WOSTER: When a ‘moo’ came with the rock ’n’ rollSome years back, I spent quite a bit of time talking with Myron Lee about his years as the leader of a much-traveled rock ’n’ roll band.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Some years back, I spent quite a bit of time talking with Myron Lee about his years as the leader of a much-traveled rock ’n’ roll band.
Myron dropped out of Washington High School in Sioux Falls during the spring of his senior year in 1959 to hit the road as Myron Lee and the Caddies. We older folks remember that as a time when live music meant simple, clean lyrics and a beat that invited couples onto the dance floor (to dance, you know, together but without slithering all over each other). Myron had some of the best musicians of his time. They made people happy from New Jersey to the Gulf Coast to the Pacific shore. They traveled with Bobby Vee and the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars. They went across Canada one year with Buddy Knox. (Don’t forget that name. It comes up later in the column)
The band played nearly every dance hall in the Midwest, too. I have a poster that advertised a Myron Lee and the Caddies show at Ruskin Park, a now-forgotten dance hall on the James River near Forestburg. Myron and the band put on a ton of miles on a full-sized station wagon that hauled a trailer packed with the instruments, amps, drums, power cords, lights and all the other things a road band needed to make music when it arrived at the next town on the tour.
Myron has great stories about some of the dance halls he played during the early years. Many were storied old places originally designed for the horn-heavy big bands that were going out of style just about the time “Rock Around the Clock” took young America by storm when it was played in the movie “Blackboard Jungle.” Myron’s tales about the owners, the bartenders, the dressing rooms, the heavy wood dance floors and the crowds of kids are enough entertainment for a month of Sundays.
One of Myron’s stories involved a dance hall somewhere in North Dakota, a place where a dairy farmer cleared out the second story of a huge old barn and invited bands and dancers to come on in. On the main floor, the way Myron told it, was a working dairy, complete with milk cows, stanchions and all the other essentials. Just listening to the description of how a song would end and a loud “Moo” would come from downstairs made me wish I’d had a chance to see it for myself.
The only place I did see Myron Lee and the Caddies in person was at the Gregory armory, back in the summer of 1963. The place was a typical armory, and the dance floor more often was used for basketball and school plays than for rock ’n’ roll shows. The music was incredible, though, and when I remember that night of dancing with a young girl who would later spend half a century with me, I get the images mixed up with the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance from “Back to the Future.”
Myron also talked about playing the dance hall in Vivian. I played sophomore basketball there, I believe, but I never saw the Caddies. The only dance I ever attended there (and I don’t think to this day my folks knew a couple of buddies and I got that far west that night) featured a band I can’t remember. I do remember we thought the Byrnes Boys were playing. Turned out, we were off a week. The Byrnes Boys, like Myron Lee and the Caddies, are in the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I did see them once, in Reliance. Percy, their lead player, had the first red, Chet Atkins-model Gretsch guitar I’d ever seen up close. Percy and that guitar looked great. They would have looked great in the Vivian Dance Hall, too. Wish I’d seen both dances.
The Vivian Dance Hall is entering the state Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, a fitting tribute for a venue that hosted some of the best music around.
And Buddy Knox? He played Vivian, not long after his big hit, “Party Doll,” hit radio stations across the country. Big-time acts, big-time dance hall, good-time era.