Sept. 7, 2009 — Rock ‘n roll is here to stay,
It will never die
It was meant to be that way,
Though I don’t know why*
Rock and roll lives on in the musical hearts and souls of eight Claremore High School alums. Occupations, hobbies, and interests may differ but their individual devotions to Rock ‘n Roll is endless.
They will always be Rock ‘n Rollers!
Friends, neighbors, and a large number of guests at this week’s annual Bluegrass & Chili Festival can see for themselves. The Vikings, Claremore’s own, will perform on the RCB Bank Stage Friday night.
This will be the group’s first outdoor performance in front of a large crowd.
“I know the knees of a couple of us will be shaking at the start,” said band member Larry Melton, “but not after we kick things off.”
Band members are David McElwain (Class of 1971) on trumpet; Terry Miller (‘69), saxophone and flute; Danny Widener (‘69), vocals; Bill Jones (‘69), guitar; Gary Driver (‘73); Mike Jennings (‘69), rhythm guitar; Darryl Reed (‘70), drums; and Melton (‘69), bass guitar.
Each one still lives in or near Claremore.
Labeled as a garage rock band when they started, the Claremore teenagers were just one of countless thousands across the United States and Canada during the 1960s.
What begin as a garage band more than 40 years ago is still banging out the long ago hits. There was a 30-year gap, however. To explain the history of The Vikings we will turn it over to Melton’s memory:
“It all started upstairs at Doc Jennings’ house. We were 14-15 years old and we had two guitars and drums,” Melton said, “It wasn’t long before we had to move to various garages in the neighborhood to have adequate space. I guess we terrorized 10th Street for a few years.
“Most of us were in the school band. Back then if you had a guitar and amp (amplifier), or a set of drums, or a keyboard and amp, you were a musician. If you had a business card with your band’s name on it, you were a band.
“Cleve Thompson rounded up the original Vikings. He was several years older and a freshman in college. The rest of us were high school sophomores. The original members were Todd Gordon on keyboards, Danny on drums, Bill on guitar, and Cleve who also did all the bookings. I eventually joined them as a trumpet player.”
I don’t care what people say, Rock ‘n roll is here to stay (We don’t care what people say, Rock ‘n roll is here
Even though most were too young to drive, The Vikings played Friday and Saturday nights at teen towns across northeast Oklahoma. Be it Pryor or Coffeyville, the Nowata VFW or the Tanglefoot in Sand Springs, they were always welcome.
Closer to home they would perform in the brand new Claremore Civic Center or the Women’s Building at the Rogers County fairgrounds.
Home or away, a number of friends and classmates would usually take part.
“We played Dance Party on Tulsa KOTV Channel 6 on two different occasions, both times having to record in studio. They didn’t trust any teen band to play live. So we lip synched it,” Melton remembered.
When Thompson later departed, Widener’s mother stepped in as manager.
“She mother hen’d us and kept us in line and on time to all the dances,” Melton recalled, “She would promote us using the line ‘they don’t smoke, drink, or cuss, and all of ‘em go to First Christian Church ‘cept one and he’s a Methodist’.”
Melton added, “I won’t claim we were perfect, but all of us stayed out of trouble. We had bookings on Fridays and Saturdays, or both, usually three times a month. Between that and practices and school work, we didn’t have time to get in trouble.”
For a period the band would transport their equipment and instruments in the back of Gordon’s pickup. That ended when Melton almost turned in over. Later local car lot owner Howard Peaster always had an u’haul trailer for them to use.
All bands have a change in musicians. The Vikings were no different. According to Melton, Thompson got tired of “…messing with our sophomoric behavior” and was the first to leave. Jennings came in as Miller and McElwain. Jack Lowen from Inola joined to play lead guitar. The late Wendy Johnson then joined with his keyboards.
Rock n’ Roll will always be Our ticket to the end It will go down in history, Just you wait, my friend
High school doesn’t last forever. All the band members graduated and moved on. Three became students at the University of Arkansas. One moved to Texas and one to Boston. Another joined the military and went off to Vietnam.
The real world set in as they went separate ways.
Now flash forward 30 years. In 1999 as the CHS Class of ‘69 was preparing for its 30th reunion, someone suggested getting the old group back together. The Vikings could provide the entertainment. The six members still making Claremore their home decided they needed a little help. Darryl Reed, another ‘69 alum, had played drums for “The Infernos”, a competing band across town. Vocalist Gary Driver had been with “Kit n Kaboodle.” Being about four years younger, Driver wasn’t allowed to join the original group. Now he and Reed were perfect to fill the void.
Since their successful return at the class reunion, the eight friends have played a few addition reunions and birthday parties over the last 10 years.
“We continue to play just enough to keep us interested and pacified,” Melton said, “One thing about music, compared to many other activities, is that you can keep improving as you get older. Your skills don’t fail you like your joints and muscles do.
“You do not see the football and basketball athletes playing their game at 40 year reunions.
As for their upcoming appearance at the Bluegrass & Chili Festival, the Vikings are scheduled to take the RCB Bank Stage at 8:30 p.m. Plans call for them to perform about a hour. Being the night’s final act, the clock may not be a serious factor.
Regardless how long they play, look for a time warp trip back to the 1960s. Songs like “Louie, Louie” and “Gloria” and “Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love)” and ‘Twist and Shout” will come alive again.
If you don’t like rock ‘n roll Think what you’ve
been missing But if you like
to bop and strawl Come on down and listen Let’s all start to have a ball, Everybody rock ‘n roll
* Lyrics by Danny & The Juniors
<b>HOMETOWN SOUND - </b> Claremore band reunites after 40 years for performance at Bluegrass & Chili Festival
Sept. 7, 2009 — Rock ‘n roll is here to stay,
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