raiders, a post-Boyzz band formed by their frontman ‘Dirty’ Dan Buck. They would get a demo deal offer from Atlantic Records, but that deal would also fizzle out.

None of those were full-time jobs. Mickey Gentile had taken a day job with Warner-Elektra-Atlantic where he would hold down a marketing position. Ironically, Sunbird studio producer Nelson Larkin had been named President of WEA Nashville in charge of the Atlantic Records’ country catalog. Gentile bumped into him at a company convention and inquired about the Pearl Handle tapes. No resolved was reached in that conversation, but mysteriously a while later, the original Pearl Handle tapes were delivered to Gentile’s doorstep.

Gentile sat on those tapes, not really knowing what to do with them. Then another part of Pearl Handle’s past came to light. Pre-Pearl Handle Milspaugh had been in Cox’s Army. They had released a single in 1971 on the local Chaparral label. In recent years, that record has been fetching upwards of $100 in record collector circles.

That caught the attention of Riding Easy Records, a boutique label that specializes in the reissuance of retro material. Interested in Pearl Handle, Gentile and Hurc pulled the tapes out and had them remastered. While the “bootleg” Brylen album contained seven songs, the Riding Easy release includes all 12 songs the band recorded. The purpose of releasing the album now is for the preservation of the legacy of Pearl Handle as well as to pay an homage to Milspaugh who passed away in November. The album is now available via various streaming outlets https://ridingeasy.ffm.to/pearlhandle with physical copies (CDs/LPs) due sometime this summer.

Father Robert Owen – The Night Pastor

Father Robert Owen became known as “The Night Pastor,” revered for his support “to the musicians, bartenders, waiters, waitresses, singers, dancers and other who work or play in the Rush Street-Old Town areas of Chicago during the late evenings hours,” in the mid-‘60s. A piano player himself, Father Owen understood the many problems of the night people who did much of their work while the rest of the world played or slept.

Established in 1964 as part of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, Father Owen established himself to serve the Lord, preaching into the night ministering those “Night People.”

The Night Pastor program began because of Owen’s love of jazz: his friendships and collaborations with many of the musicians who played along Chicago’s Rush Street led him to suggest the idea. “When we stopped playing, the musicians would start telling me their troubles,” he told a Chicago Tribune reporter in 1965. “I began to see there was a real need for a ministry to the night people.”

His office at 30 E. Oak was in the Rush Street area above a hamburger stand at Rush and Oak, said to have been well trafficked by those seeking counsel long past business hours. The Dekalb Daily Chronicle noted, “Chicago Night Pastor Believes God Doesn’t Go to Bed at 10.” Wearing his clerical collar, Owen walked along dark sidewalks and dipped into bars to minister to people late into the night.

Just as important to the Chicago music scene, “Father Owen will fight rather than surrender to the idea that Chicago-style jazz is dead,” band leader Dave Remington wrote on the liner notes to the album The Night Pastor and Seven Friends Play Chicago Jazz. The album served a twofold purpose. One, as a fundraiser to support his work. And two, to highlight the sound of Chicago-style Dixieland jazz.

For the album, the seven friends were a who’s who of the Chicago jazz scene in the mid-‘60s led by trombonist Dave Remington along with Norman Murphy (trumpet), Andy Johnson (piano), Johnny Porrazzo (guitar, banjo), Joe Levinson (fiddle) Jerry Fuller (clarinet, saxophone) and Bob Cousins (drums) serving up a rambunctious, uptempo Dixieland jazz.

Two years later, the group would return to the studio to further support Father Owen’s ministry with Music to Lure Pigeons By.

His work was documented in a book titled Night Pastor (Greywood Publishing) by Brian Shaw published in 1968.

Father Owen continued his work up until his passing in 1970, having suffered a stroke at the age of 46. His work was continued by others into the mid-‘70s.

Discography

1965 The Night Pastor and Seven Friends – Play Chicago Jazz (Claremont 7098/7099)

1967 The Night Pastor – Music to Lure Pigeons By (Claremont 672)

Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek has been proclaimed to be the “architect of The Doors’ intoxicating sound.” Teamed with the iconic frontman Jim Morrison, guitarist Robbie Krieger and drummer John Densmore; The Doors were certainly one of the quintessential rock bands of the late 60s. For Manzarek, it all began in Chicago.
Manzarek was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, attending Everett Elementary School (3419 S. Bell) and St. Rita High School (63rd and Claremont). The famed keyboardist initially struggled with piano lessons until he began studying with dance band leader Bruno Michelotti. “He taught me virtually everything I know,” Manzarek said in an interview. “Boogie-woogie is what hooked me. That rolling snake beat in the left hand. That repetitive mantra of hip-swaying rhythm.” The lessons, along with the blues he heard on Chicago’s south side, laid the foundation for Manzarek’s hypnotic Doors’ arrangements.
His education continued at DePaul University where he played piano in the Beta Pi Mu Combo, a fraternity jazz band; graduating from the university in 1960.
After a brief stint in the military, Manzarek headed west, enrolling in UCLA studying cinematography. There, he formed the band Rick and the Ravens with his brothers Rick and Jim, the group releasing three singles on the Posae and Aura labels in 1965. And it was there he met Jim Morrison.
That proved be the launching point for what became The Doors.
Sadly, Jim Morrison died in 1971. From there, Manzarek and Krieger tried to continue, releasing a couple albums with little fanfare.
Post-Doors’ era, Manzarek stepped out with a couple solo albums in the mid-70s, formed Nite City releasing two albums in 1977-78, and recorded a rock adaptation of Carmina Burana in 1983. Moving forward from the mid-80s, Manzarek did various projects and sessions with the likes of Iggy Pop, Echo and the Bunnymen, poets Michael McClure and Michael C. Ford, did a series of spoken word albums Tornado Souvenirs, produced the punk band X, and worked with San Francisco guitarist Roy Rogers.
He also published his memoir Light My Fire: My Life with The Doors (Berkley) in 1998 and co-wrote and directed the film Love Her Madly in 2000.
In the early 2000s, Manzarek moved to the Napa County, California area where he was often seen sitting in with local bands. In 2013, he was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare bile duct cancer. He traveled to Germany for experimental treatment but succumbed to the disease while hospitalized there at the age of 74. (by Paul Spurgaitis)

John Records Landecker

John Records Landecker

WLS. WLUP. WCKG. WJMK. WZZN. WLS-FM, WGN. There doesn’t seem to be any major Chicago radio station that John Records Landecker (3/28/47) hasn’t worked at. Best known for his trademark saying “Records truly is my middle name,” on air his popularity soared with his personality and unique show segments including “Boogie Check” and “Americana Panorama.”

Landecker grew up in Michigan, beginning his radio career while still in high school. His path took him through a number of stations, finally landing in Chicago in 1972 as the evening jock on WLS. As the station format changed, Landecker departed for a brief stint in Toronto before being brought back by rock station WLUP (97.9) in 1983. Chicago stations were migrating from format-to-format in the 80s, causing Landecker to move to Top-40 WAGO/WCKG (105.9) in 1985, returning to WLS in 1986. He remained there until the station switched to an all-talk format in 1989.

1993-2003 saw Landecker at oldies station WJMK (104.3) working the morning drive where he received numerous national radio awards for “Best Morning Show.” Then over to “true oldies” WZZN (94.7) for the afternoon shift, followed by a period back on WLS (890 AM) co-hosting a news talk show. From 2007-2012 he was host of “Into the Seventies,” a syndicated weekend radio program from TKO Radio Networks.

In 2012, Landecker returned to WLS-FM (94.7) which had moved to an oldies format where he remained until he retired in 2015. But five years in retirement seemed enough for Landecker and in 2020 he returned to Chicago radio joining WGN where he can still be heard in the 7-10 p.m. slot Monday through Thursday evenings.

Landecker has been elected to the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2017 and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2020. This year, he is being honored with his induction into the Illinois Rock & Roll Museum on Route 66 Hall of Fame. If you want to read more of his radio journey,

Landecker tells his story in his autobiography Records Truly Is His Middle Name (Eckhartz Press). And, by the way, Records truly is his middle name as his mother’s maiden name was Marjorie Victoria Records.

Shadows of Knight “Gloria”

Shadows of Knight “Gloria”

The year was 1966. The Shadows of Knight unleashed “Gloria” to the world. By April, the song would be #1 on the charts. And it went on to become the garage rock anthem of the era, recognized with its entry into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s take a look at the backstory of how that happened.

A local Northwest suburban high school band had been building a strong reputation in the teen club circuit in 1964-65. Entering into the picture comes Paul Sampson, a local record store owner. “I was working in the record shop and I had heard about a relatively local band that was playing up at the VFW Hall in Arlington Heights and apparently attracting some fan allegiance,” he said in an interview with Jeff Jarema for Sundazed Records. Interested in becoming a promoter himself, “The Shadows of Knight just happened to be the very first group that I decided to use based on the fact of their local popularity.” Sampson first started promoting teen “bashes,” as he called them, eventually opening what became the premiere teen club in the Chicago area – The Cellar. As a businessman, Sampson also took on the role as manager of the band. The group became the hottest act in the Chicago area, drawing 500-600 people a night at the Cellar and other area teen clubs.

Entering the picture next were two aspiring record promotion men who were looking to start up their own label. Bill Traut had been producing records for the Seeburg jukebox company and had formed a partnership with George Badonsky, a regional A&R executive with Atlantic Records. “George had met Paul Sampson and wanted me to go see the Shadows,” recalled Traut. “When I saw the Shadows do ‘Gloria’ I watched the kids react to it. So I went backstage and talked to Sampson and signed the group.”

Before he even met the band, he indicated he needed to have a meeting with their parents. “I think I was called into a meeting with the parents because, back in those days if anybody was under 18, you had to have the parents’ written permission to sign them to a working contract of any kind, including a recording contract.”

At this point, Traut and Badonsky had yet to even formally finalize their record label, the Shadows of Knight being the band that would help them launch the label.

One of Traut’s industry friends was WLS DJ Clark Weber. Over lunch, he mentioned the Shadows of Knight to him. As Weber was hosting his own record hops, he indicated the Shadows were one of his favorite bands. He also informed Traut that “Gloria” was a song that had already been released by the British band Them. But their version had gotten banned from many stations’ playlists. “He (Weber) had put it on the air and then gotten so many calls from parents after the first couple of days that he had to take if off because of an offensive line.” Traut continues, “He said that if I could substitute something else, that he could put the record on the air by the Shadows…if it was a good record.” To circumvent potential AM radio censorship, they made minor changes to the original lyrics.

As Traut had been producing product for Seeburg, he knew studio production tricks, and had access to Universal Studios, deemed one of the best recording studios in the city. “I knew how to get the proper drum sound and Bob Kidder, a Universal engineer who had recorded many R&B hits, knew what to do in the mix.” Another trick they added was doubling the voices which gave the arrangement more energy.

Over another lunch, Traut and Badonsky mulled over a name for their record label. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horrorthey adopted the name Dunwich. “As soon as we finished the Shadows’ record, I went in and used my ruler and some cut-out stencil logos for the lettering and I designed the first Dunwich label,” said Traut. “I gave my drawing of the label to a Mexican guy who ran a small pressing plant on the south side of Chicago. I took the mono master out to the plant and ordered 4,000 singles.” Securing a distribution deal with Royal Disc Distributors, he delivered 3,965 copies to them.

“I took the box of 35 records the following Tuesday morning to WLS.” He took the record to Clark Weber’s office. Weber played it. “His secretary, Lynn Janutka, got up from her desk with a big grin on her face. And started dancing around. And Clark said, ‘When Lynn gets this excited, it’s a hit! I’ll put it on immediately.’ He got Art Roberts to put it on the air that night and the rest is history,” notes Traut.

“The combined calls from listeners and from the Shadows’ fans helped bust the record on the radio. By the third day the people at WLS realized that it wasn’t a sham…We were getting calls from Denver, New Orleans, Seattle, Detroit…everywhere.” In those days, WLS was a clear-channel, high-power station that could be heard coast-to-coast at night. Within the first ten days, “Gloria” had sold over 100,000 copies.

“We all knew we had a hit, so I called the pressing plant for more copies,” Traut continues. “The little Mexican plant couldn’t keep up with it anymore, so I had to transfer the pressing to a bigger plant in Nashville, Plastic Products, who also pressed singles for Atlantic. About the fourth week of the record, I got a call from Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records in New York. ‘We’ve been waiting for you to call us to let us know you want us to take over on the ‘Gloria’ record ‘cause you can’t afford to keep up with the pressing. It’s going too fast.’” Dunwich didn’t have deep pockets, and with this their debut record, they weren’t in position to ramp up that quickly. “You’re absolutely right, Jerry,” Traut responded. “I just got my bill from Plastic Products and they’re going to refuse to continue pressing for me if I don’t pay them immediately. I’ve got all those records out there, and I haven’t collected yet.” Atlantic took over pressing and distribution the next day.

“Gloria” was officially released January 31, 1966. By April, the song was #1 on both the WLS and WCFL surveys in Chicago. It had also reached #1 in several other markets where it was getting airplay. However, as hot as the record was, it only reached #7 in Cashbox and #10 on the Billboard national charts. “Because Dunwich was not a national label, the single was released on a staggered basis throughout the country,” noted an article in Collectables. “This caused it to peak in certain markets before being released in others, diluting its weekly placement.” In addition, “The song received little airplay in certain major markets, such as South Florida and California, where original composer Van Morrison’s (Them) release of ‘Gloria’ had just been a major chart-topper the previous year.”

The Shadows of Knight followed up “Gloria” with “Oh Yeah,” which reached #39 nationally; “Bad Little Woman,” only made it to #91; and “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” which peaked at #90. Unable to continue the success, within a year, the original Shadows of Knight members splintered off into other musical projects with only original lead singer/frontman Jimy Sohns continuing on with the group’s name.

In 2017 was named one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock” by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly we lost Sohns in 2022, but what he left us will never be forgotten.